What would happen if the Pope proclaimed a wrong doctrine


i.e. what would happen if His Holiness just went mad and woke up tomorrow deciding to proclaim as an infallible doctrine that Christ had 5 natures instead of 2, or that Mary was the daughter of an angel, or some other blatantly wrong thing.


if infallibility is true, Holy Spirit would prevent pope from doing it. if infallibility is false then probably wrong doctrines have already been proclaimed :slight_smile:


Then one of two conclusions or perhaps of several conclusions could be drawn. Either, the Church is not infallible and truth cannot be known. We must be patient to watch God work out these problems through the actions of the magesterium guided by the contents of the Deposit of Faith.

I do believe that truth can be known and that we do know a portion of it. I’m not a secularist. I don’t ignore parts of reality as they do so I can snidely say “There is no truth and I know that to be true.” But I have no idea how to prove my assertions. They are assumption, I suppose. But nothing less makes any sense.

There is a God or we are all simply illusions, but illusions to whom? God? Since there is a God does it make sense that He would be completely hidden? Not to me. So, there is Truth and His name is God and God can be known to the extent He reveals Himself. The pope is infallible in matters of doctrine because He represents the one pillar to whom Christ has promised that God would reveal Himself.

Faith without reason is destructive. Reason without faith does not exist.



He’d be mad - and presuming genuine illness was established, along with the possibility that he wasn’t in his right mind, we wouldn’t be obliged to accept his attempted proclamation.


That is incorrect. A pope is not removed from office by his statements… only by his willfully surrendering his post. The Holy Spirit would never allow a pope to go mad and then speak ex cathedra to proclaim official doctrine. In fact, historically, several popes have died just days before they planned to speak ex cathedra on a subject (which gives one pause as to what they’d be willing to try to define as dogma…)


Can you give some examples of the above? That sounds pretty cool to me.


It’s impossible for the pope to teach anything false on faith or morals when speaking ex cathedra.

If the pope is speaking as a private theologian, e.g., if Pope Benedict writes another book as a theologian, then he is not teaching infallibly.

The charism of infallibility goes with the office of the papacy. If the pope is not exercising his office, then infallibility does not apply.


Pope Honorius comes to mind, though I won’t have full access to a better reference until I get home. Here’s a document on Church infallibility for you though (which has some details on the lives of popes who have been called into question):



Patrick Madrid wrote an interesting book which has a compendium of short stories about, among other things, instances in which the Holy Spirit has prevented the Pope from teaching error.

Pope Fiction


I’m not suggesting that the Pope in such a situation would cease to be Pope. Simply that any attempted ex-cathedra proclamations made at such a time as the Pope’s sanity is doubtful probably wouldn’t be valid.

For starters a Papal declaration has to be intended by the Pope to be ex cathedra for it to become so - madness would cast doubt on his ability to form such an intent.

Put it this way - a king or President of the US who is mad is still king or President. But regents or deputies are promoted to do the day-to-day governing whilst the king or President is ill. If the King or President wanted then to declare war on Mars or make a tree heir to the throne or Senator, their decision would be invalid by reason of their illness. I can’t imagine if the Pope was seriously off his head a similar arrangement couldn’t or wouldn’t be reached.

I know that in plenty of cases the Holy Spirit has intervened and Popes have actually died - doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit must work the same way to protect the faithful all the time!


I’ll second that. It would be useful in conversations with people striving to understand Papal infallability.


I learned once that in order for any teaching to be infallible, it must:

  1. concern faith and morals only
  2. in some way clarify
  3. be held by the whole Church
    4. cannot contradict any authoritative teaching
  4. the pope must invoke his full authority of his office

Is this correct?


“The Holy Spirit would kill him”. A priest said this on EWTN one time on “Mother Angelica Live” when her episode dealt with “women priests”. The question was pertaining to the Pope issuing a decree that women can be priests.

Possibly, and this is pure speculation here, why John Paul I only reigned 33 days. He may have wanted to change something…you never know.



The Holy Spirit would guide the pope, just remember this, in the 2000 years that the church has been under the watchful eye of Our lord not one word has been added or deleted from Church teaching.


I somehow think the Holy Spirit has more than the one trick up his sleeve to keep recalcitrant Popes in line …


If the Pope were to say “I’ve got this crazy idea. I think Christ had 5 natures” and begins to mention it in his homilies we can laugh it off.

However, he remains Pope until death or resignation. He may be a foolish Pope, but Pope nevertheless.

However, if he tries to say “I pronounce, declare, and define that Christ has 5 natures”, he’ll probably drop dead before he gets even close.


I’d have to leave the Catholic faith. Furthermore I’d have to abandon Christianity as the Truth. It’s the authority structure and infallibility of the Church instituted by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit that makes the concept of the Christian Faith believable to me. If the church needed reformation the church was misguided by God rendering God fallible.

If fallible, in my opinion, Christianity would be no more worthy of belief then any other “religion”.


I don’t think the simple act of the Pope pronouncing something makes it infallible so one of the options in the poll seemed to be appropriate


Actually, it does.


Does what?

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.