How can certain members of Catholic Clergy always be right

I sometimes find it hard to believe that Popes/Bishops can always be right on every issue. Even Christ’s first generation apostles disagreed on matters of the Church. It is very clear in the New Testament that James, Peter, and Paul all had some disagreements with each other. They could not all be right. There have been many great Popes and Bishops, but I find it difficult to believe that even Popes are always right on matters of the Church.

Can anyone explain this?

Also I have heard Catholics say that only the Pope is infallible on matters of the Church, while others claim that other clergy is too. Can anyone clear this up?

I’ve never heard anyone claim that Bishops and other clergy are right on every church issue. From what i understand, Catholics are defer to them or go higher and wait for an official response.

As for the Pope, he’s only infallible when speaking Ex-Cathedra, which almost never happens (I think maybe 2-3 times in the Church’s history).

Most people just say the Pope, but I have Cardinals and Bishops can be infallible as well. Also, I have probably heard at least a half dozen explanations of when the Pope is infallible, ranging from never to always.

See - there’s a nice chart a little ways down.

Basically, the Pope can speak infallibly when he speaks ex cathedra (from the chair) on matters of faith and morals, and the bishops as a whole can speak infallibly when they speak on something together with the Pope.

The how: God. He can pretty well do as he wants. Though it is amazing, I agree.

Consider though that God sees and can change any aspect of all of history. So, while God could, of course, avoid a pope making an incorrect ex cathedra statement by simply making it physically impossible for him to do so - should he try to say it no words come out, should he try to right it his hand not move - He doesn’t have to do anything so dramatic (although He easily could). One small change in how a certain topic was presented could change how the pope views a certain aspect of theology, or perhaps a slight change in the environment to make the pope perceive something slightly different and so be a little more nervous about pronouncing on it, or even a chance meeting between the pope’s great^13 grandfather and some businessman or the other that completely changes path of that person’s entire family and makes that person a banker instead of a pope.

So yeah. It seems pretty incredible. And it is. But the incredible is pretty easy for God.

The phliosopher uses the force of reason, and the believer moves the will or makes the decision (decidere- to cut into the whole, to distingish between the parts). The OP seems to have made the decision not to believe, but looking for a statement that gives reason a force that would take 10 times the force then what reason can normally provide.

I think the better question is what is the will and faith can only say so much on what a will is. Try to shake off the demand for the reason that in which reason cannot demand on you. And make the decision of the will to believe like your life depended on it. That is what the Pope does and it hasn’t failed him in his charism.

Bishops and Cardinals are infallibly-correct (though not personally infallible)
when teaching IF they are teaching the DEFINED TEACHINGS of the Church,
for those are already settled,
either by an ECUMENICAL COUNCIL gathered in the Holy Spirit, concluded and
solemnly Confirmed by the authority of the Successor of Saint Peter, the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. An Ecumenical Council **confirmed by the pope **has, in it’s doctrinal definititions, the same authority as a solemn Papal Definition made by the Pope alone
((such as of the Assumption of Mary, always taught at first implicitly in the earliest church and then explicitly for 1500 or more years PRIOR to the Pope’s 1950 Definition)).

This is because, when all the Bishops of the Church, the shepherds appointed by the Holy Spirit, assemble IN the Holy Spirit, united to the approval of their definitions by Peter’s Successor, an office also protected by the Holy Spirit, they cannot define as true something that is Erroneous.
WHAT they define will always be TRUE, BUT it may need further explanation at a later date, say centuries later, when later Catholics misunderstand the “point” of what they were trying to say. “No Salvation Outside the Church,” for example, is being taught by modern sedevacantists as meaning that only baptized Roman Catholics have any chance at all of being Saved and that everybody else, no matter who or no matter why they are not officially Catholics, are automatically Damned up, down, sideways and backwards.
Vatican II Correctly clarified what is the correct sense in which this teaching should be understood.

Popes only define a doctrine, unilaterally, when it is absolutely necessary, in his estimation, to do so. Pope Pius XII didn’t wake up one morning in 1950 and
haphazardly decided, on the spur of the moment, “Ya know, I think I’ll declare today infallibly that Mary was assumpted into heaven body and soul upon her passing from this life”.
No, he, and his predecessors, had been being bombarded for decades by millions of petitions from Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, Nuns, and Laity by the scads,
begging the Papacy to solemnly define the Assumption, which had always been the understanding and, for over 1500 or more years, the public teaching of the ENTIRE Catholic Church and of the Eastern Orthodox Churches as well (though they call it
Mary’s Dormition, it means the SAME THING). In response to this incessant flood of pleadings, the Pope took the matter to God in Prayer for years, as well as carefully researching the entire history of this teaching, in the East and in the West, and finally decided to affirm most solemnly, what Catholics (and Eastern Orthodox) had ALWAYS believed.
I had a friend, a Presbyterian who, obviously, did not believe in the assumption and thought it was something that the pope just made up one day on a whim,
snottily retort when I mentioned the doctrine that “Oh yeah, right, yeah, SUUUUUURE, yeah, so in 1950, Mary was SUDDENLY ASSUMPTED.”
We Catholics (and I was anti Catholic for most of my life, so I know this) very often have very little concept of just HOW nonCatholics think that our Catholic Doctrines have been arrived at. They really do think that we just make stuff up as we go.

This is the problem I have. All the information others have posted in this thread is very good, but there is a problem with ex cathedra, and that is there seems to be no general agreement on what has and what has not been declared so.

For example, I’ve seen articles about certain documents by popes and discussion, based on the nuances of the way he worded the introduction to the document, of whether it was, in fact, pronounced ex cathedra. Apparently it isn’t like there is a standard phrase like, "this writing is hereby pronounced without error according to … whatever … " but it has to be interpreted by scholars.

So IMO the value of having ability to declare infallability, is destroyed if it isn’t clear what is and what is not so declared. Being vague and subjective about whether something is infallibly true, pretty much takes the infallability out of the picture. Telling somebody they can count on a fact to be infallible – possibly and in my opinion – is like throwing a drowning man both ends of the rope.


I heard that if you were to, for example, ask the Pope what baseball team would win the World Series this year the answer you would get may not be infallible. But in questions of theology his answers would be much closer to infallible since theology is his specialty. Also infallibility is not the same as being morally impeccable. Alexander VI may have made some infallible statements when he was Pope but his personal morals were quite questionable.

I have never heard anyone say that Popes/Bishops can always be right. Far from it actually. We have a history of the Bishops disagreeing a Great deal. The Church is only infallible insomuch as it works together. A single bishop saying something is in no way infallible. But when all the bishops come together and come to a prayerful consensus, we say that the Church on whole is so led by the Holy Spirit that even the fallibility of the men is overwhelmed and by Grace and the Church is led correctly.

Jaypeeto4 and Iron Donkey,

I still don’t quite understand, but your posts were helpful. As Alan said, the various opinions you hear make it a bit confusing. It seems, maybe a lot of people who think they understand this issue don’t quite know it completely. Anyway, your answers help.

Thank you,

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