Q on infallability of past popes



My DH moreso than I has trouble defending the Catholic church infallabilty stance esp in regards to the Catholic wars as he was taught in perhaps the 15th or 16th century?

My stance is that the church/popes are infallible for church teaching upholding the 2000 year tradition etc…b/c Christ stays with the church and such decisions and “rules” were prayed on and beleived to be God inspired always.

This doesn’t always sit well b/c of the murders and things that some popes had ordered…and in general why certain things that were forbidden once are revisited and sometimes change.

Is there a good site or book or something that can help us out here?

Thanks much


You may want to read: catholic.com/library/Papal_Infallibility.asp


Any book on infallibility should help, because your husband misunderstands the doctrine. Papal infallibility means only that the Holy Spirit preserves the pope from definitively teaching faith and morals incorrectly. If the pope tells you who’s going to win the Super Bowl, don’t bet the farm on it; that has nothing to do with faith and morals. And we know that popes can sin, because the first one denied Jesus three times the night He was betrayed. The Holy Spirit doesn’t preserve the popes from sinning; it only preserves the Deposit of Faith from being corrupted.

So the only issue with infallibility, then, is whether a particular teaching by the popes about faith and morals was definitively taught. And there aren’t that many in the first place. Moreover, the apparent changes always turn out not to have been changes. Here are a couple of examples:

Go back in time to the first few centuries of the Church, and you’ll find instructions about women being ordered not to wear their hair long because that was immoral. But you’ll also find instructions about women not wearing their hair short, because that was immoral. How can this be? It’s because society changed: for a while in one place, prostitutes wore their hair long, so other women – to avoid being mistaken for prostitutes – did not. But for a while in another place, prostitutes wore their hair short, so other women – to avoid being mistaken for prostitutes – wore their hair long. So various bishops said things that appeared to contradict each other; but they in fact did not. The real teaching was “Don’t act or dress in a way that makes people doubt your virtue,” and that teaching never changed. The specifics of modesty changed, but that’s a mere custom in society.

Similarly, the Church used to teach people not to charge interest on loans because it was sinful to impoverish your neighbors that way. Now it allows (some) interest on loans. Did the Church change? No; society did. The global economy changed, and Bob Blacksmith isn’t harmed by your charging interest on the money you loaned him; he can pay you back, with interest, without having to sell his anvil and go out of business. The real teaching remains the same: usury is a sin. The specifics of what type of interest can ruin the debtor changed, but the moral imperative remains: don’t ruin the borrower.

I think you’ll find that, on further examination, the Church has remained constant.


Thank you!

This site is awesome…the article was very informative…I should have known better to try to locate it!

Godfollower: I really liked your analogy too…it’s really simplifed things and made perfect sense.

I have researched in the past about the east/west schisms and how Luther was the one that split from the “church” …when I myself delved deeper into the hows and whys of the Catholic church, rahter than just be content to follow without question…but since that point…I have pretty much followed without questioin b/c I do believe in all the points that I read that were in question… but it’s hard to sometimes be able to explain all of that.

Don’t get me wrong…he’s very faithful to the Catholic church and also upholds it is the “one” …but he feels that like everything else…there’s room for the human error and therefore interpretation in the teaching…this helps very much…we are enjoying growing even deeper in our faith together.

In Christ,


Hi michrist,

If you ever get into conversations with Protestants about Papal Infallibility you will find they confuse infallibilty with impecability. They think that infallibility extends to their own behavior and popes should not be sinners like the rest of us. They never tire of going on about the bad popes of the 13th and 14th centuary. They will also bring up Galileo and try and make out that was an example of how the teaching of the Church was wrong. The condemnation of Galileo had nothing to do with faith and morals but was only reflecting the scientific opinions of the age.
Be warned and be ready.


Absolutely, there is room for human error in the Church. A friend of mine once had exactly such a problem: her husband had abandoned the marriage and received a divorce. Her priest told her that she could not receive Communion because she was divorced. That was absolutely WRONG!!! A divorced person who remarries cannot receive Communion (because participating in the “second” marriage constitutes adultery to the first), but there is no bar for a person who is simply divorced. That priest was wrong, and there’s no way to explain it away; he simply blew it – to his parishioner’s detriment, because she went without Communion for half a decade before she learned the truth.

But that has nothing to do with papal infallibility. The Church’s teaching didn’t change; one priest simply got it wrong. Any priest – including the pope – can make mistakes. The Holy Spirit only steps in to prevent error from being definitively proclaimed as Truth. If the pope were to attempt to proclaim tomorrow that God is in fact a quartet, not a Trinity, the Holy Spirit would stop him. But if the pope were to spout off at a press confernce about some moral issue without stopping to think about it, the Holy Spirit would not stop him – because off-the-cuff remarks are not proposals for inclusion in the definitive Deposit of Faith.



No, she can’t get an annulment based on abandonment. Abandonment is a ground for divorce under civil law, because one spouse is breaking the marriage. Annulments are granted because the marriage was never validly celebrated in the first place (e.g., one of the spouses was thinking “Well, I’ll just get a divorce in a few years and move on”). I’ll bet that, if you look closely at your annulment documents, the issue of adultery was considered NOT because it’s a ground for annulment (it isn’t), but because it was some evidence of your spouse’s attitude toward marriage; and, combined with other evidence of his beliefs (e.g., “Kids? I never agreed to have kids!”), it persuaded the tribunal that your groom didn’t truly mean (or understand) his vows at the time he made them – which meant that the Sacrament of Matrimony was not validly performed by the bride and groom, so you were never married in the first place.


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