The idea of succession of infallible Popes is very much like our guru parampara and that’s what separates Catholic church from all other Christian denominations – they accept the supreme authority of the Pope who himself must be properly authorized. Catholics do not allow any speculations or free interpretations of the scripture as practiced in Protestant churches.
Orthodox Christians believe that the original Pope was a deviant himself so there’s no value to pass on down the generations but let’s focus on Catholics for now.
Unlike our acharyas, Popes are elected. Actually, our ISKCON GBC and ISKCON gurus are elected and voted in, too, but no one believes that simply by securing a vote one would attain the mercy of Krishna. Oh, hold on – that’s exactly what we believe in.
We believe that devotees get empowered through following their guru, and in case of GBC, by following Srila Prabhupada’s desire to see GBC as the supreme authority for our society, and if GBC votes something or someone in, he or she gets recognized by Krishna, too. While it’s not guaranteed that Krishna would infuse these elected devotees with His shakti, it’s the best available solution – Srila Prabhupada wanted GBC to represent Him, Srila Prabhupada was Krishna’s dearmost devotee, if we do not get empowered by following his orders we have no other recourse left anyway.
So, we cannot infuse someone with shakti by voting but we hope that Krishna doesn’t ignore our votes, as long as it’s done sincerely with the sole desire to please Srila Prabhupada.
This principle must be reconciled with the absolute position of a guru. Some devotees can’t get their heads around it and demand that gurus must be fully powerful on their own, that gurus must be liberated souls on uttama level.
Catholics also face same kind of questions – when they talk about infallibility of the Pope. Thanks to Dan Brown’s books the procedure of electing the Pope is well known now and nowhere during the proceedings there’s any place for God to put a tick in the checkbox. It appears that the process of infusing Pope with super power of infallibility is entirely materialistic. It might not be even democratic enough by modern standards, so why do so many people, 1.2 billion, accept the Pope as God’s representative? Where does this infallibility come from?
One answer lies in limiting Pope’s scope of infallibility only to doctrinal matters, not to everyday talks and orders. Apart from resolving theistic issues, the Pope gets authorized to perform certain liturgical procedures like ordaining new cardinals or bestowing sainthood. It’s not unlike our initiations that allow one to worship the deities or perform sacrifices.
So, when Catholics consider Pope’s various roles and functions they come to realize that being the Pope is a position, papacy is an office, Pope is not a person.
Can we apply the same solution to our gurus? It would certainly make it easier to deal with guru falldowns. Or should we see our guru as absolute in every respect?
Actually, the guru is absolutely perfect in every respect he follows Srila Prabhupada. If we see only those aspects we will have no problems at all, but if we get to see the guru acting on its own we should be very cautious – we can’t afford to develop critical attitude and we can’t blindly follow unauthorized teachings either.
In those moments when the guru appears to be doing something else but preaching the message of Lord Chaitanya we should, perhaps, learn to see how everything in the material world still works under direction of Krishna but some actions teach what to do and some teach us what not to imitate.
That’s where it’s important to remember that the guru is not his body. His body is transcendental, like all Lord’s paraphernalia, but sometimes things like conchshells are directly engaged in worship and sometimes they appear to just lie around and do nothing. Same with guru’s body – sometimes it’s preaching and sometimes it’s sleeping. Sometimes it needs to eat and sometimes it needs to procreate.
Some of our gurus have “resigned” from their positions, meaning their bodies are not fit to perform guru duty anymore, but that doesn’t make them any less dear to Krishna or any less transcendental.
Perhaps it’s better to see that our guru is our eternal master but his current manifestation in this world is an “office”.
That’s what the Pope officially said about his resignation – his body can’t perform the functions of the office anymore.
There will be repercussions for Catholic church from this resignation just as some devotees freak out when this or that maharaj retires from his guru responsibilities. I think we all should deal with it in a mature way. I have some ideas about it and maybe by Krishna’s mercy they get into shape in the coming days. So far I can’t “nail” it yet.