In his address to the International Theological Commission Pope Benedict XVI challenged those promoting dissent within the Church, such as The Tablet and Call to Action, about their misuse of the idea of the sensus fidelium to mean public opinion:
‘Today, however, it is particularly important to clarify the criteria used to distinguish the authentic sensus fidelium from its counterfeits. In fact, it is not some kind of public opinion of the Church, and it is unthinkable to mention it in order to challenge the teachings of the Magisterium, this because the sensus fidei can not grow authentically in the believer except to the extent in which he or she fully participates in the life of the Church, and this requires a responsible adherence to her Magisterium.’
The Holy Father re-iterates the true meaning of sensus fidelium as set out inthe Second Vatican Council dogmatic constitution, Lumen Gentium:
‘…the attention that theologians must pay to sensus fidelium. It is very useful that your Commission has also focused on this issue which is of particular importance for the reflection on the faith and life of the Church. The Second Vatican Council, while confirming the specific and irreplaceable role of Magisterium, stressed, however, that the whole People of God participates in Christ’s prophetic office, thus fulfilling the inspired desire expressed by Moses, ” If only all the people of the LORD were prophets! If only the LORD would bestow his spirit on them! “(Num 11:29). The Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium thus teaches us on the subject: “The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One,(111) cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. “(n. 12). This gift, the sensus fidei, constitutes in the believer a kind of supernatural instinct that has a connatural life with the same object of faith. It is a criterion for discerning whether or not a truth belongs to the deposit of the living apostolic tradition. It also has a propositional value because the Holy Spirit does not cease to speak to the Churches and lead them to the whole truth.’
Protect the Pope comment: Dissenters are for ever justifying their rejection of the teachings of the Church through their ignorant or wilful misuse of the idea of the sensus fidelium. The Tablet often repeats the refrain that the Church of Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have abandoned the Council’s promotion of the sensus fidelium. What they mean by sensus fidelium has no bearing on its definition in Lumen Gentium 12. They do violence to concept by equating sensus fidelium with public opinion and misbehaviour. What they are actually complaining about is that these saintly popes have not changed the Church’s teaching on contraception, abortion, divorce, and homosexuality.
The English Call to Action dissent group, led by priests who should know better, likewise misuse sensus fidelium to justify their questioning and implicit rejection of Church teaching. As Protect the Pope reported on the 9th of June:
Why are self-styled defenders of the Second Vatican Council so ignorant about the actual contents of Vatican II documents. Fr Reeve and the other priests behind Call to Action refer to the sensus fidelium as if it were a mere expression of the experience of contemporary Catholics, in this case Catholics who dissent from the Church’s teaching on sexuality. As they write in their Tablet letter:
‘The bishops speak of “fostering and encouraging a culture of dialogue and solidarity” but, in reality, there is little opportunity or forum for this and there seems a reluctance to listen to the people whose lived reality is so often at odds with the teaching of the institutional Church. This is especially true in reading the signs of the times; i.e. matters of developing a theology of sexuality rooted in the actual experiences of the faithful and developing an understanding of the relationships between evolution and religion. The sensus fidelium seems forgotten.’
However, according to Lumen Gentium 12 the sensus fidelium only genuinely operates when it is faithful to scripture, tradition and magisterium of the Catholic Church and in obedience to the Pope and college of bishops:
‘The whole body of the faithful who have an anointing that comes from the holy one (cf. 1 Jn. 2:20 and 27) cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei) of the whole people,when,“from the bishops to the last of the faithful”(8) they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals. By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority (magisterium),and obeying it,receives not the mere word of people,but truly the word of God (cf. 1 Th. 2:13), the faith once for all delivered to the saints (cf. Jude 3). The People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment. It is not only through the sacraments and the ministrations of the Church that the Holy Spirit makes holy the People,leads them and enriches them with his virtues.’(LG 12)
‘Sensus fidelium’ does not mean what a group of contemporary Catholics just happen to think at the present time.
What this misuse of ‘sensus fidelium’ reveals about Fr Byrnes, Fr. Lally, Fr McLaughlin, Fr Nally, Fr Reeve, Fr Ryan and Fr Sanders is that they are defending a particular version of Vatican II that has been around since the 60′s, that old canard ‘the spirit of the Council’.
In his address to the International Theological Commission Pope Benedict exposes the con being pulled by The Tablet, Call to Action and all the other Spirit of Vatican II malcontents.