Moral decisions made ex cathedra?


What, if any, explicit moral decisions has the Church issued proclamations on ex cathedra?

One of my professors stated that there have been no ex cathedra proclamations on moral issues, and while this doesn’t seem right to me, I can’t find evidence to the contrary. I know that the church has stated that some decisions are always immoral, but didn’t declare these ex cathedra.

The problem is that my prof indicated that unless something is issued ex cathedra, the topic is always open for debate and is not absolutely binding on catholics.


Sorry, but it doesn’t have to be ex cathedra to be binding. The ordinary teaching authority of the Church is also binding. The Church very seldom issues ex cathedra pronouncements on any issue.

Infallibility extends to statments about faith and morals. Humanae Vitae was a declaration about the morality of matters related to contraception. I’m sure some would dispute it (your professor?), but it is clearly a binding document issued under the authority of the ordinary magesterium of the pope, and binding upon the whole Church.


I agree with you that many misunderstand the Church’s infallible teachings as the only ones that are binding or even held up as objectively true. My professor’s point is that unless a moral teaching is taught ex cathedra, then is it open for debate and can be changed, even if the current pope says that the teaching is immutable. I disagree with him on that point, but that’s not really what I was posting about.

My specific question is in regard to church teaching in regard to moral issues. Are there any moral teachings of the Church that have been explicitly stated ex cathedra in such a watertight manner that I could easily point to them without getting into a semantic debate with my professor. If there are no moral teachings that have been handed down ex cathedra, why not? As many of you probably know, dissenters find wiggle room in even the most tightly worded statements.


Sorry I can’t answer your specific question. I’m just guessing here, but I think most “ex cathedra” pronouncements have been on matters of faith–doctrines–not morals. Even then it seems to me that the church has existed for most of its history without ex cathedra pronouncements, since the ex cathedra decision on papal infallibility itself didn’t come about until, I believe, sometime in the 1800’s. (Vatican I ?)


Here is some little help:

Moreover, it must also be kept in mind that if the authority of the Magisterium’s teachings admits of varying degrees, this does not mean that the authority of a lesser degree can be considered on the same level as theological opinions or, when it is not a question of infallibility, that only the arguments count and it is impossible for the Church to have a common certitude in a given doctrinal matter.

… there is a widespread idea that these teachings can be revised or reformed at a later date or perhaps in another pontificate. This idea is totally groundless and betrays a mistaken understanding of the Catholic Church’s doctrine on the Magisterium…

Actually, if we consider the of teaching, the Magisterium can teach a doctrine as either by a or by a First of all, the Magisterium can proclaim a doctrine as definitive, and thus to be believed with divine faith or to be held in a definitive way, through a solemn pronouncement of the Pope or an Ecumenical Council. However, the ordinary papal Magisterium can teach a doctrine as because it has been constantly maintained and held by Tradition and transmitted by the ordinary, universal Magisterium. This latter exercise of the charism of infallibility does not take the form of a papal act of definition, but pertains to the ordinary, universal Magisterium which the Pope again sets forth with his formal pronouncement of and (generally in an Encyclical or Apostolic Letter). If we were to hold that the Pope must necessarily make an definition whenever he intends to declare a doctrine as definitive because it belongs to the deposit of faith, it would imply an underestimation of the ordinary, universal Magisterium, and infallibility would be limited to the solemn definitions of the Pope or a Council, in a way that differs from the teaching of Vatican I and Vatican II, which attribute an infallible character to the teachings of the ordinary, universal Magisterium…** Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith**


Your professor would be mistaken on that point. The Church speaks infallibly in two ways.,

By far the most common is through the Ordinary Magisterium. What the Church commonly teaches on Faith and Morals.

The second, and the most unusual, is through the Extra Ordinary Magisterium, Ecumenical Councils and Ex Cathedra statements.

BOTH are infallible statements.

I would encourage you to read Lumen Gentium, specifically Paragraph 25



Thank you for your post! That was exactly the type of thing I was looking for! I look forward to seeing how my prof responds to the case I can present from that document.


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