'Sentire Cum Ecclesia'

Rome, si, California, no

The questions posed by the editors are, I am glad to say, very easily answered. Yes, the church can confess error. She has done so innumerable times. She does so every time her members—laity, priests, bishops, and popes—go to confession. As for more public confession of error, see, for instance, Luigi Accattoli’s valuable little book When a Pope Asks Forgiveness (Pauline Books), in which are collected no less than ninety-four statements by John Paul II expressing sorrow or repentance for corporate sins in which Catholics have been implicated.

But, of course, the editors likely did not intend to pose questions that are so easily answered. I expect the intended question goes something like this: Can the magisterium of the church confess that, in the clear exercise of its teaching authority regarding faith and morals, it has taught erroneously? Not inadequately or partially or in a way that creates misunderstanding, mind you, but erroneously. Put differently, has the church taught as true that which we now recognize as false? That way of putting the question raises the stakes by posing the question of whether the Catholic church is what she claims to be. Obviously, that is a question of considerable importance for Catholics, and everyone else as well.

In the current discussion of these questions—a...

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About the Author

The late Reverend Richard John Neuhaus was president of the Institute on Religion and Public Life and editor in chief of First Things.