To Non-Catholics regarding the Pope

Non-Catholics often ask :

What about the pope?  Why is he so important?  He’s just a man.  How can he be infallible? 

Catholics take the words of Jesus seriously.  In Matthew 16:18, after Peter had proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ,  Jesus turned around and taught his disciples saying “Blessed are you Simon bar Jonah, for no man has revealed this to you (“To be blessed” means ‘to be favored by God’) but my Father in heaven. And I say to you, you are Peter (Kephas = Rock) and on this Rock I will build my Church.”  Jesus took a man, changed his name (what does that mean elsewhere in the Bible?) and foretold the building of his Church (singular).   That Church, the Catholic Church, was born on Pentecost.

Peter was a man, which means he was a sinner, as were all the apostles.  But Jesus entrusted the Church to them, and after he was crucified and resurrected, sent the Holy Spirit to watch over his Church.  We know that the Holy Spirit, being God, cannot err.  The Holy Spirit picked the successors to each of the apostles, and has done so through the ages.  The Holy Spirit only works in matters of faith and morals-this is his concern.  So this is where the pope’s infallibility comes from.  Can the pope tell us whether the stock market will rise or fall, or predict natural disasters? No, that’s not the gift he is given.  His gift, or charism, is to teach, to shepherd his flock.  His charge is to keep all Catholics safe from the errors of the Devil. And throughout our history, though there have been corrupt, immoral, deceitful popes- sinful, evil men though they were, they did not err in teaching faith and morals.  Bishops in communion with the pope have the same charism of infallibility. 

Most people make too much of what the pope is, thinking he has some kind of power in the world.  He is the vicar of Christ, the servant of the servants of God.  What is a vicar?  A representative.  (Barbara Boxer is the vicar of the people of Northern California in Congress.  She is also called a servant.)  Bishops and the upper curia, including the pope, are really servants and shepherds.  Their servitude is to assist the servants of God (all of us) to assist each other to get to heaven the best way.  We are all servants of God. 

The pope owns nothing,  has nothing.  Even his time isn’t his.  No car, nothing.  No salary, in fact.  He is actually a prisoner of his office.


4 thoughts on “To Non-Catholics regarding the Pope

  1. Matthew 15:3
    But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?

    Matthew 15:6
    And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.

    Mark 7:8
    For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.

    Mark 7:9
    And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

    Mark 7:13
    Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.

    Colossians 2:8
    Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

    1 Peter 1:18
    Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;

  2. Ruth, name a Nazi pope? First, define what you mean.

    Regarding the Judas chair, there is nothing anywhere suggesting that it was ever used. Can you show me any peer-reviewed documentation? Name a pope that used it? Please, show me.

    Regardless of all this, do you realize that all the apostles were sinful men? And yet, Jesus chose them to spread the good news of his Coming. The Catholic Church is holy because Jesus founded it, she is holy in spite of the men who run the church, because she is protected by the Holy Spirit. Infallibility does not mean that the pope is free from human mistakes. In fact, the pope today goes to confession weekly. He’s not there to shoot the breeze with his brother priest. So you need to understand what infallibility is.

    The Catholic Church’s teaching on papal infallibility is one which is generally misunderstood by those outside the Church. In particular, Fundamentalists and other “Bible Christians” often confuse the charism of papal “infallibility” with “impeccability.” They imagine Catholics believe the pope cannot sin. Others, who avoid this elementary blunder, think the pope relies on some sort of amulet or magical incantation when an infallible definition is due.

    Given these common misapprehensions regarding the basic tenets of papal infallibility, it is necessary to explain exactly what infallibility is not. Infallibility is not the absence of sin. Nor is it a charism that belongs only to the pope. Indeed, infallibility also belongs to the body of bishops as a whole, when, in doctrinal unity with the pope, they solemnly teach a doctrine as true. We have this from Jesus himself, who promised the apostles and their successors the bishops, the magisterium of the Church: “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16), and “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Matt. 18:18). Christ instructed the Church to preach everything he taught (Matt. 28:19–20) and promised the protection of the Holy Spirit to “guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). That mandate and that promise guarantee the Church will never fall away from his teachings (Matt. 16:18, 1 Tim. 3:15), even if individual Catholics might.
    Some ask how popes can be infallible if some of them lived scandalously. This objection of course, illustrates the common confusion between infallibility and impeccability. There is no guarantee that popes won’t sin or give bad example. (The truly remarkable thing is the great degree of sanctity found in the papacy throughout history; the “bad popes” stand out precisely because they are so rare.)

    Other people wonder how infallibility could exist if some popes disagreed with others. This, too, shows an inaccurate understanding of infallibility, which applies only to solemn, official teachings on faith and morals, not to disciplinary decisions or even to unofficial comments on faith and morals. A pope’s private theological opinions are not infallible, only what he solemnly defines is considered to be infallible teaching.

    Even Fundamentalists and Evangelicals who do not have these common misunderstandings often think infallibility means that popes are given some special grace that allows them to teach positively whatever truths need to be known, but that is not quite correct, either. Infallibility is not a substitute for theological study on the part of the pope.

    What infallibility does do is prevent a pope from solemnly and formally teaching as “truth” something that is, in fact, error. It does not help him know what is true, nor does it “inspire” him to teach what is true. He has to learn the truth the way we all do—through study—though, to be sure, he has certain advantages because of his position.

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