Before deleting it (perhaps in embarrassment), Jimmy Akin reminded his readers at the National Catholic Register that the pope has the power to act as the Church’s chief legislature and to execute judgments immediately, and so therefore he could annul the first marriage and radically sanction the second, implying all this could be done over the phone. That he would have short-circuited the church’s entire juridical process, undermined faith in the church’s discipline, and undercut Catholic priests seems to bother Akin not at all. This same defense was used to justify the pope’s breaking of liturgical rubrics, essentially employing the Nixon defense that “when the pope does it, it’s not illegal.”
Let me suggest that these two good Catholic men are acting not as church men but as party men, and falling into what Hillary Jane White aptly diagnosed as “papal positivism.” Lawler and Akin are not alone. The bulk of Catholic media is devoted to moon-faced speculation about how the discreet governing decisions, words, and gestures of the pope are accomplishing some larger goal that we further speculate must be in the pope’s head or heart. It’s very easy to make the pope into a saintly super-hero when you act as his ventriloquist.
Conservative Catholic apologists say all the right things when you press them. They say that the doctrine papal infallibility does not imply papal impeccability, but the bulk of their commentary about Pope John Paul II in relation to the child-abuse crisis or Pope Francis when he goes off-script seems based on the idea that the pope is irreproachable.