I also realise that while some of the people belonging to the Church are sinners, that by no means reflects the Church itself. But why are some Popes seen as such villains in history? - I mean, some Popes are depicted as interfering with secular politics, corrupting, and lusting for power. Is this just all an exaggeration of actual history, or is it fact? If it is fact, I’m at a loss why God would allow such people as the head of His appointed Church.
It is salutary to remember that Christ’s chosen Judas, one of the Twelve, betrayed Him.
The reality is that Popes do not possess impeccability (freedom from sin) but infallibility from teaching error when definitively teaching the whole Church on faith and morals. The fact of some evidently bad popes, none of whom taught error in defining faith or morals to the whole Church, exemplifies Christ’s protection. The failure of some is used as an excuse to vilify the Church.
Father John McCloskey, reviewing *How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization *by Thomas E. Woods Jr. - published by Regnery Publishing, 2005, writes:
“Woods notes, ‘Western civilization stands indebted to the Church for the university system, charitable work, international law, the sciences, and, important legal principles. … Western civilization owes far more to the Catholic Church than most people — Catholic included — often realize. … The Church, in fact, built Western civilization.’ ”
**Unbroken Apostolic Succession (EWTN)
Question from Steve on 06-30-2003: **
I don’t understand the catholic position on the following: if Peter was the first pope, and there is an unbroken Apostolic Succession between him and the current pope, how is it that the Borgias (and any other of the obviously corrupt, sinful, and wordly popes) don’t interrupt or “break” the God ordained line of church fathers?
Answer by Catholic Answers on 07-01-2003:
That some popes were less than holy, as in the case of the Borgias, does not interrupt the line of succession. They were valid popes. That men of such low morals headed Christ’s Church without doing damage to her teachings simply testifies to the presence of the Holy Spirit protecting her from error – as Jesus promised.
Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.
In First Things (November 1997), Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon wrote that “the Pope himself has acknowledged the mistakes and sins of Christians in connection with, among other things, the Crusades, the Inquisition, persecution of the Jews, religious wars, Galileo, and the treatment of women. Thus, though the Pope himself is careful to speak of sin or error on the part of the Church’s members or representatives, rather than the Church in its fullness, that important theological distinction is almost always lost in the transmission.”
It is vital to understand that the Pope never apologises for the Church which is “held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy.” [Vatican II, *Lumen Gentium, art 39].
To demonstrate clearly that no one else has any authority against His Supreme Vicar and His Church, Christ gave His Supreme Vicars Sole authority:
“Strengthen your brethren.” (Lk 22:32)
“Feed My sheep.”(Jn 21:17).
That is why the bad popes, among the vast majority who have been good popes, have never taught falsehood in dogma or doctrine to the whole Church. That is precisely why designating himself as the servant of the servants of God, Pope Gregory the Great devoted his life in the service of God and things good and peaceful.