Q. A friend who isn’t Catholic says people don’t really need priests and the pope to be true Christians. Is she right?
A. I’d say this is a bit of a “trick” question…but let me offer some thoughts.
First of all, the only thing any one of us truly “needs” to be a Christian is Jesus Christ Himself. To be a Christian is to be Christ-like. It means that Jesus is very much alive in our lives, leads us, transforms us, uses us, and is intimately united to us. Of course, that also means that we will live His will each and every day as His followers. So the first answer I offer is simply that Jesus is sufficient for us to be Christians.
But the deeper answer has to do with what Jesus wants, where Jesus will lead us, and how He chooses to enter our lives. That’s where we find the need for priests and the pope.
Let me put it this way. If we love Jesus and are His followers, we will do what He wants of us and follow Him on His terms. So, if He calls us to forgive someone, we cannot presume to be His followers if we say, “Sorry Lord, I love you but I don’t agree with you that I should forgive this person.” This basic principle can be applied to all aspects of our lives.
So do we need priests and the pope to be Christians? What we need to do is follow Jesus the way He wants us to follow Him. And one thing that we Catholics have come to clearly understand is that Jesus wants to minister to us directly through His priests and, especially, through His pope.
It might be true that any one priest, or possibly even any one pope, might not always act in accord with God in his personal life. Hopefully this is the exception rather than the norm. The fact remains that Jesus gave us the priesthood as a way that He can directly shepherd us, teach us, and feed us with the Sacraments. We should be very careful not to say that we can do without the priesthood. Why? Because Jesus is the one who gave us the priesthood so that, through His priests, He can continue an essential part of His ministry. Most importantly, we need the Eucharist! The Eucharist is Jesus Himself present among us to feed our souls. And He gives us this gift only through the priesthood!
As for the pope, Jesus ministers to us in many ways through him. Most especially, he is the one who guarantees the unity of our faith and teaches us without error what Jesus wants us to know. To ignore the essential role of the pope is actually to deny Jesus Himself.
I hope that helps! Please pray for us priests and, especially, for the pope. Your prayers will certainly help us all more fully live the mission we have been given.