Kids call things like they see them.
What would you have done during times like those in the Reformation when even the top authorities (the Roman Curia) were condemning teachings they ought not to have been condemning? Or teaching what they ought not to have been teaching? For example, regarding the beginnings of the Reformation, the Papacy had expanded indulgences to include the claim of granting forgiveness itself. (note: full forgiveness from temporal penalties [including purgatory], not eternal ones [hell]). Not only this, but “the extreme papal position on the authority of the unwritten tradition (controlled by the papacy) and also the extreme claims to power over Scripture and gospel [were the views held by most of Luther’s opponents].” The highest curial theologian, a Dominican by the name of Prieras, said the following: “In its irrefragable and divine judgment the church’s authority is greater than the authority of Scripture…the authority of the Roman Pontiff…is greater than the authority of the Gospel, since because of it we believe in the Gospels.”)” (see Tavard’s Holy Writ on Holy Church)… He was really not opposed by any prominent voices within the Church (Erasmus may have written somewhat more sensibly, but he quickly fell out of favor with Rome). By the study of church history and historical study of Scripture, Luther called into question this whole view of tradition and authority (see Headley’s Luther’s View of Church History).” Also, in defense of Luther, one has said, “Luther’s concerns were always ecclesiological. His was not an affair of the private conscience or judgment against the social, institutional church. His was not a subjective, individualistic experience opposed to objective authority.” (Robert Goeser, from his review of “Luther and the Papacy” here: http://www.luthersem.edu/word&world/Archives/2-4_Healing/2-4_Reviews.pdf )
But there is more! A few years ago I was thrilled to find out that one of my R. Catholic heroes Sir Thomas More (A man for all seasons, the movie, rocks! – he was certainly on the side of the angels!) had written a work in the mid-1520s versus the Lutherans (though he wrote it under a pseudonym at the time – he wrote as some Spanish monk, I believe). I checked out the first of the big two volume books from our local library system, and had a look. More’s main argument?: Basically (crassly), since the Church owns the Bible it can interpret and do with it as it pleases (not much room for exegesis of the actual text in his view – nor the Fathers for that matter). If a great Christian man like More could be so careless in taking the extreme position that he did, its little wonder that things progressed in the Reformation as they did.
Therefore, I think intellectual honesty requires us to admit that some Popes of the 15th and early 16th century who put forth authoritative documents would surely take exception to the idea that their pronouncements were not solemn, ex cathedra exercises. When this doctrine was formally defined in the late 19th century, it was not a new doctrine, but was one (namely, the Pope’s voice is more or less God’s when he says it is) that had had some currency for a while.
So what should Luther have done when Rome rejected his efforts to turn around the Mothership? Being the lowly friar that he was, could he have submitted without giving the impression that he could accept this kind of rhetoric?