The former prefect of the Vatican's highest court has described how and why a public correction of a pope may be necessary.
Speaking last weekend in Rome at the conference discussing doctrinal and pastoral confusion in the Church, Cdl. Raymond Burke, former head of the Apostolic Signatura, covered a two-stage process for papal correction that he noted was "based on the natural law, on the Gospels and on the canonical tradition."
The well-traveled cardinal said for starters, "[T]he correction of the presumed error or abandonment of his [pope's] duty should be addressed directly to the Roman Pontiff." He added, "[If] he continued to err or not answer, a public declaration should be made."
Part of the scriptural tradition for such a correction, to which Cdl. Burke alluded, can be found in Galatians 2:11 in which St. Paul called out St. Peter for catering to the Judaizers by his selective association with them. "But when Cephas was come to Antioch," related St. Paul, "I withstood him to the face because he was to be blamed." This kowtowing to the Judaizers, who were Christian but still pushed for Jewish observance of the Mosaic law, occurred even though St. Peter himself taught against it at the Council of Jerusalem as recorded in chapter 15 of Acts.
The pope's authority comes from God, said Cdl. Burke, and is therefore "limited by natural law and by divine law." He made the point that Catholics can't follow teachings or pastoral practices contrary to those given by Christ, Who gives the Pope authority. "Therefore," stated Cdl. Burke, "any expression of doctrine or practice that is not in conformity with the Divine Revelation, contained in the Holy Scriptures and in the Tradition of the Church ... must be rejected by the faithful."
Watch the panel discuss the outcome of the conference on Papal Confusion in The Download—Final Declaration on Marriage.