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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Francis’ Canonizations Are Not Infallible Featured

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Since the canonizations of John Paul II and John XIII took place, much ink has been spilled in Catholic circles over the question of whether canonizations are infallible. Unfortunately, every single argument I have read on this topic has missed the forest for the trees.

On March 28, 2014 I penned an article entitled, From the Devil’s Advocate: Will Saint John Paul Open the Door to Non-Catholic “Saints”? In that article, I made the following simple point:


The Catholic Encyclopedia states:

…all the arguments of theologians for papal infallibility in the canonization of saints are based on the fact that on such occasions the popes believe and assert that the decision which they publish is infallible.

Thus, we should also ask what the conciliar concept of infallibility is. Is it a collegial notion of infallibility, separate and apart from the Catholic notion that ties infallibility directly to the papal office? Furthermore, in this ecumenical post-Conciliar era, where infallibility is never invoked, does Francis believe canonization declarations to be truly infallible in the Catholic meaning of the term? What about past canonized saints of the pre-Conciliar Church who are now “embarrassing” to post-Conciliar ecumenical popes? Would Francis tell his Anglican, Orthodox, and Protestant brothers and sisters that the canonizations of these very “unecumenical” pre-Conciliar saints were infallibly correct? And if he would not, how could he believe his own canonizations are infallible?
What everyone seemed to miss and still misses in the analysis of this question is the fact that the pope must first believe that the decision he publishes in a canonization is infallible. In past times this point was assumed. However, in our current era, as I argue above, it can be assumed no longer.

Case in point, Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, gave a conference on relations with Rome on August 16, 2016. At 11 minutes 24 seconds into the video below, he states the following:
.be">“Pope Francis does not think that the Canonizations are infallible.”



This would make perfect sense and in line with Francis’ theology and actions to date. To lend credence to Bishop Fellay’s claim, we should remember the incredible news in April that Francis is to allow room for theologians like Hans Kung to have “open discussion” on the dogma of infallibility. In a public letter released on April 27, 2016 Kung wrote:

On March 9, my appeal to Pope Francis to give room to a free, unprejudiced and open-ended discussion on the problem of infallibility appeared in the leading journals of several countries. I was thus overjoyed to receive a personal reply from Francis immediately after Easter. Dated March 20, it was forwarded to me from the nunciature in Berlin.

In the pope's reply, the following points are significant for me:

Francis has set no restrictions. He has thus responded to my request to give room to a free discussion on the dogma of infallibility. I think it is now imperative to use this new freedom to push ahead with the clarification of the dogmatic definitions, which are a ground for controversy within the Catholic church and in its relationship to the other Christian churches.

I could not have foreseen then quite how much new freedom Francis would open up in his post-synodal exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. Already in the introduction, he declares, "Not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium."

He takes issue with "cold bureaucratic morality" and does not want bishops to continue behaving as if they were "arbiters of grace." He sees the Eucharist not as a reward for the perfect but as "nourishment for the weak."

He repeatedly quotes statements made at the episcopal synod or from national bishops' conferences. Francis no longer wants to be the sole spokesman of the church.

This is the new spirit that I have always expected from the magisterium. I am fully convinced that in this new spirit a free, impartial and open-ended discussion of the infallibility dogma, this fateful key question of destiny for the Catholic church, will be possible.

I am deeply grateful to Francis for this new freedom and combine my heartfelt thanks with the expectation that the bishops and theologians will unreservedly adopt this new spirit and join in this task in accordance with the Scriptures and with our great church tradition.

Thus, if what Bishop Fellay says is true (and we have no serious reason to doubt it) all of the arguments of the neo-Catholics and sedevacantists as to why canonizations are infallible do not apply to Francis’ canonizations. For every one of their arguments, like all the arguments of the theologians before them, rest on the lynchpin that the pope himself believes his decree is infallible. Once this lynchpin is removed, their entire argument falls apart.

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