Expert Answer Forum
The Bad Popes, The Questionable Popes QUESTION from Paul Bartelson August 29, 2000 I am a convert to Catholicism. I faithfully try to obey the teachings of the Magisterium. I used to see the Church emblemised but now I am beginning to see some of her blemishes. I have repeatedly gone through crises of faith when I read about the lives of certain Popes. Alexander VI is one. Another is Pius XII, a more recent and controversial Pope. I am referring to his complicity with Hitler and his apparent refusal to intervene in the slaughter being committed by the Utashe in Croatia and the complicity of the Franciscans in this butchery. Should I stop reading about Church history unless the books carry the Imprimatur and the Nihil Obstat? I am afraid that I will rebel at that idea. Is there a good side to these Popes that I am not reading about? What about the validity of the Doctrines that were announced during their reign and the efficacy of the Indulgences that were granted? I know that my doubts are very close to the Donatist heresy. Please help me with these questions and a clarification on Papal Infallibility. Thank you, A Confused Catholic.
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on September 2, 2000 Dear Paul
Your difficulties are not uncommon. When you are troubled by these thoughts, you should think about the reasons for being Catholic.
We are not Catholic because we are pleased with the behaviour of popes, nor because we like the doctrines. We are Catholics because we wish to belong to the Church Jesus established, and we believe in the doctrines of the Catholic Church because they rest on His divine authority.
If you were the only saint in the Church and the rest of us Catholics were hardened mortal sinners, you would still have every reason to be a member of the Catholic Church, because the Church's authority and legitimacy and does not come from its members, but from God himself.
I hope that when you converted, you learned this. If you didn't, you should now. When Christ said to Peter What you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, he did not add any conditions such as if you're a saintly pope, what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. He made no exceptions. And Christ promised the Church to teach us the Truth, to be with us until the end of time. He did not give any conditions for this either. Your task as a Catholic is to place complete confidence in Christ's word on this matter. Because Christ said this is true, there is no reason to doubt him.
When you believe Christ's words, the difficulties raised by corrupt popes evaporates, because it becomes theologically irrelevant, at least insofar as the legitimacy of the Church and the papacy is concerned.
We cannot judge Catholicism by observing those who do not put it into practice. And Christ never promised that all his followers would be saintly or even decent. This is why He established Confession. Those who practice Catholicism faithfully cannot be judged as anything but good and holy.
When you read something disturbing about a corrupt pope or other Catholic figure, ask yourself this: does this change what Christ said about the pope binding and loosing? Does this change the fact that he will be with the Church until the end of time? Does this change the fact that Christ said he would send the Spirit of Truth to teach us?
You have even less to concern you, theologically speaking, if a bishop or a monk is immoral.
You should also note that Pius XII is not normally counted as an immoral pope. There have been about ten very corrupt popes out of 263. Alexander VI was one of them. It is precisely because these popes were so irreligious that they rarely got involved in doctrinal affairs. Therefore, the issue of papal infallibility, and their authority to teach, is moot. But if they had taught a doctrine definitively, in spite of their bad character, you can be certain that the Holy Spirit would have guided the events and actions of the day to assure that at the end of the line, the popes would not speak anything that was erroneous,
If you would like to eliminate your doubts about Pius XII, I recommend that you read his encyclicals, and any other of his speeches. Ask yourself this: are these the words of an evil man? Are these the words of someone who is morally apathetic and lacking courage? You can easily find these documents at the xEWTN file library.
Another thing I recommend that you do is read about the lives of good popes. There are so many to choose from. You should avoid books that are written with an anti-Catholic bias. People who are not imbued with the Truth with the Catholic faith will see events in a skewed way that leads them to draw negative conclusions. They are also so driven by their beliefs that they neglect many facts in order to support their personal prejudice. This is the case with Pope Pius XII. They say he lacked moral courage in the face of Nazi atrocities. And yet a number of Jews, including Albert Einstein and Golda Meir, praised him for his assistance during the Holocaust. Do you think they were merely imagining this assistance, or being diplomatically polite? They had no reason to do so.
I hope you my words have helped you with your difficulties. Pray and ask the Father to send you the grace of understanding.
Thank you for your question.
God Bless, Suzanne Fortin
Back to Index Page