On Papal Necessity, a Modest Proposal
My proposal to the Catholic Church is that it replace the counterproductive doctrine of Papal Infallibility with the much more useful doctrine of Papal Necessity.
The Church proclaims papal infallibility with great solemnity, but solemnity is not wisdom. They use this power rarely, as if it were radioactive; and rightly so. They say that the Pope has been infallible only twice; but that’s twice too often.
A church with an infallible pope is bound to believe itself infallible; but infallibilism always backfires. All things must change to survive, including the Church; but infallibilism allows no change at all. Infallibilism is the denial of error; but denying error is not the same as correcting it. In fact infallibilism is the opposite of error-correction; it is error-accumulation.
I therefore propose that the Catholic Church replace the doctrine of papal infallibility with its opposite; a doctrine of papal necessity. By this I mean a pope who is needed, or inevitable, or you might even say unavoidable. Even the Church’s critics will agree that the Church, as it is, needs a Pope to be what it is.
An infallible pope is never wrong; but nobody else can live up to that standard; so an infallible pope is not a guide. Whereas a necessary pope is Catholic by definition; anyone in disagreement with him can go find another church. Thus a necessary pope is stronger within the Church than an infallible one; but in return a necessary pope must submit to necessity.
Even a backwoods Protestant bear-hunter will rudely agree that the Pope is necessarily Catholic; and the flock will discover that a necessary Pope is much more adaptable than an infallible one.
A necessary pope can error-correct. He needn’t be impeccable; he need only be corrigible. His job is not to make no mistakes, for mistakes are inevitable. His job is to unmake mistakes, both his own and those of previous necessary Popes. This makes change possible.
For instance, consider the abdication of Pope Benedict. Now that he is no longer acting pope, is he still infallible? No. Then was he infallible when he decided to abdicate?
Benedict’s resignation was not the act of an infallible pope; but he did have to do it, so it was the act of a necessary pope. The error he corrected was his presence in the Papacy.
So precedent has been set; and I predict that the Papacy will continue to drift away from infallibility and towards necessity.