Last month I had the good fortune to visit the Holy Land. The highlight was a visit to the Sea of Galilee and the Church of the Primacy of St Peter, a Franciscan church located on the northwest shore of the lake. The church commemorates the spot where Jesus “reinstated” Peter as the head of the Apostles with a triple act of love to make up for his triple denial. It must be one of the most moving of the many moving places in the Holy Land. For me this spot underlines the “despite everything” dimension of our Catholic Faith: Christ reinstates Peter despite his falls; Peter accepts despite his awareness of his terrible moral frailty; the Pope and the Church are indefectible despite everything.
This “despite everything” theology of the Church was present in an unusual custom St Josemaria Escriva had when reciting the creed. When asserting his faith in the divine origin of the Church with the words “One, holy, catholic and apostolic,” he would add the words “in spite of everything”. And when someone would ask him what he meant by this he would reply “I mean your sins and mine.”
We should remember this as we witness the latest round in the “conservative versus liberal” turmoil surrounding the papacy of Pope Francis. We believe that Pope Francis is “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 882). And that is the case despite his weaknesses and human fallibility (which he has in common with his 265 predecessors).
Christ’s admonished Peter to tend his sheep and feed his lambs. If the sheep were to snub Peter on account of his record of human frailty, they would snub the loving care of Christ itself.