What if the Pope was wrong?


I have recently been asked by a non-Catholic how I can trust Pope Benedict when what he says about the salvation of Non-Catholics is so drastically different from what John Paul II preached about salvation for all. To this non-Catholic, one Pope must be lying since he (my friend) can’t be both going to hell for not being Catholic (according to Benedict) and assured of his salvation thanks to his faithful practice of his Baptist beliefs (according to John Paul II). I have no way to answer him, and my search for answers only brings up more questions for me. Can someone assist me with these?

1 - Did Pope John Paul II teach that anyone who believes in Jesus would go to heaven? If so, how do we as a church reconcile that, when our catecism says it is not true?
2 - Obviously, Benedict XVI is more conservative than JP II – how do we explain to non-Catholics why it is okay for Popes to have differing opinions and priorities without discrediting our belief that the Pope is infalliable?
3 - A lot of what I have read about JP II’s papacy is highly critical of his ecumenism, which almost sounds like he, the infalliable Pope, could have been wrong. Is this possible?

The more I read, the more confused I get, and I would be greatful for any insight or direction you could provide for me. Thank you so much for reading and taking a moment to assist me.



Popes are only infallible when they speak Ex-Cathedra. A Pope has to speak from the chair by making an Ex-Cathedra statement for Papal Infallibility to be used.

A Pope is a man. He is not a god. Therefore he must use his free will like any other man to serve God. A Pope can use his free will for good or evil, for truth or error.

A Pope can err in faith and morals. Papal infallibility only protects a Pope from never erring when he speaks Ex-Cathedra.

Pope John Paul II simply made errors in salvation and ecumenism. Pope John Paul II never used infallibility because he never made an Ex-Cathedra statement.

It is the ordinary constant Magisterium that is always true and infallible. The Magisterium is the official teaching of the Popes and bishops united to him over the centuries.

A Pope therefore must always be unity with the Magisterium. When a Pope contradicts the Magisterium, as Pope John Paul II did sometimes, they are wrong and their teaching is not considered part of the Magisterium.


Can you or your friend be specific about the statements that seem to be in conflict?



This is from the email he sent me:

… Cause my belief is that catholics and
baptists go to heaven, even if catholics think heaven
is reserved for them. I share that belief with John
Paul II.
John Paul II believed and said that catholic,
protestant and orthodox christians share the same
faith handed down from the apostles and affirmed that
we have one faith in Christ. He said that
non-catholics could legally receive Holy Communion. He
said that non-Catholic sects are a means to salvation.
He said the sermons of priests and deacons must be
"centered upon the Bible texts." God’s word isn’t just
for catholics, it’s for the whole world. Do a google
search for “John Paul II, New Catechism, paragraph
819”, but put the quotes only around “paragraph 819”
(*I put the entirety of those writings at the bottom
of this). Every hit calls his words “heresy”, or calls
him the “anti-christ” or “anti-pope.” By believing one
pope was a liar, you have to believe all popes are
liars, because everyone knows popes don’t lie.

The new pope says the catholic church is the only way
to salvation. That it is the only true church. He’s
getting medieval on our asses.
How can yall say that a man who finds a bible, reads
it and believes every word of it and takes jesus
christ to be his lord and savior doesn’t get into
heaven? That the only way to heaven is to practice all
this other stuff?
I’m glad you brought this up again, because it helped
me find this:
It suggests that there has just been a giant
misunderstanding. That the new Pope believes the
Catholic Church is the only true church because of
apostolic succession, but that he signed off on a
catholic doctrine that says salvation is found in the
protestant church too. In the second article on the
link, it also says that the United States Conference
of Catholic Bishops states that it is not necessary
for protestants to join their church to find
salvation. If that’s really the case, we can all be
friends again.

I hope that is not too lengthy. Thank you again for your assistance!!


I have my doubts about this. I don’t see JPII saying that non-catholics can “legally” receive communion in a Catholic church. As far as salvation in other churches, membership alone does not gaurantee salvation.


Having been Catholic since pre Vatican II, I have never been categorically told that Protestants cannot obtain eternal salvation. It has always been my understanding that those who accept Jesus Christ, obey God’s law - the Ten Commandments - and live out the gospel Jesus taught will obtain eternal life.

Catholics do not however agree with the once saved, always saved idea of many of the more fundamental churches. That isn’t to say that people in those churches don’t live out the gospel of Jesus Christ faithfully.

JP II taught that God offers to all mankind salvation. He speaks of the inherent good within man that causes him to seek God. After all, there have been peoples all through history that have never experienced either Judaism or Christianity. God would be unjust to not permit those people salvation.

When Benedict is speaking of the one True Catholic Church, he is speaking of the existence of the Catholic Church from the present to it inception at Caesarea Phillipi when Christ commissioned Peter as head of His church. I think the operative belief of the CC as to Protestant churches is that they have the necessary components for salvation, belief in Jesus Christ and his gospel, but due to historical events are in an “imperfect” communion with the Church. The use of the word “True” is for Benedict, as I understand it, a bit more historical in nature, rather than “judgmental” (and I know there is a better word, I just can’t think of it)


Neither Pope was ‘wrong’ but it appears your friend misinterprets many writings and communications, both from John Paul II and from Benedict XVI.

Neither contradicts each other. Non-Catholics can (as has always been taught) be saved, but the way they are saved is always through the Catholic Church. How that might be accomplished is a mystery known to God; we might have some ideas about it from our human standpoint but we don’t know for sure and the Church has been very careful not to give out misinformation on exactly ‘what’ this saving through the Church means. Certain members might have been ‘sure’ about it being one way (Father Feeney, for example) but that does not equate to dogma.

As far as the non-Catholics receiving communion, every single document from the Vatican/John Paul was careful to state that only those non-Catholics who met very specific and stringent criteria could receive. Such criteria included a fully ‘Catholic’ understanding of the Real Presence, an inability to be able to receive communion in the non-Catholic’s OWN church, and/or the non-Catholic’s danger of death. It did not and never did include a blanket invitation to any non-Catholic to partake of a Catholic communion, especially if said non-Catholic did not accept the Catholic understanding of the Real Presence, the non-Catholic was able to receive in his/her own church, and the non-Catholic was not in danger or death. It most emphatically did not mean that any non-Catholic, believing the Eucharist ‘symbolic’, completely unaccepting of the Catholic Church’s authority, completely at variance with key Catholic teachings, could simply go in and ‘receive’ lest said non-Catholic feel ‘slighted’, ‘disrespected’, or ‘entitled’ to receive, with the idea that if ‘Catholics’ can have it, he had ‘danged’ well better get it too.


Pope John Paul II was influenced by the universal salvation of Von Balthasar.
What the USCCB said about Protestants not needing to convert is heretical.

This is the infallible teaching of the Church:

St. Irenaeus (130-202), Bishop and Martyr: "The Church is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account we are bound to avoid them . . . . We hear it declared of the unbelieving and the blinded of this world that they shall not inherit the world of life which is to come . . . . Resist them in defense of the only true and life giving faith, which the Church has received from the Apostles and imparted to her sons."
St. Augustine (354-430), Bishop and Doctor of the Church: “No man can find salvation except in the Catholic Church. Outside the Catholic Church one can have everything except salvation. One can have honor, one can have sacraments, one can sing alleluia, one can answer amen, one can have faith in the Name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and preach it too, but never can one find salvation except in the Catholic Church.”

St. Fulgentius (468-533), Bishop: “Most firmly hold and never doubt that not only pagans, but also Jews, all heretics, and all schismatics who finish this life outside of the Catholic Church, will go into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604): “The holy universal Church teaches that it is not possible to worship God truly except in Her and asserts that all who are outside of Her will not be saved.”

St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226): “All who have not believed that Jesus Christ was really the Son of God are doomed. Also, all who see the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and do not believe it is really the most holy Body and Blood of the Lord . . . these also are doomed!”

St. Thomas Aquinas (1226-1274), the Angelic Doctor: There is no entering into salvation outside the Catholic Church, just as in the time of the Flood there was not salvation outside the Ark, which denotes the Church."

St. Louis Marie de Montfort (1673-1716): “There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Anyone who resists this truth perishes.”

St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), Bishop and Doctor of the Church: “Outside the Church there is no salvation…therefore in the symbol (Apostles Creed) we join together the Church with the remission of sins: 'I believe in the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins”…For this reason the Church is compared to the Ark of Noah, because just as during the deluge, everyone perished who was not in the ark, so now those perish who are not in the Church."

St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori (1696-1787), Bishop and Doctor of the Church: “All the misfortunes of unbelievers spring from too great an attachment to the things of life. This sickness of heart weakens and darkens the understanding, and leads to eternal ruin. If they would try to heal their hearts by purging them of their vices, they would soon receive light, which would show them the necessity of joining the Catholic Church, where alone is salvation. We should constantly thank the Lord for having granted us the gift of the true Faith, by associating us with the children of the Holy Catholic Church … How many are the infidels, heretics, and schismatics who do not enjoy the happiness of the true Faith! Earth is full of them and they are all lost!”

Pope Pius XII (1939-1958): Some say they are not bound by the doctrine which teaches that the Mystical Body of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church are one and the same thing. Some reduce to a meaningless formula the necessity of belonging to the true Church in order to gain eternal salvation. Others finally belittle the reasonable character of the credibility of Christian Faith. These and like ERRORS, it is clear, have crept in among certain of our sons who are deceived by imprudent zeal for souls or by false science." (The dates for the two Popes are the years they reigned as Sovereign Pontiffs)



Neither pope contradicted the other. Yes, there is salvation without being a declared member of the Catholic Church, but no, you cannot get to heaven without being a Catholic.
There is something called baptism of desire. I don’t know the official wording for this, but what I have learned is that if you live a “Catholic” life, which means basically following the ten commandments, and the two that Christ gave. Living a “good” life. Even if a person doesn’t know the ten commandments, they are written on their heart, and they know what is right and what is wrong.

I went to a public high school, most of the kids are self proclaimed atheists. Well, once they got to know me, they wouldn’t curse in around me, they wouldn’t talk bad around me, they wouldn’t talk about bad things around me, the boys would pull up their pants and the girls pull down their skirts. I didn’t really say anything, I just didn’t do any of that and when they asked me why I told them that I was Catholic and my faith forbade it. They knew that what they were doing was wrong, I didn’t even have to tell them, or ask them not to do it. Just the fact that I didn’t reminded them that it was wrong.
This to me is perfect proof that God wrote his law on every person’s soul, and so no person is exempt.

Well, when these people follow this law that is written on their souls, they are telling God that they are Catholic, even if they do not become official members, they are leading the Catholic life, and even if they don’t know it, they want to be Catholic.

My great-grandmother is Protestant, she always has been, she is the best person I know (except for my mother and father of course;)) I cannot imagine the Church, or God refusing her heaven because she cannot see why she should become Catholic. Despite prayers and talks with her, she agrees that the Church is good, but she doesn’t see a problem with her church. She may not be Catholic in name, but she is in spirit.

PS: Tomorrow is the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart! A major feast day, you don’t need to fast tomorrow!:smiley:


A person can only be saved if they are truly ignorant of the truth about the Catholic Church. It seems your great grandmother is not that ignorant. She is aware of what the Church claims. She needs to see that her church is a false church and not from God. This is extremely hard, but she must understand that if she doesn’t convert, her soul may be at risk of damnation. It might take this hard truth and she might need to be scared in order for her to see the gravity of her errors. Keep trying to convert her and that she is aware that you are doing it for her salvation.


The infallible doctrine is that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. There are the exceptions of baptism of desire and invicible ignorance.

The Church has never stated how broad or narrow this exceptions are. To be saved by ignorance, one has to be truly ignorant, never knowing the truth of Christ and the Church. They have to live according to the moral and natural law.


My SSPX relatives have already tried the scare tactic, they have tried the ignore tactic, they have tried the bury green scapulars in her couch tactic, I think they have tried all the tactics but the draw flies with honey tactic and my family is doing that. All we can do is show her that my parents are good people who live good lives, and raise their children to do the same, she is 92 years old, she lives in the Bible belt, all her friends who are not dead are protestant, her two sons and their children who live near her are all protestant, the SSPX relatives actually turn her off because they are so intolerant of her position, and are so intolerant of her way of life, and my family’s way of life. She cannot understand the rift that the SSPX has caused between her and her daughter and her daughter and my mother.
We will draw her into the faith more easily by kind example, than by rude rejection, and I think it is the same for most people. We must pray, preach through example, and trust in the mercy of God. That is all we can do for now. :shrug::wink:


These statements show exactly why so many people hate Catholics.

Being a Catholic is NOT the only way to reach heaven-and many judgmental Catholics will not reach heaven without first being purified of this belief.

The Catholic CHURCH provides a way for all to enter heaven by the intercession of her prayers for all sinners.

I will pray for your enlightenment.


That is tough. I would say that the best thing is prayer. Your family must always constantly pray for her conversion.

Since she is Protestant, lives in the Bible belt, and here friends are Protestant, why not try to convince her of the truth of Catholicism through the Bible.

The Bible Christian Society is a great Novus Ordo apostolate that offers free CD’s and tries to convert evangelicals through the bible alone.


The great embarrassing question for Protestants is where did the Bible come from? How do they know the Bible is the word of God? How come those pages between the two covers are considered the word of God when there are thousands of manuscripts and many gospels?


Thanks for the ideas, but you forget, she is 92. She is set in her ways, she won’t even discuss it unless she brings it up and even then, we can only answer her questions and no more. She is quite sharp. She enjoys math, and not logic. She grew up a Southern Belle, women weren’t supposed to know very much, just be good wives and good entertainers. Even if we could try to prove through logic and the Bible that she was wrong, she would just say that that was because she didn’t know her bible.
No, the only way is through prayer and example. She may convert on her death bed, who knows. She seems interested because I am her oldest grandchild, so she is watching me and my family, watching us to see how my parents raised us and how we turn out. I would say that the SSPX has really hurt the chances of her and all my protestant relatives converting, but there is still hope. My parents have been very good parents, my siblings and I know how to defend our faith, we always go to mass even when we are visiting her or on vacation in Florida with her. My brothers and sisters and I are very well behaved, and well spoken, it is no reflection on us, but only my parents. They are the best parents that I have ever heard of or seen, and I love them to death, and I know that I won’t be able to do as well as they did. I am truly blessed.
But now, since my family is the only one in the Church, we have the responsibility of praying for all our non-Catholic, and SSPX relatives to convert to the one true Church. We lead by example and through prayer and the occasional answer to questions, but they are stiff-necked people and if we went attacking them, they would retreat further into their different beliefs.

I have to go now, maybe I will post again tomorrow.:thumbsup:


I wish I could give you some encouragement. I’m in a similar situation.

Southerners are so obstinate. Defiance is almost a virtue in the deep south. It’s not something you can combat without a great deal of patience. (Before anybody jumps all over me, as is likely on this forum, I’m a southerner myself in a similar situation!).

For some people, the hard-line SSPX stance works. For others, a more diplomatic approach is necessary. It depends on the person and the situation, which only you can know.

Something that does seem to work with Bible Belt Protestants (along with a biblical argument) is sharing your thoughts on Eucharistic piety. Southern protestants are usually very faithful to their traditions so they can understand the desire to be closer to Christ. Explain to her that you don’t just have a spiritual relationship with Christ and his Church, but that you actually have a material bond with him, in that through the power of the Eucharist you have physical contact.

Basically, accentuate all the areas in which you as a Catholic have a closer relationship with Christ. Might not work, but you could try it.

As for “Ex Ecclesia Nulla Salus,” If she doesn’t convert, always pray. Even 20 years from now, pray for her. It’s normatively necessary to become Catholic, but since she has been educated within a blighted Protestant culture and has been taught all sorts of crazy doctrines like Sola Scriptura, etc., she’s not absolutely culpable. We don’t know who is in Hell or Heaven, with the exception of the Catholic Saints, because oftentimes they appear to us after their deaths, or take part in some miracle.

Just because she is protestant doesn’t mean she is damned. However, it’s still necessary for her soul to become Catholic. Nobody knows her culpability, sins, virtues, faith, etc. Only God can judge her, and he has decreed that people must become Catholic. He can save anyone he wants though. Share with her the security of being Catholic, and the uncertainty of being a non-Catholic.

It’s not like Baptist, where if you don’t go to some retarded “altar call” and say a few magic words you are automatically damned. I see it as being like a disease. Catholicism is like a regimen of anti-biotics. Follow it to the letter, and you’re certain to be cured. However, there are instances of people even with Ebola surviving despite never having been medicated. I wouldn’t want to gamble with my life like that, much less my soul.

God bless.


Your grandmother IS INNOCENTLY IGNORANT and as long as she has lived a** moral life, **just like a Catholic, she will be saved.
How anyone can say that is is NOT innocently ignorant is beyond me. She is still **seeking the truth **and she has NOT YET arrived at the truth. She still believes that her church is valid. All of this is addressed by the Baltimore Catechism which, in my opinion , gives a better explanation that the current catechism.
The Baltimore Catechism, #4

  1. Q. Are all bound to belong to the Church?
    A. All are bound to belong to the Church, **and he who knows **the Church to be the true Church and remains out of it, cannot be saved.

**Anyone who knows **the Catholic religion to be the true religion and will not embrace it cannot enter into Heaven. If one not a Catholic doubts whether the church to which he belongs is the true Church, he must settle his doubt, seek the true Church, and enter it; for if he continues to live in doubt, he becomes like the one who knows the true Church and is deterred by worldly considerations from entering it.

In like manner one who, doubting, fears to examine the religion he professes lest he should discover its falsity** and be convinced **of the truth of the Catholic faith, cannot be saved.

Suppose, however, that there **is a non-Catholic **who firmly believes that the church to which he belongs is the true Church, and who has never – even in the past – had the slightest doubt of that fact – what will become of him?

If he was validly baptized and never committed a mortal sin, he will be saved; because,** believing himself a member of the true Church, he was doing all he could to serve God according to his knowledge and the dictates of his conscience**. But if ever he committed a mortal sin, his salvation would be very much more difficult. A mortal sin once committed remains on the soul till it is forgiven. Now, how could his mortal sin be forgiven? Not in the Sacrament of Penance, for the Protestant does not go to confession; and if he does, his minister – not being a true priest – has no power to forgive sins. Does he know that without confession it requires an act of perfect contrition to blot out mortal sin, and can he easily make such an act? What we call contrition is often only imperfect contrition – that is, sorrow for our sins because we fear their punishment in Hell or dread the loss of Heaven. If a Catholic – with all the instruction he has received about how to make an act of perfect contrition and all the practice he has had in making such acts – might find it difficult to make an act of perfect contrition after having committed a mortal sin, how much difficulty will not a Protestant have in making an act of perfect contrition, who does not know about this requirement and who has not been taught to make continued acts of perfect contrition all his life. It is to be feared either he would not know of this necessary means of regaining God’s friendship, or he would be unable to elicit the necessary act of perfect contrition, and thus the mortal sin would remain upon his soul and he would die an enemy of God.

If, then, we found a Protestant who never committed a mortal sin after Baptism, and who never had the slightest doubt about the truth of his religion, that person would be saved; because, being baptized, he is a member of the Church, and being free from mortal sin he is a friend of God and could not in justice be condemned to Hell.
I said I gave you an example that can scarcely be found, namely, of a person not a Catholic, who really never doubted the truth of his religion, and who, moreover, never committed during his whole life a mortal sin. There are so few such persons that we can practically say for all those who are not visibly members of the Catholic Church, believing its doctrines, receiving its Sacraments, and being governed by its visible head, our Holy Father, the Pope, salvation is an extremely difficult matter."

II is not impossible for a non-Catholic to be saved but it is more difficult because while they have a means of salvation, baptism, they do not have all of the necessary means, all of the sacraments, like a Catholic does. Their salvation is not impossible but “an extremely difficult matter


The mistake that you make with this is the one many do both in and out of the Church… It has to do with knowledge of and belief in the one true Church. What you and others have done is twisted it around so that one can deny the Catholic Church as being the true Church and still be saved because they believe theirs, no matter what it is is.

If they know enough to reject the Catholic Church then they cannot be classified as invincibly or as you phrased it, innocently ignorant. A Yanomamo indian who lived his entire life in the raniforest and never ran into the missionaries, could reasonably be said to be innocently ignorant. Someone born into a Christian cult that does not mention the Catholic Church at all, allows no schooling yet follows the commandments and is validly baptized, could be said to be innocently ignorant. Someone who yearns for the truth but has no choices offered to them, perhaps someone living in a totalitarian state where all are athiest and no religions practiced, tolerated or known about would probably classify as the recipient of baptism of desire. Likewise someone who sincerely wanted to become Catholic but was unable to for some reason, murder etc.

But someone who knows of the faith enough to reject it, as did the woman mentioned in previous posts, who thought the Catholic faith was nice but saw no reason to change her faith, as I see it has explicitly thrown away their chance at salvation. This person cannot in any way be classified as either invincibly or innocently ignorant. Neither could she fall under the baptism of desire formula, because she does not yearn for the true faith found in the Catholic Church

How could it be otherwise. Clearly she knows of the faith, equally clearly she has voluntarily rejected it. How much clearer could it be? We are not talking here about someone who has no knowledge of the faith. This person clearly does and still rejects it in favor of another faith.


Yes. This is a very hard issue to get our arms around. It would seem obstinate refusal to accept the Church is a big problem.

I’ve often thought that a bad Catholic (or Orthodox) is in much better shape for salvation than a near saintly Protestant.

All the Catholic/Orthodox needs to do is to repent before death, even if the contrition is very imperfect, merely out of fear of hell, and receive the sacraments, and they will be saved.

The Protestant, it would seem, needs to avoid mortal sin completely (very hard), or achieve perfect contrition (also very hard).

I am so thankful for the Sacraments!

God Bless


=palmas85;3743372]The mistake that you make with this is the one many do both in and out of the Church… It has to do with knowledge of and belief in the one true Church. ** What you and others have done is twisted it around so that one can deny the Catholic Church as being the true Church and still be saved because they believe theirs, no matter what it is is**.

So you disagree with the Baltimore Catechism? No one is twisting anything. If someone comes to know that the Catholic Church is the True Church they must enter into it. If someone comes to suspect that the Catholic Church is the True Church **they must investigate it. ** If someone comes to know the truth and denies the truth about the Church then they will not be saved.
There are more people innocently ingnorant of the Catholic Church then you are willing to admit.

But someone who knows of the faith enough to reject it, as did the woman mentioned in previous posts, who thought the Catholic faith was nice but saw no reason to change her faith, as I see it has explicitly thrown away their chance at salvation


How can you say that this 92 year old woman knows enough of the faith to reject it? Yes she thought that the Church was “nice” and saw no reason to change her faith. That should tell you right there that she has limited knowledge of the Catholic faith. No one can look at the history of the faith, all of her teachings, scriptural evidence of the Church and say, “well that’s a nice church”. That is innocent ingnorance if I ever heard it.

This person cannot in any way be classified as either invincibly or innocently ignorant. Neither could she fall under the baptism of desire formula, because she does not yearn for the true faith found in the Catholic Church

Of course she can be calssified as invincibly ignorant and if she has been baptized she doesn’t need baptism of desire.

How could it be otherwise. Clearly she knows of the faith, equally clearly she has voluntarily rejected it. How much clearer could it be? We are not talking here about someone who has no knowledge of the faith. This person clearly does and still rejects it in favor of another faith.

But how much knowledge of the faith? That is impossible for us to determine. Has she read anything written by other protestants that have converted? Has she read any writings of the Popes? Does she need to instantly rise up and join the Church or will this process take years.?

It took Catholic Apologist Tim Staples years to convert. He was a Baptist and Assembly of God minister while he was investigating the Catholic Faith. He read all of the writings of the early Church Fathers, he read countless encyclicals , he read St Thomas Aquinas, yet it took him years to become convinced.
How educated is this 92 year old woman? Is the Protestant side of her family also talking to her and telling her not to listen. There are always going to difficulties involved and they will be different for each person.
As long as she is sincerely seeking the truth, and she is living a moral catholic life she can be saved. And if the day comes and she realizes through her study and the grace of God that the Catholic Church is the One True Faith then she must enter into it.
Hopefully she will come to that knowledge because her path to salvation will be easier if she becomes Catholic. She will have access to all of the sacraments, sanctifying grace and the fullness of truth.

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