I read the life story of a man who, like myself, was raised Catholic. He made an observation that I hadn't really thought about before: “No wonder that for many Catholics the teaching of apostolic succession is the most important teaching, since the correctness or incorrectness of other Catholic teachings hinges on it!”
Having attended Catholic schools for my primary and high school years, I do indeed remember being taught about apostolic succession and the supposed infallibility of the Pope. However, I don’t know that I ever put those two together. To me, being a purported successor to Peter was not what made the Popes infallible. It was that he was the purported representative of Jesus Christ on earth and that, since Jesus was perfect, so is the Pope. Now I see the fallacy in that line of thought. What fallacy?
At Romans 5:12, we learn that all men are imperfect—no exceptions, excluding Jesus. So even the leaders of religions are imperfect. They sin, they make wrong decisions, and they fall short of God’s glory even though they would have us believe otherwise. (More recently, the Catholic Church has emphasized that “in matters of faith and worship,” the Pope is infallible.)
But all of this is a big smoke screen anyway. Why? Because delegating to others the responsibility of telling us what God requires of us is one of the most dangerous things we can do. Jesus said that our continuing to gain knowledge of God and what he wants is each person’s own responsibility. We can meet the requirements of this responsibility by our own personal reading, studying and contemplation of God’s Word. Willingness to discuss with others helps us refine our beliefs and ensure we are not “breaking forth against all practical wisdom.” One more thing that can help us is to seek out others who respect the Bible and truly live by standards and principles therein.
So even if it were true that the Pope is Peter’s successor, what would that prove? Nothing. Back in the time when Jesus walked the earth, he pointed out the fallacy of such thinking to his contemporaries that felt that because Jerusalem was the seat of David and the temple was the throne of God, that proved God was with them. Jesus pointedly remarked “your house is abandoned to you.” Similarly, Paul said of his peers that they had a zeal for God but not according to accurate knowledge. Similarly, my studies of Catholic history inside the Catholic education system using Catholic publications demonstrated how pervasive corruption was at the Papal level down through the centuries. After reaching an age where I started to reason for myself, I realized some of what I had been taught by the Catholic belief system was grossly wrong. Finally, when I started reading the Bible and made it my own responsibility to understand it, I learned enough to see that I needed to completely sever all ties with that religion.
If I were to recommend a course of action as a summary, it would be that you at very least start reading the Bible on your own. But do not use those written in 16th century English (King James or Douay versions). Read one in modern-day English. If you fear being duped by wrong translation, then do this: I would recommend you start with the Amplified version because of its excellent attempt to correctly convey the intricate subtleties of the original languages by using various verbs and adjectives when appropriate. Set a schedule to read the whole Bible in one or two years. Make notes about things you do not understand. Then, pick another modern-day Bible translation and do the same thing for the next year or two. Within two to four years you will have read the whole Bible twice. A second one that I would highly recommend is the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. I have some 20 other translations in my personal library and use them all for reference.
If you accept this challenge and would like to communicate with me to ask questions, I’d be honored to help you.