Recently Pope Francis declared that the death penalty is a punishment that is inadmissible for Roman Catholics. While surely this is not the end of the world when it pertains to theology, it is nevertheless a strange position given both its approval in the Scriptures and the Roman Catholic Church endorsing executions historically.
Nevertheless, the significant point at issue is that the Roman Catholic epistemology, which hinges upon the infallibility of the Bishop of Rome. This infallibility is, for all practical intents and purposes, meaningless.
A Roman Catholic with a straight face may say because the Bishop of Rome did not explicitly state that his newest teaching on the death penalty is a matter of faith and morals and that he binds this upon all the faithful by virtue of him exercising the prerogatives of the Apostle Peter, that therefore this teaching is not infallible and it does not put into disrepute the entire history of the Roman Catholic Church on the issue.
The preceding sentence is a mouthful and extremely convoluted. This is because the actual steps necessary that a Pope must take to say something “infallible” is so extreme and debatable that even Roman Catholic scholars are not sure how many allegedly infallible statements have been made.
While the preceding definitely does not disprove the ecclesiological claims of the Roman Catholic Church, it does show that the Bishop of Rome’s infallibility does not actually help address the issue of epistemological uncertainty–so if you are wondering what my axe to grind here is, this is it.
The Bishop of Rome hardly ever answers unequivocally any important question. Further, if a Bishop of Rome actually went through all of the criteria to unequivocally make a supposedly infallible moral or theological teaching, it is also Roman Catholic teaching that a bishop of Rome ceases to be Pope the moment he teaches heresy! A simpleton can see that Roman claims are completely unable to be verified.
The search for epistemological certainty is ultimately and idol. It seems clear to me that we’re always at God’s mercy. We are all feeble in our understanding and that includes the leaders of our churches. We must pray to God for wisdom and also pray for our Bishops. All of us must exercise humility in our truth claims and not be so confident of our superiority over others.
This article was originally dictated into my phone, hence the typos. My apologies.