Are Catholics required to agree with the Pope?

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Is a Catholic required to agree, on all points, with the Pope? Is it a sin not to adhere to his words? What about the official texts published by the Vatican? Father Cédric Burgun, professor at the Faculty of Canon Law in Paris, provides his insight for Aleteia.

Are Catholics always required to agree with the Pope? The Fiducia Supplicans declaration caused a stir and divided Catholics. Is it a sin not to adhere, in all circumstances, to the decisions of the Holy Father? “It depends on the magisterial degrees,” explains Father Cédric Burgun, doctor of canon law. Canon 750 of the Code of Canon Law establishes: 

§1.We must believe in divine and Catholic faith everything that is contained in the word of God written or transmitted by tradition, that is to say in the unique deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and which is in at the same time proposed as divinely revealed by the solemn magisterium of the Church or by its ordinary and universal magisterium, namely what is manifested by the common adhesion of the faithful under the guidance of the sacred magisterium;all are therefore required to avoid any contrary doctrine.

§2.We must firmly welcome and also keep all and each of the things which are definitively proposed by the Magisterium of the Church regarding faith and morals, that is to say those things which are required to holyly guard and faithfully expound this same deposit of faith;He is therefore opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church who refuses these same propositions which must be keptdefinitively.”

“This canon therefore reminds us that there are what we can call magisterial degrees which do not necessarily call for the same adhesion: there are ‘points’ of our faith that we must believe, of faith divine and catholic, and therefore to which one is required to adhere. According to §1, one is required to adhere to what concerns the solemn or ordinary magisterium, that is to say the teaching of the Church on the truths of faith and morals.

Politics or magisterium?

“This includes, among other things, pontifical infallibility , but not only that,” specifies the professor. “Certain dogmas are proclaimed without committing papal infallibility. Councils, also, relate to infallibility, according to canon 749: ‘the College of Bishops also enjoys infallibility in the magisterium when the Bishops assembled in an Ecumenical Council exercise the magisterium as doctors and judges of the faith and of morals, and declare for the entire Church that a doctrine which concerns faith or morals must be held definitively. The magisterium of the council is therefore a solemn magisterium: Catholics are therefore required to adhere to everything declared therein. There are thus subjects on which the Pope expresses himself but which do not necessarily belong to the solemn magisterium of the Church: if the Pope takes a position on a political subject which is still debated in theology, in social doctrine or in law , one can disagree with him while remaining faithful to the Catholic Church.

“If you disagree with the Pope on a point that has not been decided by the magisterium, it is therefore not a sin,” adds Father Cédric Burgun. “On the other hand, if you disagree with the Pope on a point of the magisterium, you do not first disagree with the Pope; you are in disagreement with the magisterium of the Church, which poses a problem regarding the communion in faith that we are required to live with the Church.” So, one thing is to ask questions in one’s conscience, one’s internal self, another is to sow division publicly among Catholics and to systematically oppose Pope Francis , because he is Pope Francis.

Undermining the communion of the Church

“There are oppositions which nourish schismatic or heretical inclinations,” underlines the professor. “In canon law, a schismatic act is opposition to ecclesiastical government while heresy is an obstinate denial of a truth of the faith (and apostasy is the rejection of the totality of the faith). Canon 205 requires every faithful to maintain full communion with the Church through ‘the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments and ecclesiastical government’. What hurts one of these bonds is at the very least a sin against God and his Church. §1 of canon 1364, in canonical criminal law, thus establishes that ‘the apostate of the faith, the heretic or the schismatic incurs excommunication latæssentiæ ‘. »

One thing is to ask questions in one’s conscience, another is to sow division among Catholics and systematically oppose Pope Francis.

Asking questions is obviously not a bad thing in itself. “On the other hand, if this questioning or even a disagreement in conscience translates into acts of contempt, distrust or schism; if reflection becomes an act of rebellion against the Holy Father, then we must question the way in which we conceive our affiliation with the Catholic Church,” adds Father Cédric Burgun. “Of course it depends on the magisterial degree: if the Pope explains the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, it is not the same thing as taking a position, within the framework of a homily, on immigration, for example “.

A Catholic who is constantly in disagreement with the Holy Father undermines the unity of the Church.

The evil is not the questioning in itself, but what we do with it: to what extent do we persist in our opposition and to what extent and how do we expose our disagreement? Do we give ourselves the means to explore the thoughts of the Holy Father with which we do not agree? “It’s a bit easy to have a knee-jerk reflex which would consist of saying ‘Since it’s François who says it, I don’t agree’. », underlines Father Cédric Burgun, who recalls that “a Catholic who is constantly in disagreement with the Holy Father undermines the communion and unity of the Church”.

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