Sadly, there is nothing new under the sun. The same pretensions to power that Luther pointed out 500 years ago are still being adopted by the present Pope Francis as have been adopted by all his predecessors. The following is based on one of Luther’s most famous writings (‘Appeal to his Imperial Majesty, and the Christian Nobility of Germany, on the Reformation of Christianity.’)
Basically there are three walls that the Pope puts up as defences against being called to account for the actions of the Roman Catholic clergy which he is ultimately responsible for:
- When attacked by the temporal power, they denied its jurisdiction over them, and maintained the superiority of the spiritual power. The idea that Canon Law is superior to Civil Law has been used as recently as 2009 by Bishop Murphy of Cork to justify not handing over paedophile priests to the Gardai.
- When tested by Scripture, they replied, that none could interpret it but the pope. This hasn’t changed since the Reformation.
- When threatened with a council, they again replied, that none but the pope could convene it.
In the present day it is the first of these walls that causes the most obvious problems. Wherever there is the covering up of scandalous abuses, this idea that the RC church (canon) law is above the secular law is trotted out by its adherents. Every accused clergy man knows that the Pope and all the cardinals support this position and therefore they feel justified in adopting it.
However the Scripture says that everyone is subject to the secular powers including the pope:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
What is pertinent about the above passage is that when Paul wrote it perhaps one of the most pagan and oppressive empires that was ever on the earth was the one whose authority he was telling Christians to submit to! How much more then should evil doers be brought to account in the relatively easy governments of our day? It should go without saying that no title that you give yourself should excuse you from being accountable for doing the wrong thing. The fact that in practice that is often not the case doesn’t mean we should give up trying to ensure it is. The heart of Christian justice is that no one is above the law.
In the same epistle, Luther writes: “The pope should be ready to renounce the popedom, and all his wealth, and all his honours, if he could thereby save a single soul. But he would see the universe go to destruction sooner than yield a hair-breadth of his usurped power.”
You only have to visit the Vatican museum to see how true this statement still is.