What would happen if the Pope taught something against tradition or contradicted previous Catholic teaching?

This is an extremely weird question that I had never thought of before, but my Orthodox friend, in trying to understand the concept of papal infallibility, asks:

"If Catholics say that the Pope, when using the teaching authority of the Church, is infallible in his teachings, what would happen (theoretically) if the Pope were to declare something directly contradicting past teaching like: “Abortion on-demand is permissible for all Catholics?”

This is obviously completely far-fetched, but I have to confess to having absolutely no knowledge on this subject. Would we know right away we were dealing with an antipope–not the true pope–or what? Or would we have to either accept it or abandon the Catholic Church as the One True Church. I thought I heard somewhere that the pope can’t teach anything that contradicts tradition.

Any help with this would be great.

God Bless,


I wouldn’t worry about it, because it isn’t going to happen. We’ve had a few choice popes, but they never taught anything against tradition, or previous Catholic teachings.

“The gates of hell shall NOT prevail.”

God Bless!

I have heard answers that range from “He couldn’t” to “He already has.” The Pope is the pope no matter what. An anti- pope is not the thing you are describing. An anti-pope is someone who claims the Papacy illegally, usually in opposition to another Pope. There are a few anti Popes in the world right now.

For the teaching to be infallible, it would have to be declared infallible. Many Popes have issued statements that were perhaps contrary to Catholic teaching. However the Church survived. I’m quite sure She would survive again. Though souls might be lost.

I dont worry too much about these things.
The day the Pope presides at a gay “marriage” or embraces abortion will be the day I am not Catholic. Fortunately that day will also be the day the devil can build a snowman.

One of the conditions on speaking infallibly is that it be consistent with Church teachings.

Further, there are some things which even a pope wouldn’t be able to change insofar as the Church is concerned. I don’t think he would be able to change dogma.

virgilcaine #1
Would we know right away we were dealing with an antipope–not the true pope–or what? Or would we have to either accept it or abandon the Catholic Church as the One True Church. I thought I heard somewhere that the pope can’t teach anything that contradicts tradition.

The infallibility conferred by Christ applies to dogma and doctrine taught by a Pope, or in an Ecumenical Council approved by a Pope.

There has never been, and cannot be, error in dogma and doctrine defined by any Pope to the whole Church as Shepherd and Teacher of all Christians.

From Vatican I (Pastor Aeternus), for infallibility to be exercised the Pope must teach:
(a) ex cathedra (from the Chair of Peter), that is as Shepherd and Teacher of all Christians,
(b) speaking with Peter’s apostolic authority to the whole Church,
© defining a doctrine of faith and morals.

Thus the Pope is personally infallible only under the above conditions.

The bishops have collegial infallibility when they agree with the pope on a definitive teaching, and Ecumenical Councils approved by the Pope are infallible in defining a doctrine on faith or morals.

You should ask yourself why something like this has never happened, in contrast with the wildly unorthodox modern teachings of some formerly Christian churches. Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit preserves Christ’s teachings in His Church, just as He promised: “That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Hypotheticals are silly. Posing such hypothetical questions is intended mainly to confirm someone in their current communion. The question is not “if” which ultimately leads back to “what if there were no God”, burt rather, “when.” Ask him why, with 266 uniquely different Popes, over the course of 2,000 years, not a single one has done what he fears. Since man is incapable of such consistency, this is the mark of the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

And, where is his assurance that his Patriarch is not teaching error? Before looking across the fence, he needs to scrutinize his own home first.

That is what we have the Swiss Guard for :D. Just kidding. The Pope is surrounded by men and women who would not allow that. Every obligatory teaching is done through some form of document. These are published by the Vatican’s publishing arm. These documents are gone over with a fine toohed comb every step of the way. Any attempt to get something through this maze, which was unorthodox, would be stopped. It would never get published, no matter how much the " culpret " demanded it. Call this the earthly army of the Holy Spirit. He protects the Faith.


Even if the Pope said abortion were permissible, it still would not be be moral…

If the pope were to make a genuine ex cathedra statement that contradicted truly infallible church teaching, that would be proof positive that Catholicism is false. Of course, I believe Catholicism is true, so I think that’s impossible.

I think it naive to assume we cannot ever end up with an apostate Pope. It seems to me more likely now than most times in history.

I might be wrong about this, but I doubt God constrains a Pope’s free will. A Pope, I suspect anyway, can choose to reject the Holy Spirit’s guidance and contradict dogma in some way. I think the responsibilty, though, puts the fear of God in Popes like no other job on this world. So to do it, he would basically have to be an apostate and deliberately mislead the faithful.

Rete #12
A Pope, I suspect anyway, can choose to reject the Holy Spirit’s guidance and contradict dogma in some way.

Not when teaching the whole Church as defined. There has never been, and cannot be, error in dogma and doctrine defined by any Pope to the whole Church as Shepherd and Teacher of all Christians, and it very unwise for any Catholic to assume such a falsehood.

An existing infallible teaching cannot be changed no matter who says what, even the Pope.


If need be, the Curia would force the Pope into retirement.

God Bless

Curias cannot force Popes, neither swiss guards or advisers.:shrug:

The Pope is the supreme lawgiver.

Come on people, we need to rely on history and learn about how the Papacy works.

If a Pope makes a de fide statement that is unpopular, you are assuming there are those more powerful as him?
This is the problem of modern views on governments. The Papacy is not like an office that can be overridden by a house of commons, congress, court, or other entity. The only check and ballance is the grace of the Holy spirit. And that should be enough.

This is the only honest answer.

The Pope authority is either solid, or it is a house of cards. Either he is truly protected from teaching heresy, or he must walk a fine line to maintain appearances. His authority is based solely the claim that papal privilege is a God given gift. To contradict previous teaching would be to forfeit his authority; no con man would willingly give up his authority.

To me, it is more than the church is false; the Catholic Faith is the only rational explanation as to how the world works. My God promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against his church - who am I to question the promise of an omnipotent God? Indeed, a pope who teaches heresy would be proof that there is no God!

We can only have faith in Christ’s teaching that the church is true and not a con.

I’ve always wondered about this and this is the only answer I’ve ever come across that makes sense. I’ve never been able to answer this question to my noncatholic friends and this is understandable.

I have thought about this, too.

Consider the following scenario. There is an atheist, who hates the church and what it stands for. This atheist is a zealot, who is willing to spend his life to throw a spanner into the works. (Of course, personally I would consider this guy an idiot, but there are such zealots.) Therefore he pretends to be a most honest and pious believer, gets ordained, becomes a priest, then a bishop, and gets higher in the hierarchy of the church, all the way to become a cardinal. All the time pretending to be an honest member of the clergy. Finally, he becomes a pope. Logically, all this could happen, even though it is extremely unlikely.

When he becomes a pope, he establishes himself as a good, traditional leader, for a few years. After his “credentials” are established, he makes an official, ex-cathedra statement, observing all the formal requirements thereof, and declares that the previous stance against the ordination of women was in error, based upon the patriarchal society in the times of Jesus. I know that this is very unlikely, but not impossible.

What would be the reaction to such event – in your opinion, of course?

He doesn’t accuse him of going against Church teaching, but here is some commentary from Pat Buchanan on Pope Francis’ stance on cultural issues. I think some people may find it interesting.

"Papal Neutrality in the Culture War?

By Patrick J. Buchanan

“Pope Francis doesn’t want cultural warriors; he doesn’t want ideologues,” said Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash.:

“The nuncio said the Holy Father wants bishops with pastoral sensitivity, shepherds who know the smell of the sheep.”

Bishop Cupich was conveying instructions the papal nuncio had delivered from Rome to guide U.S. bishops in choosing a new leader.

They chose Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., who has a master’s degree in social work, to succeed Archbishop Timothy Dolan whom Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times describes thus:

“[A] garrulous evangelist comfortable in front of a camera, [who] led the bishops in their high-profile confrontation with the Obama administration over a provision in the health care mandate that requires most employers to have insurance that covers contraceptives for employees.”

That mandate also requires employers to cover abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations.

Yet here is further confirmation His Holiness seeks to move the Catholic Church to a stance of non-belligerence, if not neutrality, in the culture war for the soul of the West.

There is a small problem with neutrality. As Trotsky observed, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” For the church to absent itself from the culture war is to not to end that war, but to lose it.

What would that entail? Can we not already see?

In America, the family has disintegrated. Forty percent of working-class white children are born out of wedlock, as are 53 percent of Hispanic children, and 73 percent of black children. Kids from broken homes are many times more likely to drop out of school, take drugs, join gangs, commit crimes, end up in prison, lose their souls, and produce yet another generation of lost souls.

Goodstein quotes the Holy Father as listing among the “most serious of the evils” today “youth unemployment.” And he calls upon Catholics not to be “obsessed” with abortion or same-sex marriage.

But is teenage unemployment really a graver moral evil than the slaughter of 3,500 unborn every day in a land we used to call “God’s Country”?

Papal encyclicals like Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno have much to teach about social justice in an industrial society.

But what is the special expertise of the church in coping with teenage unemployment? Has the Curia done good scholarly work on the economic impact of the minimum wage?

The cultural revolution preached by Marxist Antonio Gramsci is continuing its “long march” through the institutions of the West and succeeding where the violent revolutions of Lenin and Mao failed.

It is effecting a transvaluation of all values. And it is not interested in a truce with the church of Pope Francis, but a triumph over that church which it reviles as the great enemy in its struggle.

Indeed, after decades of culture war waged against Christianity, the Vatican might consider the state of the Faith.

Our civilization is being de-Christianized. Popular culture is a running sewer. Promiscuity and pornography are pandemic. In Europe, the churches empty out as the mosques fill up. In America, Bible reading and prayer are outlawed in schools, as Christian displays are purged from public squares. Officially, Christmas and Easter do not exist.

The pope, says Goodstein, refers to proselytizing as “solemn nonsense.” But to proselytize is to convert nonbelievers.

And when Christ admonished his apostles, “Go forth and teach all nations,” and ten of his twelve were martyred doing so, were they not engaged in the Church’s true commission — to bring souls to Christ.

Pope Francis comes out of the Jesuits.

Hence, one wonders: Did those legendary Jesuits like St. Isaac Jogues and the North American Martyrs make a mistake proselytizing and baptizing, when they could have been working on youth unemployment among the Mohawks?

An Italian atheist quotes the pope as saying, “Everyone has his own idea of good and evil,” and everyone should “follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them.”

Does this not reflect the moral relativism of Prince Hamlet when he said to Rosencrantz, “there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so?” Yet, is it not the church’s mission to differentiate good and evil and condemn the latter?

“Who am I to judge,” Pope Francis says of homosexuals.

Well, he is pope. And even the lowliest parish priest has to deliver moral judgments in a confessional.

“Since he became pope,” writes Goodstein, Francis’ “approval numbers are skyrocketing. Even atheists are applauding.”

Especially the atheists, one imagines.

While Pope Francis has not altered any Catholic doctrines in his interviews and disquisitions, he is sowing seeds of confusion among the faithful, a high price to pay, even for “skyrocketing” poll numbers.

If memory serves, the Lord said, “Feed my sheep,” not “get the smell of the sheep.” And he did not mean soup kitchens, but more importantly the spiritual food essential for eternal life.

But then those were different Jesuits. And that was long ago. "

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