The Power of Papal Infallibility

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I grew up in a hick town in the ‘50’s. Until Junior High, we Catholic kids got Religious Instruction for 40-minutes every Thursday afternoon. Our teachers were nuns who came from city parochial schools and they never had a good time of it.

It was easy to figure out why. Parochial kids spent every school day dominated by nuns and priests. They cowered at the sight of knuckle-cracking rulers and smart-ass comments might result in a visit to the dentist. We town kids never dreamed of giving that kind of respect to teachers – especially ones who couldn’t call our parents.

One Thursday afternoon, when I was in the sixth grade, the new nun was reading about us being soldiers for Christ or some such crap and I raised my hand.

“Yes?” she said.

“Sister, I was reading about Papal Infallibility,” (she looked at me suspiciously through her wire frame glasses) “and I was wondering what we Catholics would do if the Pope said 2 + 2 was 5 ?” Titters and whispers in the classroom. In Catholic theology, papal infallibility means the Pope cannot possibility be in error in anything regarding our faith. (I pretended I forgot that last part.)

Sister Brutus (or whatever her name was) looked like she was socked in the stomach. After a moment or two she hissed, “The Pope would NEVER say that.”

“Well,” I said all innocent-like, “what if he did? Would we have to believe that?” And then John Burnmeyer, a REAL troublemaker, chimed in, “And what if the Pope went crazy and said ‘people could fly’ – what about that?” Of course the room burst into chaos and the holy lady seemed to go into shock. And then a strange thing happened.

The nun began to cry. She just stood there and cried.

We were stunned! No one said a word or made a sound.

I guess I felt guilty for starting the rebellion so I quickly said, “We’re sorry, Sister. Please go on with the reading.” Murmurs of, “Yeh, let’s go on,” and “C’mon Sister.” She sat down and continued the lesson. We never saw her again.

The next Thursday, this huge priest walked into class and said, in a very loud voice, “My name is Father Wright – and I’m ALWAYS right. That’s why I hit first and ask questions later!”

It was probably paranoia – but I got the distinct feeling he was glaring at me.

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One Response to “The Power of Papal Infallibility”

  1. Paul says:

    And where is John Burnmeyer today? He sounds like he had a level head on his shoulders. This consistent challenging of the bullshit in Catholic schools did have its educational benefits.

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