Bad Popes: Replies to a Sincere Inquirer

Bad Popes: Replies to a Sincere Inquirer February 15, 2018

 God made an everlasting covenant with King David, even though he was an adulterer and murderer.

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.

(ideal: no 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:

Sins and Sinners in the Catholic Church 

Are Sinful Church Leaders a Disproof of Catholicism?

The ‘Bad Popes’: How Many Of ‘Em Were There? How ‘Bad’ Were They?

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.

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(originally 5-27-08)

Photo credit: A stereotypical caricature of a villain (i.e. generic melodrama villain stock character, with handlebar moustache and black top-hat). Caricature by J.J., SVG file by Gustavb (March 2006) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]

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