New Catholic Confused--Help!


In another thread on this Board, a poster made the following statement:

God established the papacy to uphold the teachings of the Church, not for a pope to make his own rules and command us to obey. It is absolutely our duty to know when the Pope is leading the Church into error, and then it is our duty not to obey.

I consider myself a well-informed Catholic. I’veread a lot of books, not just the Apologetic books, but several of the Catholic classics (e.g., Imitation of Christ). My diocese has a good, conservative Bishop, and I attend a parish with an excellent RCIA program and other Adult Formation opportunities. I’ve attended several of the Catholic Family Conferences.

But this post confuses me. Is this “correct?” Is this what a typical Catholic believes? Should I believe it?

Some of you who have read my other posts know that for me, the Christ-given authority is what led me to believe that the Catholic Church is indeed, the Church of Jesus Christ, the Original Christian Church.

Perhaps I am just confused, but to me, this post sounds like what I used to do in evangelical Protestantism, namely, decide if a pastor was in error, and then refuse to obey him, which usually meant joining another church.

How am I to “know” if the Pope is leading us into error? Who is the authority that I should listen to?

I’ve heard of GIRM and Canon Law. Should I, as a layperson, read and study these with the same attention that I give the Scriptures and the Catechism, and use these texts to decide if the Pope is leading us into error?

But–waaah!–I don’t have the authority and knowledge to do this–do I!!!

Please help me understand! Thank you.


To a certain extent yes. Every Catholic should know what the Church teaches, Scripture and Catechism are good sources. IF a Pope or Bishop proposes something clearly opposed to either we have an obligation to reject it and follow the teaching of the Church.


Who determines whether it’s clearly opposed or not? It was thought like this that led to the “Reformation.”

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” (Hebrews 13:17)

If (God forbid!) a bishop should teach error and enjoin it upon his charges, and some of the faithful hold to his teaching without violating their consciences, I believe it will be the bishop, not those faithful, who will have to give an account.



I think the fact that our Catechism is written down and widely-available is a good check here.

A bishop who champions the creation of a pro-abortion rights Catholic group within his diocese would clearly be in error, as would any Catholics joining it.

I’m reminded of the Nicaraguan bishop Pope John Paul II publicly berated for being a part of the Sandinista regime. There’s video footage of the Pope dressing him down upon stepping off the plane in Nicaragua.

It should be noted that the fact that some clergy abuse their vows and offices does not make the Church any less of an authority on spiritual matters. Truth is truth, although speakers may be credible or not. Knowledge of your faith is a great bulwark against heresy and error.


My take is:

If the Pope is teaching on Faith and Morals, evoking infalability, he will never teach in contradiction of previous Popes or the Church.


Jesus said (Mat 16:18) And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

I tend to believe what Jesus says!:thumbsup:


I would say, technically yes, this is correct, but it’s never going to happen. The pope cannot lead us into error regarding faith or morals.


What may not be clear here is that there is a difference between

  1. a pope teaching *ex cathedra *about faith and/or morals, and

  2. a pope expressing an opinion

In the first case, the pope is infallible. In the entire 2,000 year history of the church, no pope has taught heresy under his charism of infallibility.

In the second case, infallibility does not apply. So, should a pope (God forbid!) express an opinion that abortion is OK, we are not obligated to follow it. We are also not obligated to follow him if he expresses an opinion about anything not regarding faith and/or morals (for example, a statement about science).

Hope this helps!


Cat, as you are probably aware, the three pillars of the teaching of the Church are Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Sacred Magisterium. Each one is entirely infallible in all that it asserts is true. The infallible Sacred and the non-infallible Ordinary Magisterium can only teach truths already explicitly or implicitly contained in Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Tradition. The charism of absolutely certain truth rests with the SM. The OM is exercised without that guarantee of certain truth. But the teachings of the non-infallible OM have the guidance of the Holy Spirit. to the extent that errors can occur only to a limited extent; the teachings cannot err to the extent that they could lead Catholics off the path of salvation. The teachings of the OM have the charism of ‘salvific truth’.

All of the infallible teachings of the Sacred Magisterium require belief by all the faithful. For our Lord guarantees that these teachings, properly understood, are without error, omission, and imperfection. He promised to send us the Advocate to guide us in all truth. In this case Catholics are obligated to give their “sacred assent”, what is also called “faithful assent” and “theological assent”. The assent is an exercise of the theological virtue of faith.

The faithful are not only required to believe what the Magisterium teaches infallibly, but also what Scripture and Tradition teaches before it is explicitly taught by the Magisterium. The assent of faith must be given to all of the teachings of the three pillars of faith. For they are all infallible teachings.

The non-infallible teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium require “ordinary assent”. The
Magisterium itself teaches that not all of its teachings are infallible. Ordinary assent is
understood to be the “religious submission of the will and intellect”. Catholics are not
required to give “sacred assent” to the teachings of the OM because they may contain
error and are subject to revision and occasionally revocation. The exercise of ordinary assent
carries with it room for “faithful dissent”. But pious dissent should be contained. Anyone who
would dissent from most or all of the non-infallible teachings of the OM, or any teaching that
leads one on the path of salvation, risks losing his entire faith or eternal salvation. Extensive
dissent from the teachings of the OM show a virtual lack of Catholic faith to begin with.

Thus, Catholics can piously dissent from only non-infallible teachings, which are not essential
to the path of salvation. But the dissenter must remain faithful to the infallible teachings of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Sacred Magisterium. Meanwhile, Catholics should be generally faithful to the non-infallible teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium. The basis for dissent must be a teaching of greater authority within the infallible teachings of the Sacred Magisterium, Sacred Tradition, and Sacred Scriptures. (The final court of appeal precludes private interpretations of scripture which are fallible. Individual judgment must not supersede any of the three pillars.)

Most dissent from the Church today is “impious”. Many Catholics dissent from the infallible teachings of the Sacred Magisterium. For instance, many Catholics reject the teachings contained in the papal Encyclical ‘Humanae Vitae’ which states that abortion is always gravely immoral. The teaching against abortion must be adhered to with “sacred assent”. Likewise, the Apostolic Letter ‘Ordinatio Sacerdotalis’ infallibly teaches that the Church has no divine authority to ordain women as priests. Yet many Catholics dissent unfaithfully. We must keep in mind that faith is required of us in order to be saved. Jesus warned us that anyone who rejects the teachings of his apostles rejects him. The Sacred Magisterium has succeeded St.Peter and the apostles: the pope in communion with the world’s bishops.

Cat, I believe I"m running out of space, so I’ll continue after this Reply.

Pax vobiscum
Good Fella :cool:


Hi, Cat. Allow me to continue from where I left off.

As I was saying, the pope can never lead us into error, whether alone or with the bishops,
to the extent that Catholics are taken off the path of salvation, in his official capacity as the
shepherd and teacher of the Church. When the pope acts outside of his office as a speculative
theologian, we do not necessarily have to agree with him. For example, if he happened to say
that the woman in Revelation 12 is the Blessed Virgin Mary, we would not be compelled to agree with him. Another pope could easily interpret this symbol as the Church. This matter is not essential to our salvation. In non-infallible disciplinary matters of the Ordinary Magisterium, such as celibacy, there is room for “pious dissent” but nevertheless we are obligated to observe this order in strict obedience. It is wise to keep our faithful dissent private, for fortitude is a Christian virtue, and faithful obedience was taught us by our Lord. Anyway, we must draw a distinction between “assent” and “agreement”. Neither the infallible teachings of the Sacred Magisterium nor the non-infallible teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium are matters of opinion or speculation.

Returning to the subject of “dissent”, many Catholics are ignoring the Church’s moral teachings
on sexuality by maintaining non-marital and homosexual relationships. Such teachings
fall under the jurisdiction of the universal Magisterium and are infallible. Sacred assent is thus
required; dissent from such teachings is deemed “impious” and so is sinful and heretical. These
moral teachings have been consistently taught by the pope in communion with the bishops for
centuries. It is not a matter of papal opinion, as is the case with any official Church teaching. The root of the Church’s moral teachings is Sacred Scriptures.

Even when we have dissent from non-infallible teachings, such as that on ‘contraception’, this
dissent is not based on a higher authority: Sacred Scriptures. In fact, the methods of artificial
birth control contradict the Word of God. Catholics who condone contraception appeal to the
secular teachings of society, and so their dissent is unfaithful, although the teaching of the
Church is non-infallible. Some Catholics may even argue that they must follow their conscience,
but our imperfect and vulnerable conscience is not greater than the ultimate moral authority: God. The human conscience can be easily corrupted by the philosophy of a given age. Sometimes God even demands sacrifices of us that go against a good conscience, but we must accept his will. Catholics who unfaithfully dissent have often at some point in their lives surrendered their conscience to secular education,by rejecting the counsel and guidance of Sacred Scriptures, the Sacred Magisterium, and Sacred Tradition.

“He who hears you hears me; and he who rejects you rejects me;
and he who rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” {Luke 10:16}

Pax vobiscum
Good Fella :cool:


Thanks, everyone, and especially Good Fella for taking the time to write a thorough and understandable reply.

How about worship practices? Liturgical “abuses?” Where do these come in?


I would look at it from a practical point of view as well. There are a great deal of extremely knowledgable and devoted people working in the Holy See and throughout the world for the Church. They have devoted their lives to God and His Church.

As with any organisation with fallen men and women in place, there will be problems and conflict. Yet, give the Church some credit for learning a thing or two as the oldest continual organisation in history. No doubt we owe the Holy Spirit an unpayable debt for this, but there are many failsafes, committees, congregations, and such in place to deal with anything or anyone that abuses his or her position or title.

Remember that the Church works in timescales much longer than we, as individuals do. She may take decades to work out an issue, or a lifetime, when in our short-term thinking we wish that it would be resolved tomorrow, or next week. Having 2000 years under her belt tends to make her gain a perspective that we, as individual humans, simply cannot have.

Also consider that one can by overly critical when it comes to “liturgical abuses” and worship practices. Sometimes people seem to take issue with a homily they may not like and term it a “liturgical abuse” and then come here asking who they should report this to. Of course the love of the Church is a wonderful notion, but over zealousness can be dangerous and lead to problems like the SSPX and sedevanticists, which is very undesirable.

Patience and faith are needed and I would counsel both.


We are obliged, in accord with our competence, to give our opinion to our pastors on those things which pertain to the good of the Church. However, this is far different from disobedience to the lawful directive of one’s superior, (even if we think they are wrong) which is a crime (cf. Lumen Gentium, no. 37, 1983 CIC, canon 212).

Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, no. 37:“By reason of the knowledge, competence, r pre-eminence which they have, the laity are empowered—indeed sometimes obliged—to manifest their opinion on those things which pertain to the good of the Church. If the occasion should arise, this should be done through the institutions established by the Church for that purpose, and always with truth, courage, and prudence, and with reverence and charity toward those who, by reason of their office, represent the person of Christ. The laity should, as all Christians, promptly accept in Christian obedience decisions of their spiritual shepherds, since they are representatives of Christ as well as teachers and rulers in the Church.”
As a military officer, I understand that I am obliged to offer a “But Sir” or two when I believe my superior’s lawful decision is contrary to the good of the unit. However, after he has considered my input, if he still thinks it best to proceed with his decision, then I am to champion his decision as if it were my own. That’s not blind obedience, but an act of charity. To do otherwise would be contrary to fostering the common discipline of the entire unit.

Sacred Scripture affirms in Heb 13:17: “Obey your prelates and be subject to them. For they watch as being to render an account of your souls: that they may do this with joy and not with grief. For this is not expedient for you.”

It doesn’t say, “obey your prelates and submit to them UNLESS you think the are in error.”




According to St. Thomas Aquinas there are three kinds of obedience:

  1. Sufficient - obeys in all lawful commands of one’s superior that are within the scope of their authority.

  2. Perfect - obeys in all lawful commands of one’s superior, even if they are not within the scope of their authority.

  3. Indiscreet - obeys in unlawful matters which are contrary to higher authority.

Sufficient obedience is necessary for salvation. Perfect obedience is even more virtuous, but not binding. Indiscreet obedience is sinful.

According to St. Thomas, there are only two reasons one can disobey the directives of their lawful superior: 1) the directive is contrary to higher authority, 2) the directive is outside the scope of their superior’s authority.

When the pope teaches as the pope, not simply a theologian, he does so formally. In such instances, we owe our obedience, even when he is wrong. Can such obedience be “indiscreet”? Not according to another Doctor of the Church, **St. Catherine of *Siena:"[FONT=Arial]Divine obedience never prevents us from obedience to the Holy Father: nay, the more perfect the one, the more perfect is the other. And we ought always to be subject to his commands and obedient unto death. However indiscreet obedience to him might seem, and however it should deprive us of mental peace and consolation, we ought to obey; and I consider that to do the opposite is a great imperfection, and deceit of the devil." *(St. Catherine, Letter to Brother Antonio of Nizza).[/FONT]
I’m not advocating blind obedience, but reasoned obedience, based upon the authority and divine help given to the Vicar of Christ, the Roman Pontiff. St. Catherine often said, “But Holy Father…” on many occasions to the Roman Pontiff. However, she never advocated disobedience to him.

I believe that within the theological construct described by St. Thomas Aquinas above, that *"If one loves the Pope…one does not oppose to the Pope’s authority that of others, however learned they may be, who differ from him. For however great their learning, they must be lacking in holiness, for there can be no holiness in dissension from the Pope. " *(Pope St. Pius X, allocution of 18 November, 1912, AAS vol. 4 (1912), 693-695. Selection from p. 695).

St. Thomas Aquinas: “We must abide rather by the pope’s judgment than by the opinion of any of the theologians, however well versed he may be” (Questiones Quodlibetales, IX:8).


Here’s another quote that is on this Forum today:

“It’s true. The days of Catholics sitting back and being able to trust they are getting the truths of the faith from their priests and bishops, are over. It is important to brush up on your traditional cathechism, not the new catechism, and to educate yourself by reading, as you suggested. Read everything pertaining to Traditional Catholic Faith.”

I’M SCARED!!! :eek:

I don’t know who to trust anymore. So I should toss my new Catechism? And not listen to my priests and bishop?

Hey, everyone, I’m sorry to be such a whiner here, but posts like this are really, really scary to me. If the above quote is correct, then fine, I’ll toss my CCC and stop listening to any priest after 1903.

But if this person is making this comment and it is wrong, then I kinda sorta wish the Moderators could step in and make it clear that this poster is simply offering an opinion and that this opinion represents a radical fringe of Catholics. Otherwise, how am I, a fairly new Catholic, supposed to know!!!

Like, I agree with the free exchange of ideas and all that, but these kinds of quotes are quite disturbing and when they are unchallenged by the Moderators, I’m not sure what to believe anymore.


If this is really bothering you, why don’t you PM a Moderator and ask his/her advice?


The Catechism of the Catholic Church is an authoritative document of the Magisterium, and a Pope John Paul II said a “sure norm of the Faith”. However something I noticed is a mixing of our attitude towards Discipline (law and directions) and Doctrine and Dogma. We may not reject or even disagree with Doctrine or Dogma as taught by the Magisterium, we may disagree with discipline but are required to obey it.


Why do you trust that quote? Don’t you have a pastor, a bishop, a pope? Why should any opinion divert you from submission to your lawful pastors?

You understand, I hope, nobody here is your pastor, so don’t be afraid of the opinions posted on this forum. Use your head, and don’t rely upon this forum as though it were the final word on Catholicism. If you find something you think is off the mark, go seek spiritual direction from the ONE GUY assigned as your pastor. It is HIS direction which you are obliged to submit to insofar as it is congruent with the higher authority exercise by your Bishop and your Pope. You see, that’s the beauty of Catholicism, it involves two-way communication to REAL people, not just dependent upon opinions by self-proclaimed Catholic experts or random thoughts on the world wide web. :wink:

Nobody outside three men: your pastor, your bishop, your pope, have Divine authority to pastor your soul. Nobody else is in your “chain of command” with regard to matters religious. Canon law does not prescribe that you read all the various conflicting opinions and live in fear because you don’t know who speaks for Catholicism. Who are your pastors? They are the voice of Catholicism to you.

My pastors are: Fr. Brad, Bishop Sheridan, Pope Benedict XVI. If anybody else tries to teach me anything contrary to these three men in matters religious, I refuse to accept it. Stop complicating a very simple Catholic ecclesiology.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them.” (Heb 13:17). The rest are simply the peanut gallery.

In Christ,

Dave “just another peanut” Jensen


Thanks, Dave. I think your post is pretty much the approach I plan to take. I think some people think they are doing the right thing to encourage disobedience to the pope and bishops (actually, they say they “respect” them, but they won’t do what they say–IMO, that’s not respect).

I think some of my worries are leftovers from all those years of Protestantism.



You bring out an important point. Any idiot can post to a Forum or web site. It takes a man of God to be your priest, your Bishop, or our Pope.

I used to be worried by all the schiz-trads and the ultra-trads, as well, but then I realized, these people already have one foot out the door of the Church. Am I going to follow them? Or shall I instead follow the men that God has placed in charge of my soul?

You know the sensible answer to that question. :slight_smile:

closed #20

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