Earlier this week, Pope Francis I made history by announcing that not only do all good people go to heaven (stating that, basically, good acts are what count), this included, of all people, atheists.
Gasp! The scandal!
A lot of atheists were quite amused by this. “Yay, we’re not going to the imaginary happy place instead of not going to the imaginary bad place!”
I, personally, view the Pope’s announcement as roughly equivalent to Bugs Bunny telling me I’ll go to Los Ang-ga-leez after I die, but only if I take a left turn at Albuquerque.
But not long after the Pope made his announcement, the Vatican contradicted this.
[T]he Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said that people who know about the Catholic church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.”
(Translation: Atheists are going to Hell if they don’t accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.) [emphasis added]
I’m mighty glad the article provided that translation, because otherwise I might have thought he was implying something else altogether. If you know what I mean. Nudge-nudge.
But let’s ignore that. As I said, I find the whole thing kind of amusing. Sort of the same way a Christian would if a Native American shaman told them they would not be able to enter the Happy Hunting Ground because they were not Cherokee (or whatever). “Oh, that’s nice.” <polite smile>
What I’m curious about is this whole papal infallibility thing. You know, the doctrine that states that whatever the Pope says is what the church believes?
From Wikipedia, the bastion of all knowledge:
Papal infallibility is a dogma of the Catholic Church which states that, in virtue of the promise of Jesus to Peter, the Pope is preserved from the possibility of error "when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church.” [emphasis added]
<insert screeching tire noise here>
So, how does this work, exactly? The pope, Il Papa, The Dude with the Funny Hat himself, comes out and proclaims, “Anyone who does good can get into Heaven,” this should mean that from that point forward (Or is it retroactive?), this is the doctrine of the entire Catholic church. (Until the next infallible Pope says the opposite, anyway.) No ifs, ands, or buts about it:1 if The Pope says it, that’s the way it is.
Except that then the Vatican – represented by a priest who is not the Pope – comes out a few days later and says, “Wait, no. The Pope was wrong.”
<insert sound of game show buzzer here>
“Oh, I’m sorry. You forgot to state the doctrine in the form of a papal proclamation.”
To me, this is a much more interesting question than whether people who don’t believe are or are not going to a place they don’t believe in after they die. Is the church abandoning papal infallibility? Was it ever a thing? Am I misinterpreting something?2
Or is this, indeed, a big doctrinal, dogmatic deal?
What are your thoughts?
- I believe this is the basis for papal infallibility, or at least that’s what Professor Wiki tells me: Matthew 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. [emphasis added, clearly]
- I am quite aware of this, also from Wikipedia: "A doctrine proposed by a pope as his own opinion, not solemnly proclaimed as a doctrine of the Church, may be rejected as false, even if it is on a matter of faith and morals, and even more any view he expresses on other matters." So, yeah, all they have to do is say it was his opinion or that he was not making a binding claim and they're off the hook, but I find this loophole kind of hypocritical. Don't you think? I mean, a Pope either is or is not infallible. If he can make one mistake, doesn't that mean he is, pretty much by definition, fallible?