martes, 29 de mayo de 2007


Wednesday, May 23, 2007
By Harold Segura

Either the Pope made a mistake, or President Chávez of Venezuela doesn’t know how to read. At the inaugural address of the Conference, Benedict XVI uttered an expression that has caused disturbance in the past few days and that forced a special vote within the Assembly. What the Pope said was that “the announcement of Jesus and His Gospel did not involve, at any time, an alienation of pre-Columbian cultures, nor was it an imposition of an extraneous culture.” He also added a phrase about indigenous religiosity that aggravated the situation. He said it was utopian “to bring to life pre-Columbian religions” because that, without Christ and the Catholic Church, “would not be an advance but a step back.”

Protests began to be heard immediately. The Confederation of Peoples of the Kichwa Nationality, in Ecuador, protested; so did, among others, a group of Indian leaders from Brazil, which qualified the Pope’s comments as “arrogant and disrespectful”. But the one who most captured the attention of the media (an area in which he is considered to be an expert) was President Hugo R. Chávez Frías of Venezuela. He said: “What happened here was much more serious than the holocaust of World War II, and nobody can deny that truth to us (…); not even His Holiness can come here, to our own land, to deny the holocaust of the Indians.” And, among applauses, the public asked that the top leader of the Catholic Church apologize. “So, as a head of State, but clothed with the humility (…) of a Venezuelan peasant (…), I request His Holiness to offer his apologies to the peoples of our America,” he added. Benedict XVI asserted last Sunday in Brazil that the evangelization of the Americas “did not involve, at any time, an alienation of pre-Columbian cultures, nor was it an imposition of an extraneous culture.” (The video with the speech of the Venezuelan President can be watched at: )

As I said before, the Assembly of Aparecida has considered this fact among its deliberations. After contemplating several alternatives, the decision was to delegate a spokesman, Cardinal Julio Terrazas Sandoval (Bolivia) to appear before the media to offer a press conference in order to clarify what the Pope had actually meant. So today, as a German journalist with whom I talked at noon informed me, the Cardinal fulfilled this difficult task. For his part, the Archbishop of Caracas, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, told a Salvadoran newspaper that Chávez “has not read well” the address in his concern to “introduce a confrontation between the Venezuelan people and the Holy Father.”

For me, this has been the best way to prove in situ what infallibility consists of. During lunch, by coincidence, Cardinal Terrazas and two other bishops sat at the same table as myself. The Cardinal sincerely believes that the Pope didn’t mean what he said. I believe in his sincerity.
Infallibility is a dogma declared by Pius IX and approved by Vatican Council I in the late 19th century. It is explained as a grace received by the Pope when he solemnly intends to define a doctrine in matters of faith or morals; in other words, when he speaks ex cathedra. But infallibility doesn’t involve inerrancy, that is, that he cannot make mistakes in any subject; neither when he simply gives his opinion on some issue, and much less that he is free of sin (the latter is easier to understand). Consequently, in strict doctrine, the bishops at Aparecida could have said that the Pope did make a mistake. In the last instance, he’s not inerrant. But—would it be politically correct to accept a mistake by the Pope? No. So, in practice, I now understand that infallibility and inerrancy end up being the same thing—the Pope doesn’t make mistakes, not even when he makes mistakes.


1 comentario:

Brad dijo...

First of all, pope's routinely make mistakes. What is at issue here is the context of the pope's speech about the conversion of Latin America, not an issue of faith and doctrinal definition. In the pope's view, the spread of the Gospel was fundamentally good and fulfilled, perfected, and brought meaning to the religion and life of the natives before Columbus "discovered" the Americas. He did not absolve nor defend the abhorrent practices of many Christians and conquistadores of that period. Please see John Allen's insightful analysis of the speech.

Papal infallibility has only been invoked twice, once in the 19th century, once in the 20th. It is not some personal "power" of the pope. The teaching of the church is infallible. It is based on the Scripture AND the way that Scripture has been interpreted and practiced out (Tradition) in the life and history of the Church. Tradition is always subject to Scripture, of course (every Christian denomination has a form of Tradition--a certain interpretation and hermeneutic of Scripture that is authoritative for them). A church council or, in the case of papal infallibility, the pope speaking in union with all the bishops and all the church, can rule on doctrines and dogmas. Since you have gone to seminary you are well aware of the councils of the early church which defined and defended the belief in Christ's humanity, divinity, as well as the Trinity.
When the pope invokes infallibility, he speaks not by his own power but by the church's own authority in union with the bishops and the whole church.

The pope did not invoke infallibility during his speech. If and when he does, the whole world will know for sure. There won't be any debate about it.

Was the pope wrong in this case? Perhaps. His bishops and defenders were merely reminding Chavez, hardly a shining example of a model Christian, that one ought to read his whole speech and understand its context and theological framework. Condeming isolated phrases is abhorrent (remember his perfectly decent speech in Germany?)