Gregory Popcak of Heart Mind & Strength blog mentions on "on-air tussle" with CRISIS magazine editor Deal Hudson over some Catholic's disagreement with the Vatican's stance on Iraq. Hudson's chief concern, according to Popcak, was the way various statements from the Vatican (not necessarily those of the Holy Father) were being presented as formal rulings rather than prudential judgements, allowing for differences on opinion.
Greg expressed the concern that a dismissive tone is likely to send a "dangerous and conflicting signal to all others who dissent", that such disagreement should only follow careful consideration of their positions, and (perhaps more importantly): "it should hurt just like it would hurt if your father--whom you loved more than anything--strongly suggested that you do something, but you, after careful consideration, refused him.It is your right to refuse him, but it should pain you somewhat."
Likewise, a recent contributor to the RFC mailing list notes that this dismissiveness may equally convey a less-than-Catholic conception of our bishops:
I think we are on dangerous ground when we start to reject out of hand what Bishops (whether in Iraq or anywhere else) say, for a number of reasons. Whilst no-one is suggesting that any particular Bishop is personally infallible, the Bishop is nonetheless Vicar of Christ in his own Diocese (an office, of course, exercised in hierarchical communion with the head of the College [the Supreme Pontiff] and its members [their brother Bishops]). We all too often fall into a Protestant mindset that sees Bishops as administrators rather than Apostles (Can. 375 ?1), among whom we are free to pick and choose. Well, thatâs just congregationalism. I do not suggest that Bishops never get things wrong, or never need to be corrected, but if we are serious about being faithful Catholics that can only be in unity with Peter, and our unity with Peter is through the Bishops. Unity is a gift given to us through the Church, the Apostles.
As the Canon Law of Latin Rite has it:
ãChristâs faithful [i.e. all the baptized, lay and clerical], conscious of their own responsibility, are bound to show Christian obedience to what the sacred Pastors, who represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith and prescribe as rulers of the Churchä (Can. 212 ? 1)
We also have a right to make our views known to them, as is right and proper. I would also suggest that when the Bishops speak as an Episcopal Conference then we ought to take extra care to try to understand what they are saying.
I can already imagine how some "progressives" might use this disagreement to their own advantage: If, after all, some Catholics can disagree with the Holy Father over Iraq, why can't other Catholics voice their disagreement over other issues (abortion, divorce, sexuality, etc.)?
Knowing when it is permissible to disagree and remain in good standing with the Church utterly depends on proper recognition between formal rulings on faith & morals and issues of "prudential judgement", hence Deal Hudson's concern that some statements by the Vatican may be contributing to confusion of the two.