In appointing as vicar a mere man, subject to original and actual sin, our Lord was well aware that he was leaving a target on the backs of all the faithful, at which Satan could not resist aiming his most fiery darts.
As Peter’s personal fall demonstrates (Lk. 22:55-62), the men Christ appoints to confirm us in our faith are, like us, also in need of divine confirmation.
Throughout subsequent history, Satan has evidently relished using the sins of popes, real or alleged, to scandalize souls, divide the flock of Christ, and enhance his own influence in the world.
As an infallibly faithful Shepherd, Christ thinks of his flock first and foremost. This explains the plural in his opening remark: “Satan has desired to have you (vos),” meaning (at least) all of the Apostles, “but I have prayed for thee (te),” meaning the man who was about to deny him, that “being once converted,” thou wouldst “confirm thy brethren.”
For one lacking the authority to remedy them to draw attention to scandals given by those in authority, though sometimes unavoidable, involves the risk of exacerbating their poisonous effect. For now, I will leave it at saying that our Lord’s commission to Peter (and hence to his successors) is that they confirm their brethren in the faith, and feed the Lord’s sheep (Jn. 21:17).
As recently noted, this means feeding the flock good things, not bad. Needless to say, conducting pagan rituals in the temple of the Lord, writing love letters to priests who notoriously promote mortal sin, and repeatedly badmouthing brethren who strive to love the Lord by following his commandments, are not among the good gifts a faithful vicar might (within the bounds of legitimate discretion) dispense to souls entrusted to his care.
Though the sins of Peter predictably trigger vices among the faithful, such as despair, contention, and schism, the proper response to evil is always “contrariwise, blessing” (1 Pet. 3:9). In our own case, we should remember that Christ has already foreseen the failings of his present vicar, and prayed that Satan not be allowed to sift us as wheat, if we remain steadfast in the faith.
In resisting the tactics of the devil, we ought always to speak the truth, and never excuse sins (even those of others) to the point of abetting them. At the same time, we have to remember that Christ has already conquered sin, and that it need have no dominion over us, if we cling (even rigidly!) to him.
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