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Monday, January 17, 2011

Are Catholics bound to believe everything that the Pope teaches, even if it's not an infallible statement?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Are Catholics bound to believe everything that the Pope teaches, even if it's not an infallible statement? 

Since most Catholic teaching has not been infallibly defined, this is what Catholic Apologist Mark Shea rather cheekily calls the "Minimum Daily Requirement" question.  Basically what's being asked is, "What's the minimum I have to believe?"  or "Is there a Catholic loophole"? 
 From Mark Shea:"According to this ploy, we only have to pay attention to the Church when she infallibly defines something. The rest we can blow off if it is inconvenient... I think this approach is rubbish. I think the Church's teaching is simply normative and, though there can sometime be various pastoral exceptions to the norm, the first rule of thumb is, "How do I obey this?" not "How do I figure out a loophole to avoid this and make excuses for the preferred sins of my tribe?" (bold mine) Source:  here.

When we give directives to our children they ought to know better than to ask, "How seriously (i.e. infallibly) do you mean this?"  or "Are you giving an ultimatum here or is there some wiggle room?" 

Similarly, the question we, the faithful, ought to be asking of our Church is, "Is it an authoritative teaching?" not "Is it infallible?"

892: Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a "definitive manner," they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent" which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it. (bold mine) Catechism of the Catholic Church

Note:  even when the Catholic hierarchy writes something concerning faith or morals, if it is not presented as an authoritative teaching, Catholics are free to disagree.  For example, Pope Benedict has written a book called "Jesus of Nazareth" in which he provides some of his own speculation (however learned and insightful) regarding Our Lord.  We can dismiss or embrace his speculations, as it is not authoritatively presented.

So, to summarize:  yes, Catholics must believe what's been authoritatively taught by the Catholic Church, even if it's not presented infallibly, but we are not bound to assent to individual bishops (or even the Pope) when they are merely offering their theological opinions.

Additionally, St. Thomas Aquinas states that there are two situations when one is not obligated to obey his legitimate superior: 1) he proposes something outside the scope of his lawful authority or 2) he commands something in contradiction to higher authority.

For more in-depth study visit these websites:

Catholic Bible online

Catechism of the Catholic Church online

more Mark Shea on "Minimum Daily Adult Requirement Christianity"

Catholic Answers forum discussion on this topic

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15

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