The Inevitable Fallibility of the Infallible.

The all too fallible Pope Francis the Infallible

It’s difficult to know who to feel more sorry for this week. Atheists such as myself, who having been granted salvation by Pope Francis on Wednesday morning had our redemption revoked the very next day by the Vatican who clarified that we are still instructed to go directly to hell, while not passing ‘Go’ and certainly not collecting 200 pounds or, the beleaguered Catholics themselves who, still trying to come to terms with the Vatican’s flagrant disregard for papal infallibility, opened their papers the following Tuesday to find that Anthony Murphy had been granted an op-ed column in the Irish Times with which to further undermine any good the church may reasonably lay claim to.

Last Wednesday’s homily during which Pope Francis declared “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone,” came as something of a surprise to many, not least Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, who cautiously welcomed the Pope’s comments as ‘quite heartening’.

“‘Father, the atheists?'” Pope Francis continued, “Even the atheists. Everyone”.

“If other religious leaders join him,” Speckhardt later responded, “it could do much to reduce the automatic distrust and discrimination that atheists, humanists and other nontheists so regularly face”.

Indeed, Pope Francis clarified his position further, “We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father. I am an atheist’. But do good. We will meet one another there”.

It goes without saying that such generous ecumenical utterances were not as gratefully received within the Holy See. Quick to respond to the allegations that atheists might pollute the waters of heaven with reason and impromptu folk songs, the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a spokesperson for the Vatican was quickly dispatched with an “explanatory note on the meaning to ‘salvation'”.

Rosica confirmed,

“They cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her”.

Burning in Hell it is then.

Concerned that this message might yet be misconstrued, Catholic bloggers the length and breadth of the Lord’s Kingdom posted articles frantically elucidating what Pope Francis really meant to say for those of us who struggle to comprehend simple sentences.

We are ever grateful to Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, or “Father Z” as he prefers to be known, for clarifying matters. After opening his blog with a salient warning against assuming insight by taking fervorini out of context without being privy to the rest of the delivery, Rev. Zuhlsdorf proceeds to do precisely that and sagely declares,

Francis was clear that whatever graces are offered to atheists (such that they may be saved) are from Christ.  He was clear that salvation is only through Christ’s Sacrifice.  In other words, he is not suggesting – and I think some are taking it this way – that you can be saved, get to heaven, without Christ.

The austere furnishings of Casa Santa Marta must surely be made infinitely more bearable with the knowledge that Rev. Zuhlsdorf is on hand to interpret the Holy Father’s views ‘in other words‘ (chiefly his own) for those of us seeking further analysis. Unfortunately, I fail to see where Francis indicated so clearly that salvation would come only through Christ’s sacrifice and contrary to what the ‘Rev. Z’ suggests, it would appear to me that Pope Francis was suggesting most markedly that one may be saved through a willingness to do good and without so much as a curtsey in Christ’s direction, hence the rapid response from the Vatican itself.

It seems to have gone without notice that this intervention simultaneously eradicates not only the notion of papal infallibility but also papal supremacy in one fell swoop.

Paragraph 882 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful. For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered”.

Irrespective of the hubristic rebuke from his office, Pope Francis is to be commended for his latest attempt to reach out to secularists, following on as it does from previous homilies urging greater inter-religious cooperation and dialogue with nontheists alike.

With regard to my own salvation, I continue to throw my lot in with Vaclav Havel who considered our salvation to lie “nowhere else but in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and in human responsibility”. Sadly, the power to reflect, meekness and responsibility are attributes the Holy See has shown itself time and again to be entirely incapable of.

13 comments
  1. If they are trying to avoid impromptu music in Heaven then they might be better off fortifying against evangelical Christians; in my experience they are much more likely to be carrying a guitar at any one time than atheists are.

    I am not an expert in Catholic theology; however, it is possible there is no conflict between the Pope’s statement and the glosses provided later. If he was talking about redemption in the context of original sin then atheists have been redeemed but are excluded from heaven for not submitting to the Catholic church. Maybe this is just a restatement of the idea that righteous pagans may enter limbo.

    it could equally be a political gaffe though.

  2. I take your point regarding those pesky, guitar toting evangelical Christians. I am not so confident they will find their way to heaven, however. I fancy they might end up instead vacillating between Dante’s fourth and eighth circles of hell.

    Or at least I would, if I believed either outcome a possibility.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • Havel has an uncanny knack of ‘saying it all’ about a great many things, I find. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Yeah, I wondered about the infallibility thing myself when I heard this story. But then, that’s what they get for hiring/electing a Latin American pope. Even in the absence of any liberationist bent, there is in Argentine society a decided leaning in favor of socialism in all its forms, and it appears that, in this case at least, it has jumped the theological barrier. All for one, one for all, it is…

    • Nicely put.

      It was a forced hand. With the Americas being home to nearly half of the world’s Catholics and with the sharp fall off in adherents, Latin America had gone from being the great hope to the Holy See’s greatest concern. The Vatican couldn’t choose a Brazilian representative (census numbers showing Catholics making up a paltry 65% of population now, compared to over 90% in the 70’s) so went with the Argentinians.

      Of those countries with in excess of 500,000 inhabitants, only Spain and Poland have a higher percentage of Catholics per head of population than Argentina and with Central Europe making up a measly 5% of the world’s Catholics, the church had to reach out.

      Time to get the popcorn out…

  4. Martin Lack said:

    I think I can clear up your apparent confusion for you…

    Unlike a great deal of Papal utterences down through the Ages, there was no contradiction of traditional Christian theology in what Pope Francis said. This is because: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) – and – “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:22-24)

    Therefore, as C.S. Lewis once said, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” Unfortunately, the main problem for any atheist (or person like me that just struggles with doubt) is that: “…without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists…” (Hebrews 11:6)

    So, then, that just leaves us with one problem: The many ways in which Catholic theology is based on the traditions of men rather than the words of Scripture. If that sounds familiar to you, it is probably because it is exactly what Jesus said about the Jewish leaders of his day (Mark 7:7-9).

  5. cactuswine said:

    There is, of course, a perfectly catholic way of reading Francis’ comment. If one assumes Christianity to be correct, it is perfectly valid to say that if all who do good deeds are saved through Christ, one could presume that once having died, all who do good deeds would see the truth and accept Christ. Basically you can boil down what the Pope said to – Good people will not forever reject God and Christ, thus all good people are saved, even if this occurs after their death.

  6. I am a practicing Catholic and this post is fab! Most of the Catholics I know would have liked to have written it. I really like Pope Francis and I’m astonished that the college of cardinals elected him, I think they realize they may have made an error since he doesn’t appear to be playing by the Holy See’s rules. And screw the Vatican anyway.

    I think everyone except those like Hitler and Dahmer, get saved and into heaven whether they like it or not 🙂

    As my dear departed dad used to quote, “faith without good works, is dead.” It all comes down to the Golden Rule.

    Great blog.

  7. I like this . Particularly the party about salvation coming from within the human heart.

  8. One adage held strongly by the Catholic Church (when last I looked): Faith is a gift.
    Therefore no one can be held “responsible” for not believing — all they can do is wish to receive the gift, and live a good life in the meantime. The implications of this are obvious.
    Second, Teilhard de Chardin (a theologian strongly disapproved of by the Vatican-ites of his own day) spoke and wrote about the Cosmic Christ. That is, the Christ of the universe, the power of the universe. If you posit a Cosmic Christ, rather than confining this god figure to Jesus the man, again the implications are obvious.
    Boiled down (in my admittedly simplistic but nonetheless quite good mind) we have another old saying, You don’t believe in God? So what! God believes in you.
    I am amazed at my own temerity in coming so close to a frumious bandersnatch, but could not resist the name and the game.

  9. I’m sitting here, now, after reading this, singing an impromptu folk song……….lol

    Reminds me of what Sir Paul McCartney said when asked about religion after George Harrison died in 2001. Loosely quoted: “God is simply Good without an O. Devil is simply Evil with a D.” Pretty much sums it up for me, and I should add a disclaimer that Sir Paul McCartney is my favorite musician of all time.

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