Through an accumulation of misunderstandings, the teaching role of the Pope has assumed mythical qualities. Many people believe the Pope by himself has the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit so that his pronouncements are intrinsically infallible.
NOTE 1. “The college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is simultaneously conceived of in terms of its head, the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, and without any lessening of his power of primacy over all, pastors as well as the general faithful. For in virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he can always exercise this power freely.” Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium § 22.
[Comment: This statement, like others, is open to wrong interpretation. What does ‘full, supreme and universal power’ mean? ]
NOTE 2. “The Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole body of the faithful.” Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium § 23.
NOTE 3. ” The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole people’s supernatural discernment in matters of faith when “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals.
That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth. It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the people of God accepts that which is not just the word of people but truly the word of God. .” Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium § 12.
The Pope’s Role in the Church
Jesus Christ appointed Peter and his successors as shepherds, that is: persons looking after people and caring for them (John 21,15-17). The Pope is therefore first and foremost the Supreme Pastor. That means that he represents Christ’s love and concern for every single individual. That is why the Pope’s priority lies in getting to know people, understanding how they live, listening to their interests and sharing their sufferings and their joys. On no account should the Pope allow his contact with ordinary people to be obstructed by a multitude of administrative duties. See note 1 below.
The Pope is also the Unifier of the People of God. Because of the international character of the Church, this will create many demands. The good of the world-wide Church and the autonomy of local Churches need to be balanced. That is why the Pope should guide and inspire the Central Synod of Bishops so that it can efficiently work out agreements and general Church policies. The Pope needs extensive secretarial facilities to communicate effectively with the many local Church leaders. The Pope will also need to build bridges with leaders of other Christian denominations and leaders of Sister Churches. See note 2 below.
Handing on Jesus’ message that God is Love and planting this message in contemporary soil is a major task of the Church in each epoch of history. The Pope plays a crucial role in this as the Prime Witness to Faith. This includes both preaching [= announcing the message to non-Christians] and teaching [= explaining an element of Christ’s message in today’s context]. On very rare occasions the Pope is the main exponent of the infallible understanding of faith [=inerrancy] that is carried by the whole people of God. The Pope can only do so after listening to the People of God and discerning the faith they carry in their hearts. See note 3 below.
A NEW PROJECT OF CHURCH
“According to Cardinal Ratzinger, the church is a theocracy with little interest in projects related to democracy and the rights of people who are not supported by what we can call ‘the will of God’ as represented by the church. This is to say, that there is no intention of dialogue . . . It is the whole theocratic structure and oligarchic conception of a church based on an old cosmovision of the world dividing people according to race, gender roles and sexualities which is passé, and has little historical possibility to survive. It is not leaving the church which is the issue, but working for an entirely different project of being church that we should be striving for: a church in which women and men will sharetheir priestly vocation, a church in dialogue and involved in democratic models. Only in that church we will look like Christ.”
The Catholic Church is ruled by an entirely dysfunctional hierarchy. The Pope does not even have a cabinet. In principle he decides everything. We are stuck with an absolute monarchy akin to the rule of King Louis XIV in France that led to the French Revolution in 1789. In the Church too we need a revolution to change things, but a peaceful revolution . . .
Professor Hans Küng — Hear him speak!
RULING OVER PEOPLE?
In the course of the centuries the papacy has assimilated the power structures and authoritarian practices of secular rulers. The Pope now claims domination over every section of the Church and over every aspect of people’s lives. This is the last thing Christ wanted. “You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over people, and great men make their power felt. It shall not be so among you!” (Mark 10,42-45).