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Ignorance Demands Charity and Patience

Shortly after Benedict XVI, Emeritus Pope, declared his resignation from the Papacy, I happened to hear a talk radio program in which a commentator was ranting away about the ridiculousness of an infallible pope. How can anyone really believe that a man can suddenly be made infallible just by becoming the Pope, was this radio host’s question. He went on to scoff at the people (i.e., Catholics) who could believe such a ridiculous idea. The Pope is human, not God, he said. And on and on and on.

I was getting ready for Mass that morning as I listened to this rambling. Normally, I only half listen to this radio program that wakes us up each morning, but this rambling mess stopped me in my tracks. My first reaction was to scoff back at this man’s ignorance.

But his ramblings stayed with me and I had to contemplate them further. As I thought about it more I realized that much of what he was saying was true. The Pope is just a man, he’s not God. And we, as Catholics, do not believe that he is an infallible human being. We all know that no human is perfect (well, except the Virgin Mary, of course). In some ways, as I contemplated the ramblings of this random radio talk show host, I started feeling sorry for him.

I realize that there is a lot of misunderstanding out there on exactly what the doctrine of “Papal Infallibility” actually means. My initial thoughts were to write a blog post explaining it. But there are already many resources and well written blog posts on the topic. So better that I just link those up for you then add one more to the mix (see links at end of post).

Instead, as I contemplated the misguided rantings of this radio talk show host, I realized that I was actually feeling sorry for him. But it wasn’t just him I was feeling sorry for, he was just the one that caught my attention at the time. What he represented for me were all the people I know who have left the Church in anger, those who don’t understand the Church and bash her teachings without taking the time to ask what they actually mean, and any others who feel the need to spew venom at the Church.

We have all seen it in comboxes, on Facebook, and even run into it in our own families or among our friends. I don’t know about you but most of the time I get defensive and want to stand up for the Church and the ensuing conversation often gets heated, leaving me angry as well.

But what use is our anger? Especially when discussing (to put it nicely) misunderstood teachings of the Church with people who are angry at the Church and unwilling to be fair to her. The problem is that they just don’t know, whether it is out of misunderstanding, lack of catechesis, or complete ignorance, we have no way of knowing. And until a person is willing to listen and learn what the Church really teaches, arguing with them is fruitless.

Does this mean we shouldn’t engage them at all? No, I don’t believe that. I think we need to engage people in a different way. But not through arguing with them and trying to defend the Church. That does nothing but create a circle of everyone defending their views and trying to prove themselves correct. That gets you nowhere, as you probably know if you’ve engaged in any sort of online debate. And if they are friends or members of your family, it can create a tension that will negatively affect your relationships. Instead we need to be charitable, realize that the person ranting about the unfairness of the Church or the out-dated teachings or whatever the issue does not understand the Church’s Truths.

That’s the key for me: the person just does not understand the Truth of the Church.

I remember a time when I did not understand the Church’s Truth. I remember arguing with people, too, always being closed to what they were saying to me. However, I also remember the people who were patient and allowed me to get through what I needed to get through. I remember the patience people showed to me that made me respect them more. That respect allowed me to actually listen and start to hear what I wasn’t hearing before.

So when it came to the random radio guy ranting away about Catholics believing in an infallible human as the head of the Church (as if, if the Pope said it was going to rain in New Mexico on Tuesday we’d all believe him), I found myself having a bit more of a charitable attitude toward him and all those he represented for me. He doesn’t understand and has probably closed himself off from understanding. Maybe one day someone will enter his life who can be that charitable person and gently plant the seeds for him to start being more fair to the Church.

Personally, I find this very hard to do. It’s not my first inclination. So I write this as a reminder for myself, as well as anyone reading, that a charitable attitude, patient understanding of where a person is coming from, and the ability to just help them to see that the Church is not the enemy can go a long way in starting a true dialogue instead of having a circular argument.

What do you think?

And for some resources on the teaching of Papal Infallibility:

Infallibility at New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia

Papal Infallibility, tract from Catholic Answers

Papal Infallibility by Jeffrey Mirus, PhD at EWTN

Papal Infallibility: It’s Probably Not What You Think by Elise Hilton at Acton Institute Power Blog

The Pope is Not as Powerful As You Think by Leila Miller at Catholic Stand


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About Kerri Baunach

Kerri Baunach is a Catholic wife and mother of three boys (plus three in heaven). She and her family live in beautiful central Kentucky where she is active in her church, a member of Cursillo, and a Benedictine Oblate. Kerri often writes on her Catholic faith, pregnancy loss, her kids, and pro-life issues. Kerri is a former music librarian (16 years) now stay-at-home mom, was a musician for over 20 years, loves taking her kids to the library (and loves that they love it), is passionately pro-life, can’t cook, and has lived in six states. In additional to writing at Catholic Sistas you can also find Kerri on her own blog at Journal of a Nobody.

  • Celeste Bowen - This same thing has been on my heart a lot lately. I find myself listening to the radio, or hearing a friend or family member talk about the things they think are ridiculous about the Catholic Church and I get so angry and frustrated. I’ve never been one for being able to articulate things very well, so instead I pray for them a lot. Who was it that said, “Preach the Gospel and when you have to use words”? Often I remain silent, but I still LIVE my faith very publicly. With so much political and scandalous stuff going on in the Church, from the outside it’s easy to be judgmental and condescending. What I think they forget/ignore is that my faith isn’t about the people of the church, its about my personal relationship with Jesus. Am I living it? It should SHOW. I believe it does because despite my lack of verbal defense, I receive respect for my beliefs. And it’s been very helpful to me to recall that we are called to preach the gospel with LOVE. At the risk of sounding cliche, I often ask myself, what would Jesus do? Would he be defensive in this situation? Use words? Quote scripture? Or lead by example? If someone is truly curious they won’t run from a meaningful conversation either. It’s important for us to be open to the fact that someone’s doubt and questions might actually be authentic curiosity and a hunger for knowledge about the faith. They just ask in a less than ideal way because they feel they will be scrutinized by the world for it. My mother often tells me that when in conversation with someone who is being difficult or offensive to respond by being “sweet and dumb”– react with as much sweetness as you can conjure up, and act “dumb” by assuming they have a real curiosity rather than the offensive way it is coming across as. (Often people are offensive or make fun when they feel awkward about something they know nothing about.) Your openness to answering or defending in honesty rather than defensiveness may be what opens a door in their heart.
    Great post!
    All the best!March 15, 2013 – 6:21 amReplyCancel

  • Kerri - Thank you for your comment, Celeste! The quote you used is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, although I’ve heard that it’s probably not him who said it. Regardless, I agree with the sentiment. I love your mother’s approach of being “sweet and dumb” when engaging hateful or angry people. Great ideas!! Thank you for reading!March 15, 2013 – 8:28 amReplyCancel

  • Lynne - Kerri, Thank you for this! I tend to get so steamed and want to think of ways to one-up the other person. But you’re right: that person was ME, and it’s only because of loving responses that I ever found the truth. Very timely!March 15, 2013 – 9:32 amReplyCancel

  • Kerri - Thank you, Lynne! So glad to hear it was a timely post for you.March 15, 2013 – 9:39 amReplyCancel

  • Margaret B - Thank you, Kerri. I remember yearx ago when I questioned infallibility of the pope when I was in college. I questioned some of my classmates. All I was told was that I was a horrible Catholic. Yet, not one of them took the time to explain it to me. Now that I am in full communion with the church, I try to explain things or get the answer if I don’t know it. I too get frustrated with the media. Sometimes I take the time to drop them a line and correct them. But most of the time, I simply pray for them. Prayer is the best defense.March 15, 2013 – 9:41 amReplyCancel

  • Kerri - Amen, Margaret. That’s something I didn’t address in this post, but yes, we need to also be praying for those who have left the Church and/or who hate the Church simply because they don’t understand the Church. Thank you for that reminder!March 15, 2013 – 9:51 amReplyCancel

  • BeNotAfraid - Your post reminds me of a book I am currently reading as part of a book club at work called “Leadership & Self-Deception”. It talks about how our self-deception places us in a box that leads to putting other people in a box and a vicious cycle of misunderstanding and people not getting along/understanding others.

    I feel that our anger in not fully understanding where others come from and how we react to things like this just pushes people further and further into their box. We definitely need to learn how to take a different perspective and look at the various components of the situation. Also, we must not rule out our role in some of what is happening.March 21, 2013 – 7:36 pmReplyCancel

  • Kerri - Yes, very true! That sounds like an interesting book. We need to approach people where they’re at on a spiritual and/or intellectual level. Otherwise, we’ll get nowhere.March 21, 2013 – 8:11 pmReplyCancel

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