PopeWatch: Limits

Rorate Caeli reminds us that the Pope Emeritus has written on limits to the power of a Pope:

In 1969, the future Pope Benedict XVI, then Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, wrote that criticizing papal statements was not only possible, but even necessary, to the extent that the pope might deviate from the Deposit of Faith and the Apostolic Tradition. Pope Benedict XVI included these remarks in his 2009 anthology of his writings, Fede, ragione, verità e amore. These remarks, which we now publish below in English translation, are particularly relevant in light of the filial correction of Pope Francis last week:
“One should especially avoid the impression that the pope (or the office in general) can only gather and express from time to time the statistical average of the living faith, for which a decision is not possible contrary to these average statistical values (which, besides, are problematic in their verifiability). 
The faith is based on the objective data of Scripture and of dogma, which in dark times can also frighteningly disappear from the consciousness of the greater part of Christianity (statistically), without losing in any way, however, their obligatory and binding character.
In this case, the word of the pope can and should certainly go against statistics and against the power of an opinion, which strongly pretends to be the only valid one; and this will have to be done as decisively as the testimony of tradition is clear (like in the given case). 
On the contrary, criticism of papal pronouncements will be possible and even necessary, to the extent that they lack support in Scripture and the Creed, that is, in the faith of the whole Church. 
When neither the consensus of the whole Church is had, nor clear evidence from the sources is available, an ultimate binding decision is not possible. Were one formally to take place, the conditions for such an act would be lacking, and hence the question would have to be raised concerning its legitimacy.”
Das neue Volk Gottes: Entwürfe zur Ekklesiologie, (Düsseldorf : Patmos, 1972) p. 144.
Fede, ragione, verità e amore, (Lindau 2009), p. 400.
Ratzinger continued his reflections on the limits of the power of the Roman Pontiff to contradict immutable doctrine as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and later as Pope Benedict XVI.
“The Roman Pontiff – like all the faithful – is subject to the Word of God, to the Catholic faith, and is the guarantor of the Church’s obedience; in this sense he is servus servorum Dei. He does not make arbitrary decisions, but is spokesman for the will of the Lord, who speaks to man in the Scriptures lived and interpreted by Tradition; in other words, the episkope of the primacy has limits set by divine law and by the Church’s divine, inviolable constitution found in Revelation. The Successor of Peter is the rock which guarantees a rigorous fidelity to the Word of God against arbitrariness and conformism: hence the martyrological nature of his primacy.”
“The power that Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors is, in an absolute sense, a mandate to serve. The power of teaching in the Church involves a commitment to the service of obedience to the faith. The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law. On the contrary: the Pope’s ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and to his Word. He must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God’s Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism.”
Go here to read the original post.  New found enthusiasts for papal power on the Catholic left are of course unaware of this, as they are of most things that occurred in the Church prior to the current pontificate.



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  1. I don’t understand what Cardinal Ratzinger meant by “statistics” and “statistically”. Did he mean the majority of the opinion of faithful Catholics, or the majority of opinion of Bishops, or ???

  2. There are limits to Papal Infallibiility as well.

    1st Vatican Council (1869-1870)


    Session 4: First dogmatic constitution on the Church of Christ

    Article 6 in Chapter 4, On the infallible teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff

    For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.

    Article 7 in Chapter 4, On the infallible teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff

    This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine.

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