VIEW FROM THE PEW
There are many Catholics who genuinely love the faith but have a poor understanding of the teachings, including the one on papal infallibility. Five ordinary Catholics got together on Facebook recently to discuss this phenomenon. Here’s what Zachary, 31, a security guard from California; Robert, 61, a lawyer from Maine; Malia is 44, an entrepreneur from LA; Sean, 34, a laboratory technician from Chicago, and Rosemary, 59, a substitute teacher from Jerome, Idaho had to say to REGINA MAGAZINE recently, in this sixth in a seven-part series.
MODERATOR: How do you address this question of the limits of the papacy when dealing with people you know? What is the best way to educate them?
Rosemary: I think that because the Pope can be infallible when on faith or morals when proclaiming it “ex cathedra” people assume that he is the authority on anything he talks about. After all, he is “The” Pope.
“How could he have become Pope if he didn’t know everything about the Catholic Church?” Well, even Jesus picked Judas because there was a job to be done. There needed to be a Judas to fulfill the prophecy. Is that why the Holy Spirit allowed Pope Francis to be elected?
But I digress. I’ve never really had the opportunity to explain infallibility to anyone. If I did, I would just explain it to them. A quick Google search on Papal Infallibility will bring up numerous results that one could read about. The problem is, as I have stated before, that people see him as the authority on everything Catholic, moral or otherwise.
Sean: One can simply point to the First Vatican Council’s definition of the dogma of papal infallibility, and explain that the pope can either teach with an authority that is ultimate and final, or with more or less authority, and that he can simply express an idea like anyone. One can also point out that public revelation ended with the death of the last apostle, so that a pope cannot teach what the Church never taught. Unlike the LDS President or the Governing Body of the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses), the pope cannot reverse, modify, or abrogate anything the Church ash always taught, or add something altogether new. Once we have made someone to understand that they have a simplistic or mistaken idea of the authority and nature of the papacy, we are more or less at our leisure to help them understand these things more accurately.
Robert: One cannot give a whole theology lesson in a brief conversation or in a series of Facebook comments. One must keep in mind the good of the soul and not winning debate points. Oftentimes people will just shut down, or it is also possible that we can give them too much information too soon.
At a dinner conversation I had with a woman at a Fatima conference, the topic turned to an unapproved apparition that I find to be of dubious origin. I was making various points to support my opinion that it is a false apparition. To my surprise, the woman retreated, slumping back saying, “I don’t know what to believe.”
Well, I quickly realized this was really not the desirable response, to generate disbelief! I quickly recovered. I said to her that these are confusing times, and what we need to do in confusing times, is to step back and review the basics. This is why, I told her, Our Lady came down from Heaven at Fatima. She came to give us a survival kit to survive, and even flourish spiritually in these dark times.
Malia: First, this is where I am always encouraging the Faithful to pray for Graces. During my prayer and meditation hours, I am imploring Christ in the Blessed Sacrament to pour forth abundant Graces outward for the land and the soil. This includes the Faithful, Church, families and loved ones, priests, seminarians, etc. It is daily and ongoing!
Second, with clarity from these prayers and seeking humbly before the Lord, I am able to discern certain mentalities and level of understanding. I apply the basic “rule” and that is to be true and sincere. Because God sees everything, He usually allows an encounter to take place, and eventually a “testimony” is shared with an “educational” question and answer process.
Third, “papal infallibility” is usually understood by individuals who have some level and form of higher education. I usually extract information from Scriptures and the Catechism to formulate a response. I always begin in right order of reasoning. This means that obedience and authority go hand-in-hand, and the “authority” begins and ends with Christ whereas all things are subject to Him because He is the “TRUTH”! The Church then follows that order and cannot be outside of the Truth. Also, I lay out the history of when, where and how the “papal infallibility” came about and the climatic “backdrop” that ushered it in. This is important because of all the machinations and maneuverings of the particular era. Since Christ is the Truth; He cannot be False. Every teaching then that goes contrary to the Truth is False and must be rejected outright. This includes the Pope that teaches it and/or promotes it.
Further, it is the person who is the sinner and by their “fruits” you will know them. The Pope then is not free of sin; he is subject also to all the teachings of the Faith. The “Office of Papacy”, on the other hand, is one that has been Divinely instituted by Christ within the Church. It is an “object” so to speak that has been created for the “Vicar” of Christ. The “office” is NOT subject to sin, but the person who will hold the office will be. This is the distinction! You can cite the apostles and especially Judah pertaining to various personalities and character traits. It is also important to recognize that it is the Holy Spirit that guides and moves the Church, regardless if the Pope or Bishops go astray. This is not to suggest that the Holy Ghost was the author of their bad actions. No! Their actions will certainly harm the Body of Christ, but the Holy Ghost always prevails through others to restore it and render the “action” null/void and/or false!
The best method for me is always by posing the question and everything seems to unravel.
TOMORROW: Staying Sane in a Crazy-Making Era