Religion: Best Seats in the House

Popes, like kings, have traditionally spoken of themselves in the first person plural—an arrogation that to many Protestants seems a sign of the issues that divide Catholicism from the rest of Christianity: the primacy of Rome, the doctrine of papal infallibility. When the non-Catholic Christian observers to the Second Vatican Council gathered in the Sistine Chapel for an audience with Pope John XXIII, they heard a rare and significant departure from form: the Pontiff pointedly referred to himself in the first person singular, and spoke with moving humility (see box). For the observers—some...

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