Written by Dave Armstrong and used with permission:
BAD POPES: REPLIES TO A SINCERE INQUIRER, by Dave Armstrong
God made an everlasting covenant with King David, even though he was an adulterer and murderer.
Dave writes: “As this was originally private correspondence, my correspondent’s exact words will be paraphrased, not cited. Her “words” will be in blue.”
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How can you believe in a succession of popes since so many have been terrible sinners?
It’s not based on sinlessness (that’s called impeccability) but on office. We believe that God protects the Church from teaching error, by His power (not the power of sinful men). How is this possible? It’s entirely possible because God is God and can accomplish whatever He wants. Secondly, it has already happened in greater measure in the inspired Scripture, which was written by sinful men like Moses, David, Paul, and Peter (murderers, adulterers, and people who would deny knowing Jesus). Yet it is inspired and infallible. Likewise, God uses sinful men as bishops and popes and protects the faithful from receiving false teaching.
Titus 1:7-9 “For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.”
If the pope is the head of all the bishops, wouldn’t he also have to (above all) be of this high level of character?
Most of them have been, especially in the last 150-200 years. This is the ideal, but you and I know full well that people don’t always live up to biblical standards (we need only look at ourselves, for starters). We see the tension between the ideal and the real, in, for example, 1 John 1:6-10:
1 John 1:6-7 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
1 John 1:8-10 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
All have sin, that needs to be confessed and cleansed; to deny one’s sin is to be a liar.
Thus, there have been some bad popes. This is not unexpected, based on Scripture. See my papers:
Of what purpose is a bad pope who is still a true pope? You simply accept that and say that God has His reasons?
Yes, because He used King David and made an everlasting covenant with Him and made Jesus His descendant, even though David was an adulterer and murderer. Jesus called Judas to be His disciple, and Judas was called both a disciple and “elect.” The Bible shows how a successor was chosen when Judas killed himself. Jesus made Peter the leader of the Church, knowing that he would deny him three times.
I’m not trying to be contentious; I really want to understand these things. I feel somewhat led to the Catholic Church. I have heard that I must accept all Catholic teachings to do so.
That’s right, because it is a teaching passed down from the apostles. One doesn’t pick and choose and decide what they will accept, but rather, decide in faith that God has one true Church that He has protected all these centuries. God can do it. He has enough power to do that!
I have hope that I can better understand these things if they are explained to me. I don’t feel like I am a Protestant any longer. I think they have many of their own problems and have not figured everything out themselves.
I hope my answers have been helpful to you. God bless you as you consider where God might be leading you. Pray, pray, pray! The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth, as the Bible says.
STEVE RAY HERE: I would like to add three quotes to correct people’s idea that it is wrong or incorrect to criticize a priest, bishop or Pope. Any criticism must be done with great respect, integrity and deference. I think the case of Saint Paul confronting Saint Peter in the book of Galatians shows that no Pope is above criticism (Gal 2:11-14).
Remember also the strong rebuke St Catherine of Siena wrote to Pope Gregory IX and she was made a Doctor of the Church.
Consider these three quotes (which can be multiplied):
St. Thomas Aquinas: “If the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Galatians 2:11, “Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.” http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3033.htm
“Now it can be said briefly that those who defend blindly and indiscriminately any judgment whatsoever of the Supreme Pontiff concerning every matter weaken the authority of the Apostolic See; they do not support it; they subvert it; they do not fortify it… . Peter has no need of our lies; he has no need of our adulation.” – Melchior Cano, Bishop and Theologian of the Council of Trent
Code of Canon Law #212 §3. “According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they [the Christian faithful] possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.”