A Progressive Prophetess
Half a decade ago, when I was at university, I attended a public discussion the theatre department put on about homosexuality. Two separate panels discussed the issue. First, there was a panel of professors from the school. They had no diversity, all shared the same view on homosexuality. Then a religious panel was brought on to the stage to discuss the issue. Represented was a Oneness Universalist, a liberal Catholic, a female pastrix of a United Methodist church, and a Mormon stake leader. There was very little diversity there as well on the issue. Only one person (the Mormon) took the conservative position, which means no orthodox Christian position was represented in either panel.
During the discussion, the Catholic representative admitted that she was at odds with the church’s official position. She affirmed homosexuality, considering it good and healthy. However, she was optimistic the church would catch up. She claimed the church has changed on many doctrines overtime, and she believed the church would one day, relatively soon, would change on human sexuality as well. I remember agreeing with her.
Recently, Pope Francis continued his crusade to make life miserable for Roman Catholic apologists by making unorthodox claims about homosexuality. Speaking to a gay man, the pope reportedly told him,
“God made you this way and He loves you.”
A Silent Statement
As Matt Walsh and Al Mohler both pointed out, the Vatican has owned this statement by not speaking out. It will not do any good to claim that the pope was likely misquoted, taken out of context, or slandered altogether. That has happened and does happen often. However, the Vatican knows what is being reported, and they have not denied a single word. The Vatican knows the pope made these comments, but refused to rebuke them. That is acceptance. That is promotion.
The purpose of this post is not get into the biblical sophistry of the papacy, nor to take on the specious arguments of modern Roman Catholic apologists, but to look at the papacy a bit more pragmatically in light of the current controversies, and see that the future of this imperious office looks about as bright as its past.
In light of this tacit complicity with the pope’s continued efforts to challenge historic Roman Catholicism, one has to wonder how the foundations of the Roman Catholic church can stand much longer. Francis, and a few of his liberal predecessors, are exposing Rome for what she really is.
Rome claims to be infallible, and therefore, the doctrines she teaches cannot change, for to change a doctrine means the Church was wrong initially about it. Although doctrine clearly has changed, Rome has adamantly maintained it has not. When I say changed, I do not mean “evolved” or “developed.” Rome embraces those concepts. I am saying modern doctrines blatantly contradict traditional ones.
Although I am not a prophet, I can tell which way the wind is blowing, and the wind blowing in Rome is unnerving for Catholicism. Homosexuality was the progressive batter on deck, and I believe it is currently walking a slow pace, heading for the plate, ready blow the fast ball of orthodox sexuality out of the stadium. The popes and the Vatican will likely continue this trend, and homosexuality is likely going to get its big promotion. This would be one of the most clear contradictions of former “infallible” teaching within Roman Catholicism, and would utterly unravel any concept of infallibility. Which is sad, the poor thing has taken quite the beating the last 2,000 years.
Who Interprets the Interpreters?
Suppose Catholic doctrine on this issue does not “change,” but Rome continues on this trajectory – one liberal pope after another – shooting from the hip, making public statements that fly in the face of historic Catholic doctrine, with a magisterial council refusing to make comments. What then? One response would be for Catholic apologists to keep doing what they are doing – trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
With the recent controversy, Catholic apologists have come out of the woodwork to defend and reinterpret Francis’ statement, fitting it into orthodoxy. But this approach to the pope’s progressivism is still problematic. The glaring issue staring back at us now is how the pope and his magisterial council, the papacy, the very institution allegedly given to the world for the purpose of interpreting Scripture on such issues as this cannot themselves be interpreted. What good is an infallible interpreter who isn’t clear in his communication? What good is an interpreter we cannot interpret?Apparently, we need a second pope and a second council in order to understand the pope and the council.
What these apologists are essentially doing when they swoop in to justify papist progressivism is the very thing they accuse protestants of doing when we interpret our Bibles apart from Rome: they have made themselves their own pope. When they try and tell us what is *actually* being meant by the pope’s diction, they need to remember that isn’t their job; that is the pope’s job.
In other words, when I try tell the Roman Catholic what Jesus actually meant when he said “unless you eat my flesh…” in John 6, eventually I am told I have no authority to know I am right about that.
When I try and tell a Roman Catholic what James actually meant when he wrote “we are not justified by faith alone, but by works” I am again told the Church gets to interpret that for me. Yet, here goes the Roman Catholic apologist, handling the ambiguous words of the Pope out there all by his lonesome.
A Papacy on Paper
Engaging with lay Catholic apologists as long as I have, I know what the most common rhetoric in response to all of the pope’s off the cuff trouble-making is going to be reminding us of the dirty details of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. The doctrine states that the pope can and does err whenever he is not speaking ex-cathedra. This about homosexuality being how God intentionally designs people was not an official papal declaration, therefore it is fallible.
I understand the doctrine, but what I don’t understand is how it’s believable. When the pope, who is supposed to be the very Vicar of Christ on earth, cannot even get basic human sexuality right, that has to bring Catholics to seriously doubt the legitimacy of the office. Paul gives qualifications for bishops in Scripture, and being “able to teach” is one of them. He does not qualify that their ability to teach only be during a very specific time. The pope, were his office legitimate, and were he truly the Vicar of Christ on earth, would never make the kinds of theological blunders so common to popes in every age.
Some would even argue that popes can be heretics. He can be an anti-Catholic without the Holy Spirit; but, during times of ex-cathedra teaching, the Holy Spirit overrides his heresy (so much for the Catholic doctrine of free-will). The Catholic church certainly maintains the Pope can be a heretic, but there is actual debate about whether he can remain the pope as a heretic! This begs the question of how the Holy Spirit is able to inspire the pope to be infallible, but is still unable to protect him from heresy; that’s a blatant contradiction, and is one of the many reasons why there exists within Catholicism a
denomination philosophy known as sedevacantism, which denies that post Vatican II popes are even legitimate popes at all.
Nevertheless, here is the point I would like to make: Catholics insist protestants (and all the world) bend their knees to a papacy on paper. They have a set of dogmas they wish to fill our heads with, but there is nothing in real time to believe.
We must accept the pope as infallible on matters of faith and morals. Who is the Pope? No one knows! What are matters of faith and morals? No one knows! Can the Pope be a heretic? No one knows!
All of these things Catholics debate and disagree on, all the while, maintain we need the Roman Catholic Church in order to settle all of our debates and disagreements. Their procrustean approach to protestants is made void by their own plethora of disagreements.
Is Francis a legitimate pope? Is he a heretic? Has he blundered on faith and morals? No one knows; nonetheless, he demands our allegiance.
The doctrine of papal infallibility is riddled with contradictions, replete of Scriptural refutation, and cannot be practiced or applied in actual time. The convoluted history of the Roman Catholic papacy is chaotic, contradictory, and inconsistent. The current papal mess is a new kind of mess, but the papacy being a mess is itself quite old. In fact, it is probably the most consistent of all Roman Catholic traditions.
The papacy has had the ability in its many popes throughout church history to gorgonize the gullible through resplendence and intimidation. But the reformation gave the world a voice to finally say there is nothing significant or legitimate about this office; there is nothing infallible about those men.
In the Scriptures, we continue to have the abiding authority and infallible teaching of the Prophets and Apostles. We have an unchanging word which cannot evolve or fall into heresy. We have the perpetual voices of men who would certainly know what to say about homosexuality during all times of the day.
It’s hard to know where the Roman Catholic Church will be in 100 years. It is difficult to predict what she will teach, what she will look like. However, no road looks promising.