Answer: It’s not Pope Benedict’s infallibility.
At the end of every pontificate, there is always a lot of buzz and speculation surrounding the issue of the next Pope.
Who will he be? Will he let priests start marrying, allow women to be priests, or change the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception?
This time around things are obviously different, since Benedict will still be sticking around the Vatican after the new Pope is inaugurated. This situation raises a new plethora of questions a lot of people haven’t considered before.
Will we still call Pope Benedict, Pope Benedict? Will we call him the “Pope Emeritus”? Is he still infallible?
Many anti-Catholics groups and writers have taken the last question and started to run with it. “See, Papal Infallibility is nonsense,” they say. “How can a person go from being fallible to infallible, and then back to being fallible again just because of a change in office?”
This type of reasoning displays brutish ignorance over the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. It’s the same type of ignorance that associates the Pope’s infallibility with the Chair of Saint Peter too literally.
To be sure, according to the doctrine, the Pope’s infallible decrees have to be issued from the Chair of Saint Peter. Well, which chair is that?
Is it this one?
Or this one?
Whoops! Certainly can’t be this one.
If you get hung up on literalism, you’ll never get it. In the context of the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility, “the Chair of Saint Peter” refers to the Pope’s authority as Pope, that is, his authoritative role as the head of the Church to pronounce teachings on faith and morals to be held by the whole Church. He does not have to be sitting on any designated chair when he makes infallible pronouncements.
If you were able to get that distinction, then you are now in a good position to understand what happens to Pope Benedict’s infallibility when he’s no longer Pope.
Once again, the Pope is only infallible when he issues an official teaching concerning faith and morals to be held by the whole Church. Think about it. How many of those statements do you think Benedict XVI will make after he vacates Peter’s symbolic chair on February 28?
The answer is zero.
Got it? Let’s hope so.
Certainly there will be other questions about Pope Benedict’s resignation, his relationship with the next Pope, and the nature of the papacy in general swirling around in the media over the next few months. I think that a lot of these questions are healthy, earnest, and sincere. A lot of those questions can be answered just by understanding the biblical root of the papacy, which we find in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, chapter 16. Here is a good video clearing up some misconceptions over the Christ’s conferring on Saint Peter his authority over the Church.
I hope you enjoy the video. If you have any questions, please share them in the comments box below. If I or any other of our worthy commenter can answer them, we will.