Papal infallibility vs papal opinion

How do we really know when a pope is speaking infallibly and when he is not?

I think the best way to think about this topic is to understand papal infallibility as a necessary consequence 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 from it. The universal Church therefore must hold the same faith as the Church of Rome.

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.

But Popes do and say tons of stuff–good and evil–that has no bearing on what is necessary for communion in the universal Church. For a particular papal act to touch on communion, the Pope has to make clear that is his intention–either explicitly, or by the type of document or manner of teaching, etc. It is usually clear (canon law currently requires it to be).

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According to this

one can disagree with the Pope’s opinion on civil unions. But according to many of the self appointed inquisitors on this site, to be against civil unions is to be against Jesus himself. So, take your pick. Papal opinion seems to carry a lot of weight around here. Except when it doesn’t.


It’s not rocket science or some mystery to be discerned. When the pope basically says, this is infallible, then you’ll know. Short of that and generally it’s his opinion.

This. Most Church teaching and most of what the Holy Father says (even in encyclicals) isn’t infallible. that doesn’t mean though that, if we as individual Catholics don’t agree, then we should feel free to ignore it or even rail against it. Instead, Lumen Gentium makes clear that we’re required to respect the teaching office of the Bishops and especially the Holy Father. this is, after all, a key part of our catholicity - the whole point of having a central authority (unlike Protestantism) is undermined if we simply choose to disregard it every time it doesn’t suit us. Granted, informal comments in documentaries, interviews, press conferences etc don’t form part of the formal magisterium but, nonetheless, we need to ensure that our assent to faith and our membership of the Church isn’t contingent on the likeability (or otherwise) of any individual.

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Here’s a good read on this from St. Francis de Sales (from his book, Catholic Controversy, compiled from pamphlets he wrote in the late 1500s):

And in fact everything a king says is not a law or an edict, but that only which a king says as king and as a legislator. So everything the Pope says is not canon law or of legal obligation; he must mean to define and to lay down the law for the sheep, and he must keep the due order and form. Thus we say that we must appeal to him not as to a learned man, for in this he is ordinarily surpassed by some others, but as to the general head and pastor of the Church and as such we must honour, follow, and firmly embrace his doctrine, for then he carries on his breast the Urim and Thummim, doctrine and truth. And again we must not think that in everything and everywhere his judgment is infallible, but then only when he gives judgment on a matter of faith in questions necessary to the whole Church; for in particular cases which depend on human fact he can err, there is no doubt, though it is not for us to control him in these cases save with all reverence, submission, and discretion. Theologians have said, in a word, that he can err in questions of fact, not in questions of right; that he can err extra cathedram, outside the chair of Peter, that is, as a private individual, by writings and bad example.

But he cannot err when he is in cathedra , that is, when he intends to make an instruction and decree for the guidance of the whole Church, when he means to confirm his brethren as supreme pastor, and to conduct them into the pastures of the faith.


Once when he returned from Rome, Cardinal Gibbons was greeted by a group of reporters. One of them asked him if he really believed in papal infallibility, Cardinal Gibbins replied, “When I met with the Pope, he called me ‘Jibbins’”

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Hahahahahahahaha! That’s priceless. The answer to papolatry in a nutshell.

While there is a difference between opinions and infallibility, a great amount of damage can be done by papal opinions, especially for those who do not know or understand the difference. They will then justify their stance and push their agenda due to the flawed papal opinion. To them they feel the pope is speaking for the Church even when he is not, and then when the pope does not publicly denounce his error, well, the damage is done.

The pope therefore does not grasp the fact that he is a pastor for ALL of God’s children, not just those inside the Church. Only a hypocrite pope would preach one thing in the Church and another outside the Church, that’s not what Christ did. A good Shephard leads and follows Christ, not the secular world.

So yes, papal opinions can be seen as infallible to those who are wanting justification for their agenda. The damage is enormous. It is no longer just an opinion, it is a false teaching, a false secular infallibility.

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