That is not to say that we have to adopt the attitude of some kind of Protestant parody of Catholics. It is not Catholic teaching that Popes are impeccable (incapable of sinning). Popes have to go to confession like everyone else. Nor does the Church teach that they possess infallibility in what they do and teach, outside the carefully defined conditions of infallible teaching on faith and morals. There is a wonderful passage in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited when the Jesuit instructing Rex in the Faith discovers that Rex is incapable of distinguishing the real teaching on infallibility from a joke: what if the Pope said it was raining, and it wasn't? The point is that Rex's desire to become a Catholic is insincere. He isn't over zealous, he's just not taking it seriously.
We are not bound to 'Papolatry': to the worship of the Pope. We are bound to obedience, but this has it's proper sphere: matters of faith, morals, and ecclesiastical discipline; it is also limited by Divine and Natural Law. We don't believe that the Pope was chosen by the Holy Spirit; he was chosen by men, and we know from history that these men have sometimes chosen badly. In some cases they have even allowed themselves to be blackmailed or bribed. We know that Popes have made grave errors in dealing with difficult situations - Pope Benedict referred to these errors in the letter accompanying Summorum Pontificum:
Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity.
|Pope Pius IX|
I would like to ask forgiveness-in my own name and in the name of all of you, venerable and dear brothers in the episcopate-for everything which, for whatever reason, through whatever human weakness, impatience or negligence, and also through the at times partial, one-sided and erroneous application of the directives of the Second Vatican Council, may have caused scandal and disturbance concerning the interpretation of the doctrine and the veneration due to this great sacrament [the Eucharist].
In short, and there is no shame admitting it: there have been good Popes and bad Popes. There have been corrupt men who have made reasonable Popes. There have been holy men who have made bad Popes. And there have been good and holy Popes who have made disastrously bad decisions.
This does not mean our support, spiritual and material, our obedience, and our veneration for the Pope, goes out of the window. Even the worst of Popes is still the Pope. Even the worst of Popes has then gift of infallibility and the power of the Keys: he can teach unerringly, and has the power to grant indulgences. These are spiritual gifts: they don't make the Pope holy, but they make him worthy of veneration. Is this so incredible?
THEN Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to his disciples, Saying: The scribes and the Pharisees have sitten on the chair of Moses. All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not; for they say, and do not. (Mat 23:1-3)
Furthermore, even bad Popes have jurisdiction: they, and they alone, can enact or repeal laws, commands, and disciplines which bind under pain of sin for the whole Church. Finally, they and they alone are able to coordinate and guide the whole Church, to deal with practical problems and give impetus to new initiatives. That is their charism, and we need to take this seriously. When they speak, we sit up and listen.
The view that only a 'worthy minister' can do the people any good is Protestant. The view that Popes are automatically wise and holy leads, logically, to sede vacantism: it implies the view that Popes 'fall from office' when they go wrong. The Catholic view is that they have the gifts of the office not by personal merit, but by God's cooperation in an institution which is both human and divine. God will preserve the Church, yes, but He won't stop us making fools of ourselves.
Pope Francis commands our respect, our veneration, our obedience, and our attention. He has more than ordinary human powers in seeking solutions to the Church's difficulties, but there will be nothing automatic about his plans meeting with success. We can help by a respectful, serene and well-informed participation in the debate about what measures might work and what might not. We can help also by accepting the teaching of the Church and obeying her laws and traditions: for the Holy Father is the guardian of these teachings, laws, and traditions. And above all we can help by striving for personal holiness, giving witness to the Faith in our daily lives.
He is going to need our help, even of he turns out to be a genius. Let us be ready to play our part.
Almighty and everlasting God, have mercy upon Thy servant Francis, our Supreme Pontiff, and direct him, according to Thy loving-kindness, in the way of eternal salvation; that, of Thy gift, he may ever desire that which is pleasing unto Thee and may accomplish it with all his might. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.