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Is the Pope Catholic?

In general, one would presume that if the Pope says that [X] is the doctrinal position of the Catholic Church, then that means that [X] is the doctrinal position of the Catholic Church. After all, he IS the Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the servants of God. Somewhere in there is something that means "the boss," right?

Maybe not so much. The Pope is infallible in certain circumstances, but holders of the office are generally reluctant to invoke that authority. And when the current holder of the office, Pope Francis, does not pull rank like that, then he's basically just one bishop among many. Consequently, at the moment, he's in something of a war of words with many prominent American Catholic bishops, slamming them for their "backwardness," and asserting that they have replaced faith with ideology.

The areas of disagreement between Francis and the Americans are numerous. They do not like his efforts to liberalize some elements of Church doctrine, like letting adherents who get a divorce (as opposed to an annulment) and then get civilly remarried to receive the sacraments. In addition, the bishops are not understanding exactly how Francis read the Bible and came away with an understanding that one of Jesus' core concerns was social justice issues, like helping the poor and downtrodden. Blasphemer!

Speaking at a gathering of Jesuits (of which Francis is one, despite his name suggesting he would be a Franciscan), the Pope emphasized that religious doctrine is a constantly evolving thing, and that the leaders of the Church have a duty to think critically about their ideas and practices as opposed to retreating into the safety of orthodoxy. This is exactly the sort of thing Jesuits like to hear, since they are the educators/intellectuals of the Catholic Church.

We pass this news along for several reasons. First, because it adds to the general, ongoing discussion around here about whether or not the Catholic Church has a serious intellectual component. Clearly, the Pope thinks it does, while the American bishops aren't so sure. Second, because it illustrates that the American versions of various religions tend to be pretty far to the right of their world counterparts. It's not just the evangelicals, it's the Catholics, too (and possibly the Hindus, if Vivek Ramaswamy is any indication). And finally, we will note that Francis is 86 years old. One way or another, it won't be too long until he's too pooped to Pope. When it comes time to choose his replacement, it's a good bet the Americans and some of their like-minded brethren elsewhere are going to form a large enough faction to choose a replacement pope who is so far right he'll make Tomás de Torquemada look like a Unitarian Universalist. (Z)

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