Debate question. Should the Pope be free from error or should the Church be free from error?

I beg you not to flame me or each other, because I would love to see a rational discussion of this. It is NOT my intent to inflame abnybody. I’m just trying to sor t some things out.

It does seem to me that Popes have erred, whether or not in matters of faith remains to be discussed, but there have been a LOT of Popes who did not make great decisions.

It SEEMS to me, or maybe I’m just looking at biased sources, that in Orthodoxy, for example, they realize that every man is flawed, but when the men who make decisions for their church work together, the end product is a Church which they believe is free from error. Of course, other denominations would disagree. One example I’m having trouble with is the concept of original sin.

In the end, I reckon it comes down to whether the fruit of the respective processes match your belief. As a catholic considering orthodoxy, that’s the part I’m focusing on.

still it seems risky to say that every Pope forevermore can speak to the church and be utterly infallible.

Great topic RKO!

Remember that infallible teachings have heavily structured criteria based on the First Vatican Council:

*]It must be made by the Holy Father
*]He speaks ex cathedra
*]He defines
*]It is based on a doctrine concern faith and morals
*]must be held by the whole Church

Since Vatican I all I can find is the following 2 (that’s right 2) infallible teachings accepted by the Church (although the Church has not made a comprehensive list):

*]Defining the Immaculate Conception (Pope Pius IX in 1854 and grandfathered in after Vatican I)
*]Defining the Assumption of Mary (Pope Pius XII in 1950)

Both of these definitions were not earth shattering (in the sense that Catholics pretty much already believed these doctrines at the time).

I don’t believe anyone would agree that the Pope can’t err. That’s not earth shattering either. The Pope is a man and as such is not perfect and can err and sin - just like each of us. Just like us he is striving for salvation while leading the Church on earth (I can imagine that is a pretty stressful job). Personal commentary from the Pope is simply that, personal beliefs and not infallible.

But I would argue that as a theologian and a ordained leader of the church his personal opinions are worthy of listening to, reading, and following as he has a lifetime of learning that most of us lay members do not (as well as a whole body of clergy to support him).

Only when he speaks ex cathedra through the correct requirements can it be considered infallible.

What does “Must be believed by the whole church?” I have always interpretted that to mean ONCE THE POPE PROCLAIMS something infallibly, THEN it must be believed by the whole church.

Or, as with the IC and Assumption, does that mean something that is commonly believed by the church PRIOR to his proclaiming it infallilbly?

PS- thanks for the compliment. I was fairly certain I would get flamed and then banned or put in timeout or something.

It’s not an either/or, but an "and/both. The Church is infallible. The Pope enjoys the same infallibility that God wills for the Church, since the same full authority found in the whole body is found in the head.

The Magisterium. CCC 890-892 -see below.

Or, as with the IC and Assumption, does that mean something that is commonly believed by the church PRIOR to his proclaiming it infallilbly?

Yes. Usually when the Pope and Magisterium makes an infallible declaration it’s because something that was always believed was challenged and needed to be defined.

PS- thanks for the comp[liment. I was fairly certain I would get flamed and then banned or put in timeout or something.

I sure hope not. You seem to be asking questions for better understanding, not to troll.

Here is the teaching on Infallibility from the Catechism.

890 The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The exercise of this charism takes several forms:

891 “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful - who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. . . . The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,” above all in an Ecumenical Council.418 When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine "for belief as being divinely revealed,"419 and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions "must be adhered to with the obedience of faith."420 This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.421

892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent"422 which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.


Absolutely NOT trolling. Thanks for the input.

“Other denominations” are all deficient in varying degrees and therefore, their opinions are meaningless.

Original sin is an essential de fide belief of the Catholic Church.

  1. Original sin is transmitted by natural generation. (De fide.)

De fide (of the faith) is a “theological note” or “theological qualification” that indicates that some religious doctrine is an essential part of Catholic faith and that denial of it is heresy.[1]
The doctrine is de fide divina et ecclesiastica (of divine and ecclesiastical faith), if contained in the sources of revelation and therefore believed to have been revealed by God (de fide divina) and if taught by the Church (de fide ecclesiastica). If a doctrine has been solemnly defined by a pope or an ecumenical council as a dogma, the doctrine is de fide definita.[1][2]
What is believed to be a truth contained in the sources of revelation thus becomes a “dogma”, in the present ecclesiastical sense of this word, only when enunciated by the Church: “According to a long-standing usage a dogma is now understood to be a truth appertaining to faith or morals, revealed by God, transmitted from the Apostles in the Scriptures or by tradition, and proposed by the Church for the acceptance of the faithful.”[3]

The Catholic Church and the unchanged Deposit of Faith is over 2,000 years old and going strong despite some popes who perhaps erred in their personal affairs etc. Catholocism is the only Faith that has a Divine guarantee issued by Christ himself. Christ’s Church will always prevail in Truth even over the gates of hell.


It impresses me how many people stumble over the “Pope Infallibility” doctrine, it’s a recurrent theme and is repeated “Ad-Nauseam”

Recapping the Pope is NOT infallible in all his affairs. Only when it pertains to “Church Doctrine” He is PREVENTED from stating a False teaching.

It’s a Negative Charisma.

Also the Church itself in the Magisterium is prevented from teaching false doctrine.

HOWEVER a Bishop or a group of them CAN deviate from the true teaching, they are acting OUTSIDE the Magisterium, it has unfortunately happened quite a few times since the early Apostles. That is why it is so important to KNOW our Church history because then we can recognize the errors more readily.

As you pointed out there have been some Popes that were not so good and yet others were Martirs and others still Saints. We have to pray to God that He sends Saintly Popes and Saintly Bishops and Saintly Priests. We need them.
The Church has the promise from our Lord Jesus that the Gates of Hell will not prevail over Her. :thumbsup:

That is all that I need! She is the pillar and foundation of my faith. As Saint Paul said.:thumbsup::thumbsup:

Papal Infallibity is strictly limited to when the Pope teaches dogmatically on faith and morals.

The Pope is not impeccable. Some have been grievous sinners. All have probably made bad decisions.

The Holy Spirit only protects the Church by ensuring infallibity in specific dogmatic teaching. He does not make the Pope perfect.

God Bless


The Pope cannot make an arbitrary infallible declaration. It doesn’t work that way. It only serves to confirm a teaching that has already been widely accepted by the Catholic Church. You couldn’t see, for instance, a council affirm the Immaculate Conception, and subsequently rejected by the Pope speaking* ex cathedra*.

=RKO;10142953]I beg you not to flame me or each other, because I would love to see a rational discussion of this. It is NOT my intent to inflame abnybody. I’m just trying to sor t some things out.

It does seem to me that Popes have erred, whether or not in matters of faith remains to be discussed, but there have been a LOT of Popes who did not make great decisions.

still it seems risky to say that every Pope forevermore can speak to the church and be utterly infallible.

THANKS for asking RKO,

First let’s set the table by understanding that in a very real way: The Pope IS the Church.

Second not everything the pope declairs is “Infallible”; which I’ll explain shortly; BUT also not everything HAS to be “Infailibly” declared to require in an absolute sense our acceptence of it.

Third: the Bishops to in certian conditionds can speak “infallibly” and in other ways that too must be accepted by atleast assent of our own will.

So allow me to share some Canon Law passages that hopefully clairify this to aid the discusssion.:slight_smile:


Can. 747 §1. The Church, to which Christ the Lord has entrusted the deposit of faith so that with the assistance of the Holy Spirit it might protect the revealed truth reverently, examine it more closely, and proclaim and expound it faithfully, has the duty and innate right, independent of any human power whatsoever, to preach the gospel to all peoples, also using the means of social communication proper to it.

§2. It belongs to the Church always and everywhere to announce moral principles, even about the social order, and to render judgment concerning any human affairs insofar as the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls requires it.

Can. 748 §1. All persons are bound to seek the truth in those things which regard God and his Church and by virtue of divine law are bound by the obligation and possess the right of embracing and observing the truth which they have come to know.

§2. No one is ever permitted to coerce persons to embrace the Catholic faith against their conscience.

Can. 749 §1. By virtue of his office, the Supreme Pontiff possesses infallibility in teaching when as the supreme pastor and teacher of all the Christian faithful, who strengthens his brothers and sisters in the faith, he proclaims by definitive act that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held.

§2. The college of bishops also possesses infallibility in teaching when the bishops gathered together in an ecumenical council exercise the magisterium as teachers and judges of faith and morals who declare for the universal Church that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held definitively; or when dispersed throughout the world but preserving the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter and teaching authentically together with the Roman Pontiff matters of faith or morals, they agree that a particular proposition is to be held definitively.

§3. No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident.

Can. 750 §1. A person must believe with divine and Catholic faith all those things contained in the word of God, written or handed on, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn magisterium of the Church or by its ordinary and universal magisterium which is manifested by the common adherence of the Christian faithful under the leadership of the sacred magisterium; therefore all are bound to avoid any doctrines whatsoever contrary to them.

**§2. **Each and every thing which is proposed definitively by the magisterium of the Church concerning the doctrine of faith and morals, that is, each and every thing which is required to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the same deposit of faith, is also to be firm-ly embraced and retained; therefore, one who rejects those propositions which are to be held definitively is opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

Can. 752 Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

Can. 753 Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.

Can. 754 All the Christian faithful are obliged to observe the constitutions and decrees which the legitimate authority of the Church issues in order to propose doctrine and to proscribe erroneous opinions, particularly those which the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops puts forth.

So now lets in charity, discuss your concerns:)

God Bless,

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit