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What's Wrong with Pope Francis's Encyclical Letter?

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) July 7, 2013: On July 5, 2013, Pope Francis issued his first encyclical letter to the Roman Catholic faithful: "Lumen Fidei" (Light of Faith).

His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had been working on this encyclical before he formally abdicated. So which parts of the encyclical were prepared by Benedict, and which by Francis? I do not know, and I do not care. The encyclical was issued in the name of Pope Francis. So as far as I am concerned, it is his encyclical.

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This encyclical is addressed to the Roman Catholic faithful. It is not addressed to non-Catholics. As a result, most non-Catholics will probably not be interested in it.

Nevertheless, non-Catholic Americans might be concerned by the following statement toward the end of chapter two in the encyclical: "[T]he magisterium [of the pope and the bishops in communion with him] ensures our contact with the primordial source [of the Roman Catholic faith] and provides the certainty of attaining to the word of Christ in all its integrity."

Now, Aristotle teaches that we can have certainty in the conclusion of a properly constructed syllogism. So here is one syllogism:

Major premise: All men are fallible.

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Minor premise: The pope is a man.

Conclusion: Therefore, the pope is fallible.

Here's another syllogism:

Major premise: All men are fallible.

Minor premise: The Roman Catholic bishops are men.

Conclusion: Therefore, the Roman Catholic bishops are fallible.

Taken together, these two conclusions mean that the pope and the bishops in communion with him are fallible and cannot provide certainty in matters of faith and morals.

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I know, I know, in the nineteenth century Roman Catholic bishops in a council declared that the pope could make infallible decisions regarding matters of faith and morals -- but I   think this doctrine of possible papal infallibility should be expunged.

In any event, the above-quoted statement is far more sweeping in scope than the nineteenth-century doctrine about supposed papal infallibility.

As the doctrine of supposed papal infallibility has customarily been understood, the pope must explicitly declare when he is claiming to speak infallibly.

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www.d.umn.edu/~tfarrell
Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 

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