Evangelical Questions About Pope Francis
Living in the Ozarks, which is deep within the Bible Belt, I tend to get a lot of questions from local Evangelicals about Pope Francis. Lately, I’ve been hit with many, in rapid fire, and they’re not the good kind of questions. Much of this has been brought on by news reports concerning the Holy Father, and how this is being interpreted by Evangelical pastors, who in turn preach their interpretations in their Sunday morning sermons. I’m going to share some of those questions below, and how I answer them. I’m not proposing that these are the only answers, or even good answers, but they are my answers…
The news is reporting that Pope Francis supports a one-world government. Does this mean he’s the Antichrist?
The excommunicated Augustinian priest and friar, Dr. Martin Luther (AD 1483 – 1546), was the first to seriously put forward the notion that the office of the papacy is the Biblical Antichrist. Since then, various Protestant groups, most recently Evangelicals, have speculated that some future pope might become the Biblical Antichrist. There are some serious logical and Biblical problems with this assertion. Here’s why. The Bible tells us exactly what the final Antichrist will teach and do toward the end of the world. Specifically, he will deny that Jesus is the Christ and that Jesus is God (1 John 2:18-22, 1 John 4:3, 2 John 1:7). A man cannot be the Antichrist unless he denies both of these things.
If any pope ever did this, he would immediately cease to be pope, because he would have effectively renounced his papacy. To publicly deny the divine and messianic nature of Jesus of Nazareth is tantamount to a resignation (abdication) of the papacy. You see, the papacy is built on the foundation of Peter and his testimony that Jesus is both Christ and God (Matthew 16:15-19). In order to be a Successor of Peter, and therefore the pope, one must profess that Jesus is the Christ, and that he is God. If one doesn’t profess this, he cannot be the pope. Since the Antichrist must reject Jesus as Christ and God, and the papacy is built on Peter’s profession that Jesus is both Christ and God, then it’s impossible for any pope to be the Antichrist. His very existence, as pope, is a testimony that Jesus of Nazareth is both Christ and God. Let me make this perfectly clear. The office of the papacy, itself, is an institution that testifies to the declaration that Jesus is both Christ and God. Even if a blind, deaf and mute pope is elected, who never speaks a word during his papacy, his very existence as pope bears testimony to Jesus as both Christ and God. The office itself screams that Jesus is Christ and God. If a pope ever denies this, his claim to the papacy evaporates.
Now we see no indication that Pope Francis has ever renounced Jesus as Christ and God. Quite the opposite is true, actually, and he continues to profess Jesus as both Christ and God all the time! So according to the Bible, he cannot be the Antichrist.
Now as for this one-world government nonsense, Pope Francis has (unfortunately) bought into the pseudo-scientific theory of man-made global warming — that mankind is responsible for rising planetary temperatures because of carbon emissions. Sadly, this pseudo-scientific theory is extremely popular among Left-leaning politicians and socialists, especially in Europe, and Pope Francis has thrown his hat into the ring with them. These politicians (and Pope Francis) advocate for strengthening the United Nations to police the world’s carbon emissions. It’s a Leftist pipe-dream that can never work in the real world.
Now support for a global government doesn’t automatically make you the Antichrist, at least not according to the Bible (see above), but it does make you very naive and shortsighted. It would seem that Pope Francis has decided to side with the naive and short-sighted Leftists politicians of Europe in calling for a global government.
That being said, such statements are outside of the scope of his papal authority. The office of the papacy was not founded by Christ to handle political affairs. So when Pope Francis speaks this way, he is speaking on his own, as Jorge Bergoglio, legal Sovereign of the Vatican City State, and nothing more. He does not speak for God on such matters, nor the Church, and not even for many Catholics. He certainly doesn’t speak for me on this issue.
I absolutely reject the claims of man-made global warming based on a lack of untainted scientific data. Basic astronomy tells us that Venus and Mars, our nearest planetary neighbors, are filled with carbon dioxide (CO2) in their atmospheres. Venus has an atmosphere consisting of over 96% CO2, and it’s a hell-hole, but Mars has the same percentage of CO2 and it’s a frozen tundra. That alone should tell us that the temperature of a planet is the result of many factors, and atmospheric CO2 is just one of the smaller ones. Both the Venusian and Martian atmospheres are almost entirely CO2, and yet they have vastly different temperatures. The amount of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere is a meager 0.04%. Stop and consider that. Even with all the carbon emissions of the entire human race, combined with all plant and animal life, as well as volcanic activity above ground and under the sea, the CO2 levels on earth are far below one-tenth of a single percentage point. When we consider the radical temperature difference between Mars and Venus, which both have atmospheres of nearly all CO2, we have to admit that CO2 doesn’t play as big of a role in planetary temperatures as people say it does. Then, when we consider that the amount of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere is less than one-tenth of a percent, how can we possibly take seriously the claim that CO2 in the atmosphere is the primary culprit behind changes in the weather and global temperatures? What about Mars and Venus, where the CO2 levels are at 96%!
I agree that human beings need to get off carbon fuels, and not just because of carbon emissions, but also because they are the leading cause of air pollution — smog — which is hazardous to humans, animals and plants. However, if the last century has taught us anything, putting such matters into the hands of big government is practically a guarantee that the problem will never be solved. We need industrial ingenuity, not bureaucratic regulation. In both cases, global warming and world government, the pope speaks beyond his competency as the Vicar of Christ. His papal authority is limited to matters related to religion and morality, and does not include scientific theories or the management of civil government.
Furthermore, through the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Church has always held that patriotism (civic nationalism) is a virtue not a vice, and the Church has never taught that globalism is a virtue. Indeed, the word “subsidiarity” should come to mind when we start talking about global government. Where’s the subsidiarity in that? There isn’t any. Yet the Catechism of the Catholic Church plainly teaches us that everything must be done in accordance with subsidiarity. So it is more in keeping with Catholic teaching to be patriotic toward your country than to give allegiance to a global government. When Pope Francis speaks of a global government, he doesn’t speak for God, or for the Church, or for all Catholics, and he certainly doesn’t speak for me.
So when it comes to Pope Francis, it’s important for all of us to deal with him based on who he really is, not who we imagine him to be. Calling him the Antichrist doesn’t make him so. The same is true with calling him the “False Prophet,” as I have heard some Evangelicals say. There is a tendency to get melodramatic about such things, and I’ve seen plenty of melodrama coming from the pulpits of Evangelical preachers in recent years. For that matter, I’ve seen too much melodrama coming from Catholic sources as well. No, Pope Francis is not the Antichrist. But he has thrown his hat in with Liberal European politicians, and we could rightly say that makes him one of them. Yes, he’s a liberal. Yes, he’s a globalist. Yes, he’s into man-made climate change. But then, so are half of all politicians in Europe and North America. That’s what Pope Francis appears to be. Let’s not embarrass ourselves by imagining him to be something more than what he really is.
Because of papal infallibility, aren’t Catholics obliged to follow the words of the pope when he calls for a global government?
The short answer is NO.
Now here’s the long answer. Pope Francis is a strange pope. He’s not like anything we’ve seen in recent memory. In some ways, it could be said he’s more of a politician than a clergyman.
The charism of papal infallibility is a rare event. It applies to the pope’s teaching not the pope himself. According to Catholic teaching, as stipulated in the First Vatican Council (AD 1869 – 1870), in order for a papal teaching to be considered infallible (“always correct” or “without error”), a pope would have to make such a decree (limited to faith and morals) from the Chair of St. Peter, ex cathedra, stating in no uncertain terms that this is his intent. That hasn’t happened since 1950 when Pope Pius XII infallibly declared the dogma of the Assumption of Mary. Technically speaking, everything every pope has said since then could potentially contain error. It’s just that modern popes have always been so good at having their best men research everything, fact check, and review their decrees beforehand. So it’s highly unlikely that most papal teachings contain errors. Or at least, that’s how it was, until recently. Pope Francis’ loose and “shoot from the hip” style of dealing with the public is exactly the sort of thing popes have avoided for centuries. This was to prevent them from making some off-hand comment that might be in error or misinterpreted. Not so with Francis. He seems to have no problem wading into a crowd and saying all sorts of things that no pope would have ever said in centuries past. This pleases some Catholics, but it aggravates others. I’m in the latter camp.
In some ways, Pope Francis treats his pontificate more like a head of state than the Vicar of Christ. The pope is the sovereign monarch of the Vatican City State, and that makes him a world-leader as far as the international community is concerned. It would appear that Pope Francis has embraced this role to its fullest, which is manifested in the form of giving press conferences, granting private interviews, and casually stating his opinion on every little thing. Think about it. This is how heads of state act, not how leaders of religion act. Granted, the pope is both, but it seems that he’s embracing the political side of his office more so when he does this. What exactly does he hope to accomplish by doing all this? Only God knows the answer to that. I don’t.
I certainly hope the pope doesn’t expect us to believe every word that falls from his lips. That’s not what’s expected of Catholics. We Catholics are expected to follow the Catechism and frequent the sacraments, not follow the pope around waiting for some new word of wisdom to pop out of his papal mouth. The pope is not a fortune cookie or a crystal ball. He’s no sibyl, oracle or guru either. He cannot peer into our souls, know the mind of God, nor is he competent to speak on every scientific or political problem. Some Catholics have a serious problem called neo-ultramontanism, which is just a five-dollar word for pope-idolatry. It’s the idea that the pope is always right, by virtue of the fact that he is the pope. I say it’s a serious problem not because the Catholic Church teaches it, nor that many Catholics believe it. On the contrary, the Catholic Church opposes it. Rather, I say it’s a serious problem because some (not many but some) Catholics believe it, against Church teaching. These Catholics are willing to blindly follow the pope, even if the pope teaches them not to be Catholic.
Let that sink in…
These Catholics are willing to blindly follow the pope, even if the pope teaches them not to be Catholic.
We Catholics need to be a little stronger than this, and in some respects, I often wonder if God has allowed Pope Francis to happen for this very specific purpose. Neo-ultramontanism (or pope-idolatry) is the idea that the pope is always right, no matter what, simply because he is the pope. That is heresy, and it needs to be put down. The First Vatican Council (Vatican I) did a good job at limiting papal infallibility to ex cathedra decrees alone, but it appears that did little to stop those who want to expand papal infallibility beyond that, even if it’s just within their own minds. I am grateful to Pope Francis for one thing. If there was any trace of neo-ultramontanism left inside of me, it’s dead now — totally dead — because Pope Francis killed it.
Admittedly, neo-ultramontanism is a bigger problem for Evangelicals than it is for most Catholics. By that I mean that most Evangelicals are under the false impression that neo-ultramontanism is the official teaching of the Church, and that all Catholics subscribe to it. Neither is correct. Do not mistake the cheers and adulation the pope gets from crowds as approval for everything he says or does. It’s not. Catholics get excited to see the pope, just like music fans get excited to see their favorite band. But those cheers don’t always translate into approval for everything the band says or does. Fans will scream and cheer at rock concerts, but are sorely disappointed the next day when they read in the newspaper that the band trashed their hotel rooms. The same is true for Catholics and the pope. Everybody loves to see the pope. Everybody waves and yells, and wants him to kiss their babies, etc. But that doesn’t mean they all agree with everything he says and does. Evangelicals often make this mistake about us, so they tend to have a bigger problem with neo-ultramontanism than we Catholics do. Neo-ultramontanism is a much bigger problem in the Evangelical mind than it is in real life.
Catholics are required to take the pope’s teachings seriously, but that doesn’t mean we’re required to believe everything he says is true, all the time, especially those things he says “on the fly” or “off the cuff.” Papal infallibility is a rare thing, that I’ve never seen happen in my entire life, and nobody has seen it since 1950. Popes are human. They make mistakes, some more than others, and in the case of Pope Francis, it appears that he’s been making a lot recently. He’s allowed to. He is, after all, human. We just have to remember that.
Is Pope Francis a Marxist, and if so, does that mean that Catholicism is now a Marxist religion?
This is actually two questions. Let’s deal with the first part; is Pope Francis a Marxist? Sadly, this isn’t so easy to answer. I would like to give you a clear “yes” or “no,” but that just wouldn’t be accurate. Pope Francis has himself declared that he’s not a Marxist, and he doesn’t support outright socialism. However, his social teachings do indicate a Marxist influence, or at least a tolerance of Marxist thinking. His willingness to accept a Marxist crucifix from Bolivian President Evo Morales was confusing to say the least. Maybe the pope was just being polite. Who knows?
One thing is certain about Pope Francis. He’s not a fan of Anglo-American capitalism, and he’s made this painfully obvious in his social teachings. Pinning Francis down economically is a tough one. Is he Marxist? Well, not exactly. Is he capitalist? Well, not exactly. But then, when you look at the teachings of previous popes on economics, that’s not always so clear either.
I think the best thing to do is look at what the Church has consistently taught on economics over the last 100+ years, and this deals with the second half of the question. Is Catholicism now a Marxist religion? The short answer is NO.
Now here’s the long answer…
The Catholic Church, officially speaking, does not teach economic theories. It is outside of her competency to do so, and that goes for the popes as well. Nevertheless, the popes have taught about the morality of economic systems. To understand this, we need to first understand what economics actually is. Economics is a system of rules, or principles, which economies must abide by. Rules are laws, and laws are based on morality. So economics is really just morality by another name, and both the pope and the Church have competency to teach on morality — even morality that deals with money. To put it more bluntly; the Church doesn’t teach economic systems, but rather sits in judgement of them all. She judges them by the universal standard of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Keeping this in mind, the Catholic Church has judged that Marxism (embodied in Socialism and Communism) is morally unjust and objectively evil. Why? Because Marxism authorizes theft of all private property for the benefit of the state. Theft is a violation of the seventh commandment: “Thou shalt not steal.” Marxism goes further in demanding total allegiance to the state to the level of worship, placing the state in a position that is above the Church and above God. This is a violation of the first commandment: “I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have any strange gods before Me.” Entire social encyclicals have been written by popes that condemn Marxism for these and other reasons. So the Church opposes Marxism and always has. Even if we got a Marxist pope, Catholics would still be morally obliged to oppose Marxism.
This shouldn’t be interpreted as a blanket endorsement of Anglo-American capitalism. It’s not. As Americans, however, this is hard for us to understand. Because we tend to think of our capitalist system as the opposite of Marxism, and since the Church condemns Marxism as “evil,” why doesn’t the Church then commend Anglo-American capitalism as “good?” To best answer this question we need to look to the first 100-years of papal encyclicals on social justice (Rerum novarum, Quadragesimo anno, Mater et magistra, Centesimus annus) and those who tried to construct an economic order that is more in line with Church teaching. Elements of this economic system already exist in the United States and elsewhere. It’s called distributism, which can be considered a locally-owned version of micro-capitalism. The idea behind distributism as that most businesses should be small and family-owned. Larger businesses should be organized as worker-owned cooperative corporations. The idea behind this is that the workers who run the business should have a say in how the business is run. In other words, employees should own shares in the company., and the company should always make sure that the controlling shares of the corporation (for example; 51%) are always worker-owned. This insures that larger corporations always keep the best interest of their employees in mind, and it insures that employees own at least a piece of their employment. There are a few corporations in the United States that operate this way already. It’s still somewhat new, and it’s by no means the majority consensus of how business is done in America, but this is how distributism practically works in America nonetheless.
So does the Catholic Church teach distributism. No. As I said above, the Church does not teach economic systems, but rather sits in judgement of them all. Based on the social encyclicals of the popes, the concepts of distributism have not yet received any criticism from the popes or hierarchy. Capitalism, on the other hand, has received a good deal of criticism, while Marxism (which includes communism and socialism) has been outright condemned.
I’ve heard the pope is against Catholic tradition and wants to remake the Church?
Yes, I’ve heard this too. In fact, he’s said as much, and it’s been reported in the news. Sadly, this appears to be another “shoot from the hip” moment in his papacy. Also, he’s not the only one who feels the same way. Many within the Catholic hierarchy have been trying to usurp Catholic tradition and remake the Church since the Second Vatican Council (AD 1962 – 1965). They’ve had remarkable success, and now it appears that Pope Francis is among those in the clergy who would like to take this ecclesial revolution even further. Many Catholic laypeople agree with them. Since the 1960s they’ve been saying the Church needs to “get with the times” and modernize.
Not all Catholics agree, however, and a growing number of Catholics are now of the opinion that we need to get back to our older traditions, in teaching, practice and discipline. (I tend to think this myself.) The previous pope, Benedict XVI, tended to lean in this direction as well. But the current pope, Francis, appears to be of the “get with the times” and modernize camp. He’s not fully on-board. He rejects such radical proposals as homosexuality, same-sex “marriage” and gender theory. But he tends to be rather loose and liberal on the issues of allowing divorced and remarried people receive communion (without an annulment) and on contraception. The good news is that Pope Francis is staunchly Pro-Life, and has compared abortion to the murder of “hiring a hit man.”
I’ve heard the pope doesn’t like American Evangelicals. Is this true?
Honestly, I don’t think that’s true at all. He seems to be very open to reaching out to American Evangelicals and he’s done this in the past. However, I am absolutely sure that some of the pope’s advisers, and higher-ups in the Vatican, don’t like American Evangelicals at all, and they’ve been highly critical of them in Vatican publications. These are Vatican elites with a very Liberal agenda. I think this is counter-productive to the pope’s intentions, and it would be in the best interest of ecumenical relations between Catholics and Evangelicals if they were reined in.
I’ve heard that the pope said that God wills the “plurality of religions” and is trying to start a one-world religion. Is this true?
There is only one religion that God wants us all to have, and that is Christianity. This is what God desires, and this is backed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church. That being said, the Pope has recently said that God wills the “plurality of religions.” This would be okay, if it’s understood that God only allows this unfortunate circumstance as part of his “permissive will” and not because he wants it as his “perfect will.” Unfortunately, the pope is not clear on this. He’s told some bishops that what he meant to say was “permissive will,” but then he’s told other bishops that it’s part of God’s “perfect will.” It’s a very deep source of concern for many theologians in the Catholic Church.
That being said, there is nothing Pope Francis can do to actually “change” the historic teachings of the Catholic Church. No pope has that kind of authority. Popes can clarify Catholic doctrine. They can also expand upon Catholic doctrine. But the one thing popes can never do is change a Catholic doctrine to make it mean the opposite of what it previously meant. They don’t have that kind of authority. So when we hear something like this, we have to understand that the pope can say whatever he wants, but that doesn’t change one iota of Catholic doctrine. Popes just can’t change doctrine, but they can confuse the heck out of people with ambiguity and conflicting statements, and right now that appears to be something Pope Francis excels in.
So are you saying that Pope Francis is a bad pope?
Catholics have to be a little careful when talking about the pope. It’s okay for a Catholic to judge the actions of a pope, but it’s not okay for a Catholic to judge his intentions or his person. For example, some Catholics have said Pope Francis has committed formal heresy and is therefore a heretic. This is a judgement on the person of the pope, and canon law makes it clear that this is not permissible. However, at the same time, it is obvious that some of the things he’s said are clearly wrong and go against established Church teaching, practice and discipline. So how do we deal with this? I think the answer is to say we deal with the pope the same way we deal with everyone else. Judge the actions but not the actor. Judge the error but not the one who makes the error. Judge the sin but not the sinner. When dealing with the pope, we Catholics are supposed to deal with him like a father. That means we have to show the highest level of charity and respect toward him. That doesn’t mean we agree with everything he says or does. That doesn’t mean we keep silent in the face of abuse of his office. It does mean, however, that when we say something about him, we have to treat him in the same way we might treat the father of our family. We can’t excuse the behavior, especially if it’s wrong, but at the same time we can’t just “throw him under the bus” for it either. We may even have to admit to others that what he’s doing is wrong, but that doesn’t mean we publicly accuse him of not being our father! This is what people are doing when they accuse the pope of being a heretic and antipope. These things are above our authority. Only a future pope, or future ecumenical council in union with a future pope, can make such judgments.
That being said, is Pope Francis a bad pope? I think if we’re speaking in terms of behavior alone, we could make the argument that he’s heading in that direction. If he continues down this road, and does not change course, history will certainly record his name among a handful who were “bad popes.” We hope this will not be the case. It’s important not to judge a papacy until it’s over. Popes have changed course in the past. Pope Pius IX (AD 1846 – 1878) was considered a very liberal pope during the early years of his papacy. But then he did a complete 180-degree turn and became one of the most conservative popes in modern history. Pope Saint John Paul II (AD 1978 – 2005) started out his papacy a little left-of-center, but ended it on a much more conservative note. This kind of transformation has happened before. It can happen again. Many Catholics pray it will happen with Pope Francis. I am one of them.
Can’t you Catholics just depose this pope, or get rid of him somehow?
That’s been the source of a lot of discussion lately. Some Catholics seem to believe that can be done, but they’re at a loss to describe exactly how under canon law. The truth is, the Catholic Church has no procedure or method for deposing a wayward pope. Practically speaking, any attempt to do so would be futile anyway, as there will always be a large number of Catholics who will blindly follow a wayward pope, even if he’s been deposed (either legally or illegally). This will inevitably result in a schism and the election of another man to the papacy. So there would be two men claiming to be pope at the same time. This sort of thing has happened before, and it never ends well. It’s best to try to avoid it from happening again if we can. Our best minds have considered this topic and decided to tell us that we just need to ride out this pope, and elect a new one someday who can repair the damage done by this one. They offer us the “recognize and resist” strategy. We recognize that Francis is the pope, but we resist his efforts to change the Church when these changes contradict established Catholic teaching and prudent Catholic discipline. So that’s what many of faithful and practicing Catholics are doing right now. We’re recognizing that Francis is the pope. We’re resisting him when he goes against established Catholic rule. We’re praying for God to either fix whatever is wrong with this pope, or else send us a better one as soon as possible. Meanwhile, we just live as we always have — practicing our Catholic faith as it has always been done. That’s about all we can do.