Many critics of Pope Francis justify their accusations against the successor of Peter by pointing to the alleged errors of past Popes. The argument is quite simple: “past Roman Pontiffs erred to the extent of apostasy and idolatry (Pope Marcellinus) and heresy (Honorius et alia); therefore, Pope Francis could possibly err to the same extent.” This argument fails for a number of reasons.
First, the dogma of Vatican I states that each Pope has the “charism of truth and of never failing faith divinely-conferred”, and that gift is clearly incompatible with teaching any grave error, including heresy, as this would be contrary to truth; it is also incompatible with any grave sins against faith, such as apostasy, heresy, or idolatry. How can this be possible, since the Pope has free will? He freely accepts his office and he can freely lay it down, therefore his free will is not contradicted. It is the prevenient grace of God, which acts before and apart from free will that makes this possible. This is the type of grace that kept St. Joseph and St. John the Baptist free from all personal sin, and that keeps the holy souls in Purgatory free from all personal sin as well. It is the type of grace that keeps the Church infallible by the indefectibility of the Pope and by the indefectibility of the body of Bishops.
Since it is an infallible teaching of an Ecumenical Council that Popes have this charism, any claims to the contrary must be rejected on the grounds of faith.
Suppose that anthropologists discover the “real” tomb of Jesus, along with his bones, and they supposedly verify that the bones are His (in this hypothetical, by comparison with the DNA in the Shroud of Turin). Science then will have proved that He died and did not rise. Would you believe this scientific evidence? Would you abandon the Christian faith? No? They why abandon the teaching of Vatican I and the many past teachings of the Church on the same point as listed here? It is an article of faith that Popes cannot teach any grave error, that is, when exercising the Magisterium — whether infallibly (no possibility of error) or non-infallibly (no possibility of grave error). No argument from some person with an axe to grind — i.e. seeking a way to justify accusations against Pope Francis — should be accepted, regardless of the contents of the claim. Stand on faith and reject these arguments.
Second, even if past Popes did so fail in faith that they had committed apostasy, heresy, or schism, idolatry, sacrilege, or blasphemy, a counter-factual hypothetical, that does not proves that Pope Francis has so failed.
Third, the body of Bishops supports Pope Francis in all that he says and does. The dogma of the indefectibility of the Church certainly implies that the body of Bishops could not continue to follow an apostate, idolatrous, or heretical Pope, otherwise the Church would have gone astray. The support that Francis has from the body of Bishops exonerates him, as otherwise the indefectibility of the Church would be broken.
In addition, when the subject is such an important question as to whether the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ, can lead the faithful away from the path of salvation by teaching heresy, it is not acceptable to condemn the very office of the Roman Pontiff, by the conclusion that they ALL were subject to the possibility of heretical error, with arguments that leave open reasonable doubt. Saint Bellarmine and many others in the history of the Church have exonerated Pope Honorius, therefore, his case cannot be used to prove that all Popes are subject to the possibility of heresy in their teachings. One cannot reach such a severe conclusion without A PROPORTIONATE CASE, and that means absolute proof, and not a set of examples, each of which has already been refuted by faithful Catholics.
Therefore, it is of no use to present such arguments. They will never be able to be presented beyond doubt, as is needed for the evidence to be proportionate to the gravity of the matter. So such arguments are not fit for the question.
It’s like asking someone to take a medication that some say is poison. It will never be sufficient to point out that some others say it is not poison. If there is any reasonable chance it might be poison, you don’t take it.
No Popes have ever committed heresy or apostasy or idolatry. Faith requires us to believe that it is impossible. Therefore, I stand on faith. Those of you who think you can reason your way into Heaven, good luck with that.