Pope tells theologians ‘sense of the faithful’ is not popular opinion


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said the church must pay attention to the ‘sense of the faithful’ (‘sensus fidelium’) when exercising its teaching authority, but never confuse that sense with popular opinion on matters of faith.

The pope made his comments Dec. 6, in an address to members of the International Theological Commission, a Vatican advisory body.

A cameraman with the Vatican’s television operation, CTV, records Pope Francis as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“By the gift of the Holy Spirit, the members of the church possess the ‘sense of the faith,’” he said. “It is a question of a kind of ‘spiritual instinct,’ which permits us to ‘think with the church’ and discern what is consistent with the apostolic faith and the spirit of the Gospel.”

The pope said the magisterium, the church’s teaching authority, has the “duty to pay attention to what the Spirit tells the church through authentic manifestations of the ‘sense of the faithful.’”

But he told the theologians this sense “must not be confused with the sociological reality of majority opinion. That is something else. It is therefore important, and it is your task, to elaborate the criteria that permit discernment of authentic expressions of the ‘sense of the faithful.’”

Citing his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis said theologians “must always listen to the faith as lived by the humble and little ones, to whom it has pleased the father to reveal what he has hidden from the learned and the wise.”

Joking that he was not trying to give “publicity to the Jesuits,” the pope recalled that even his order’s founder, St. Ignatius Loyola, used to teach the catechism to children.