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Rico Kaplan wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • If indeed the Pope is the head of the Church, what about those thousands of years during which Popes did all sorts of evil things?
  • How do Catholics justify or explain Divine authority while they were committing indecencies of various natures and degrees?

The average person out there looks at things like:

  • the Inquisition
  • Popes with children
  • Nuns with babies, and
  • priests molesting kids

and they turn away and don't want to have anything to do with the Church at all.

  • Can you really blame them?
  • What do you say to all that?

I'm not trying to point fingers, but I deal with the public all the time and their questions are legitimate.

Rico

  { If the leaders of the Church set poor examples how do Catholics justify their divine authority? }

Mary Ann replied:

Dear Rico —

The anger is natural and appropriate when directed at the malefactors but to condemn the nature of the priesthood and papacy because of the sins of priests and Popes would be like condemning the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution because of the sins of politicians.

Mary Ann

Mike replied:

Hi, Rico—

You said:

  • If indeed the Pope is the head of the Church, what about those thousands of years during which Popes did all sorts of evil things?
  • How do Catholics justify or explain Divine authority while they were committing indecencies of various natures and degrees?

No Catholic in his right mind will defend the sinful behavior of any member: from the parishioner in the pew to any of the Popes starting with St. Peter onward. No Christian should ever defend sin or cover it up, as has happened recently with the sex scandals in the Church; certainly none of us at AskACatholic will.

When Our Blessed Lord became incarnate Man for our salvation, he knew that even after our Baptism, we would have our tendency to fall back into sin. This is due to the effects of original sin called concupiscence. Even when we turn to the Scriptures we see Peter, out of weakness, denying Our Lord, not once, but three times. (Matthew 26:69-75)

  • Some may be scratching their head at this point wondering how Jesus can promise Peter that his (singular) faith will not fail, (Matthew 16:13-20), while he goes on and denies him three times?

The answer is in distinguishing between issues of faith and morals in contrast to bad behavior by previous Popes that have scandalized the Church. We use two different words to distinguish these issues:

  • impeccability, and
  • infallibility.

We say that the Popes are not impeccable. Meaning they are prone to sinful, scandalous behavior.

We also say they are infallible, meaning they will be protected by the Holy Spirit against officially teaching anything that goes against the faith and morals of the Catholic Christian faith.

Infallibility does not mean the Popes will always say the most holiest, or most correct teaching, but rather they are negatively safeguarded by the Holy Spirit against saying anything contrary to Christian faith or morals.

I hope this helps,

Mike

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