By Steven Barker
Since Benedict XVI’s resignation from the papacy on Feb. 11, the Council of Cardinals has been searching for Benedict’s successor. The cardinals should instead consider abolishing the papacy entirely.
Unlike the papacy in the Middle Ages, when the Pope was an arbitrator in the feuds between Christian monarchs and was himself the leader of a Catholic army, the papacy today is a vestige of its former self, a reminder of the former religious and secular authority of an office that currently holds no such power. Despite the history behind its existence, the papacy today holds no practical role that justifies its existence.
Some Catholics will inevitably view this opinion from a fellow Catholic as blasphemy-after all, Catholic doctrine suggests that the papacy was founded by Christ himself. Matthew 16:18 reads: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” For many Catholics, Christ’s statement toward Peter is the mandate for the papacy. Peter is the symbolic progenitor of the papacy, and all Popes continue his tradition of leadership.
However, there are two substantial faults with this argument. First, Christ, not man, chose Peter as his leader. Christ has not expressly chosen a leader since that time-and while the members of the Council of Cardinals are undisputedly well-versed in the Scripture, they also are human. As shown in the Garden of Eden, Man is sinful; as shown by the existence of multiple churches, Man misinterprets; as shown by false prophets, Man is misleading. Man can err; Man has erred; Man will err. While the cardinals can predict who would serve as an effective leader of the Catholic Church, the appointment of a Pope is ultimately a secular tradition that lacks a divine mandate for perpetuation.
Secondly, while many Catholics interpret the New Testament to include a succession of Popes beyond Peter, there is no blueprint for papal succession. Gotquestions.org, in their article dedicated to the papacy writes, “Nowhere does Scripture state that in order to keep the church from error, the authority of the apostles was passed on to those they ordained (the idea behind apostolic succession).” The website continues: “What Scripture does teach is that false teachings would arise even from among church leaders and that Christians were to compare the teachings of these later church leaders with Scripture, which alone is cited in the Bible as infallible.” With no mandate from Heaven that supports the continuation of the papacy and no clear Biblical verse that defines the need for a Pope, the office should be eliminated.
As is the case with the Constitution and federal laws, traditions must be revised in the light of greater judgment. The reasoning behind a law’s prior existence is not a sufficient reason for current maintenance, just as how a law’s current existence fails to explain why the law should exist tomorrow. Simply because the papacy has existed does not suggest that the office should continue to exist, especially when the office of the papacy is now defunct.
The Pope, much like the British monarchy, once held unimaginable powers; the Church’s ability to influence nations through religion was once unparalleled. However, again like the British monarchy, the Pope is now a historical antique, a public spectacle that inspires wonder and awe in audiences worldwide but holds little practical value. People admire the Pope and his office for its historical value-how, at one point, the papacy shaped the development of the Western world. That time has passed.
The Pope is no longer the sole champion of Catholicism. Christianity is the most popular religion in the world, and Catholicism is the most popular denomination. The time for religious crusades and excommunications – if there were ever really such a time – has passed. If Catholics need a face for whom they may identify, the face should be that of their immortal God, not of a mortal being.
The Catholic Church needs no secular leader. With the Bible as their text and Jesus as their savior, Catholics, as with all religious devotees, need only adhere to the Bible for salvation. God is the ultimate leader; He is the ultimate Creator. It is to Him that all Christians, Catholics included, must spend their devotion. Despite the Pope’s best intentions to guide Catholics to God, he is a man not appointed by God that impedes and fails to facilitate religious knowledge and, as a result, should have his office eliminated.