Pope Francis and the Magisterium of the Church

by Marcelle Bartolo-Abela

Saint Peter, the first Pope.

On August 11, 2017, a group of “40 Catholic clergy and lay scholars” (Correctio Filialis.org, 2017) delivered to Pope Francis the famous Correctio Filialis de Haeresibus Propagatis [A filial correction concerning the propagation of heresies]. In this ‘correction’ the group claimed that

the pope has, by his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, and by other, related, words, deeds and omissions, effectively upheld 7 heretical positions about marriage, the moral life, and the reception of the sacraments, and has caused these heretical opinions to spread in the Catholic Church (ibid.).

Correctio Filialis was made public on September 24, 2017, with 62 signatories at the time, after it reportedly remained without response from the Holy Father.

Setting aside the merits or demerits of the above case for the purposes of this article, all kinds of crazy statements, declarations and ‘proclamations’ have cropped up on social media about both the Pope and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church; statements and declarations that attest to what can only be described, in generous terms, as a pitiability of knowledge about both the Church and the Faith itself by several who manifest zero reservation about loudly and vocally proclaiming how Catholic (and how faithful) they are. Below, therefore, are the plain basic facts, in simple language, that each Catholic in good standing should be familiar with in relation to the Pope and the Magisterium of the Church. This in particular if one’s fidelity and catholicity is being broadcast ever-so-happily, day in, day out, to the world at large.

The Pope and the Magisterium

Six levels exist to the Magisterium, the teaching authority, of the Church. The first five of these levels require as a minimum the religious assent of the Catholic faithful. The six levels consist of (1) pronouncements of the Pope that are made ex cathedra (extraordinary magisterium), (2) the Bishops in communion with the Pope, defining doctrine at a General Council (extraordinary magisterium); (3) the Bishops in communion with the Pope and together with him, proposing definitely, dispersed, but in agreement (ordinary and universal magisterium); (4) the Pope himself (ordinary magisterium), (5) the Bishops in communion with the Pope (ordinary magisterium), and (6) theologians (magisterium cathedrae magistralis).

Contrary to what several Catholics seem to think, as evidenced by their many recent declarations and ‘proclamations’ on social media — namely, that either (a) the Pope does not have a magisterium; (b) the Magisterium is something external to the Pope and separate from him, or (c) the Magisterium is both external to the Pope and not subject to him — none of these three so-called formulations are correct. None of them have an actual basis in the Catholic Faith.

First, the Pope has what is known as his own ordinary magisterium (#4 above), his own teaching authority, and this by divine appointment (Mt 16:18–19). This is separate from, and in addition to, any pronouncements he might make ex cathedra (#1 above).

Second, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church is neither external to the Pope nor separate from him (#1 through #6 above). In fact, for the teaching authority, the magisterium, of the bishops throughout the world to be valid and authentic, it necessarily has to be in communion with the Pope.

Third, the Magisterium is neither external to the Pope nor optional with regard to its acceptance and the subjection to it by all the Catholic faithful, because it is the Pope who (1) by divine appointment, has supreme and full authority over the universal Church, including, but not limited, to the Catholic Church itself; and (2) is the Supreme Guarantor, the Supreme Witness, of the Faith by virtue of the charism of truth and the charism of a faith that never fails granted to him, and to him alone, by God as an intrinsic part of the privileges of his office as the Vicar of Christ.