Papacy & Catholic Hierarchy

Does God Pick the Pope? by Jimmy Akin

DoesGodPickthePope-e1520967085851“When Pope Benedict was elected in 2005, I was overjoyed.As much as I loved John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger spoke to me in a special way, and I was thrilled when he became pope.

I was puzzled, though, by the way people began announcing him as “God’s choice” and speaking as if—in every conclave—the Holy Spirit himself selects the pope.

It’s customary for people to speak that way in the jubilation that occurs whenever a new people is elected.

I knew that, but this was the first conclave I witnessed as an adult, and as a Catholic, and I hadn’t experienced it first hand.

That kind of language is understandable as a way of building confidence for the new pontificate, but is it literally true?

Does the Holy Spirit really select the best possible man for the job, or is it a form of pious hyperbole?

130227151945-01-pope-0227-horizontal-large-galleryCommon Sense

Common sense would suggest the latter. The cardinals in a conclave certainly invoke the Holy Spirit and seek his guidance, but he does not override their free will.

We’ve had some really bad popes in the history of the Church, and not just ones like Peter who made mistakes and then repented.

We’ve had some genuinely bad actors in the papacy (for example, Benedict IX, who reigned three different times between 1032 and 1048).

So in what sense can the election of a pope be said to be God’s will?

Divine Providence

Everything that happens in history takes place under God’s providential care.

By his omnipotence, God could stop any event from occurring, and so if something happens, it’s because God allows it.

The election of a pope thus can be said to be God’s will in the sense that any historical event can.

In this broad sense, however, the fact that something is God’s will does not guarantee that he approves of it.

It may be God’s will to allow a man to commit adultery, but that doesn’t mean he approves of the adultery.

Is the election of a pope in accord with God’s will only in this minimal sense or does it involve something greater?

Divine Guidance

While God does not override human free will, he does offer guidance. Jesus gave the Church certain promises in this regard, stating:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth (John 16:13).


Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age (Matt. 28:20).

God has thus promised to give the Church his guidance. He has also promised it to individuals:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him (James 1:5).

If an individual man seeks God’s guidance, he can count on it being given. This does not mean it will be easy to hear or understand, or that the man will act on it, but it does mean that God will offer his assistance in some way.

Similarly, when the college of cardinals seeks God’s guidance in a conclave, they can be confident he will give it. Indeed, given the weightiness of the decision facing the cardinals and the implications it will have for the entire Church, they can expect he will provide even greater guidance.

This does not guarantee that the guidance will be easy to hear or understand, or that the cardinals will act on it, but it does mean that God’s assistance will be provided.

By presuming the discernment and good will of the cardinals, we may presume the man they elect was chosen in accord with God’s guidance and thus that his election was God’s will in a greater way than if God merely allowed it.

merlin_131618630_0d1d7ad7-0fa1-4021-bd20-1221f21ad866-master768A Marriage Analogy

We should be careful about assuming that there is only one correct choice for pope, for the process of selecting a pope is similar to the process of selecting a spouse.

Pop culture sometimes promotes the idea that everyone has a soul mate—a single, best individual that they should marry—but the reality is more complex.

Each marriage prospect has different strengths and weaknesses, and depending on who you choose, your marriage will unfold in different ways. But that doesn’t mean there is a single, best candidate you must find.

Even if there is, identifying that person with confidence cannot be humanly accomplished, given the number of factors and the number of unknowns in play.

Similarly, candidates for the papacy have different strengths and weaknesses. Depending on who the cardinals choose, the next papacy will unfold in different ways. But there may not be a single, best choice—or one that is humanly knowable.

463416006_wide-76d348e063e8cf373b6b6c1ffc284c7d62581e32-s900-c85After the Choice is Made

Once a selection has been made, however, a new mode of divine will comes into play.

In the case of a marriage, once you exchange vows, it is God’s will that you treat that person as your spouse.

The realm of possibilities that existed before has now reduced to a single person, and that person is your divinely ordained spouse. He ordained that you be spouses in the moment the vows were exchanged, and “what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matt. 19:6).

It’s now your job to make the marriage work, not to worry about what-ifs and might-have-beens.

Similarly, when a man accepts his election as pope, he becomes the divinely ordained pope, and it’s now everyone’s job in the Church to support him in the various ways that are appropriate to their station and to make the papacy work.

Spouses are not perfect, and neither are popes. Just as every marriage has challenges and requires work, so does every papacy.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s Views

When he was still a cardinal, Benedict XVI acknowledged the fact that cardinals can elect sub-optimal popes in an interview with German television back in 1997.

When asked whether the Holy Spirit is responsible for the election of a pope, he said:

I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the pope. . . . I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined (John Allen, The Rise of Benedict XVI, 6).

He continued:

There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!

Similarly, in his final address to the college of cardinals, Pope Benedict stated:

Before I say goodbye to each one of you personally, I would like to tell you that I shall continue to be close to you with my prayers, especially in these coming days, that you may be completely docile to the action of the Holy Spirit in the election of the new pope. May the Lord show you the one whom he wants.

Benedict’s prayer that they will be docile to the Holy Spirit indicates the possibility that they will not be docile

GroupthinkImplications for the Future

Nobody knows when the next conclave will be, but we can draw several implications from all this.

First, we can be confident from the fact that the cardinals seek God’s guidance that he will give it to them, as he has promised.

Second, even if they make a sub-optimal choice, we can be confident that God will ultimately bring good out of it, for “in everything God works for good with those who love him” (Rom. 8:28; cf. CCC 311).

Third, we need to pray. We need to pray now that good cardinals will be chosen, and when they meet in conclave, we need to pray that they will earnestly seek and heed God’s guidance.”

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A number of good Catholic journalist and newscasters are speaking out about what is going on with the Vatican. Raymond Arroyo is one of them.

Raymond Arroyo is a New York Times bestselling author, journalist and a producer. He is the news director and lead anchor of EWTN News, the news division of the Eternal Word Television Network. He is creator and host of the news magazine The World Over Live seen in more than 350 million households around the globe and heard on 500 AM/FM affiliates throughout the US. Arroyo is also author of the best-selling Will Wilder series (Random House/Crown) for young readers” (Wikipedia).

Robert Royal, editor of The Catholic Thing (which everyone should subscribe to for a free daily news commentary) and president of the Faith & Reason Institute based in Washington, D.C along with Fr. Gerald Murray, canon lawyer and priest in the Archdiocese of New York, join Raymond in speaking out honestly about what many are afraid to discuss. See one of their latest discussions here.

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 8.59.50 AMRaymond Arroyo was recently mentioned in a Tweet retweeted by the Secretary of State of the Vatican, Fr. Antonio Spadaro. In fact, it called for the firing of Arroyo and that the Church “interdict EWTN until they get rid of Raymond Arroyo” (see Tweet attached). An “interdict” is pretty much one step short of excommunication. My guess is that Arroyo’s popularity will soar as a result.

Here is what Robert Royal wrote as an introduction to The Catholic Thing Article today:

Note: Heartfelt thanks to all of you who expressed support and offered prayers over the past few days after stories appeared about a retweet by Antonio Spadaro S.J., a close collaborator of the Holy Father’s, calling on EWTN to fire Raymond Arroyo for his criticisms of various recent papal moves (and no doubt for the now five-year run of the Papal Posse). Or be placed under interdict.

This was either a weak attempt at intimidation or a lame attempt at humor – in either case, quite imprudent from someone who knows that what he says is taken, rightly or wrongly, to reflect back on Pope Francis.

Be assured, this portends no serious harm to me. This is why we have independent think-tanks and publications like The Catholic Thing, so that at least some in both Church and society may speak freely. Fr. Murray is most likely fine as well. But it’s not entirely a laughing matter for a prominent media figure like the talented Mr. Arroyo. If you want to express support, take a look at #imwithRaymond.

In any case, it will have no effect on our labors to understand and speak truth as we see it. – RR

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What to Think About Bad Popes

by Steve Ray on February 16, 2018

Written by Dave Armstrong and used with permission:

BAD POPES: REPLIES TO A SINCERE INQUIRER, February 15, 2018, by Dave Armstrong

God made an everlasting covenant with King David, even though he was an adulterer and murderer.

Dave writes: “As this was originally private correspondence, my correspondent’s exact words will be paraphrased, not cited. Her “words” will be in blue.”

* * * * *

How can you believe in a succession of popes since so many have been terrible sinners?

It’s not based on sinlessness (that’s called impeccability) but on office. We believe that God protects the Church from teaching error, by His power (not the power of sinful men). How is this possible? It’s entirely possible because God is God and can accomplish whatever He wants. Secondly, it has already happened in greater measure in the inspired Scripture, which was written by sinful men like Moses, David, Paul, and Peter (murderers, adulterers, and people who would deny knowing Jesus). Yet it is inspired and infallible. Likewise, God uses sinful men as bishops and popes and protects the faithful from receiving false teaching.

Titus 1:7-9  “For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.”

If the pope is the head of all the bishops, wouldn’t he also have to (above all) be of this high level of character?

Most of them have been, especially in the last 150-200 years. This is the ideal, but you and I know full well that people don’t always live up to biblical standards (we need only look at ourselves, for starters). We see the tension between the ideal and the real, in, for example, 1 John 1:6-10:

1 John 1:6-7 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 1:8-10 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

All have sin, that needs to be confessed and cleansed; to deny one’s sin is to be a liar.

Thus, there have been some bad popes. This is not unexpected, based on Scripture. See my papers:

– Sins and Sinners in the Catholic Church
– Are Sinful Church Leaders a Disproof of Catholicism?
– The ‘Bad Popes’: How Many Of ‘Em Were There? How ‘Bad’ Were They?

Of what purpose is a bad pope who is still a true pope? You simply accept that and say that God has His reasons?

Yes, because He used King David and made an everlasting covenant with Him and made Jesus His descendant, even though David was an adulterer and murderer. Jesus called Judas to be His disciple, and Judas was called both a disciple and “elect.” The Bible shows how a successor was chosen when Judas killed himself. Jesus made Peter the leader of the Church, knowing that he would deny him three times.

I’m not trying to be contentious; I really want to understand these things. I feel somewhat led to the Catholic Church. I have heard that I must accept all Catholic teachings to do so.

That’s right, because it is a teaching passed down from the apostles. One doesn’t pick and choose and decide what they will accept, but rather, decide in faith that God has one true Church that He has protected all these centuries. God can do it. He has enough power to do that!

I have hope that I can better understand these things if they are explained to me. I don’t feel like I am a Protestant any longer. I think they have many of their own problems and have not figured everything out themselves.

I hope my answers have been helpful to you. God bless you as you consider where God might be leading you. Pray, pray, pray! The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth, as the Bible says.

STEVE RAY HERE: I would like to add three quotes to correct people’s idea that it is wrong or incorrect to criticize a priest, bishop or Pope. Any criticism must be done with great respect, integrity and deference. I think the case of Saint Paul confronting Saint Peter in the book of Galatians shows that no Pope is above criticism (Gal 2:11-14).

Remember also the strong rebuke St  Catherine of Siena wrote to Pope Gregory IX  and she was made a Doctor of the Church.

Consider these three quotes (which can be multiplied):

St. Thomas Aquinas: “If the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Galatians 2:11, “Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.”

“Now it can be said briefly that those who defend blindly and indiscriminately any judgment whatsoever of the Supreme Pontiff concerning every matter weaken the authority of the Apostolic See; they do not support it; they subvert it; they do not fortify it… . Peter has no need of our lies; he has no need of our adulation.” – Melchior Cano, Bishop and Theologian of the Council of Trent

Code of Canon Law #212 §3. “According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they [the Christian faithful] possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.”


Two Favorite Quotes this Week

January 25, 2018

“My prayer is that when I die, all of hell rejoices that I am out of the fight.” – C.S. Lewis. “Our faith is not on the pope, it is on Christ who is the foundation of the church.” Cardinal Francis Arinze

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Major Conference Planned on Divisions in Church, Papal Infallibility

January 21, 2018

National Catholic Register, Major Conference Planned on Divisions in Church, Papal Infallibility Edward Pentin The international meeting in Rome, one of the last wishes of the late Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, is due to take place in April. One of the late Cardinal Carlo Caffarra’s last wishes — to have an international conference to examine ways to […]

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Cardinal Burke on Confusion in the Church, “Perhaps we have arrived at the end times”

December 3, 2017

by Paolo Gambi posted Thursday, 30 Nov 2017 Cardinal Raymond Burke has been much in the news this past year. In November 2016, he and three other cardinals presented Pope Francis with the famous dubia – five questions regarding Francis’s apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia. Then the American cardinal became embroiled in a power struggle within the Order of […]

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Inept Attempt to Dismiss the Petrine Primacy in the See of Rome

November 19, 2017

Someone on the Catholic Discussion Forum asserted his opinion and tradition against the papacy in the Catholic Church. I gave short, imperfect, and brief comments in the ten minutes I had free today. This is a thread on whether or not the office of the papacy with qualifications for successors is mentioned in scripture. My […]

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Visit St. John Lateran with me today for the Feast of Its Dedication

November 9, 2017

I am in Rome and decided to run to St. John Lateran this morning a make a video — so all of you could enjoy the Feast Day of the Dedication of St. John Lateran Church on November 9, 313. Yup, that’s right! It was the first Christian church ever built and it was the […]

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“Francis was never pope? Call me unpersuaded.” By Dr. Ed Peters

September 29, 2017

By Canon Lawyer, Dr. Ed Peters: (Note: I am giving this one shot. If it sways some adherents of the ‘Francis-was-never-pope’ group, great; but if it only reassures observers who, regardless of what they think about how Francis is governing, are disquieted by the suggestion that his papacy itself is a chimera, that satisfies me […]

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Why Are We Catholic?

September 22, 2017

This excellent little summary was prepared by the Faith Formation ministry in Escanaba Michigan and sent to me by Mike Cousineau. Enjoy and be challenged and edified. Sent it to a friend who needs to read it. 1.  St. Cyprian of Carthage, martyr & Bishop, wrote in 249 AD, “He who would have God as […]

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Silence of Bishops in Response to the Pope: “A New – and Encouraging – Form of Collegiality?”

July 27, 2017

An excellent and insightful article by Fr. Mark Pilon on The Catholic Thing website (worth subscribing to). This article accurately, I think, describes and explains the current rift between this Pope and the vast majority of clergy, including bishops and cardinals. A recent article in L’Osservatore Romano by an Italian priest who teaches biblical theology is yet another […]

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Holy Father – is he Holy?

June 29, 2017

A young man stood up at my conference in the Philippines a while ago and parroted (yelled out) the Fundamentalist mantra: “The Pope is a sinner like everyone else; why do you call him ‘HOLY Father’?” I leaned into the microphone and said to the young man in front of 2,000 people, “You should really […]

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Cardinal Müller Discusses Islam, “Amoris Laetitia”, Liturgy, Pope Firing People and more

May 27, 2017

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), was interviewed recently by Raymond Arroyo about his book The Cardinal Müller Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church. This was an excellent interview. I would not want this man’s job. But I found him insightful, brilliant and […]

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Worried about the Vatican and Church Today? Stay on Board! Great Homily about Crazy Times with Popes in the Past

May 17, 2017

An excellent sermon on worrying about what is going on in the Vatican and worrying about what the Holy Father says or does. This homily speaks about historical events that caused massive confusion to the faithful. Some Popes have done and said crazy things – some of which are shared in this homily. One case is a […]

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Steve on Journey Home Explains His Discovery of the Catholic Church

May 6, 2017

This was a while ago but I just found it again and thought it would be good to share. Please feel free to send the link to others who are struggling with the Church or who you think might need a bit of an enthusiastic “nudge.”

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(Link Fixed) The Other Catholics: A Short Guide to the Eastern Catholic Churches

May 5, 2017

Since we are in Jerusalem, where many of the Eastern Catholic Churches converge, I decided to share this excellent article. I found it very helpful. Many think the name of “our church” is the “Roman Catholic Church” — but that is only the name of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. The “Catholic Church” […]

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