From a reader…
Fr. Z: Our bishop visited our parish tonight to install our new pastor. The rite required father to vow to adhere to the teachings “which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciates when they exercise the authentic Magisterium ***even if they proclaim those teachings in an act that is not definitive.***” Question: does this formula have any bearing on the debate over Amoris Laetitia? Is a priest commuted to submit “will and intellect” to “not definitive” magisterial teaching? Please illuminate this passage. After all, it’s not often that we laypersons witness a priestly installation.
The ceremony of the installation of a pastor requires that the pastor make a profession of faith in the presence of the bishop (or his representative) and the congregation.
The idea of a pastor, or other official in the Church, making a public profession of faith is something that fell out of favor for a time, but was revived during the pontificate of St. John Paul II. This is a very good thing. While it does not give absolute assurance that the pastor will always remain faithful to the teachings of the Church, at the very least it gives the congregation some assurance that he can be held to account for his failure to live up to the profession he makes.
In 1998, St. John Paul II issued a document, Ad Tuendam Fidem, motu proprio (that is, on his own initiative) which altered two canons in both the Western Code (cann. 750 and 1371) and the Eastern Code (cann. 598 and 1436). These canons speak about the dogmatic teachings of the Church and the penalty incurred for denying these teachings. He also issued a revised version of the profession of faith.
Card. Ratzinger, with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a doctrinal explication of these new norms in the following month. (Both documents, and the profession of faith are HERE.
To answer your question in brief, yes, the pastor is obliged by the profession of faith he makes to give religious submission of will and intellect to those teachings that are enunciated by the Sovereign Pontiff or the Colllege of Bishops when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings definitively.
The CDF did not give clear examples of those teachings which fall under this category. Instead the CDF points to “teachings set forth by the authentic ordinary magisterium in a non-definitive way, which require degrees of adherence differentiated according to the mind and the will manifested; this is shown especially by the nature of the documents, by the frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or by the tenor of the verbal expression.”
With that in mind, looking at the current discussion over the propriety of giving Holy Communion to those living in an objective state of sin we have, on one hand, clear, definitive teaching of the magisterium over the course of two centuries, and on the other hand, a footnote that is open to multiple interpretations.
Given the CDF’s statement that we need to observe the nature of the document, the repetition of the teaching, and the tenor of the expression, it seems clear that Father, by his public profession of faith, has agreed to stand by and maintain with religious submission of mind and will to the consistent teaching of the Church that those who are living in an adulterous union are thereby unable to receive the sacraments.