pope francis

How Should Catholics View the Pope?

Attacks against the Pope and the Papacy have been something that the Catholic Church has lived with since Peter was first appointed to the position by our Lord Himself. Today we see attacks on the Pope and his authority from three very different sources.

An initial Clarification

Some attacks against the Pope and the Papacy are rooted in false doctrine and are things Catholics in good standing cannot believe. However, there are legitimate reasons to criticize a Pope or disagree with some of his actions or words. If the Pope is speaking very informally, that can be a sign that he does not intend to have his words in that context taken as official Church teaching. Currently we see a sexual abuse scandal rocking the Church. It is perfectly legitimate for Catholics to disagree about how Pope Francis and previous popes have handled these issues, even when that disagreement might involve criticism.

The Pope has the authority given to him by Christ. To be truly Catholic, one must be in communion with the Pope. And using the Pope’s personal flaws to deny that God gave the Pope special authority is wrong. But the Pope as a person is not flawless. St. Catherine of Siena actually rebuked Pope Gregory XI when he continued the practice of living away from Rome, the city of St. Peter! We should be careful in doing this because the office of the Papacy deserves respect. However, if a man is not living up to the requirements of the office Catholics may criticize his actions while still acknowledging the importance of the Pope.


Non-Catholics attack the Pope from various different angles. Some, like the High Church Anglicans, Old Catholics, and the Orthodox Churches profess that no bishop has any authority over any other bishop and no bishop can proclaim official teaching except when all the bishops of the world meet in an Ecumenical Council. Most Anglicans and Orthodox deny that an Ecumenical Council can be held until the Church East and West re-unites.

Most Protestants disagree with the Catholic interpretation of the Scriptures about Peter. Catholics believe that when our Lord changed St. Peter’s name from Simon to Kephas (Petros in greek, Rock or Peter in English), it meant that He would build or found His Church on the rock of Peter. Protestants typically think of Peter’s name, Petros, as something different from the word Petra, which means rock. But Petros is merely the masculine form of the word, and Peter would not have been named a feminine name (Petra). Protestants also overlook the commission of Christ to Peter in John 21 to feed His lambs and sheep, or any other authority that Jesus gave to St. Peter.

Anti-Traditional Catholics

Some Catholics have all sorts of things to say about the Pope, most not very Christian, or loving. They deny that he has much authority over them and tell us that he is too old fashioned and needs to get with the times. They will tell you that the Pope needs to stay out of people’s bedrooms, and give in to the ordination of women and open practicing homosexuals. These Catholics deny various core beliefs that the Church has held for nearly 2000 years. One wonders why if the Pope has no authority to tell them what to do, they continue to call themselves Catholics. They say it is because they want to reclaim their voice and power and bring about reform in the Church. Some pay lip service to the Pope, but claim that you don’t have to listen to anything the Pope says unless it is Ex Cathedra. Since so few doctrines have been proclaimed in that manner, there is little they do not question or reject.

Ultra-Traditional Catholics

On the extremely traditional side, some have openly proclaimed that they believe all Popes from Pope John XXIII to Pope Francis were never really Popes. Often these Catholics believe that Vatican II was a heretical council that did not keep to the Tradition of the Church. Because a Pope can never officially teach heresy, and John XXIII convened Vatican II, the argument goes that he must not have been a valid pope. Those elected after him were elected by cardinals invalidly appointed by the “antipope” John XXIII, and so they were not valid Popes either. Furthermore, every Pope since John XXIII has accepted the validity of Vatican II. If Vatican II were a heretical council, then all of these “Popes” would actually be heretics.

The problem with this argument is that no one has the authority to judge something heretical if a Pope, together with an ecumenical council, has declared it to be true.

Most people who believe that the Popes since John XXIII have been antipopes (people claiming to be popes who are not actually the Pope) are sedevacantists. A sedevacantist is someone who believes the the Chair of Peter is empty (sedevacantist comes from Latin words meaning “empty seat”). Therefore, there is no current Pope and there has not been a genuine Pope since Pius XII, the last Pope before John XXIII.

Some people have even gone to the extreme have elected their own “Popes.” In Kansas there is a man who calls himself Pope Michael I. He was elected in a “conclave” of six people, including himself and his parents. There was a former Franciscan priest who claimed to be elected by fax, phone and internet. He called himself Pope Pius XIII. There are a few men in France who also claim to be the Pope. But as there can only be one Pope at a time, we have to look at all the evidence, and currently the only man who has any valid claim to the Papacy is Pope Francis.

What Obedience Means

An example of what it means for someone to trust the authority of the Pope and render obedience to him can be seen in the life of St. Athanasius. St. Athanasius, who lived in the 4th century, was one of the chief defenders of Jesus’ divinity. At the time he lived, the Arian heresy, which said that Jesus was not God, was very widespread. Pope Liberius condemned Athanasius in spite of the fact that Athanasius was defending the faith of the Nicene Creed against heresy.

In spite of the fact that Liberius had condemned him, Athanasius never denied that Liberius had authority as a Pope. Pope Liberius had most likely been imprisoned and tortured by Arians. Therefore his condemnation of Athanasius was made under duress. Athanasius realized that, even if Liberius was acting completely freely, the Pope had been misinformed. Even if Pope Liberius had held some semi-arian personal beliefs for a period of time, he had not proclaimed them as the doctrine of the Church. So St. Athanasius gave respect and honor to the Pope and did not proclaim himself chief over the Pope, or disobey him.

6 thoughts on “How Should Catholics View the Pope?”

  1. Corinna Clements

    Everything about Catholicism, buddhism, islamism, etc etc pervert and twist the true word of God which should be referenced by the old king James version bible or original transcripts because Peter was not a Pope Peter’s name doesn’t mean instead of or replacement of God as pope or vicar Jesus deemed him the rock of the church to insure that than and forever the true word of. GOD would exist for us he knew that Peter and all his disciples would suffer until the day he died to insure it. man such as the papacy have no authority from God or to act as God by adding or changing one jot of the bible to suit them selves as is being done now there’s nothing new under the sun!he’s just a man and that’s all he is he can’t save you or give u remission of sins why are you worshipping him he is a form of antichrist that is to say he puts himself as God,instead of ,and replacement of God in holy places just as the meaning of the name pope or vicar such as is the meaning of antichrist I say these things not for your judgment from me because only God is judge but out of so much love for you all so that at least u know truth in the word of God. God is in control and on the throne and truth shall be revealed to all when his will be done with much love to you all

  2. The last two Popes irk me, to put it mildly. I do not believe them. I do not respect them. I will not submit to them ! And ditto for much of the Catholic hierarchy as well! If the Cardinals and Bishops want to lead us off a cliff, are the lemmings obligated to follow? Harsh words, but let me elaborate.

    First let’s start with the child abuse scandal cover-up that has plagued The Church. How many up the chain, through great efforts, covered up this world-wide behavior? How many engaged in that behavior themselves and used their promotions to further the cover-ups? How many complicit Cardinals and Bishops are there? How many of these Cardinals got to vote for Popes?

    Speaking of Popes, lets bring up Ratzinger. Another favorite (meant sarcastically, of course). If a corporate CEO took a job for six months, was seemingly in good physical and mental health, decided he did not like the job, and quit…his reputation would be mud. If a President of the United States did the same, the media would scour to find the scandal, the stock market would crash and supporters would feel betrayed and abandoned. Getting back to my other fav Pope…has anyone dared to publicly and forcefully raise “The Question”? How dare one selected by the divine guidance by God quit in short order? What the hell was that all about? Are there any journalists out there? H-E-L-L-O !

    Now saving the best for last…Our current Pope. When I was a young man, Pope Paul partnered up with President Ronald Reagan to end the cold war and bring down the Soviet Union. Pope Francis Is the antithesis of John Paul, not missing an opportunity to criticized and undermine the United States. Every piece of news I read involving this Pope is either a direct assault or a back hand against the United States… weather it’s climate change, the environment, illegal immigration, economics, our military, the United Nations… It doesn’t matter. American can do no right anymore. He is the Kremlin’s best friend. He or buddies up with George Soros to promote illegal immigration on our border. He chimes in against U.S. military bases. He dislikes our economic system that has done so much for so many – more than any economic system in history. Born and raised in the banana republic center of the world, he seems to be bigger commi-hugger than tree-hugger. Bans all plastics in Vatican City. I stopped reading The Tablet since reporting on the Pope only supports my contention. The Tablet can’t even sugar coat his BS.

    I think it is more than reasonable to call the current Pope, prior Pope and much of the Church’s leadership : fake, corrupt and evil. If there is a split in the Catholic Church, I would like to be one of the first to jump ship. Unless, of course, the rebel leaders are worse than what we have now. I hope the American Catholics open their eyes wide and withhold funds from this corrupt, communist cabal.

    1. I understand what Mr. Andretta is saying. However, I would like to remind him that the pope is fallible in all things like every person except in matters of faith and morals when he is speaking “ex-cathedra;” i.e. with the full authority of his office as the head of the church. Most consider the last time that this was done is when Pope Pius XII formally defined the dogma of the Assumption. A minority of others believe that it is done even more frequently in a less formal manner.
      Yes, it is true that not all popes have been saints on earth. However, when you stop to think about it, most of us probably fall into that category. Most Christians acknowledge the fact that we are all sinners striving to gain the eternal salvation that Christ opened up to us through the redemption. We do this by repenting our sins and having faith in Christ and his church. One way we make our faith real is by doing good works. And that, my friend, covers a vast area.
      Since trying to understand the mystery of the Trinity is the main theme of this web site, let me say that I simply accept the reality of the Trinity as a matter of faith. For some reason I have no problem with belief in the Trinity. I, as do most Christians, simply believe in a one triune God consisting of three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is not only the clear teaching of the church from the beginning and further clarified by the early Councils of the Church; e.g., the Council of Nicaea in the year 325 which we acknowledge every time we participate in mass and say together the Nicene Creed which comes from that council. Furthermore, if you have read the New Testament from beginning to end, you cannot escape the fact that, without calling it the Trinity, the fact of the Trinity is made manifest throughout the New Testament.
      I would like to comment on another thing which people often refer to in discussing such matters and that is the fact that there has been great sin in the church, the most recent example being the sexual abuse scandal. I agree that such was a great sin and is disappointing to me as a Catholic. However, not to diminish the seriousness of the matter, but sin has been present in not only most of us individually, but in most every group that I can think of including the Twelve Apostles who had a Judas who despaired of his sin of betrayal and a Peter who repented of his sin of denial. And, think of who appointed these men to their positions: Christ himself. This only goes to show you that sin is in the will brought about by our own concupiscence and other motivations such as failure to abide by the Golden Rule. All of these failures can originate in our own minds or be a giving into the very real temptations of Satan. As an aside, I see Peter, in many ways, as a representative of every man: a basically good man who, through his own weakness and fear, denied Christ yet he was man enough (humble enough) to repent. Christ obviously accepted Peter’s repentance and did not hold his sin against him as he made Peter the visible head of the church. Christ will also forgive us from even such a great sin if we are humble enough as Peter was and repent of our sins accompanied, of course, with a firm determination not to sin again even though, down deep, we may intuitively acknowledge our own weak nature and realize that we might sin again. At the same time, it is with hope that we are honestly striving to make progress in our spiritual life leading to that eternal omega point: an eternal salvation of adoration, love and happiness with Jesus Christ our savior the Lord.

    2. Sebastian Baxter

      I was just reading this post, and I thought I wanted to reply, because I find this point of view very interesting, and I respect how you call things out that just aren’t right. Even in God’s holy Word, Isaiah 5:20, it says “woe to those who call evil good and good evil”. The Lord I believe wants us to use Scripture, His Holy Spirit, and also the sound reasoning He has given us, (under the authority of the first two things) to use as a lens for the world around us. And in that context, we do have some ability to discern if things are from God, and if they are good. Obviously He gives the standard, and it’s in His scripture, that’s why we need to be in it constantly, to be filled with knowledge of His truth, and equipped for every good work. What struck me about this post was that it said if there is ever a church split, you would be first on board. I am just curious how much information you have about the Protestant reformation, where there was a church split because a man named Martin Luther got into the Word of God, immersed Himself in it, and prayer, and came to the conclusion that what the church was at that time was contrary to what He was reading in God’s Word. And He took a stand to bring into existence God’s will, which is (now at least) available to us through God’s Word. And mind you, there was a time when the Bible was not available to the general public, but only the clergy, (you should look into this). I’m not saying that Luther was perfect, he was only a man, and I don’t condemn the Catholic Church, because we are all to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” Philippians 2:12. I am also just a man, but I would also argue that maybe the Pope is also “just a man”, who also needs to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling. There is one God in heaven, who has ordained One Way back to Himself, the person of Jesus Christ and His gospel of salvation. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” -Acts 4:12. Though God ordained apostles, and teachers, and those with various gifts, they are always admonished to know the Word of truth, and to walk in and teach sound doctrine. All of which comes from scripture, which is the final authority God has given for us to know His will. My humble advice, as I know so little myself, apart from that which God has graced me with, is to get into the Word of God. All of the answers are there. The supreme, and final authority in this world is God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ who is seated at His right hand, through whom is the remission of sins, not by our own works, that we should boast, but by grace alone, through His death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead. Anyway, God bless you. Please, anyone who reads this, get into your Bible. God has given us the ability to find out His heart and His desires, and sound doctrine through His Word. Also, research the reformation, because this split in the church has already happened, and if there are people who feel unsettled about the way the Catholic Church is going, it’s not because God is unfaithful, or that Christ doesn’t have power and isn’t the Savior of the world, it’s because people are just people, and power is not necessarily a Christian virtue, (at least that’s not how the Bible teaches it).

  3. As a Catholic, I believe in Jesus Christ. Any earthly leadership is endorsed or chosen by God. Different leaders work differently, others follow what God says, others not. That’s the freedom what God gave people. Therefore, I view the Pope, (Pope Francis) as our leader who can guide, teach and lead us as Catholic Christians. It’s the same way we view our local church leaders.
    Every Church or religion has its own history and when one follows the history, you will have many questions without answers. Other views will mislead people. We have one God and let us believe in Him.

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