Is modernist Catholic doctrine based on settled misunderstandings of the truth of things?
Although it is very difficult for those who see Catholicism through political lenses to grasp this, popes are not like presidents or state governors, and doctrine is not like public policy. Which means that a change of papal “administration” does not—indeed cannot—mean a change of Catholic “views.” Doctrine, as the Church understands it, is not a matter of anyone’s “views,” but of settled understandings of the truth of things.
Nor are popes free agents who govern by the seat of their pants, if you‘ll permit the phrase. Prior to the completion of Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Pope Paul VI proposed adding to that seminal document a sentence stating that the pope is “accountable to the Lord alone”—an effort, I suspect, to protect papal authority and freedom of action from potential civil or ecclesiastical encroachments. But the council’s Theological Commission rejected Pope Paul’s proposed amendment, noting that “the Roman Pontiff is . . . bound to revelation itself, to the fundamental structure of the Church, to the sacraments, to the definitions of earlier Councils, and (to) other obligations too numerous to mention.”
Those “other obligations” include honoring the truth of things built into the world and into us. At an academic conference years ago, a distinguished Catholic philosopher remarked (perhaps hyperbolically) that “If the pope said that ‘2+2 = 5,’ I’d believe him.” An even more distinguished Catholic philosopher gave the correct, and far more Catholic, response: “If the Holy Father said that ‘2+2 = 5,’ I would say publicly, ‘Perhaps I have misunderstood His Holiness’s meaning.’ Privately, I would pray for his sanity.”