Commenting on Cardinal Newman, Cardinal Manning (1808-1892) had this to say in 1877: “Newman was not in accord with the Holy See. I am nobody, but I spoke as the Holy See spoke. But almost every newspaper in England abused and ridiculed me. My name was never mentioned, but his was brought in to condemn me; his name was never mentioned but mine was brought in to despite me. If only we had stood side by side and spoken the same thing, the dissension, division and ill-will which we have would never have been, and the unity of Catholic truth would have been irresistible. But it was not to be so. There is only one person who has kept Dr. Newman back from the highest office — himself. He is the sole cause.” from Cardinal Manning A Biography (1985)
Commentary: Why does it matter what Cardinal Newman thought about papal infallibility? One reason is because he is being considered for sainthood, another is because many Protestants who are entering the Catholic Church — calling themselves traditionalists, do not fully embrace Papal authority. This was on display when traditionalists, including Fr. George Rutler, supported the Iraq war. They dismissed Pope John Paul II’s clear and correct interpretations on the matter, opting instead to follow their own ill-formed consciences. The last time we spoke with Fr. George Rutler, at Bernard Nathanson’s funeral in 2011, he was unrepentant and still a zealous supporter of the Iraq war.
Blessed John Paul II’s views were not the views of a stranger on a bar stool. To follow our conscience we first need to want to obey the truth. Popes can get it wrong, but their teachings should be considered seriously. History regards Hitler as the benchmark for evil, and yet America’s policies at home and abroad are starting to make Hitler and Nazism look like small potatoes. The wrongness of the Iraq War should have been a no-brainer for Catholics.
If Newman places conscience above authority, he is not proclaiming anything new with respect to the constant teaching of the Church. The conscience, as the Council teaches, “is man’s sanctuary and most secret core, where he finds himself alone with God, whose voice resounds within him…In loyalty to conscience Christians unite with others in order to search for the truth and to resolve, according to this truth, the many moral problems which arise in the life of individuals as well as the life of society. Therefore, the more a good conscience prevails the more people and social groups move away from blind willfulness and endeavor to conform to the objective norms of moral behavior. Nonetheless, it often happens that conscience errs through invincible ignorance, without, for this reason, losing its dignity. But this cannot be said of the man who does very little to search for truth and good, or when through the habit of sin, conscience itself becomes almost blind” (Guadium et Spes 16). John Paul, Crossing The Threshold Of Hope (Knopf, 1994)