On yesterday’s Today show, Genialissimo Cardinal Timothy Dolan did everything in his power to persuade Matt Lauer that Pope Francis’ airborne comments on gays were nothing new under the Catholic sun. In the process, he asserted that the pope has no power to make church law. Say what?
Dolan allowed as how the only thing that surprised him about the remarks was that people were surprised. Maybe, he conceded, “a tone has changed.” But, Lauer asked, wasn’t Francis overruling his predecessor, who signed a document basically banning gays from becoming priests?
“No, he wouldn’t have overruled him, Matt,” replied Dolan. “Keep in mind that it was Benedict too who wrote a good chunk of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church it’s very clear that homosexual people deserve love, respect, and dignity, while homosexual acts, uh, will be immoral.”
Evidently, according to Dolan, Benedict and Francis are totally in accord on gays, with Francis standing behind the 2005 Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders, which bars from the priesthood men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”
Lauer, perhaps unconvinced, then allowed as how Francis had certainly said no to women priests. Right, said Dolan:
Keep in mind, Matt, that the pope’s job is to hand on, with its full purity and integrity, the teaching of the Church. He can’t make it up, he can’t change it, it’s not some policy like the board of governors changes. He can emphasize or set different tones or put different emphases, and I think that’s what he’s doing.
Now that’s a pretty good description of the papal state of affairs 1,000 years ago, but beginning with the reform papacy of the 11th century, it all changed. Between Gregory VII and Innocent III, popes took it upon themselves to become the legislators of Christendom, and they never surrendered the claim to possess such plenitude of power.
Thus, in 1950, the year of Dolan’s birth, Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of the Virgin to be a dogma of the Church, in the one and so far only formal exercise of papal infallibility. By saying that John Paul II had “definitively…closed the door to women priests,” Francis was himself pointing to the fact that popes determine church law.
Of course, over the centuries there have been Catholics who wished it were otherwise. And what with all the excitement Francis has generated among progressives, there’s doubtless some fear in conservative circles that he will make changes in church law that they won’t like. You’d almost think that Dolan, who’s always flown with the right wing, was substituting church doctrine with wishful thinking.
Update: Dolan turned his remarks into a a blog post yesterday.