Are these commentators talking about the same bishop (remember, it’s about office not the man)?
Here‘s an excerpt from a review of a biography of William Henry O’Connell, the archbishop of Boston for the better part of the first half of the twentieth century. Notice how authoritarian the papacy seems in 1992 (not 1492):
Even at the height of the papacy’s temporal power, when medieval and Renaissance popes deposed emperors, appointed kings, and divided the world among competing colonizers; even during the Reformation, when popes fought Protestants to the death and excommunicated half of Europe, the universal Church’s ancient claim to “inerrancy” in its mission of handing on the Gospel was not formally restricted to the person of the Bishop of Rome. The claim that the Pope, teaching ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals, was exempt from the capacity for error was not solemnly made until 1870 — as an act of the fathers gathered at the First Vatican Council. They were moved to make this extraordinary proclamation as a kind of compensation for losing the last remaining temporal holdings of the papacy to King Victor Emmanuel II, in the same period. The Papal States had once stretched from coast to coast across Italy, but from then on the Pope’s worldly sway was to extend only to the hundred-odd acres of Vatican City. The fathers of the council saw to it that the spiritual sovereignty of Peter’s successor would be as absolute as possible — far more absolute than Peter’s authority had ever been.
The story of the Catholic Church from 1870 through the first half of the twentieth century, ending with Vatican II and Humanae Vitae, is the story of an efficient, ever extending spiritual imperialism under the banner of papal infallibility. That proposition has politicized — and parochialized — the New Testament notion of the Holy Spirit’s enduring presence in the Church. Future generations of Catholics will surely seek to explain away this astounding doctrine with ever more arcane redefinitions, much as this generation explains away the once solemn doctrine of no salvation outside the Church. The key to the papacy’s success in solidifying its hold over the soul of the Church was not the virtue of the men who held the office or the clarity of their moral vision but a far simpler thing: the Pope’s expanded authority to appoint bishops without regard for the preferences of local churches. The Pope controls dioceses and archdioceses around the world by making sure they are administered by men whose first loyalty is to him. Nothing demonstrates the significance of this power better than the career of Boston’s flamboyant Cardinal Archbishop William Henry O’Connell.
Now a recent word of encouragement to liberals in the church in relation to the current pope. Notice how open the church now is:
But culture’s about more than sex, and this pope is no less confrontational than his predecessors. In Laudato si’, he treats economic and environmental policy as moral and, yes, cultural issues, and he doesn’t seem to mind offending those who stand in the way of conversion and reform. Did you hear what he said to Congress about the arms trade? If Francis is a pope particularly committed to dialogue, he is also a pope who believes in plain-speaking.
So, if you are a Catholic who supports same-sex marriage, women’s ordination, or anything else about which this pope’s position cannot be described as liberal, you should feel perfectly free to share in the widespread enthusiasm for him. There are, after all, many reasons to admire Francis, and you don’t need anyone’s permission. You should also feel free not to admire him: there’s no obligation, not even for Catholics. But Catholics should at least respect him, and that means taking him at his word. All his words.
Arminians in the Southern Baptist Convention might think that their change of fortunes in the wake of the New Calvinism are just another day at the office compared to this makeover. And the apologists think that we don’t notice the lack of discipline and what goes with it, coherence? Shouldn’t office count for something?