Why Have Popes At All if We Reject Papal Guidance?

Why Have Popes At All if We Reject Papal Guidance? August 4, 2018

If people want to oppose the clear expressions of three popes in a row [on the issue of capital punishment], I don’t find that very Catholic” in approach (I’m not saying they’re not Catholics; they’re just not thinking like Catholics ought to, by nature, in this respect).

Why even have a pope if we so casually thumb our noses at the teachings of popes? It’s a very sensible and rather obvious question to ask, I think.

Having been Protestant, I know what it’s like to live without a pope, and it looks like many Catholics are essentially doing that, since they seem to grant him little or no authority, and to reserve the right to ignore his teachings and “veto” them at will (not to mention, lambast him day and night, in the worst cases). In what sense, then, is he the Supreme Head of the Church if he’s treated like that?

I know for sure that I had far more respect for popes as a Protestant than I see many Catholics exhibiting. I received their teachings with the utmost respect. Of course I would have automatically disagreed if the pope made a statement on Mary, etc. (all the things Protestants and Catholics disagree about). But if I had seen this current proclamation as a Protestant, I would have thought very seriously about it; pondered it.

It so happens that I changed my mind last December, from calling for capital punishment for terrorists and mass murderers only, to total opposition, but if I hadn’t done that, this latest statement would have caused me to immediately modify my position to what it has been since December, and what the last three popes have been expressing.

And why is that? It’s because that’s what Catholics do: they follow the lead of the Pontiff, the Holy Father, who was put in his position ultimately by God (i.e., by His providence), to lead the Church, and to go along with the Mind of the Church. That is the Catholic outlook.

It’s not “ultramontanism” or “papolatry” or some fanatical extremism (waiting till the pope speaks to choose our socks, or taking his every word — even in off-the-cuff airplane interviews — as an inspired oracle, etc.); it’s Catholicism, folks. We gotta call a spade a spade and state that a = a, and cease with the nonsense and the games (unwittingly or not).

If I couldn’t care less about following the pope, and his guidance and wisdom, and felt that I could veto anything he said simply because I (in my self-assumed “superior wisdom”) disagreed with it for reasons x, y, and z, then I certainly would have never become a Catholic, as I was quite content being my own pope as an evangelical Protestant. That is the Protestant rule of faith. It is not the Catholic rule of faith, as has always been understood for nearly 2000 years now.

Jesus taught His followers to show more respect to even the non-Christian Pharisees (as regards teaching, and even when they were acting like hypocrites) than millions of Catholics now show to the pope:

Matthew 23:2-3 (RSV) The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; [3] so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.

I think many Catholics have largely lost the ability to “think in a Catholic manner”: to analyze according to Catholic presuppositions and the Mind of the Church; to think with the Church. They’ve taken in too many non-Catholic influences and seem to be unaware that they have done so.

They might be more Republican than Catholic or more Protestant than Catholic, or more Democratic or libertarian or “culturally American” [or some other country’s culture] than Catholic. But whatever it is, a different outlook has replaced the orthodox Catholic one of happily accepting all that Holy Mother Church (led by popes) teaches us.

Having been in a different camp, fervently believing in that system (and defending it, too, as an apologist in those days), gives one a certain perspective. If someone’s acting like a Protestant in terms of authority issues, I can spot it a mile away, because that is myself prior to 1990.


Photo credit: portrait of Pope Pius XI (r. 1922-1939) by Philip Alexius de László (1869-1937); uploaded by Ahmed.m.hanfy (2-7-18) [Wikimedia Commons /  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]


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