One of the most common statements I’ve heard from Catholics over the past decade is, “We should give the pope the benefit of the doubt.” When someone criticizes Pope Francis for a questionable statement or action, you inevitably see some Catholics jumping in to say we need to give him the “benefit of the doubt.”
The most recent case was the sacking of Bishop Strickland. No official reason was given, but we are supposed to give Francis the benefit of the doubt and assume there’s a just reason for this shocking papal act. Why? Because he’s the pope, that’s why.
But is this a legitimate frame of mind for Catholics? After all, what does this mean, to give someone the “benefit of the doubt?” Does it always apply in every situation, to every person, in every act? Or do unlimited benefits of the doubt apply only to the pope? Can a pope exhaust how many benefits we give him before we no longer extend to him this courtesy?
First, what does it mean to give someone the benefit of the doubt? Simply put, it means that something a person did or said is unclear—of doubtful meaning—and so we assume the best (most charitable) interpretation of their actions and words.
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