Catholics believe the Pope can never be wrong. Right? If you look at some of the corrupt Popes throughout history, you’ll know that this simply cannot be true.
What then is Papal Infallibility?
First, let’s talk about Apostolic Succession. Catholics, believe the original authority given by Christ to his apostles has been preserved and passed down from Bishop to Bishop throughout the ages. Because of this direct line, the Pope traces his authority back to Peter, whom Christ appointed to lead His Church.
Because of Apostolic Succession, the Pope cannot err when he is 1) exercising his role as the leader of the Church AND 2) defining a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church.
The first requirement means anything outside his official role as Pope (i.e. his personal life) is not subject to Papal Infallibility. The second part is much more restricting: only in issues of Church dogma is he incapable of error. Dogmas are the most serious and essential Church teachings – in fact, most Church teaching are not dogma. If you know anything about Catholicism, new teachings are rare, new dogma even more so. Indeed, these instances are so uncommon that the vast majority of Popes have never had an occasion in which Papal Infallibility applied.
The Church does not put a stamp of approval on the romantic dalliances or greedy schemes of the medieval Popes. She doesn’t approve of misstatements by modern Popes. She simply teaches that in the most serious of religious matters, she will not allow a Shepherd to lead his flock astray.
Before commenting, please read the guidelines for this series. And, check out the rest of the series here.
**Catholic 101 posts are designed to be short snippets of our faith. Please consider emailing this to one person who might be seeking an answer.**
This is a guest post from Mandi. Mandi is a 20-something wife and mother who takes her Catholic faith seriously. She shares the joys and challenges of marriage, parenting, and Catholic womanhood at Messy Wife, Blessed Life. When she’s not blogging, she’s probably wrangling a toddler, selling Lilla Rose hair accessories, playing word games, or moving cross country.
Short and sweet — way to be succinct! Who was it that said that the one who understands best is the one who can explain simply? Maybe Einstein, can’t remember.
That’s the way I like it! Give me the down and dirty!