Archived Story

Isn’t the pope supposed to be infallible?

Published 3:58pm Saturday, June 1, 2013

Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster

I heard my mother’s voice in my head all week. “Who turned your crank?” This is usually more of a statement than a question. What she really means is, calm down.

“We are at a crossroads. This is the stuff of schism!” I yelled back to her imaginary voice as I paced, sighed and shook my head.

Was I coming undone?

Is the pope Catholic?

Well, now, that’s a good question. It seems to some he may not be Catholic enough.

On May 22, Pope Francis gave a homily encouraging Catholics to get their heads out of their egos and accept that everyone, believers and nonbelievers, are redeemed by Christ and that by doing good we are united in peace and joined in the family of humanity, which is the family of God.

This likely didn’t mean much to atheists and members of other faiths. They don’t really need the pope to hold their hands and tell them they’re not going to burn after all, but it’s pretty heady stuff for about a billion Catholics. I, for one, was ecstatic. A day later I was crushed.

Shortly after taking his post, Pope Francis began dispensing with some of the glitz and glamour we associate with the Bishop of Rome. He refused the Apostolic Palace in favor of a religious hotel in Vatican City where he regularly says mass for gardeners, street sweepers and hotel staff. The pope’s golden throne is now a wooden chair, and his gold filigreed stole and red slippers have been replaced with a white robe and black shoes. He wears no papal jewels just a simple metal cross.

I like this guy. And after his remarks about people of other faiths I believed he was on his way to putting a newly enlightened face on the Catholic Church, one that could become a powerful force for peace in the world.

But wait, not so fast. It only took one day for the Vatican to peddle back into “We’re No. 1” territory. The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, stated that Pope Francis is, “first and foremost a seasoned pastor and preacher … His words are not spoken in the context of a theological faculty or academy nor in interreligious dialogue or debate.”

I couldn’t believe it. Was he saying the pope was wrrrr? The pope is wrrrrrr? I had a case of the Fonzies and had to sit down.

I had never heard a voice from the Vatican say the pope was wrong. I ran to my computer and Googled, “papal infallibility.” I learned that infallible does not mean impeccable. The pope is not without sin. However, Vatican II does state that the pope “proclaims by a definitive act some doctrine of faith or morals. Therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from consent of the church, are justly held irreformable, for they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, an assistance promised to him in blessed Peter.”

There you go. The pope’s comments may have been bad for business, but sometimes you gotta dance with the one that brung ya’, and if we’re to believe Vatican II, that’s not the cardinals’ conclave, it’s the Holy Spirit.

The pope’s actual words were, “And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: We need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet each other there.”

I was in Target the other day, and as I was leaving I realized there was an item in my cart I hadn’t paid for. I asked for someone to put it back on the shelf because I didn’t have time to wait in line again. The woman behind me said, “Add it to mine.” I tried to pay her the $2 it cost, but she wouldn’t take it.

In that moment, I made a choice to be honest and she made a choice to be generous. We seized a tiny but meaningful chance to do good, and we went our separate ways. Pope Francis’ words rang in my ears, “slowly, gently, little by little we will make a culture of encounter.”

It’s time. The days of religious supremacy, arrogance and intolerance must end. No matter what our faiths we have an opportunity to follow the example of a great man into a new world where goodness reigns and we are all instruments of peace.

What else can I possibly say but, “Lord, hear our prayer.”


Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at, and her blog is at