23 Aug 2020. Cycle A. 21st Sunday OT. Is 22:19-23 + Rom 11:33-36 + Mt 16:13-20

The doctrine of papal infallibility teaches that the pope is infallible when defining faith and morals. This developed from the promise of Jesus to Peter: “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:17-19). The faithful are, hereby commanded, to obey the teaching of the pope.

What if the pope teaches a clear error? What if the pope contradicts his predecessors? What if he purges teachers of established doctrine, and associates himself with promoters of proscribed ideas? What if he teaches mercy yet lambastes mercilessly those who oppose him? What if he kowtows to persecutors yet ignores the persecuted? What if he worships with pagans in pagan shrines yet rebuffs the Tridentine Latin Mass of the ages and profanes St. Peter’s Basilica?

Impeccability, however, is not infallibility. A pope sins, some of them scandalously. Though sinful, like us, he is infallible when he authoritatively defines faith and morals. He is not infallible when he espouses secular ideas; not when he speaks off-the-cuff; not when he rebuffs some established church discipline, not when he contradicts Jesus’ own teaching.

The holder of the key to the kingdom of heaven exercises binding and loosing authority as long as he keeps the key. But the one who gave him this key can take it back. The first reading cites a similar case: “I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station. On that day I will summon my servant … I will clothe him with your robe, gird him with your sash, confer on him your authority… I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; what he opens, no one will shut, what he shuts, no one will open” (Is 22:19-22). VSS

Picture credit: :Pope Francis at NYPost.com