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November 9, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — A world-renowned Catholic philosopher said that faithful Catholics “have an obligation” not to follow or obey the Pope if he clearly contradicts perennial teachings of the Catholic Church.

Dr. Josef Seifert, president of the new laity-led Academy for Life and close friend of the late Pope St. John Paul II, said that Catholics “have an obligation not to believe [all that the Pope teaches and writes] to be true if we see that it clearly contradicts perennial Church teaching or evident moral truth accessible to human reason, or both.”

“I think that as soon as we find that a new teaching is false, we are obliged not to obey it. And as soon as we find a new pastoral decision of the Pope inapplicable in good conscience, such as giving the sacraments to unrepentant sinners on the basis of an (impossible for us) ‘discernment’ of whether their sin is compatible with their being in the state of grace for subjective reasons, we are likewise morally obliged not to obey it,” he said. 

Quoting from the Acts of the Apostles, Seifert said that when it comes to the perennial truths of the Catholic faith, Catholics “have to obey God more than men.”

The philosopher made the comments in an interview with OnePeterFive’s Maike Hickson published November 7. 

His comments come at a time when arguments between Catholic thinkers are raging over to what extent Catholics owe fidelity to controversial teachings of Pope Francis on marriage, conscience, and the sacraments, specifically as found in his 2016 exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). 

One of the most controversial aspects of the exhortation is its apparent opening of the door to civilly-divorced-and-remarried Catholics who are actively living in adultery receiving Holy Communion through a process of “discernment.” Though numerous prelates and experts have insisted that the document should be interpreted in a traditional way, in light of the Church's perennial teaching, this liberal interpretation has been adopted by various bishops and bishops’ groups, including those in ArgentinaMaltaGermany, and Belgium.

Seifert said in the interview that numerous Catholics worldwide who are trying to be faithful to the Church mistakenly hold that everything the pope utters or writes must receive their unconditional consent. 

But there can be no real “unity with the Pope” unless there is a prior unity based on “truth,” he said. 

“To agree with the Pope, have unity with the Pope, on an error is of no value whatsoever,” he said. 

“On the contrary: as Saint Thomas and the Acts of the Apostles stated clearly, in such a case the subordinate has an obligation to criticize his superior, even publicly, as St. Paul criticized St. Peter,” he added. 

The philosopher said that priority of truth over unity is “absolute.” He emphasized that “truth has not only priority over unity and peace, but is the condition of authentic unity and peace.”

Seifert outlined why he thinks one of the foremost defenders of Amoris Laetitia, Professor Rocco Buttiglione, is wrong in his arguments that Catholics must adhere to the exhortation.  

“Buttiglione holds that as Catholics, we have to believe to be true whatever the Pope says in the exercise of his Ordinary Magisterium, while I agree that, yes, we have an obligation to look first for the truth contained in a magisterial document and to try to interpret it in the light of the truth expressed in the tradition, but do not have any absolute obligation whatsoever to believe that every part of a pronouncement of the ordinary papal magisterium is true or compatible with the perennial teaching of the Church,” said Seifert.

“Moreover, we have an obligation not to believe it to be true if we see that it clearly contradicts a) perennial Church teaching or b) evident moral truth accessible to human reason, or c) both,” he added.

Seifert laid out four arguments against the exhortation being an exercise of the Pope's Ordinary Magisterium, which if it was, Catholics would be bound to consent to it. 

  1. Because the decisive new points of AL are chiefly found in mere footnotes that cannot reverse the sacramental discipline of the Church of 2000 years, solemnly reconfirmed by the apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio (FC) of Saint Pope John Paul II. Such footnotes cannot be considered an Exercise of the Ordinary Magisterium, as also Cardinals Brandmüller and Burke as well as the other dubia Cardinals and many others noted.
  2. Moreover, the Pope explicitly says in Ch. III of Amoris Laetitia that he does not want to settle the decisive novelty in AL through his magisterium, but leaves it open to decide by the various national and culturally different and decentralized bishops’ conferences.
  3. He confirmed this position by approving both the decision of the Polish Episcopate to follow FC entirely and not to admit any divorced and civilly remarried or active homosexuals who do not want to change their lives, to the sacraments, and by confirming and praising at the same time also the opposite position: the pronouncement of the Argentinian Bishops of the Buenos Aires area, which coincides with that of many other bishops, including the archbishop of Granada. These bishops adopted the exactly opposite interpretation. The Pope even praised the far more radical pronouncement of the Bishops of Malta on AL, who proposed a completely situation-ethical interpretation of AL. Thus, Pope Francis follows the idea he proposes of a “decentralized magisterium” or different “magisteria” in the Church — all of which he approved — an idea which I heard Karl Rahner express in Munich half a century ago. Now, pure logic tells us that the position of the Bishops of Buenos Aires or Malta and that of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, which is diametrically and contradictorily opposed to that of the bishops of Buenos Aires (defended by Buttiglione), and both of which are admitted and approved by the Pope in his new “magisterial pluralism”, cannot both correspond to the “ordinary Magisterium of the Pope”. Hence the novel teachings of AL (, i.e., the Buenos Aires reading) cannot be the “Magisterium of the Pope”.
  4. The novelties of AL are not primarily doctrinal but pastoral and thus more subject to categories of prudence or imprudence than of truth and falsity; for example, if Popes in the past have asked in the Exercise of their ordinary Magisterium in papal bulls or encyclicals that heretics, magicians, and witches should be burnt at the stake, or when they excommunicated in bulls entire cities because their prince led a war against the Vatican, I am certainly not obliged to believe that this was a prudent pastoral decision. Buttiglione himself, somewhat contradictorily, says that the new teaching of AL is a purely pastoral one and he also stated, at least in letters to me, that we are not bound to agree with the wisdom of a pastoral decision of a Pope that is not per se true or false, but can be prudent or imprudent. But in that case I am not at all obliged to agree with AL (according to logic being applied to Buttiglione’s admission), nor to agree that its new Pastoral guideline is wise.

Seifert said it amounts to “papolatry,” a worshiping of the pope, to insist that Catholics “have an absolute duty to accept everything a Pope or Council are saying,” insofar as it is “not dogmatic and de fide [of the faith], and if he has good reason to believe that it is contrary to natural or revealed truth or to both.”

“I think that the infallible Extraordinary Magisterium only applies to such central matters of doctrine and faith that either the Pope defines 'ex cathedra' (which happened only two or three times in the history of the Church) or which a Council, in union with the Pope, defined as being a dogma and de fide in such a way that anyone who contradicted it was declared ‘anathema,’” he said. 

“The infallible Ordinary Magisterium of the Church is present only in teachings of the ordinary magisterium that coincide with what the Church has taught always and everywhere, not with entirely novel teachings. Neither one of these criteria of infallibility applies to the novelties of Amoris Laetitia,” he added. 

“To treat Catholics who dissent from AL as heretics, schismatics in fact or in spirit, or disobedient to the Pope, is a grave injustice,” he said. 

Seifert was fired from his university position by his Archbishop in September after publishing an article in which he questioned the Pope’s teaching in Amoris Laetitia

He suggested in his article that if Pope Francis believes that adultery — to quote the exhortation — “is what God himself is asking” of couples in “irregular” situations, then there is nothing stopping any other intrinsically evil acts from eventually being justified. He called the exhortation a ticking “theological atomic bomb” that has the capacity to destroy all Catholic moral teaching. 

Seifert's entire interview can be read here.