Feisty, funny, and gimlet-eyed author John Zmirak writes a helpful FAQ on the extent and limits of papal authority for the baffled Catholics of the Age of Francis. The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s the hard-hitting conclusion:
Q: What if Pope Francis decided to issue an infallible statement, insisting that the Maltese bishops’ interpretation on divorce, marriage and communion are authentic Catholic teaching?
A: In such a situation, we believe the Holy Spirit would intervene. As Catholics, we believe that God would veto such a statement.
Q: How would He do that?
A: Look back at scripture for examples. Noah’s flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the fate of Onan. It’s not for me to predict what means He’d decide to use. But if the Catholic claim is true, no pope would live long enough to sign such a document.
Q: And that’s all that papal infallibility means? “Try to teach heresy ex cathedra, and get a heart attack?”
A: Yes, in effect. The pope is not an oracle, not a second Jesus, not the Supreme Court rewriting the Constitution as it goes along. He’s like a Fedex guy, and it’s his job to pass on a package. He’s not empowered to open it, rifle through the contents, and replace them with something “better.”