October 28, 2020 (Edward J. Barr) – The latest broadside leveled against Church teaching by Pope Francis must above all be seen for what it is, a private opinion expressed in a casual setting. Numerous commentators have rightly called the Pope to task for his ill-advised opining against truths of the faith throughout his pontificate. Yet the fact that the Pope has never truly directly challenged Church teaching shows the strength, not the weakness of the Papacy.
It is disheartening that Pope Francis seems to be against so many teachings of the faith. It places bishops, priests, deacons, catechists and other ministers in unjustified and uncomfortable positions. Pastors have had to make statements at Mass this weekend explaining that the Pope did not change the official teaching of the Church. Catechists have to answer hard questions asked by Catechumens, such as; Why do we have to assent to all the teachings of the Church to become Catholic when the Pope speaks against them? The response that they are just his opinions – while true – falls flat to many faithful trying to hold off the tide of moral relativism engulfing our culture. A more positive response is needed.
The beauty of the Papacy is that it is not based on the individual leader of the Church. Our faith is based on Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church and all bishops in communion with him. It is not based on the private pronouncement of the individual occupying the Chair of Peter. Speaking of Peter, he was personally selected by our Lord to lead the new Church (Matt. 16:13-19) How did he do? After his appointment he immediately refused to accept Jesus’ mission after the first prediction of the Passion (Matt. 16:22-23). At said Passion, he denies Jesus three times (Matt. 26:69-75). The first Pope, hand selected by Our Savior, made many errors. Many popes after Peter also made mistakes, as will many after Pope Francis. The proof of the Holy Spirit guarding the papacy can be seen in the fact it – and the Church – have survived for 2000 years. The Church survives because it is Holy. It is Holy because of its founder, Jesus Christ. Yet it is a Church of sinners, laity and clergy alike.
Have Pope Francis’ proclamations against Church teaching been scandalous? Of course. Yet he has never formally declared heretical doctrines in a manner which falsifies the dogmatic definition of Vatican I on papal infallibility. He can’t. The Holy Spirit is the true guardian of the faith and He won’t let the Church fall into formal error. We are in a time of doctrinal and moral chaos. Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM, Cap., the foremost English-speaking Catholic theologian, highlights this fact in his 2019 analysis of papal pronouncements. He notes “the doctrinal and moral chaos this pontificate has nurtured, regarding such issues as the sacramental nature of marriage, the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts, and whether Judaism and Christianity are merely two of the many religions that God willed. Despite this challenge, Church teaching has not changed.
That the Holy Spirit protects the Church can be seen in how it has weathered challenging Popes in the past. It also demonstrates that the Pope is not the Church. Compare this to other Christian denominations whose theology is based on its pastor. Whenever there is a difference in agreement over elements of the faith there is a church split. Even the old mainline Protestant denominations continue to split over moral theology, the most recent being the Methodist split over human sexuality issues. That won’t happen in the Catholic Church since the Pope is not the faith. Even if the Barque of Peter is attacked from within it has supernatural protection that will ensure the “gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16: 18b) Ours is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Though his hand on the rudder is unsteady, Pope Francis’ loose lips cannot sink the Barque of Peter!
Edward J Barr is a Catechist, an attorney, an intelligence officer, a Marine, and a university faculty member. He just completed his studies for a Master’s degree in theology from the Augustine Institute. Mr. Barr is a contributing writer for the Roma Locuta Est blog (www.RomaLocutaEst.com)