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Got a free book from the Catholic Company to review. The only condition they had for me was that I provide you kindly folks an assessment of the thing. So. Yeah. Here's the assessment.

Playing on the old saying about love, Time Magazine recently entitled its cover story, “Why Being Pope Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry.” Taking the Pope to task for his response to the priest sex abuse crisis, Time indignantly demanded more than “mealymouthed declarations buttressed by arcane religious philosophy.” According to Time, the Pope and the Church won’t take full responsibility for their sins for fear of undermining the doctrine of papal infallibility, which, Time says, is, “in rough terms, the church’s ability to open the gates of heaven to you or damn you to hell because it will always be holier than thou.” This doctrine is the legacy of “Pope Pius IX, who stage-managed the First Vatican Council into approving infallibility in 1869 with a suspect majority of bishops.” Consequently, “[i]n obedience to its divinely absolute monarch, the Vatican bureaucracy, the Roman curia, became even more centralized and domineering.” You get the gist of Time’s take on the papacy.

In addition to getting facts about the papacy and infallibility wrong, Time simply takes for granted the falsity of the Church’s claim that the papacy was instituted by the second person of the trinity and protected and perpetuated by the third. Alas, this is par for the course when it comes to the secular media’s treatment of Catholicism. Yet it’s not just the media that misunderstands the papacy—many Mass-going Catholics couldn’t articulate a defense of the papacy against hatchet jobs like Time’s.

This is where Catholic Answers’ We Have a Pope comes in. Written by Stephen Ray (hear him speak) and Dennis Walters, this pithy, 31-page booklet effectively explains the papacy and corrects the most common misconceptions about it. First, pointing to the (at least) 33,000 Protestant denominations, the authors explain why we need the papacy. Then they establish its Biblical basis: St Matthew’s account of Christ singling out Peter to receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the power to bind and loose. Ray and Walters draw upon the Old Testament to illuminate the significance of the “keys of the kingdom” and Christ’s act of changing Simon’s name to Peter. The booklet explains what St Peter’s new authority entailed and how he—not a apostolic democracy—led the early Church. And we learn that the authority to wield the keys of the kingdom didn’t die with the original grantee; rather, as the book of Isaiah foreshadows, it is passed on to his successors. Ray and Walters then proceed to explain how St Peter’s authority has indeed been passed—unbroken—through the ages up to the present day. We Have a Pope also sheds light on little known subjects such as how Popes were elected in the past and how they’re elected now. And it quotes the Church fathers to prove that the idea of papal primacy is not a recent invention but rather a given from the outset.

Perhaps most importantly, We Have a Pope explains what papal infallibility is and what it isn’t. Rather than a ecclesiastic club used to bludgeon opposition, as suggested by Time, the doctrine of papal infallibility is surprisingly discrete and subtle. Indeed, as Ray and Walters explain, “[m]ost papal teaching (in audiences, homilies, and written documents) does not claim to be infallible (guaranteed from error).” But from time to time the pope speaks infallibly regarding faith and morals—and when he does, he does so without error. And the booklet proves that the doctrine of papal infallibility wasn’t a product of Pope Pius IX’s political maneuverings:
Long before infallibility was formally defined in 1870, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church understood that what popes taught about faith and morals was final. In the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas held that the pope ‘is empowered to decide matters of faith finally, so that they may be held by all with unshaken faith’ (Summa Theologiae II-II:1:10). So when the First Vatican Council (1870) defined papal infallibility, it was already the faith of the Church and had been down through history. In fact, the doctrine that the pope could speak infallibly was not under discussion at the Council. It was recognized by all. The Council dealt with the manner in which the pope speaks infallibly.
Finally, Ray and Walters disabuse Time and other would-be papal experts of the idea that the doctrine of papal infallibility equates to papal impeccability (i.e., inability to sin): “The charism of infallibility doesn’t protect the pope from sin, only from officially teaching error. Sinlessness is not required.” So popes can personally sin and then apologize for it—all without necessarily implicating the doctrine of papal infallibility.

We Have a Pope provides a concise and effective defense of the papacy and its attendant doctrines. At $1.95 a copy, I recommend Catholics buy the booklet in bulk to give to their friends—Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Your money will be well spent.

Listen to the Catholic Answers Live! radio program these two authors did in 2003:
An Introduction to the Papacy.
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