CATHOLIC DIALOGUE #6
(This scene takes place in the girls locker room. Janet and Peggy have just come in from their one mile run and Peggy has a question about the conversation they just had)
Peggy: I'm glad that's over. A mile is a long way to run.
Janet: Yeah, but we didn't run all the way so it wasn't so bad.
Peggy: Janet, I have a question for you. Do you really think that your Pope can't make any mistakes?
Janet: Huh? What brought that on?
Peggy: Well when we were talking out on the track, you mentioned infallibility. Doesn't that mean that the Pope can't make any mistakes? Isn't that what the word infallible means?
Janet: Not exactly. You see...
Peggy: Well I've heard that Catholics think that the Pope can't ever be wrong. Do you also think that he can't sin?
Janet: I see what the problem is Peggy. You're confusing the words infallible with impeccable.
Peggy: What's the difference?
Janet: Impeccability is the inability to do wrong. Infallibility is the inability to teach error in matters of faith and morality.
Peggy: I'm not sure I understand.
Janet: OK. Think of it like this. If the Pope makes an ex-cathedra statement that pirating computer software is stealing, He is making and infallible statement. This does not prevent him from committing the sin of theft which is an action. Impeccable deals with actions. Infallible pertains to statements. Our Pope can still commit sin, but he can't teach sin.
Peggy: What do you mean by ex-cathedra?
Janet: There are three requirements for a teaching to be infallible. They are that the Pope clearly defines the doctrine as being true and necessary for salvation. Secondly, it must pertain to faith and morality. And finally, he must be speaking ex-cathedra which means from the Papal chair, or in his official capacity as head of the Church.
Peggy: OK, I've got it now. When the Pope speaks ex-cathedra, he knows everything. He knows what the weather will be like tomorrow, and what the stock market will do, right?
Janet: No. That would be "absolute" infallibility which only God has. The Pope is only infallible when he is teaching about faith or morality. By the way, infallibility also belongs to the body of Bishops as a whole when they teach in unity.
Peggy: But what about when one Pope contradicts another in his teaching?
Janet: Give me an example.
Peggy: Well, wasn't there a time when Catholics were not supposed to eat meat on Friday?
Peggy: And now you can. One Pope decided you couldn't eat meat on Friday and another Pope changed it.
Janet: Weren't you listening to me? I just told you that Papal infallibility only pertains to defining doctrines on faith and morality. Meatless Friday was a practice. Infallibility does not extend to disciplines and practices.
Peggy: So, if your Pope wakes up tomorrow morning and decides to let priests be married, it would be ok right?
Janet: First off, the Pope does not just wake up and decide anything. He is responsible to search out scripture and tradition. He has to study a question before giving an answer and, even at that, there is no guarantee that further refining wont be needed. Now about married priests. If there was a good reason, he could change that policy because it is only a disciplinary practice. As it stands, there probably isn't a good reason for change and there probably was a good reason why it was imposed in the first place. Popes don't take decision making lightly.
Peggy: Ok, now I understand what infallible means, but how do you know that it's true?
Janet: I can prove it in a few ways, but first let's use your favorite source, the Bible. In the Gospel of John, Jesus breathes on the Apostles and says, "What you hold bound on earth is bound in Heaven." One Timothy 3:15 calls the Church, "Pillar and foundation of truth."
Peggy: Is that it?
Janet: How much more do you need? "Born again" is only mentioned once and you accept it don't you? How about when Jesus says, "I will send you another Advocate (The Holy Spirit) to guide you in truth." Infallibility is a gift of the Holy Spirit. He is our Pope's guide as promised by Jesus. If that's not enough, you can look at John 17:18, Acts 1:8, Matthew 16:17, John 21:15, Luke 22:31...
Peggy: Ok, Ok. You're overwhelming me.
Janet: That's because the Biblical proof is overwhelming. What about when St. Augustine said, "Rome has spoken, the case is closed." You see there is also a long list of non-Biblical evidence that I haven't even mentioned. We have 2000 years of history. Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the faith could not have been preserved, applied, and developed. This is why Jesus provided our Church with this great gift.
Peggy: Your Church? Are you saying that the whole Church is infallible?
Janet: In a way, yes. The Church as a whole and the college of Bishops when teaching in unity are infallible. The Pope is infallible in a special way because he is the successor to St. Peter who was the first Bishop of Rome.
Peggy: Wait a minute. How do you know that Peter was the Bishop of Rome? There is no mention of that in the New Testament. Don't you think that an important thing like that would be in there?
Janet: It's there.
Janet: In one of St. Peters Epistles he says, "The Church in Babylon... sends you her greetings. The name Babylon is a code name for Rome.
Peggy: Why would he use a code name?
Janet: Because St. Peter and all of the leaders of the Church were "wanted" men. He had to disguise his location in case his letter was intercepted by the Roman officials.
Peggy: Well how do you know that Babylon meant Rome, anyway?
Janet: In the book of Revelations, Rome is referred to as Babylon over and over again.
Peggy: Why didn't they just say Rome?
Janet: The book of Revelations is filled with symbolism and figurative speech. To understand it, you have to know something about the culture of that time. Here's an example. Suppose I wrote you a note that said to meet me at the "golden arches". Now suppose the note was somehow preserved for 2000 years, but the people who read it in 3992 A.D. did not know anything about our culture. Can you imagine what they might think the golden arches were? Do you think they would know that I was only talking about McDonalds?
Peggy: I see.
Janet: This is why you have to use more than just the Bible as your source of historic information. Some of the greatest minds in history have been Catholic theologians. They have made extensive studies to reach their conclusions.
Peggy: What other sources are there? How did they conduct these studies?
Janet: There are letters that were written by people who lived during that time period. in 110 A.D., Ignatius of Antioch wrote that he could not command the Roman Christians the way Peter once did. Clement wrote a letter to the Corinthians in about 70 A.D. and said that Peter had died where Paul had. There are also the writings of Tertullian, and many more, but I don't want to overwhelm you again.
Peggy: Janet, how do you know all of this.
Janet: Well, every week in our parish bulletin, my Pastor has been including a series called "Why be Catholic." It is written by Bishop Sheehan from Lubbock, Texas. These little pamphlets are filled with information about our Church, it's history, and answers to some questions that people may have. If you would like to see a copy, I'll pick one up for you this weekend.
Peggy: I think I'd like to read one of them.
Janet: Good. I'll be happy to bring you one. Then maybe you will understand why I don't feel the need to try any other church. You see, as a Catholic, I already have the security of knowing that the Holy Spirit is guiding my Church and in particular my Pope. What else could I possibly need? Hey, we'd better hurry up or we'll be late for class.
Peggy: See you later Janet. I'll call you after school.