Fr John Hunwicke blogs – S Gregory Nazianzenus and S John Henry Newman’s comment.
A.D. 382: “S Gregory [Nazianzenus] writes: ‘If I must speak the truth, I feel disposed to shun every conference of Bishops; for never saw I synod brought to a happy issue, and remedying, and not rather aggravating, existing evils. For rivalry and ambition are stronger than reason – do not think me extravagant for saying so – and a mediator is more likely to incur some imputation himself than to clear up the imputations which others lie under”(Epistola 129). It must ever be kept in mind that a passage like this only relates, and is here quoted only as relating, to that miserable time of which it is spoken. Nothing more can be argued from it than that the Ecclesia docens is not at every time the active instrument of the Church’s infallibility.'”
This is from On Consulting the Faithful in matters of Doctrine by Saint John Henry Newman. I have said before, and I shall say again, that we can have no surer practical guide during times of ecclesial disorder than S John Henry. This is because of his deep understanding of the previous periods when the Church had been similarly afflicted. And his own immersion in the events surrounding Vatican I. And rememember that he is an extraordinarily subtle and precise thinker and writer. (His analysis of the Syllabus of Errors is perhaps the sharpest exammple of this.) In the piece I have printed above, I would draw yout attention to the last fourteen words. Each one of them is careful, and carefully weighed.
I would add a word of my own: A Catholic is obliged to be in communion with the See of S Peter (both when, as now, it is occupied, and also when, as during interregna, it is unoccupied). One is under no strict obligation to like the currently reigning Pontiff, nor to agree with him, nor to think that he is a man of prudence (although I think it is a mark of the mens Catholica to give him the benefit of any real doubt). Many bishops, and even cardinals, did not like Benedict XVI, did not agree with him, did not admire his prudence. Indeed, not a few of those hierarchs, as soon as Benedict abdicated, came crawling out of their lairs and said so. Presumably, as soon as Francis is either buried or abdicated, the same thing will happen.
You have to be in communion with him and to accept anything he defines ex cathedra to be the teaching of Christ. When, in his Ordinary Magisterium, he affirms the Church’s teaching (and Francis has sometimes done that) you are thankful for it. When you have a problem with some word or action, you lean over backwards to see it in the best possible light. But your duties of faithfulness to Christ do not mean that you have to be pathologically sycophantic towards whoever happens to be at any particular time the current bishop of Rome. Still less, towards those who appear to speak on his behalf.
And we need to avoid the temptation to panic every time some daft bishops, or even some daft cardinal, says or does something … daft.
This Pontiff has given encouragement to people to speak with parrhesia. I think we should accept him at his word.
But I do wonder why so many bishops have come to the conclusion that he doesn’t really mean that.