Habemus Papam Temporarium
Forget all this Sede Vacante nonsense: His Grace very ably occupied the Chair of St Augustine during the Church of England’s recent interregnum, and humbly administered with theological grace and political wisdom (for which he received sincere thanks from Lambeth Palace). And so it has been determined by Twitter Conclave that he should now occupy the Chair of St Peter until such time as the Holy Spirit should inform the Conclave of Cardinals who will be the next incarnate pope.
Unlike all other ordained Anglicans, His Grace’s holy orders are not ‘absolutely null and utterly void’: he was ordained in 1520 (or 1521 – he can’t quite remember) and, pursuant to a papal grant, he was (and so remains) licensed to preach in all the dioceses of (what is now) the United Kingdom. Ergo, there is no ecclesio-theological bar to his becoming the (temporary) Bishop of Rome and successor of St Peter. Of course, not all Christians will agree with this, for we know that not all Christians believe that the Pope is uniquely charged with a particular care for the unity of Christ’s flock. The Church of England is a perpetual reminder that unity in faith may be diverse in expression.
But while His Grace is pontificating (literally) over the coming days or weeks (or, should the Holy Spirit tarry, months or years), he hopes to bring renewal with a tinge of reformation to the Church of Rome.
He will not begin with superficial media obsessions (ie sex scandals, or, more specifically, gay sex scandals). He does not believe that Rome has abandoned Semper Eadem for Hierarchy, Bureaucracy and Homosexuality (though reports about the Curia suggest otherwise). To assist the next pope with putting his house in order, His Grace’s first act will be to rectify some theological baggage which is an undoubted bar to ecumenical relations.
And no, we’re not talking about mandatory celibacy (these things will be dealt with over the coming weeks (/months). His Grace would firstly like to deal with the issue of ‘Papal Infallibility’, for while that teaching remains, the reunion of Canterbury with Rome is not a remote possibility.
Look, it’s only been a dogma since 1870. Yes, it was invoked in medieval superstitious traditions centuries before that, but never as an immutable doctrine of faith. And since Pope Pius IX who pronounced it obviously wasn’t infallible when it was imparted ex cathedra, it plainly cannot be an infallible pronouncement. Good grief, even some popes don’t agree with it. Pope John XXIII is reported to have said: “I am only infallible if I speak infallibly but I shall never do that, so I am not infallible.”
Note the ‘never’.
As far His Grace is concerned (and probably Pope John XXIII), there is and has ever been only one man who was and remains preserved from error, and that man is Christ Jesus. St Peter certainly never claimed infallibility when defining doctrine concerning faith or morals, so quite why any of those who claim to be his successors should believe they are preserved from the possibility of error when doing so is something of a mystery (or blasphemy).
This is no trivial matter or minor doctrine. It is a stumbling block if not an insurmountable hurdle for all non-Roman-Catholic Christians. Rowan, Lord Williams said that Pope Benedict’s resignation has fundamentally altered perceptions; that ‘the pope is not like a sort of God-king who goes on to the very end’. If the concept of ‘God-king’ has been dispelled, it is surely time to ditch the pretention to infallibility.
Ministry is service: to be a bishop is to be pastoral. And this occasionally necessitates expressions of authority and the administration of discipline. But it is very easy to confuse infallibility of administrative action with infallibility of doctinal morality. That Pope Benedict has broken with centuries of tradition and abdicated his throne has dented the infallible authority of the God-king. If power may be handed on voluntarily to a successor, it may be dispersed. If it may be dispersed, its manifestation becomes ambiguous. The Pontiff who emptied himself of all authority has also relativised all claims of infallibility.
Further, the Holy See has never published a comprehensive list of what, precisely, constitutes the infallible canon of Petrine interpolations. This creates spiritual confusion in the people of God. Certainly, we know about the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary, but what is the status of (say) Humanae Vitae or Ordinatio Sacerdotalis? The one prohibits artificial contraception; the other reserves the priestly ordination to men alone. Are these infallible (and so immutable) teachings? The Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth Philip Egan certainly believes Humanae Vitae to be so, yet many liberals clearly dismiss its teachings with impunity. Who arbitrates in these disputes, and by what authority? Does Bishop Philip Egan police the bedrooms of his flock and anathematise the contraceptive recidivists as vehemently as he would those who repudiate Transubstantiation?
Papal Infallibility is contrary to Scripture and reason. It is pseudo history and ecclesial illusion. Therefore His Grace’s first act as the (temporary) successor of St Peter is now revealed:
By the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by His Grace’s own authority, He declares, pronounces and defines the doctrine of papal fallibility when defining doctrine concerning faith or morals, to be revealed by God and as such to be firmly and immutably held by all the faithful.And His Grace does not anathematise anyone who deliberately dissents from this infallible teaching, for he doesn’t think that’s very Christian at all.