Pope Benedict challenges dissenters misusing sensus fidelium to mean public opinion

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.


12 comments to Pope Benedict challenges dissenters misusing sensus fidelium to mean public opinion

  • Bob Hayes

    According to the minutes of the ‘A Call to Action’ North London Group, Fr Joe Ryan of Westminster Diocese reported plans to hold a ‘National Conference’ at Hinsley Hall in Leeds in May 2013. http://www.acalltoaction.org.uk/documents and download ‘North London Meeting 30/11/12.

  • Karla

    Pope Benedict continues to speak out and pursue action againt dissent

  • Joseph Matthew

    Pope Benedict has done it again! How often we hear people who choose to dissent say they are following their conscience when they really mean their various moral compromises with the secular world.

  • Comte de Frebonius

    Just an unrelated question. Fr Finegan spoke about some faithful going to the NG to offer a Rosary in reparation for some of the blasphemous paintings of the Blessed Mother, currently on show; does any one know how did it go?

    • Compte de Frebonius,

      It went all right. But only 20 people turned up to defend the honnour of the Mother of God. I was left wondering what had happened to the Church “Militant”.

  • Karla

    Fr. John Zuhlsdorf calls the Tablet the bitter pill!!

    About that survey by The Tablet.… does anything strike you as a little queer?


  • Simon

    Groups call for change believe that the church needs to change in line with societal change particularly around attitudes to do with sexuality. They assume that we are being constrained by the magisterium of the church. For me the fact that the church upholds the truth and does not change in light of imorality is liberating. For example to be open to life gives a wonderful freedom. The teachings of the church give a blue print for life. Is that at odds with modern society? Too right and I thank God for that. What we need to do is to be better at explaining the teachings of the church to the faithful and more particularly to the young offering them an alternative message. A way to live in communion with Christ and each other.

    • Michael B Rooke

      There are many reports in the press and secular media but there appears to be no primary source that is able to quote the original texts. I am inclined to the view that Downing Street has leaked partial information. There are no articles on the Downing Street web site and a search for ‘Devine’ yielded nothing.

  • Deacon Augustine

    “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’.”

    I would suggest that it also reveals that they are theologically illiterate. You can guarantee that when they speak of the “sensus fidelium”, they will allow no part in this to the faithful who have actually “made the grade” and have gone before us to a heavenly reward. Their version is simply a dictatorship of those living on earth who happen to agree with them, and whose lack of faith will mean there is little likelihood of a heavenly reward.

  • chris

    We are very fortunate (if that’s the word) to have a pope of the intellectual capacity of Pope Benedict. An intellectual is not always the one needed, any more than one with a hugely charismatic personality. Sometimes it’s a straight-talking, down to earth Peter. But with the current intellectual, and pseudo-intellectual, attacks on the Church, the Holy Spirit seems to have picked the right man. He answers the former in their language, and easily discerns the latter.

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