Those of us who attempt to think with the Church’s social doctrines as well as her theological and moral teachings know the feeling well: we quote a papal statement at odds with a particular war, or critical of unfettered capitalism, and we are told "Well, that is just his personal opinion," as if the Pope’s opinion were merely one of many, with no more weight than yours or mine, and considerably less than Fr Neuhaus’ or Mr Bush’s.
It is a favorite tactic of the Catholic neoconservatives, when they cannot twist papal pronouncements to their own end, to make a fine distinction between infallible and fallible statements.
I am not saying that this distinction does not exist, but it seems to come glibly, with little reflection, to those whose own opinions are challenged or rejected by something the Pope has said.
This cavalier attitude toward Papal teaching is odd, especially when it comes to statements about particular wars, which after all are matters of life and death for huge numbers of innocents.
Stephen Hand, in a recent piece at the Traditional Catholic Reflections website addresses this, and the general tendency of the neocons over the last few decades to co-opt Church teachings for their own ideological ends, saying that this attitude is "…particularly troubling since papal prudential judgements have never been viewed as off-the-cuff soundbites but, especially relative to war, as very important rational conclusions based on 2,000 years of infallible Catholic moral principles and reasoning, and which the popes publish only after very careful and weighty analysis".
It has long been evident to those of us who have been observing them that the Catholic neoconservatives have no interest in sitting at the feet of the Church, our Mater et Magister, but rather are intent on leading Her around on their own ideological leash. Mr. Hand’s very fine and comprehensive critique can be read here.