Monday, January 08, 2007

Does Papal Infallibility mean Catholics Believe the Pope is Perfect?


The simple answer to this question is no. We believe the Pope is the same as any other man in terms of his sinful nature and need for salvation. But what about Papal Infallibility you ask? There are many misconceptions floating around concerning Papal Infallibility. I will try to address many of these issues.

It is important to note first of all, that Papal Infallibility applies not so much to the man who is pope, but more so to his office, and his role as pope. Papal infallibility means that the pope, when speaking on matters of faith and morals while making an official declaration to the universal church in a general way, is protected by the Holy Spirit from teaching error.

Now that I have a definition, I will go over some possible scenarios and describe whether they are instances of infallibility, in a true or false way:

1) The Pope cannot commit sin - FALSE - Popes can and have committed sins throughout history. Pope Benedict XVI and the former pope John Paul II, both went to confession weekly. This is much more often than most Catholics. This would certainly not be the behaviour of someone who felt they could not commit a sin. The fact that a pope sins does not in any way undermine papal infallibility.

2) A Pope is always right - FALSE - The pope may or may not be correct on most issues, just like anyone else. If the pope says who he thinks will win the World Cup, dont put all your money on it.

3) The Pope, due to his position, cannot have heterodox (unorthodox) opinions - FALSE - The Pope could potentially hold opinions which are not orthodox. Because of Papal infallibility, the Holy Spirit restricts the Pope from officially declaring a teaching which is not orthodox, or in line with Catholic belief.

There is Biblical evidence for the dogma of Papal infallibility. While speaking to Peter, Jesus said he is the Rock upon which he builds his Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Peter was the solid foundation upon which the church is built. This is evident when we read the Acts of the Apostles. Anytime there is a disagreement, it is brought to an apostle, and if resolution cannot be had, Peter ultimately weighs in and his decision is final. Jesus gave this authority to Peter so that when he was gone from Earth, Christians would have a guide. Christ wanted that all people would be united and have a source of authority, which is why he established this office, held by Peter. The gates of hell would prevail against the church if it taught error contrary to Truth. Therefore the Church cannot teach error, and since the Pope is the ultimate leader of the Church, the Holy Spirit, as the third person of the Trinity, fulfills God's promise and protects the Pontiff from teaching error.

The role of the Pope and his infallibility are beautiful and essential doctrines for the Church in order to maintain the unity which Christ spoke about in the Gospels.

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