If the Roman Church is bestowed with infallibility, what is the point to Paul’s warning to the church at Rome found in Romans 11:19-24. Here he states that they (the Roman church), like Israel, will be “cut off” if they do not continue “in His goodness”. This seems like it would have been the ideal time to discuss/introduce the doctrine of infallibility. However, Paul not only does not do that, he seems to take for granted the possibility the Roman church could end up like Israel (i.e. cut off). Why the warning from Paul if the Roman Church cannot err in her doctrine?
St. Paul says: “A whole batch of bread is made holy if the first handful of dough is made holy; all the branches are holy if the root is holy.” (Rom. 11: 16-17) He goes on to say that some branches have been cut off like shoots of a wild olive tree and others (converted pagans) who have been grafted on to share its rich sap. Such branches were cut of because of their unbelief. If the Romans hold firm, it is only through their faith. But such faith is the result of the root (God) and not of the branches.
Many, many popes, including the present one, have challenged the faithful to take their faith seriously or perish. This doesn’t mean that the popes expect that the Church of Rome will be “cut off” from salvation. But INDIVIDUALS in the Church certainly may be. This is all St. Paul in doing in Romans 11.
That the Church is guarded from error by the Holy Spirit in what it officially teaches, is an entirely different matter from how individuals in the Church behave. This distinction between what the followers of Jesus believed and how they behaved was the case even as He walked this earth.
Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.