Q: What does it mean when it is said that the pope is infallible?
A: This, also, is a very good question, for we live in a world where many people contend there is no truth, only reigning opinion, or that we as human beings have no access to the ultimate wisdom of God.
The infallibility of our Holy Father shows you and me that God has a hand in all that we do and remains in constant contact with his church through the pope, the successor of St. Peter, himself.
In his conversations with St. Peter, Jesus gave direct instruction that the Holy Father’s responsibilities and authority are not of this world, but of divine origin. Of course, this is not to be taken lightly. For example, papal infallibility does not mean that our Holy Father can declare the suspension of the law of gravity.
Papal infallibility means that the pope, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, can declare doctrine (revealed teachings of Jesus Christ) on matters of faith and morals, such as the Immaculate Conception. This is done with my fellow bishops in union with our Holy Father.
In other words, an infallible teaching is a truth to be believed by all our brother and sister Catholics, without qualification.
Q: Since the pope is also the Bishop of Rome, would that mean that it is his job to confirm everyone in Rome or is there another bishop who would take his place?
A: You are right in saying that Pope Francis, by his very title as Holy Father, is also the Bishop of Rome. Thank goodness Pope Francis has help with Confirmations!
Unlike my situation as the Bishop of Steubenville and having 58 parishes under my shepherd’s care, our Holy Father, with his office as pope, has been entrusted with over one billion Catholics. At the same time, he is Bishop of Rome. In the Diocese of Rome, there is the vicar of Rome, who is a cardinal, and there are also vicars general. Not unlike in large archdioceses and dioceses in the United States, the chief shepherd of the Diocese of Rome requires additional assistance at various celebrations, notwithstanding the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation. The auxiliary bishops in these dioceses provide that varied assistance and the same is true in the Diocese of Rome.
Still, Pope Francis has the right to confirm in the Diocese of Rome (actually in any diocese in the world for that matter), whenever he is available. I cannot read the pope’s mind or anyone else’s, but as a bishop I trust he would like to get out to the parishes in the Diocese of Rome more often than already he does. And, he already is surprising a lot of people with how many times he has had the opportunity to visit the good people in Rome.
Together let us pray for Pope Francis as he follows in the footsteps of the first pope, St. Peter, a very, very, very good friend of Our Lord Jesus Christ. How blessed we are as a faith community to celebrate the tradition of all of the popes beginning with St. Peter and all along having the Holy Spirit speak through Jesus Christ’s Church the truth for all to hear.
A: It would seem that it is impossible to find a suitable confessor for the Successor of St. Peter, our Holy Father, Pope Francis. In reality, any priest would suffice for Pope Francis’ celebration of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, where the Holy Father is the penitent (the one confessing sin, and requesting forgiveness and God’s grace).
While we do not have a Skype broadcast of Pope Francis going to confession at St. Peter’s Basilica, or elsewhere, we can be confident that he benefits from the same Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation as we do. Last November, at a papal audience, Pope Francis said he goes to confession every two weeks. The Holy Father went on to say that, “God never tires of forgiving those who repent, but also knowing that having a priest say, ‘I absolve you,’ reinforces belief in God’s mercy” (taken from a report from Catholic News Service).
As the chief shepherd of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis leads by both word and example. This occurs even to the point where our Holy Father reveals that he is a sinner, and like any one of us, is in need of God’s mercy and love.
Q: Why are priests not allowed to marry?
A: This is a common question. For me to respond, “That’s just how it is” would be an insult to your intelligence. The Catholic priest stands out in our society, and for good reason: He is in the person of Jesus Christ in a very unique way. The short answer is that Jesus is the groom and the Church is his bride. This is the very terminology Jesus used in order for us to understand his exclusive love for us. Jesus is the groom to the Church, his bride. So too are our priests grooms to the Church, as am I. As a bishop I also am a priest (that part can be further explained in another “Ask the Bishop”).
Jesus did not marry, nor do we priests marry. This style of life is not so that we are simply more available to the people of God. That is an inaccurate assumption by much of society. The truth goes much deeper than “functional availability.” For a priest to be exclusively present to the people of God means that the priest lives his life in complete conformity to Jesus’ life. The man wishing to be ordained makes promises, promises which shed light on how much he loves Jesus Christ and the people of God. In his promise to be exclusive to Jesus Christ’s Church and to no one else, especially regarding marriage, the man provides a public intention to conform himself completely to Jesus himself.
Others argue that allowing priests to marry would provide more priests. To overlook or even dismiss the gift of priestly celibacy in order to “increase a quota” loses sight on the reality of what it means to be a priest. A priest lives out his priesthood in exclusive devotion to Jesus Christ and his Church. In doing so, the priest is the celebrant of that great gift of our salvation which Jesus shared with the Church through his Apostles, the holy Eucharist. We priests certainly are a “band of brothers” in Jesus’ name.
What a great joy we have in our diocese that two men will be ordained priests on May 16 at the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral in Steubenville! Perhaps many of us should ask ourselves when was the last time we thanked a priest or seminarian for saying “yes” to priesthood?
Q: Is there any particular reason that priests always wear black when not celebrating a Mass?
A: We often see priests wearing black, not to mention bishops wear black as well. Truth is, most often we are wearing black under our vestments when we are celebrating Mass. The color of the vestments indicates the time of the liturgical year. However, when the vestments come off, we are back in our black suits or our clerics which, more frequently than not, are black.
You will see me more often than not out in public wearing my black suit even if I am shopping at the grocery store or visiting the hardware store. My clerical suit indicates to others that I am a priest and, who knows, from time to time there are those who may stop me and ask for some spiritual assistance; even to hear their confession.
Of course I own other clothes as well, for I do not bike ride in my black suit, nor do I perform yard work in my black suit. Those moments demand outdoor clothes that frequently get muddy and dirty.
The next time you see a priest in his collar, please do not hesitate to stop and say hello to him for he most certainly would be happy to assist you if you are in need. Also, please pray for our priests, for I am so blessed to have the priests in our diocese both diocesan and religious order, as my fellow brothers. Our primary job is to enable you to become a saint and to get you to heaven.