Phil Lawler on Things a Pope Can’t Say

Phil Lawler on Things a Pope Can’t Say

Steve Skojec
December 5, 2016

If you have ever been a follower of CatholicCulture.org, you may well have given up on getting any but the most biased coverage of the papacy from them some time ago. But while Jeff Mirus has demonstrated remarkable resilience to the red pill (with cracks only just beginning to show), Phil Lawler has been on a steadily accelerating trajectory to Truthville.

Today, he offers one of his simplest and best pieces to date, entitled, Three things the Pope can’t say. This is sort of a 101, everyman level attempt to tackle what those Divinely-guided papal powers really entail, and I suspect it’s going to be very valuable to those Catholics who have only just recently started catching on to the war brewing in Rome:

The Pope can’t say that 2+2=5. Nor can he repeal the laws of logic. So if the Pope makes two contradictory statements, they can’t both be right. And since every Pontiff enjoys the same teaching authority, if one Pope contradicts another Pope, something is wrong. Thus if Amoris Laetitia contradicts Veritatis Splendor and Casti Connubi—earlier papal encyclicals, which carry a higher level of teaching authority—the faithful cannot be obliged to swallow the contradiction.

The Pope can’t tell you what you think. He can, within certain limitations, tell you what you should think. But he cannot, simply by the force of his authority, change your mind. Father Anthony Spadaro, a close adviser to Pope Francis, insists that Amoris Laetitia is perfectly clear . “The Pope leaves no room for doubt about the teaching of the Church,” he claims. Even if that statement came directly from the Pope himself (which it does not, obviously), it could not be authoritative. If you have doubts, then evidently there is room for doubt; not even the Pope can gainsay that fact. Ideally the Pope and his surrogates would help you to remove those doubts, rather than suggesting that doubt implies disloyalty.

The Pope cannot teach authoritatively by dropping hints. On the most controversial issue discussed at the last two meetings of the Synod of Bishops, Amoris Laetitia is vague, allowing for radically different interpretations. Father Spadaro and Cardinal Schönborn and the Argentine bishops can all make a compelling argument that they know what Pope Francis had in mind—especially because the Holy Father himself has endorsed the Schönborn and Argentine interpretations. But what the Pope had in mind does not carry the same weight as what the Pope actually wrote. And that is especially true when there is such abundant evidence that the Holy Father deliberately left the question unresolved…

The whole piece is worth a read, and I’d recommend it to the people in your life who are trying to grapple with what this all means. If nothing else, it’s a good tool to have in your bookmarks when the topic of infallibility comes up in conversation.

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7 comments on “Phil Lawler on Things a Pope Can’t Say



  1. Captain Kirk: Mister Spock! What if the Pope said that 2 + 2 = 5? Analyze using your usual superior Vulcan logic!



    Spock: Fascinating, Captain. Catholic teaching is quite clear on this, Captain. The spiritual authority of the papacy does not extend to contradicting the rules of mathematics or logic. We can consult Fides et Ratio or even St. Thomas Aquinas, if that should become necessary.



    Master Po: Ah, what is troubling you, Grasshopper?



    Kwai Chang: I am wondering, Master, what is the Pope said that 2 + 2 = 5?



    Master Po: Perhaps in the Pope’s mind 2 + 2 would equal 5, only in a spiritual sense which those without the non-rigid progressive modernist Spirit of Vatican II Situation Ethics were too rigid to see, hmmm?



    Kwai Chang: That does not sound like Catholicism, Master. Perhaps you were thinking of Gnosticism or one of the other heresies.



    Father Sarducci: Maybe he was thinking of the Double Truth theory of Siger de Brabant.



    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: Oh, Father Gannon was always quite clear on this at Fordham in the old days. There is no Double Truth theory in Catholicism. That was settled, I believe, in the 13th century. Oh, yes, the battles of medieval scholasticism. Of course, we all studied Latin then and most students knew who St. Thomas Aquinas was….Times changes, I guess. Perhaps they weren’t teaching that in Argentina when Bergoglio was in college?



    Mike Brady: Sure, that’s it, Carol! The Double Truth theory of Siger de Brabant. Why didn’t I think of this? The Pope can make up any rule that he wants in the modernist Spirit of Vatican II. We’ll tell Jan that the Pope has banned girls in Middle School from wearing wigs!



    Carol: Mike, are you sure that will work?



    Mike: Well, it’s better than telling her the truth. She looks like a fool in that silly wig.



    Enik: Mr. Rick Marshall, you are a man of reason and science, deeply familiar with the ideology of pragmatism and American exceptionalism. You are also a subscriber to Smithsonian magazine and National Geographic.



    Enik: Tell me of this Siger de Brabant. Can the Double Truth theory really work?



    Rick Marshall: Well, I’m primarily a Red Sox fan.





    Carol: Mike, are you sure Jan will buy that explanation?



  2. I must admit that, not being a scholar, I am not familiar with the Double Truth Theory.
    Sounds like a great idea for the Vac II Church.
    No single rigid, dogma but instead a couple of possibilities to choose from.

    Now may I take it a step further? Why not have a parallel truths theory? In other words, based on the new Science Fiction craze of believing in multiple universes, the Church could numerous parallel truths. That way everybody would be happy. The rigid, pre-Vatican II Latin Mass types could have their mean spirited, Pharisaical old type theology and dogmas. The Charismatic types could have their happy, clappy type dogmas and worship and the truly enlightened, intelligent Vatican II progressives could have their up to date peace, love and tolerance dogmas.
    And all could live side by side in parallel dogmaverses; sort of like parallel universes.
    And over it all Pope Francis and his hand picked henchmen, er… , brother bishops, could reign, looking down with benign tolerance on all – except of course for those rigid pre-Vac II, anti progressive Traditional types – tolerance for them is pretty much out of the question, because they are troublemakers and need to be reined in.

  3. Good job, Howlingly Absurd, but I do miss not having Fr. Neuhaus weigh in on how the dialectics of Neiburian thought and the present sociological particulars of the Public Square could help us decipher what is meant by AL.



  4. Mike: Well, Carol, don’t Jan and her classmates believe that America is a democracy?

    Carol: Well, yes, Mike, but I think they’re all on Quaaludes. What book are you reading?



    Reverend Neuhaus: Forgive me for interrupting again, as pushy and aggressive professional Protestant converts sometimes do, but this would be a good occasion to discuss the Naked Public Square in modernity and Professor Taylor’s secularization theories…
    Incidentally, Jacques Maritain and Reinhold Niebuhr once debated whether St. Peter and St. John could have made 2 + 2 = 5 for Simon Magus in order to demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit, a fascinating debate that took place when we went to see Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey with Mark van Doren, Father Gannon, and Professor Jacques Barzun. Father Gannon, always fond of Irish Catholic practical jokes enjoyed throwing Lemonheads at the bald heads of Columbia professors sitting in front in the movie theatre because of the amusing clucking sound they make when they bounce off the shiny bald heads of Cultural Marxists and Frankfurt School social theorists. It’s really quite astonishing when those goateed faces turn around grimacing, looking for the culprit…. Well, Professor Neibuhr objected when Maritain cited John of St. Thomas, the 17th-century Louvain-trained Portuguese Thomist, for the objective metaphysical basis for reason in the order of nature on the grounds that he had never read John of St. Thomas and that this would be an unfair jesuitical maneuver on Maritain’s part…



    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: It’s an old trick. That has been known to work.
    Of course, John of St. Thomas is a fine thinker.

  5. Thanks, HA, that takes care of my Neuhaus fix.



  6. Reverend Neuhaus: The debate had reached something of an impasse, with Professor Maritain insisting that a citation from John of St. Thomas was perfectly licit, Niebuhr flailing his arms around crying foul over the jesuitical debater’s trick which he insinuated that Maritain must have learned at Notre Dame or the Sorbonne, when suddenly one of the aerial Lemonheads launched by Father Gannon ricocheted off Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s shiny waxed receding hairline, knocking his tortoise-shell glasses off, and bounced off the back of the neck of a blonde, female, Trotskyite graduate student from NYU, landing in George Plimpton’s popcorn, causing something of a stir. Well, at this point, Maritain intoned that if Professor Niebuhr would care to attend Maritain’s seminars, they could both read John of St. Thomas together and come to a mutual understanding of the Thomistic vision of reason….



    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: Oh, yes, we used to enjoy Pop Secret at Wernersville on movie night.



    Carol: Maybe you’re right, Mike. Maybe we should tell Jan that the Pope has made up a new rule prohibiting middle school students from wearing wigs.

    Mike: Well, you know best, Carol.

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