Ed Feser takes a look at how we arrived at the current mess the Church is in:
However the current crisis is resolved, one of the good fruits it is likely to bear in the long run is a more sober understanding of the nature of the papal office. Catholic theology and magisterial teaching during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries put heavy emphasis on the large scope of papal power, and for good reason. But papal power is not unlimited, and it is possible to overemphasize it. Indeed, if even heresy is something a pope might in theory be guilty of, lesser but still serious errors are also possible and more likely – and have indeed been committed by recent popes, which is part of the reason we’re in the mess we’re in. One of the excellent points Prof. Rist makes in his interview is this:
John Paul’s theatrical talents, and his comparative indifference to Curial reform, have not been helpful. The former encouraged the disastrous practice, which we now see in spades, of assuming that if you want the answer to any question, you go to the pope as talking oracle: The media took (and takes) advantage of that, often to the detriment of the Church.
End quote. Part of Rist’s point here is that Pope St. John Paul II was such a strong personality that the line between the man and the office he held came to be blurred. Many people, including too many faithful Catholics, started to think that Catholicism is just whatever the current pope happens to be saying (even though this was certainly not John Paul II’s own view).
Cardinal Ratzinger was sensitive to this problem, and made it clear that not everything John Paul II said amounted to binding Catholic teaching (as in his 2004 memo on worthiness to receive Holy Communion, which noted that Catholics are not obliged to agree with the pope’s call to abolish capital punishment). As Pope Benedict XVI, he emphasized the limits of papal power, especially in matters of doctrine:
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…
The Pope knows that in his important decisions, he is bound to the great community of faith of all times, to the binding interpretations that have developed throughout the Church’s pilgrimage. Thus, his power is not being above, but at the service of, the Word of God. It is incumbent upon him to ensure that this Word continues to be present in its greatness and to resound in its purity, so that it is not torn to pieces by continuous changes in usage.
End quote. Unfortunately, this was too little too late, and many have come to think of the papacy in essentially voluntarist terms. The sequel has been the Orwellian notion that a pope can by fiat turn a reversal of doctrine into a development of doctrine, and heretical water into orthodox wine.
Prof. Rist also makes reference to John Paul’s “comparative indifference to Curial reform,” and that is another major part of the story of what is happening in the Church today. People wonder: Where did all these heterodox prelates come from? The answer is that they gained prominence in the Church, and in many cases were made bishops and cardinals, precisely under John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Now, these popes certainly tried to reign in the worst heretical excesses of the post-Vatican II period, but they were never as draconian as their enemies liked to pretend. Though famous dissident theologians like Hans Küng and Charles Curran lost the right to label themselves officially as professors of Catholic theology, they were not excommunicated or defrocked. They have remained priests in good standing, and have continued teaching and writing and otherwise freely spreading their ideas in Catholic circles. And these are just the most visible dissidents. Countless other heterodox theologians have been left entirely unmolested and free to teach and write whatever they like, in Catholic institutions and elsewhere. Naturally, these people have had an enormous influence on generations of Catholic laymen, priests, and prelates, even if the latter usually don’t express their heterodox views frankly and in public.
This patience with heterodoxy contrasts with the attitude of past popes. It is one thing to try to live up to the Church’s teachings and to fail, but quite another to reject those teachings and lead others to do the same. That is why, while the Church has always tolerated those guilty of sins of weakness (drunkenness, fornication, etc.), she has, traditionally, not tolerated heresy. You can’t follow Catholic teaching even imperfectly if you don’t know what it is. Hence, while other sins are like a bad flu, heresy is like cancer. If it is found in some part of the Church, it must either be cured straightaway (by convincing the heretic to repent) or removed (by excommunication, if there is no repentance). Otherwise the whole organism is threatened.
Go here to read the rest. PopeWatch thinks the root of the problem is Vatican II. It taught Clergy and Laity that the teaching of the Church could change on a dime, and that issues thought settled were never really settled. Pope Francis is the endpoint of the contemporary Church where all the teachings have the solidity of jello on a plate held by a drunk. Each generation brings to the Church some very bad ideas. Until Vatican II the Church had an effective system to ensure that those bad ideas would rarely touch the teaching of the Church. That is no longer the case.