Catholic Beliefs Are Not Open to Popular Vote, Pope Says

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VATICAN CITY * When the Catholic church affirms the importance of how all the faithful understand matters of faith and morals, it is not saying Catholic beliefs are open to a popular vote, Pope Benedict XVI said.

An authentic sensus fidei, which literally means "sense of faith," can come only when Catholics actively participate in the life of the church and follow the teaching of the pope and bishops, he said Dec. 7 during a meeting with members of the International Theological Commission.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes the Second Vatican Council's teaching that "the whole body of the faithful ... cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, 'from the bishops to the last of the faithful,' they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals."

Benedict praised the theological commission members for including a discussion of the sensus fidei in "Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria," a document they released in March and which affirms the primacy of bishops over theologians as interpreters of church teaching.

"Today it is particularly important to clarify the criteria which make it possible to distinguish the authentic sensus fidei from its counterfeits," the pope said. "In reality, it is not some kind of ecclesial public opinion, and it is unthinkable to use it to contest the teaching of the magisterium because the sensus fidei cannot develop authentically in a believer except to the extent in which he or she fully participates in the life of the church, and this requires a responsible adherence to the magisterium. …