Apologetics

Pope Idolatry: It’s Not Really Catholic

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Pope Boniface VIII (papacy: 1294-1303), one of the worst popes in history.
Source: Getty Images

We are living in unprecedented times, and I think that calls for unprecedented action. Our bishops no longer seem to have any connection to what is going on in the Catholic world right now. They seem to either be ignoring it, or else they are oblivious to it. However, those of us who are active on the Internet, particularly social media, see it clearly. The Catholic Church is on the cusp of a massive schism, the likes of which unseen since the Protestant Revolution (Reformation). In fact, when it happens (and it will happen), I predict it will be larger than both the Protestant Revolution and the Eastern Schism combined, making it the largest schism ever in Church history. The whole world will be in shock!

We can point to various causes of this. The clerical and episcopal embrace of Modernism is probably a major factor in play here. However, I think there is a much bigger factor in play, which cuts down to the very fabric of each and every Catholic on planet earth, and that factor is pope-idolatry or popolatry. I wrote about this extensively in a previous post, but the gist of it is simply this. Too many Catholics have stopped practicing Catholicism and instead adopted a form of idolatry concerning the pope. They have made the pope into a kind of guru or demigod, who is incapable of error, and whose every word is dogma. They form their Catholic beliefs entirely around every whim and fancy of the current pope, and seem to exhibit no independent thought apart from him. They have become, ironically, exactly what Protestant-Fundamentalists accuse Catholics of. For centuries, Protestant-Fundamentalists have accused Catholics of being mind-numbed robots, who are incapable of independent thought, and whose religious practices are formed entirely by the pope. They accuse Catholics of worshiping the pope, and sadly, in an indirect sort of way, all too many Catholics are proving them right. My assertion is that what Protestant-Fundamentalists accuse Catholics of, and what too many Catholics have wrongly adopted, is not Catholicism at all. Rather, it is an artificial kind of Catholicism, that is based on an old heresy called neo-ultramontanism, or what today is more accurately termed pope-idolatry or popolatry.

To illustrate this, and to defend myself against libel, I recently posted the following on my three social media accounts (GAB, MINDS and MEWE)…

I have never attacked the papacy itself. Nor have I challenged the legitimacy of Pope Francis. He is the pope. Period. That’s final. I will never deny the legitimacy of Pope Francis, unless some future pope commands me to.

What I have done is called out the abuses of Pope Francis and accused him of abdicating his responsibilities as pope. There is a difference.

Criticizing the pope (even severely, as I have done) is not the same as denying the pope. Too many Catholics don’t know the difference, and every day I see comments on social media (by Catholics) who have denied the legitimacy of Pope Francis, or claim that Benedict XVI is still the pope, or declare outright sedevacantism. All of these responses are schismatic. If these people are upset with Pope Francis, as well they should be, then they should criticize the pope correctly, without committing the sins of heresy or schism.

My message may not be well liked, and I may have made some enemies, but I am still fully Catholic. You can accuse me of a lack of charity. That is debatable, as I believe I am being charitable. However, I cannot be legitimately accused of heresy or schism.

This statement seems shocking to some Catholics, and the reason why it seems shocking is because it is devoid of any attachment to popolatry. What we have here is a statement, by a Catholic, who is critical of his pope, without giving up his Catholicism. People simply aren’t used to that. Which is why, when some read it, they think I have somehow left the Catholic Church, or have reverted to Protestantism, or maybe become Eastern Orthodox. Others read it and think the statement is impossible, that in order for me to validate the statement, I must reject the pope entirely, because the pope is incapable of making such errors.

No. Nothing could be further from the truth, but that just goes to show how deep popolatry has been ingrained into the contemporary Catholic psyche. The Modernist Catholic embraces popolatry every time he uses the statements of Pope Francis to justify his complete abandonment of historic Church teaching on this subject or that. The Traditionalist Catholic embraces popolatry every time he declares that Pope Francis isn’t the pope, because a “real pope” would be physically incapable of making the kind of errors that Pope Francis does. Both the Modernist, and the Traditionalist, reveal their popolatry here, because both the Modernist, and the Traditionalist, are operating on the false pretense that the “real pope” is incapable of error.

The truth is the “real pope” is capable of error. This is the teaching of the Catholic Church. Popes error all the time. Most of the time these are little errors, usually unnoticeable to the public. Occasionally, a papal error does make it into public knowledge, and when that happens, it is still (usually) a small thing. It hasn’t been until recently, under Pope Francis, that we have seen sweeping and egregious errors that make it into public knowledge. Sadly, to a Church that has been heavily influenced by popolatry, most Catholics simply don’t know how to deal with this. This has led to much confusion and turmoil in the Catholic world today. I don’t believe the coming schism can be averted at this late date. However, I still believe it can be contained and minimized if Catholics will just drop the popolatry in large numbers.

This leads me to another problem. A number of Catholics have dropped popolatry, but in the process, they’ve also dropped their belief in the papacy as well. They no longer believe the pope is infallible on anything, and they no longer take his pastoral teachings seriously either. This is tragic. It’s also the wrong response. It’s a classic case of “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

The official teaching of the Catholic Church, on the infallibility of the pope, comes from the First Vatican Council, which was held in 1869 through 1870. It is probably one of the most neglected ecumenical councils of Church history, and severely overshadowed by the Second Vatican Council in 1962 through 1965, even though the First Vatican Council has more authority. This is because the First Vatican Council actually made dogmatic decrees, using the note of infallibility, whereas the Second Vatican Council did not. Many Catholics don’t realize this, but this downgrades the Second Vatican Council to a pastoral level, beneath the First Vatican Council and the Council of Trent. From the First Vatican Council we learn one of the most important truths of our time, that solves many of the problems within the Catholic Church today, and if embraced, it will reduce the size and scope of the coming schism. It is a truth dogmatically defined about the papacy. The Catholic Church infallibly teaches, through the First Vatican Council, that the pope is only infallible when he speaks on matters of faith and morals EX CATHEDRA. This can be found in the First Vatican Council, Session 4, Chapter 4, paragraph 9, given on the 18th Day of July in 1870. The term “ex cathedra” means literally “from the chair,” and that is an expression, or way, of saying the pope is only infallible when he specifically says he is, and at no other time. This usually involves matters related to the canonization of Saints. Outside of that its very rare. The last time it was used, outside of canonizing Saints, was in 1950 when Pope Pius XII infallibly defined the doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Every papal decree, encyclical, exhortation or “off the cuff” remark since then has been fallible, meaning that it could contain error. That’s not to say these things do contain error, but only that they could. Please understand that. I don’t want to be misinterpreted on this.

Understanding when the pope is, and is not, infallible is essential to being a good Catholic. It keeps us from wandering into the heresy of popolatry, and it helps us deal with troublesome statements and actions of a pope who is corrupt, or has just lost his way. It allows us to think critically, and not become “mind-numbed robots” who build our faith around every word that drops from the pope’s lips, or issues forth from his pen. It allows us to read the Bible, and the Catechism, as well as receive the sacraments, and listen to the teachings of our priests and bishops, in a way that brings us to a more stable knowledge of our Catholic religion. It allows us to hear the reports of a corrupt, or wayward, papacy and not have our Catholic faith shaken to the core by it. This is what needs to happen, and if you agree, please share this message with others.

4 thoughts on “Pope Idolatry: It’s Not Really Catholic

  1. Hi Shane,

    I wonder if there’s something in addition at work here. While I do believe there are many who mindlessly follow the Pope as if he were not prone to human error or subject to concupiscence like the rest of us, I also believe there is a majority of them who are not so much blind followers of the Pope’s personal words, opinions, and ideology, but rather use the Pope’s words, opinions, and ideology to justify their own personal opinions and ideology. It’s much like those who add “God told me to do it” to provide some higher authority responsible for their personal actions and words. I think the Pope is more often than not used as a means to provide some higher authority to personal opinions and actions that are not consistent with the historical, orthodox teachings of the Church.

    Just a thought.

    Todd

  2. With all due respect to the author who has made some very good points, one more item should probably be added. In the last couple of decades, there is a tendency to view the Vatican and the Pope in a form of political organization. The media especially speak of progressives, conservatives, changes in response to popular demand and in various other terms that are more appropriate to a political party. Already there is talk that the next conclave will either confirm some of the more liberal actions of the present Vatican administration or look “back” to earlier times. One of the strengths of the Church has been consistency. It would be wrong and quite distressing to see it bending with every change in the wind of opinion.

  3. True but incomplete. As the First Vatican council also stated, the infallibility of the pope is part of the wider infallibility of the church as a whole. I.e. if a doctrine has been held by Catholics in all places at all times, then it is most assuredly true.
    Also there have been at least two other infallible papal statements since 1950: the 1993 declaration that the church has no power to ordain women to the priesthood, and the declaration in St John Paul’s Evangelium Vitae that procured abortion is always immoral regardless of the circumstances.

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