So, a Catholic writer, in a conservative magazine, wrote the following:
In the next three weeks, I fully expect the leadership of my own One Holy and Apostolic Catholic Church to fall into apostasy, at the conclusion of the Synod on the Family that begins today in Rome. This is the outcome Pope Francis has shaped over the entirety of his pontificate, and particularly with his recent appointments. An event like this —heresy promulgated by the Pope and his bishops — is believed by most Catholics to be impossible. But they should be prepared for it anyway. This is not an ordinary religious conference, but one to be dreaded.
The question that comes to my mind when I read this is, why in the hell would anyone be a part of a Church that can fall into apostasy? If the Church at the level of binding and loosing can fall into apostasy, then it cannot be—and never was—a Church established by God.
I don’t use this as rhetoric or as a click-bait opener. Rather, I see it as a problem with people who have so confused their political preferences and media misinterpretations of the Church teaching, that they no longer believe that God is with His Church, but instead believe that they themselves cannot err.
Such a Catholic has to consider the ramifications of their anti-Francis mindset. If one recognizes that Jesus Christ is God and that the Catholic Church was the Church that Our Lord willed to establish in Matthew 16:18, then it follows that the promises He made about the Church will be kept. If a person denies one or both of these tenets of the faith, their faith is deficient.
Let’s think about it. If Jesus is God and the Church He established is the Catholic Church then he promised that the Church, built on the rock of Peter, would not see the gates of Hell prevail against it, and He promised that He would be with His Church always (Matthew 28:20). If the authority of the Church, which has the authority to bind and loose, should fall into error then we have to recognize one of two possibilities:
- That Jesus could not keep His promises.
- That Jesus did not mean it in the sense that the Church has taught.
If Jesus could not keep His promises, then He is not God and our Catholic faith is in vain. We might as well go and seek admittance to Judaism if we wanted to still believe in the God of the Bible, but being a Christian would be nothing more than being a Platonist—a philosophy of doing good which is right some of the time. If Jesus did keep His promises, but the Catholic Church misinterpreted these promises, then she is a blind guide leading the blind into a ditch. We could never know when she got it right about being a Christian and when she did not. Was she wrong in Vatican II? Vatican I? Trent? Nicea? We could not know whether it was the Trinitarians or the Arians got it right, the Catholics or the Protestants and so on. We could only have opinions on who got it right—solely based on our own hunches and preferences.
In either case, the results of the synod would be irrelevant. Whether the Church upheld the traditional teachings on marriage, or called for polygamous homosexual divorce would be irrelevant, because the Church would have no authority whatsoever.
It only makes sense to be a Catholic if we believe that Our Lord protects the Church from teaching error when she teaches. We are bound to give assent not only in her ex cathedra pronunciations, but in her teachings of the ordinary magisterium as well. As the Catechism says:
891 “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful—who confirms his brethren in the faith—he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.… The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,” above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine “for belief as being divinely revealed,” and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions “must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.”420 This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.
892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.
If we are bound to give assent even to the ordinary magisterium, then again we have two possibilities:
- God will bind error and loose truth if the Church so decrees.
- God will prevent the Church from binding error and loosing truth.
The first choice is asinine. The God who came to save us from our sins would certainly not say that sin is OK if the Church gives its sanction. But given that Our Lord equates rejection of His Church with rejection of Him (see Matthew 18:17 and Luke 10:16), obedience to those He has put in charge is not an option. But since human beings are weak and sinful, God must have a way which ensures that they do not lead people into sin.
Even if we should see the synod become another “robber council,” (which I do not expect), we can have faith that the Pope would block such things from becoming teaching. Think about it. St. Paul said that to receive the Eucharist unworthily would be eating and drinking judgment on themselves (1 Corinthians 11:29-32). If the Church should sanction people in mortal sin receiving the Eucharist, that would be a case of binding error and loosing truth.
It is because I have faith in Our Lord that I do not fear that the magisterium of the Church will teach error. The leaders of the Church can indeed be sinful and weak. They can enact rules that are ineffective and falter in the face of opposition. Thus we need to pray for them. But even if some individual bishops or even regions should fall into error (it has happened in our History), the Church will not call evil good.
The person who believes that the Church will embrace error and change her teachings on good and evil needs to ask himself or herself this: If the Church is not protected from teaching error, then why even be a Catholic at all?