Skip to Content
Search Icon
Issue 13 – Christ the King 2022


Papal Authority and the Limits of Official Theology

On papal authority.


How far are Catholics morally obliged to obey the pope? Some centuries ago this question arose politically. Suppose the pope commanded you, for the good of religion, to abandon allegiance to your political ruler; would you be morally bound to do so? Since the Second Vatican Council the question has arisen once again with the liturgy. In 1970 Paul VI commanded the abandonment of the long-established Latin rite for a new rite that was a radical revision. The older rite was restricted, for many effectively forbidden. But then later popes began to remove these restrictions, and Benedict XVI even encouraged its celebration, claiming that it could never be right to suppress it. Now in Traditionis custodes Francis has re-imposed restrictions, limiting the discretion of bishops to permit the liturgy, as a path to the older rite’s complete suppression. Papal decree reverses earlier papal decree, with spiritual burdens all along the way for many priests and for their people. Again we face the question; are we bound to obey the pope? 

Some Catholics are in no doubt. On social media supporters of Traditionis custodes gleefully cited Pastor aeternus, the decree of the First Vatican Council that defined a papal primacy not only of teaching but also of jurisdiction. This decree seems to dictate unconditional obedience to papal legislation:

You must or subscribe to read the rest of the article.

About the author

Thomas Pink

Thomas Pink is a professor of philosophy at King’s College, London. He is the author of Free Will: A Very Short Introduction and The Ethics of Action, and has edited a collection of Francisco Suarez’s moral and political writings. He is currently editing The Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity and Chance for the Clarendon edition of the works of Thomas Hobbes.

More By This Contributor