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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 06 Apr 2002

corrupt Popes QUESTION from Patrick October 28, 1999 Thank you for your wonderful forum. I had been wanting an answer to this question for a long time, but never was there a place to ask it. And there it was in your topics!
How does the Church explain corrupt Popes? Ones who have fathered children come to mind. I am dedicated to the Magesterium, an apologist in training, and a continual student of the Lord and His body the Church. But it's difficult for me to understand the reality of infallibility, and the death of a Vicar in the state of mortal sin (I have heard of some popes living such a scandalous life that they were assured a place in hell).
I know all of us are human...even those clergy we respect and put up on pedestals. But to be very candid, one would logically surmise that the Lord would only chose very holy men to be His successors.
Could you clarify my quandary? God bless you, and thank you.
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin on Tuesday, November 2, 1999 Dear Dr. Patrick
Papal Infallibility does not imply that a pope is free from sin. It is not a personal power in the sense that it depends on his personal will to be good or true. Infallibility is a promise from God. We can be sure that no pope will ever promulgate an erroneous doctrine because he said he would send the Spirit of Truth and be with us until the end of the Age.
Is there anything God cannot do? Nothing! We can be certain of his promises, in spite of ourselves. There was in fact a pope, by the name of Vigilius (537 A.D.--555 A.D.) who was promised the papal throne and a large sum of money by the Empress Theodora if he would renounce the doctrines of the Council of Chalcedon. Guess what? Vigilius became pope and he had a change of heart. This illustrates to the faithful that God will not abandon his Church to error. Erroneous doctrines will not be taught, even by a determined pope because God can do anything to prevent this: He can convert the pope, He can change circumstances so that it would not be convenient to promulgate it, He can even end the pope's life. These things are a snap to God-- we must think that because we can't imagine how they could happen that these things are difficult to God.
Aside from explaining the doctrine of infallibility, we can clarify intellectual difficulties on this matter by turning to Scripture. The Lord himself chose Judas to be an apostle-- to be a witness to his works, an evangelizer, a saint. The Lord also chose evil kings to govern his people Israel. Solomon and Manassas rejected the Lord and turned to idolatry.
You would think that God would choose the morally superior to guide his flock, but that is not always the case. Can we blame God for human short-comings? Obviously not. We can only conclude that some men wasted the opportunity they were given to serve the Church.
You can't let feeling overrule logic in matters of doctrine. We assume that God would choose the morally superior to lead, but there's no basis for that assumption. We base it on a priori assumptions about how a church should operate-- assumptions which are Protestant. Of course if you work with Protestant assumptions, you will draw Protestant conclusions. When discuss this matter with non-Catholics, you should only accept to work within their principals insofar as they agree with yours, because you can only work from agreement and not disagreement.
God Bless Suzanne
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