Hidden in the obscurity of news reporting this week is a comment from Pope Francis that if considered, has the potential to nullify all that is the Catholic Church. Few noticed this story as it did not make national headlines. Here in Argentina though, the story made news not because of what was said, but the context. Responding to critics who voiced concerns over the papacy in conjunction with the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ appointment to the papacy, the Pope wrote a letter asking for forgiveness to those he may have offended in the past. It’s not the context of that story though that is important itself, but one very precise phrase within his apology.
Within that letter, the Pope expresses his ability to make mistakes simply saying, “I can make mistakes like any person” (1). On the surface, this is a genuine and humble statement. However, in understanding Catholic doctrine, this statement should be the proof point of the falsehood that is the Catholic Church. That very statement is contradictory to the stance the church has employed for centuries when proclaiming the Pope as infallible.
Infallibility is something proclaimed by Christians when describing the Bible and its trustworthiness. More than simply meaning without error, it signifies the inability to error. This same phrase is often ascribed to the Pope by those embracing Catholicism and comes from a misinterpretation and application of Matthew 18:18, Luke 10:16, and Luke 22.32 (2). Some will say that according to Vatican II the stance is not that the Pope is infallible but rather that he (and others in the church) can ‘proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly.’
However, in either case, there are two major points to consider that negate both positions:
- Infallibility: First, in order to proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly, one must be infallible themselves. However, no person is infallible because everyone single one of us is tainted by sin.
- Impeccability: Second, some will then accuse me of confusing impeccability (the inability to sin) with the infallibility. They will argue that the Pope is not impeccable, but infallible. Such an argument falls short because the two are interrelated. Once again, sin permeates who we are and thus impacts our ability to both interpret and proclaim Christ’s doctrine (3). To say that the pope is infallible but not impeccable denies the doctrine of sin and its effects.
Therefore, the Pope is not only fallible, but because he is fallible cannot proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly (and this gets into a number of other positions that fall as a result as well, but we do not have time for those).
The Catholic system that exists today does so on the foundation of the Pope’s authority which is predicated upon his infallibility. The ability to make mistakes nullifies his infallibility and so with the words “I can make mistakes” we can interpret it one of two ways. The first is that the Pope is infallible and so when he says he can make mistakes, that is an absolutely true statement which then asserts he is no longer infallible. The second option is to assert that he misspoke (or miswrote) his words, which would then affirm, he indeed can make mistakes and so we find ourselves right back at the first option.
So with these words, Pope Francis has added to the devolution of both the papacy and the entire Catholic Church. Critically analyzed, the logic of that statement will prove the falsehood that is proclaimed by the Catholic Church. Obviously few will give right attention to such a statement and the church will continue. However, the doctrine of infallibility can only be proclaimed about the Word of God because it comes from the Word of God (cf. Revelation 19:13) who is infallible himself. Perhaps others will, therefore, take a moment to analyze their tradition of belief in light of both the Word of God and the doctrine they are taught so as to not be mislead any longer. Nothing more or less than the Lord’s Word should be our conviction, our communication, and our consecration.
To read two articles about the Pope’s letter, click the following links:
(1) Note: This quotation has been translated from the original Spanish phrase “Puedo equivocarme como todos.”
(2) For the sake of space I have chosen not to delve further into these verses to explain the misapplications but instead would urge you to read and study those verses instead of taking my word for it.
(3) Addendum: I think it is important that I clarify that I am not saying all our doctrine is wrong. Scripture makes many points of doctrine very clear and we can thus be assured of them . . . provided we are actually using Scripture. However, every person must also recognize the ability to be wrong in anything because of the effects of sin. There is much more that can and should be said here, but this is not the intent of my article, nor do I have time to discuss it all. Instead, I urge others to look into the issue more. I only mention it here because of how some of have misused this article to suggest all religion is wrong.
Photo “Vatican” courtesy of user Aoife Cahill and Flickr.