Obedience to the Pope

Here is a question that stems from a previous discussion we had a while ago on this forum, in which papal infallibility was discussed. Before I ask it I would just like to make clear that I haven’t started this thread in order to try and attack Pope Francis, or use it as an excuse for why we don’t need to listen to him. I’m just pointing that out in case somebody thinks they are reading between the lines of this thread. There is no ulterior motive.

Onto the question. Are we, as Catholics, obliged to accept whatever the Pope tells us, since he is the leader of our church?

I know papal infallibility doesn’t mean anything the Pope says is infallible. However, does this assume some things he says (or writes) are potentially wrong? Should we even be thinking in this way? Or should we live our lives with the belief that what the Pope is telling is correct? Then, if it should later turn out (somehow) that a Pope told us something that was wrong, and we followed it, that wouldn’t be our fault, as we were only following the teachings and guidance of our shepherd.

1 Like

I think this is the best question. The problem with so many today is they hold their own opinions as a type of infallible standard of proof. In areas that hit us wrong, either a a matter of conscience, a matter of imprudence, or a matter of heresy, we must be at least as willing to consider that we are wrong, than that the Holy Father, or anyone else, for that matter. That is why we dialogue.

The internet generation has lost this. Dialogue now means persuading others of your opinion, not synthesizing divergent opinions to arrive at what is true, what is best, or what is simply a prudent compromise.


We trust God to guide and protect our Church. That means God also guides the Holy Father so that he doesn’t propagate serious error.

I haven’t worried in my lifetime about a Pope teaching us anything that’s “wrong” because I haven’t ever heard anything coming out of the Vatican that sounded unreasonable or wrong. Some of it I maybe had a hard time agreeing with, but not because I thought it was an unreasonable or wrong viewpoint, I just thought differently. I can realize that the other party has a good, well-supported contention even if I personally would have preferred a different position. In those cases I also figure that the Pope/ Vatican have additional information and perspectives that I myself do not.


As a life long Catholic I have along with my family tradition, committed to the guidance of the Pope in my faith life. We have never been failed by this faith. Outlying renegade opinions have all proved to fade in time. Unless you are a holy theologian or recognised Saint, I think and teach that we can never be indicted for faithful obedience to the Pope and Magisterium. It is the right way of faith.


According to Thomas Aquinas, we ought to obey our superiors in whatever that isn’t a sin. Also, logically speaking we are not bound to obey people outside their field (for example teacher can tell me to do homework but can’t tell me to join the army :smiley: ).

Prime law of the Church is salvation of the Souls. That is what obedience is for. If we keep this in mind it becomes much easier to view what obedience inside and to the the Church means.


It might seem like a strange question but what do you mean by “tells us”? How we are to respond to what the Pope “tells us” depends on how he does it and what he is talking about. Perhaps you could give some examples of what you are thinking about.



Just as there are degrees of Magisterium (fallible and infallible), there are also degrees of ascent.

In all cases, we are to obliged to accept what the Popes (plural) say because they are our superiors.

However, some of their sayings could be contested in case they are against Dogma and Tradition. In order to do this, the faithful must have rational explanation and direct quotations from Church authority showing the error, otherwise it would be just an act of disobedience. And this is important. A layman camnot contest in their own authority. It has to spring from an authoritative source in the Church.

Now, when it comes to Dogma, we have no option but to comply, since it is the truth spoken by the grace of the Holy Spirit. To deny the truth is to deny God, who is the Truth.

I think the best way to think about papal infallibility is to understand it as a necessary consequence of the indefectibility of the Church in general and of the primacy being a constituent, permanent element of the Church. The particular church in primacy (the Church of Rome–the Apostolic See) cannot be separated from the universal Church nor the universal Church as a whole fall away. The universal Church therefore must hold the same faith as the Church of Rome and Rome cannot defect.

Should the Church of Rome require an error to be believed in order to have communion with it, either the Church of Rome would defect from the universal Church or the entire Church would defect into error following Rome–and both things are impossible.

Therefore, in as much as the bishop of Rome–the authorized teacher of the Church of Rome–provides a judgment as to a doctrine that must be held in order for all to maintain communion in the Church, it must be true, otherwise it would lead to one of the two impossible conditions above.

Popes do and say tons of stuff–good and evil–that has no bearing on what is necessary for communion in the universal Church. In those instances, if they are intending to teach, we should give the Pope the high respect due to him as the chief authorized teacher in the Church. But this is not the unconditional obedience of faith that those necessarily infallible judgments receive.

If he teaches something that we cannot in good faith reconcile with the faith of the Church as it has been handed on, we do not have to accept it. Likewise, conscience can also take precedence over any particular commands he might make. St. John Henry Newman explains this part here:



In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.
Vatican II. Lumen Gentium 25

This is how the bishops of the world answered this question 50 years ago. (and as they say, we have to acknowledge and respect their opinion…)

This is what others have already said because we have been taught to accept this teaching. It is amazing to see so many people decide not to adhere to it. But most do, and even those who disagree with non dogmatic teaching do it with respect, for the most part.

Dogmatic teaching, the ex cathedra infallible kind, demands a different level of assent, a supernatural faith.

If we follow our shepherds in good faith, believing them to teach what the universal Church holds as of faith, then we are not responsible (and we should give our authorized teachers the benefit of the doubt). On the other hand, if we know it opposes the faith of the universal Church, then we will be. And sometimes this can be a test.

St. Thomas Aquinas:

The simple have no faith implied in that of the learned, except in so far as the latter adhere to the Divine teaching. Hence the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 4:16): “Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ.” Hence it is not human knowledge, but the Divine truth that is the rule of faith: and if any of the learned stray from this rule, he does not harm the faith of the simple ones, who think that the learned believe aright; unless the simple hold obstinately to their individual errors, against the faith of the universal Church, which cannot err, since Our Lord said (Luke 22:32): “I have prayed for thee,” Peter, “that thy faith fail not.”


St. Vincent de Lerins

[47.] It behooves us, then, to give heed to these instances from Church History, so many and so great, and others of the same description, and to understand distinctly, in accordance with the rule laid down in Deuteronomy, that if at any time a Doctor in the Church have erred from the faith, Divine Providence permits it in order to make trial of us, whether or not we love God with all our heart and with all our mind.

[48.] This being the case, he is the true and genuine Catholic who loves the truth of God, who loves the Church, who loves the Body of Christ, who esteems divine religion and the Catholic Faith above every thing, above the authority, above the regard, above the genius, above the eloquence, above the philosophy, of every man whatsoever; who sets light by all of these, and continuing steadfast and established in the faith, resolves that he will believe that, and that only, which he is sure the Catholic Church has held universally and from ancient time; but that whatsoever new and unheard-of doctrine he shall find to have been furtively introduced by some one or another, besides that of all, or contrary to that of all the saints, this, he will understand, does not pertain to religion, but is permitted as a trial, being instructed especially by the words of the blessed Apostle Paul, who writes thus in his first Epistle to the Corinthians, There must needs be heresies, that they who are approved may be made manifest among you: 1 Corinthians 2:9 as though he should say, This is the reason why the authors of Heresies are not immediately rooted up by God, namely, that they who are approved may be made manifest; that is, that it may be apparent of each individual, how tenacious and faithful and steadfast he is in his love of the Catholic faith.


1 Like


I’m fortunate in that I’ve never read something by a modern Pope that I’ve been against on a visceral level. This seems like it would be a hard thing and I dont envy people in that situation.

But, when/if this happens, it is not a sin. Reason dictates that we should:

Assume our own ignorance versus assuming ignorance from the Pope

Assume our own misinterpretation or our own confirmation bias

Assume that perhaps our spiritual direction that formed us was imperfect, including our mother and our father. We must hate our mother and our father compared to God. Pope Francis has a natural tendency to stir up trouble and make Catholics feel uncomfortable. This is not a weakness but a charism from the Holy Spirit given to him for the greater glory of God.

We must be patient with ourselves.



So we should automatically assume we are wrong in our interpretation of something over the the interpretation of the leader of the church?

Except of course if what they say is proven to be a sin, right?

What do you mean?

Not everything a Pope says is infallible. I think that’s the issue here. Building off of something Brother Jay told me years ago, if you just can’t agree in honesty with something, God will forgive you for that.

I recommend the book Love for the Papacy and Filial Resistance to the Pope in the History of the Church by Roberto de Mattei.

1 Like

We also, to build on what Pnewton said earlier, live in an age far different from that of even our parents (or since I’m on the older side, our grandparents). Until the Internet, most people would only see something on TV with the Pope (and a lot of people didn’t even get access to say EWTN) or read about him in the paper or print, I.e. Time magazine.

Most people couldn’t go to ‘Vatican.va” and download encyclicals in their own language—or in the original Latin.

And prior to say 1970, I.e. back when the only TV was ABC, CBS, NBC, and the new PBS , there was even LESS to ‘hear’ or read.

Today the average Catholic can find all sorts of information and go to the latest Catholic news agency on line or streaming or whatever and have 24/7 info about Pope Francis and all his predecessors. There is so much more speaking going on—and off the cuff at that—one does not see for example Pope Pius XI jetting off to different countries and holding interviews.

1 Like

Well in certain sense. Logical continuity is as such:

  1. Church is infallible in Her faith
  2. We are not
  3. If we disagree with the Church, we are wrong.

Of course that only applies to infallible stuff. Point of this thread is also about non-infallible one.

  1. Bishops and Priests have received authority to act in Christ’s name for sake of our souls, studied years for that and that is also their role inside the Church.
  2. We do not have similar authority, and most of us did not study for years under what Church intended and it isn’t our role in the Church.
  3. Therefore we obey unless there exists certainty that we do not have to obey or that we shouldn’t. In that case, certainty indeed is subjective and can be wrong certainty. Therefore this is a risk one takes upon himself. Of course, one can not disobey Church in dogmatic matters (because She is inerrant in that). Church also can not err in discipline positively (there can not be discipline that leads to damnation of souls). Therefore we also obey discipline of the Church. But as I said, I don’t need to obey every particular Priest about everything. There is certain area where Priests have authority (faith, morals) and where they do not (me choosing whether to be teacher or not for example :smiley: ).
  4. If we do not obey and we have certainty that authority is asking us to sin, then we may be held culpable but that depends on our reasoning.

I do not know, since @TK421 wrote that, not me.

I imagine he means it along the lines of religious ministry is to “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.” (originally about the press, it migrated to ministry in the 1940s) Pope Francis has said he wants to shake things up, instead of leaving them to routine.

1 Like

From canon law (CIC):

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 firmly 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. 1371 The following are to be punished with a just penalty:
1° in addition to the case mentioned in can. 1364, §1, a person who teaches a doctrine condemned by the Roman Pontiff or an ecumenical council or who obstinately rejects the doctrine mentioned in can. 750, §2 or in can. 752 and who does not retract after having been admonished by the Apostolic See or an ordinary;
2° a person who otherwise does not obey a legitimate precept or prohibition of the Apostolic See, an ordinary, or a superior and who persists in disobedience after a warning.

Or that we are wrong in our interpretation of the leader of the Church.

The critical point for this is in moral issues, where conscience must come to a judgment on what to do. Acting in accordance with what the Pope teaches is also acting in conformity with the rest of the Church, which normally should be a good thing. It can be wrong however, and if we discover that somehow, we need to do what our conscience tells us is right. In 1940, we should not kill Jews, even if we think the Pope said we should obey the (Nazi) government.

It is less critical on other issues. Since I am not a bishop, my position on ordaining women is not going to affect most important behaviors. I will not be ordaining any women, because I will not be ordaining anyone. It may make some differences sometimes, but mostly my opinion does not matter much. (as opposed to my opinions on WHY women should not be ordained, which might affect other behaviors).

If only there were websites willing to provide such quotations!


Seriously, you make some good points, but suppose 1p5 quotes a paragraph from Pope Pius 11 to refute something Pope Francis said.

I read this paragraph, but I don’t know what else is in that document, I don’t know if that document was designed to respond to a particular issue in 1935, I don’t know if there are other documents by this or other popes that intentionally deal with this topic at hand.

I recommend only consulting sources in union with their Ordinary, such as EWTN, Catholic Answers, etc.


The problem with relying on experts is how do evaluate experts?
Let’s say there are 1000 canon law experts in the world (wild underestimate). I read reports by 3 different ones who claimed the bishops had no canonical right to close churches in the pandemic.

How do I know those 3 are the smartest, or at all representative of the 1000? Isn’t it possible they got published in LSN or Rorate because they disagreed with bishops?

Take website experts with a grain of salt.

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