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Infallible Does Not Mean Sinless

November 11, AD2014 51 Comments

A quick reminder that infallible does not mean sinless. Here are some quick facts about the papacy:

1) All of the 266 popes have sinned, including the first pope, St. Peter, who committed among the worst of sins: He denied Our Lord three times during the Passion.

2) While all of the popes have been sinners, it’s also true that many of the popes have practiced heroic virtue, rising to the heights of great sanctity. The first popes (and several subsequent popes) died as martyrs for the faith, and many popes have been canonized or beatified. Saintly popes are common.

3) Though most popes were good and holy men, there were a handful of popes who were bad, wicked and/or corrupt. A recounting of their personal sin would make your hair curl! It is entirely possible that there are popes in hell.

4) Whether saintly or evil, no pope has ever taught heresy (i.e., no pope has ever taught error as Truth). The Holy Spirit guides the Church and protects her so that the faithful will never be led into doctrinal error — no matter who sits in the Chair of Peter.

5) If you wonder how someone can speak truth while not living it, think of a math professor teaching his students perfectly correct formulas and concepts, while he himself cheats on his taxes and cannot seem to keep a balanced checkbook. Or think of a chronic adulterer who preaches that adultery is wrong. His actions are evil, but what he says is perfectly true.

There you have it. Infallibility does not mean impeccability. Just as God protected sinful men from teaching doctrinal error when writing the Bible, He also protected sinful Peter and his sinful successors from teaching doctrinal error while leading His Church.

Thanks be to God.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Leila Miller is a wife and mother of eight children who has a penchant for writing and a passion for teaching the Catholic Faith in simple ways. This summa cum laude Boston College graduate also enjoys debating secularists, and in her spare time she fancies herself a bit of a Catholic matchmaker. She manages two blogs that accommodate those hobbies well: Little Catholic Bubble, and the invite-only Catholic Moms Matchmaking.

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  • Greg

    Leila, a good, timely reminder! But I do need to suggest the need for some precision in regards to this one particular sentence:

    “Whether saintly or evil, no pope has ever taught heresy (i.e., no pope has ever taught error as Truth).”

    Are you quite sure about that? I am horrible with history, so I really have no clue, but suspect that is a little bit overstated. No pope has ever FORMALLY taught error, that is, taught in his capacity as pope that “Error X” is binding on all Christians viz a viz the formula cited at Vatican I, correct. The way your sentence is currently worded, though, suggests that infallibility means a pope cannot “privately” (that is, non-officially) hold to and teach an erroneous position, which is not true. Like I said, not knowing history well, I can’t say with certainty that it HAS happened to date or not.

    But the definition of infallibility does not preclude it from ever happening…

    • Leila Miller

      Yes, that clarity is good: “No pope has ever officially taught error as Truth”. I just worry that when I say “officially”, folks then bring up only the “ex cathedra” pronouncements, which is not the only type of infallibility. In fact, most infallible teachings have never had an ex cathedra pronouncement. I guess I figured it was implied that the “has ever taught” means his teaching the faithful as pope. But your point is well taken!

    • Greg

      Yeah, I felt compelled to say something because I presumed (maybe incorrectly) that this article was written in response to all the dust-up as of late surrounding Pope Francis. I presumed you were, in essence, trying to say, “Ahem! Let’s all remember what ‘infallibility’ really means (both in general and for the pope in particular), and be mindful of what it does not mean.”

      As long as the aim was clarity (and, again, the effort is much appreciated), I thought, “Well, then we need to make sure we’re really as clear as possible about the fact that popes are not free from teaching error in a non-official capacity, that’s not covered by infallibility.” The whole issue of infallibility extending to all the bishops teaching in tandem with the pope and most of the Church infallible doctrine being pronounced that way is a separate issue.

      Anyway. There go four pennies from me, rather than just two, so I’m done now; 🙂

      Peace be with you.

    • Leila Miller

      Oh, now I understand! I actually wrote these points long before Francis was pope, just for teaching purposes. I did write something on the universal ordinary magisterium, here:

      http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/07/answer-to-doctrinal-quiz-show-third.html

      Thanks again, and come back anytime with more pennies! 🙂

  • April

    I’ve heard this explanation for years and especially with regards to periods of history with publicly sinful popes, it is comforting to know that the Church, itself, never changed dogmatic truths to reflect the lifestyle of the pope. My question is: specifically which popes/years were the most juxtaposed to the Truth by how they lived? I’ve always been curious to know who the not-so-good-and-faithful popes were. I ask this not for gossip sake, but to position it to the time in history in which they lived.

    • Elijah fan

      Short answer…the tenth and 15th century into the 16th for sinful sexual behaviour but nepotism ( appointing relatives to well paid positions ) probably was more extensive over the centuries. After 1585, no bad sexual behaviour by Popes. Google Marozia on the 10th century but the Renaissance is more interesting because it was intelligent, non barbaric people behaving badly.

  • Elijah fan

    The Pope can err in morals if he does not access infallibility. See e.g. Ludwig Ott ” Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma” / Introduction/ last par. of section 8/…fragment follows below:

    “With regard to the doctrinal teaching of the Church it must be well noted that not all the
    assertions of the Teaching Authority of the Church on questions of Faith and morals are
    infallible and consequently irrevocable. Only those are infallible which emanate from General
    Councils representing the whole episcopate, and the Papal Decisions Ex Cathedra (cf. D
    1839).”

    He accessed infallibility against abortion in section 62 of Evangelium Vitae and against euthanasia and killing the innocent in the same encyclical in words reminiscent of the formula used in the Assumption encyclical but this time he had polled all Bishops on those three issues. Thus he could not err in those three issues. But in the same encyclical, his comments of the death penalty were by no stretch of the imagination infallible. His later calling the death penalty “cruel” in St. Louis which the US Bishops put in their written teaching means that God repeatedly mandated that which was cruel in Leviticus and Deuteronomy which is illogical. Cardinal Avery Dulles noted that God gave over 34 death penalties in the Bible and St. Thomas Aquinas noted that Romans 13:4 continued the God mandated death penalty for crime ( not sin like adultery ). The papal executioner, Bugatti, executed 500 criminals for five Popes between 1796 and 1850 in the papal states which could just as easily kept them in life sentences but did not. Life sentences were as old as the Roman Empire…existed during the Inquisition….and were more secure there than in the two largest Catholic populations in this year 2014… Brazil and Mexico which both have no death penalty and murder rates 20 times higher than unbaptised Japan. John Paul seems to have done no research at all on a number of Catholic countries which are horrendous as to jurder rates.

    Popes are protected from moral error IF they access infallibility which is rare actually. They are greatly helped in this area by Scripture which is inerrant. We know adultery is mortal sin from the Bible not from an encyclical….same is true of multiple issues like coveting, drunkenesd, sodomy, theft etc. etc.

    • Leila Miller

      Well, yes and no. It’s very true that “ex cathedra” pronouncements are not the only infallible statements a pope can make. There are other types of infallibility exercised more commonly. I write about that, here:

      http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/07/answer-to-doctrinal-quiz-show-third.html

      As for the death penalty, of course there are times (maybe even the majority of the time in these days, and in this nation, etc.) that it is “cruel”. That does not make a “judgement” on God, who is the very Author of Life and death, and what he did or did not do or allow in the Old Testament.

      What the Church actually teaches is that while things like adultery and abortion are inherently, intrinsically evil (i.e., of their very nature), that is not true of the death penalty. It is not intrinsically evil, therefore it is in some instances allowable. What the modern popes have said is that because we have better means of keeping the populace safe now, it is almost always unnecessary, and yes, in many instances can be very cruel.

    • Elijah fan

      You’re doing penology without real countries and thus only abstractly exactly as Pope John Paul did….a mind only thing.
      But Catholic countries that I named are not keeping people safe with prison alone. A Mexican official has stated that drug cartels control sixty percent of the prisons in Mexico anyway and Mexico just had 43 students murdered by a mayor and his wife and a drug gang they were connected to. Brazil last Christmas let hundreds if prisoners go home for leave and most never returned. The two largest Catholic countries are basket cases and none of the last three Popes were even aware of it.

      Old Testament..you say?…try Romans 13:4-5 authored by the Holy Spirit after the Resurrection within an empire that had life sentences:
      4
      for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer.
      5
      Therefore, it is necessary to be subject not only because of the wrath but also because of conscience.

      Popes from 1253 AD til Pius XII affirmed executions as does Trent’s catechism…and they had more secure prisons and life sentences than modern Catholic countries in northern South America. The first Pope with God killed Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 and the passage ends with a comment on real deterrence…” the whole community and all who heard of it took fear.”
      Non death penalty largely Catholic Mexico has no fear….watch as drug cartel people in athletic clothing enter a prison and machine gun a cell full of opposing gang members…the deaths are not shown…
      just the shooting…

      http://youtu.be/Wt5Aw1rvVSc

    • Leila Miller

      You are free to disagree on individual cases about when the death penalty should or should not be justified, as again, the Church does not say it’s intrinsically evil. However, we should try hard to assent in mind and will to the mind of the Church, no? Philosophically speaking, she is correct, isn’t she?

    • Elijah fan

      You’re a woman. In scripture it is written…” the severity of a man is better than a woman’s indulgence”. You naturally feel empathy even for murderers. I pray for their salvation but often want them dead quick…as e.g. Islamic State criminals in Kobani right now for whom I pray but want dead right after they have sufficient contrition to reach purgatory otherwise relapse is likely…in their milieu.
      The death penalty brought the good thief and Timothy McVeigh to salvation most likely in McVeigh’s case…he received last rites.
      I have a minor in theology but read the entire Bible and the entire Summa T. afterwards and put it to work in helping children in a murderous part of Newark…sending the daughter of a prostitute to Catholic school for years and tutoring her almost nightly. Four guys jumped me in that area but I escaped in a telephone truck….but had several run ins with criminals afterwards. I grew up in bad neighborhoods and had to knock out a gang member in a circle of them at 16 to keep that gang off me….and it did.
      I do not use the term “Church” for a policy of several Magisterial leaders which prudential, unresearched policy has no business in a catechism….a policy in my opinion that will get more victims killed in the future than the mistaken philosophical position affirming burning heretics did after Exsurge Domine by Leo X…another moral mistake because it was ordinary magisterium not universal ordinary magisterium…just like ccc2267.
      John Paul II rightly apologized for the five thousand killed in the burning of heretics which was affirmed by Pope Leo X in 1520…not to mentioned by five Popes in Aquinas’ time.
      He apologized for those deaths but he will have caused more deaths from here forward as to murder victims wherein there is little wrath in prison in a comfy life sentence with three meals a day, sports, medical and dental for people who never have dental otherwise. Four hundred years from now a Pope will readmit executions as primary for murderers and he will apologize for St. John Paul II’s victims as John Paul II apologized for Leo X’s thousands of victims.

    • Leila Miller

      I’m not sure you answered my question. And I will add for the record that in my personality/temperament/emotions I am very much a “fry ’em!” sort of gal. I was a huge proponent of the death penalty before I embraced the fullness of the Faith. I have bent my will. It’s not easy, but that is what makes us different as Catholics. We bend our will. My Church stands almost completely opposed to the death penalty in this day, and therefore, that is the stance I take, by an act of my will.

    • Elijah fan

      But that means logically that in 1520, you would have bent your will to Pope Leo X’s affirmation of burning heretics which is now opposed in section 80 of
      “Splendor of the Truth” by John Paul II which calls “coercion of spirit” and
      “torture” intrinsic evils…and both are present in burning heretics who by the way we now trust with our heart operations and fixing our auto brakes. This is the problem of the ordinary magisterium when it is not universal ordinary magisterium ( the first millenium did not burn heretics). Bend your will yes to the universal ordinary magisterium but not to the ordinary simply where errors by Popes have costs lives and broken hearts unnecessarily.
      Pope Leo X in affirming burning heretics was conceivably looking at the OT death penalty for “dreamers” who led people away from the faith of Israel. Pope Leo X was not noticing that Christ rebuked the disciples at the end of Luke 9 for wanting to burn a town of heretical Samaritans by lightning as Elijah had done twice in I Kings. Christ was signalling change in that passage and from 1253 til about 1800….Popes wrongly missed His signal.
      But now the last three Popes are missing Romans 13:4-5 not only in respect to execution but also in respect to wrath of God which they never mention at all and Romans 13:4-5 does twice…( Francis is against life sentences which he calls hidden death penalties). Scripture is not talking about life sentences in that word “wrath” …life sentences that frankly starving people in Africa would volunteer for to get three squares, medical, and dental….and usually without labor in the West.
      Burning heretics was an extremism and opposing executions through abolition is another extreme and contradicts ccc 2267. Lol…three Popes by preaching abolition have not bent their wills to ccc 2267…and the first two wrote it.
      Bend your will to the universal ordinary magisterium but not to the ordinary magisterium when scripture is giving you a red flag in that you notice Rom.13:4 is not mentioned in Evangelium Vitae or the catechism and Genesis 9:5-6 is cited three times in EV but John Paul never shows the reader the death penalty part of it…because he hated it so much. He actually looked at the major death penalty quote for gentiles ( Gen.9:5-6) proceeded to cite it three times on abortion etc. in a fragmentary way but then in the death penalty parts of the same encyclical, he never shows the part where God is commanding the shedding of blood for blood shed. He did not bend his will to Scripture even after seeing it.
      Bend to the UOM but keep watch as to the OM simply because it is not always universal though we must have a thousand apologetics people who through hermeneutic of continuity jargon will try to say this brand new departure is really development. Newman put it better….sudden change is not development. Avoid the used car salesmen of the apologetics world. They know that flattering Popes brings book sales. In 1889 Pope Leo XIII wrote against such Catholics writers whom he asked to be truthful instead.

    • Facile1

      I think that you are forgetting three things:

      1. Jesus wants us to err on the side of mercy because we cannot know the whole TRUTH about another person.

      2. Jesus does not want us to live by the sword.

      3. Jesus wants us to live faithfully, not fearfully.

      You have a lot of street sense. And I admire that. I’m glad you’re on our side. BUT Jesus’ trial and death on the cross demonstrate that capital punishment is always wrong. Jesus’ resurrection teaches us to live courageously, not defensively. And life is not worth living at all if we live it fearfully instead of joyfully.

      Our fears should not be made more real to us than GOD’s love for us.

      LOVE GOD FIRST and rejoice in His love always.

    • Elijah fan

      Facile,
      You’re totally ignoring Romans 13:4 …and Vatican II in Dei Verbum noted that only those things are in Scripture which God willed to be in Scripture.
      Ergo He willed you to read Rom.13:4 before speaking on the subject. I would surmise that our new death position of the last three Popes will get hundreds of murder victims killed per year through lack of deterrence…..easily….since the three largest Catholic populations are Brazil, Mexico, and the Phillipines….the first two have 20 times the murder rate of all of East Asia and the Phillipines has 8 times the murder rate of death penalty East Asia. All three have no death penalty.
      All Catholics in Syria now have fear of being murdered by either IS or Khorosan terrorists. Physical fear of murder varies with your location on the globe not faith which can alleviate it somewhat. Hence Christ told His followers regarding the destruction of Jerusalem, to flee to the hills of Judea when they saw certain signs.

    • Facile1

      Ergo nothing. GOD cannot will me. He gave me free will. And I will ignore everything past your first two sentences.

    • Elijah fan

      Goodbye….Christ said, ” Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that cometh from the mouth of God.”
      Modern Catholics etc. don’t want to know every word but only select passages….the nice ones. That’s understandable. Fight your way past that inclination but keep your nice passages in the center of your heart without fleeing the severe passages. Balance.

    • Facile1

      You are too presumptuous for my taste. You are presumptuous about me and about GOD. Could not read the rest of your presumptuous post. Bye.

    • Leila Miller

      “The death penalty brought the good thief and Timothy McVeigh to salvation most likely in McVeigh’s case…he received last rites.”

      Just because God brings something good out of something bad (was crucifixion of a thief a moral act?) does not mean we rally for that bad thing. We are to serve the good, not effect (bring about) the good. We are to serve the good at every moment, and we leave the outcomes to God.

    • Elijah fan

      The Douay Rheims which follows the Vulgate says robbers not thieves which means armed thieves. The disciples (2 or 3) carried machaira which were combat short swords so in such a society, I doubt that criminals were unarmed but the disciples were. We executed horse thieves long ago because a horse was a man’s livelihood. In Christ’s day with their medicine capabilities, a mugging could mean the victim was deformed for life and without livelihood.

      Luke 23:39
      Douay-Rheims
      And one of those robbers who were hanged blasphemed him, saying: If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.

    • Leila Miller

      Could you comment specifically on my last point, please? Do you agree:

      Just because God brings something good out of something bad (was crucifixion of a thief a moral act?) does not mean we rally for that bad thing. We are to serve the good, not effect (bring about) the good. We are to serve the good at every moment, and we leave the outcomes to God.

    • Elijah fan

      Sure I agree that we don’t rally for the bad even though it brings good. But execution is not bad but a virtuous good because God mandated it …mandated it in Genesis 9:6 to both Jews ( Shem ) and Gentiles ( Ham and Japheth ) and not as part of the Jews only death penalties of Leviticus and Deuteronomy for mortal sins like sodomy (which executions were revoked for both Christians and the Jews who no longer stone for adultery etc. even now.)
      Gen.9:6 has zero to do with the God given 613 Jewish laws which were revoked with Christ.
      It preceded Abraham and is echoed in Romans 13:4 as all Catholic commentators knew from 1253 til 1960. Read Evangelium Vitae by John Paul II. He quotes Gen.9:5-6 three times but leaves out the death penalty part because he liked PARTS of it but he never shows readers this part: ” whoever sheds the blood of man, by man will his blood be shed “. But John Paul liked the words used in the reason God gave that execution mandate which immediately follow the words he didn’t like..
      ” for man is made in the image of God”. But God was saying execute murderers because their victim was made in the image of God. John Paul took God’s reason and isolated it and applied it to the victims of abortion…good….but he never told his readers the original context…adult murder…bad exegesis.

    • Leila Miller

      So the modern popes are wrong and you are right? That’s sort of what I’m getting from your comments.

    • Elijah fan

      I and Pius XII in 1952 are correct ( see him below) and over a hundred Popes before him are correct…unless you can reconcile the perfect prisons imagined in ccc 2267 with what you then research about Latin American prisons which contains 40% of the world’s Catholics. They will never afford the perfect prison of ccc #2267…never. The US can’t afford it because it’s imaginary….and because one in 7 in the US is getting Government help with food bills ie we have other bills that Catholics like Congressman Ryan are trying to curtail…not increase.
      Another large non death penalty Catholic country (#3) the Phillipines is 24 times more dangerous as to murder than unbaptised Japan which Japan unwittingly honors Romans 13:4. Who is the pro life country on this issue….Japan …or Mexico and the Phillipines?

      Here’s Pius XII in 1952 when prisons were little different than 2014:
      ” When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death, it is reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live”…9/14/52.

    • Leila Miller

      Are you a member of the Pope Pius X Society?

    • Elijah fan

      No….I’m Biblical not Trad. Aquinas was the last Catholic author with a very good knowledge of the entire Bible…like Jerome and Augustine. Afterwards,some authors like St. John of the Cross and St. Alphonsus know quite a bit but less …and century by century it decreases because Catholicism de-emphasized that which Protestants emphasized. The last two Popes were not keen on the Old Testament nor the severe parts of the New…check sect.42 of Verbum Domini by Benedict e.g. Scripture ascribes the herem or massacres of certain tribes to God. Benedict says no. History will prove him wrong. Nor does he notice that the worst massacre or herem occured in 70 AD long after the OT herem….in which 1.1 million were killed ( Josephus) and Christ gave the reason that Jerusalem had not known the day of their visitation. Do I think those Jews went to hell that day? No….most were younger than those who actually rejected Christ but they fell under the principle of punishment down to the third and fourth generation ( Exodus 20:5) of those who hate God….most got physical punishment NOT spiritual punishment like hell which no one inherits from elders per Ezekiel 18:20. David’s baby was killed by God physically for David’s sin…not spiritually.
      Adieu. Nice discussion.

    • Leila Miller

      Wow, you seem to know more than anyone since Aquinas. 😉

      God bless and take care.

    • Elijah fan

      Well, just keep in mind that if that school of deterrence literature that says executions deter numerous pre-meditated murders per year is correct then the current papal campaign against the death penalty is getting x amount of people killed per year as in the Phillipines where the papacy influenced their repeal of the death penalty. The US Supreme Court sided in 1976 with those researchers like Joanna Shepherd who found that executions deter…not passion murders…but premeditated murders. That means our recent Catholic change is getting people killed. A lifer in prison in a locale that forbids the death penalty can kill in prison or order murders out on the street and have no additional time in prison…and both happen. Jeffrey Dahmer and Fr. Geoghan were both murdered by lifers in the papacy’s hoped for situation…states that had abolished the death penalty. John Paul II apologized for the burnings of heretics done under people like St. Pope Pius V….and Pope Innocent IV. If the Supreme Court’s 1976 affirmation of deterrence is correct, Catholicism is about to get hundreds of people killed again per year and some future Pope is going to apologize for those thousands just as John Paul apologized for the five thousand previous deaths. The ordinary papal magisterium is not infallible when it is not universal…” always and everywhere”.

    • Leila Miller

      No one has claimed that the teaching on the death penalty (that it should be opposed) is infallibly taught. As we’ve said, it is not intrinsically evil and the Catechism says as much.

    • Facile1

      Capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia, call it what you will. Murder is always wrong.

      I do not believe in killing even in self-defense. If Jesus while hanging on the cross did not see fit to call on angels to save His earthly life; then there can never be a good reason to kill.

    • Elijah fan

      Jesus wrote Romans 13:4 as God through Paul according to Dei Verbum within Vatican II. You’re not reading all …all….all..of what Jesus wrote like millions on the internet.

    • Facile1

      How would you know?

    • Facile1

      Japan believes in population control.
      Abortion is unconstitutional in the Philippines (where I currently reside).
      I know nothing about Mexico.

      So which has the viable population for the next millenium? Japan or the Philippines?

      There is more than one way to legalize capital punishment.

    • Elijah fan

      . Read my sentence again….ON THIS ISSUE…you made that phrase vanish like you and three Popes make Rom.13:4 vanish.

    • Facile1

      Which sentence is that? You wrote more than one. None memorable.

    • Greg

      There is no need for a pope to “access” infallibility. It’s intrinsic to the formal exercise of the office. “Infallibility” is not a “creative aid”, it’s a very very simple intervention by the Holy Spirit that ONLY prevents a pope from formally teaching error as universally binding on all the faithful.

    • Elijah fan

      Run that by your pastor. You are in effect making the papal ordinary magisterium pan infallible which Ott’s ” Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma” opposes in sect. 8 of the Intro. last paragraph. That, your view, inter alia would make Exsurge Domine infallible whereby Pope Leo X excommunicated any Catholic who agreed with Luther that burning heretics was against the Holy Spirit. Now the entire Chrch agrees with Luther in that point for the New Covenant. Now sect. 80 of Splendor of the Truth by John Paul II says ” coercion of the spirit” and “torture” are intrinsically evil which contradicts Exsurge Domine since both torture and coercion of spirit are within burning heretics.

    • Greg

      Hi Elijah, unfortunately I don’t have time to research the documents you’ve referenced here, but I’m not sure that I need to. You seem to have misunderstood my post.

      First off, in re-reading your own post (the one I am responding to with mine), it occurred to me that what you meant to say was probably “Unless a pope INVOKES infallibility”? If that’s the case, then you are much closer to the truth. The word “access”, to me anyway, has the connotation of infallibility being some sort of library, or “external power that the pope can tap into”, when in fact, all that infallibility is is a promise by the Holy Spirit that the pope will never teach as binding on all Christians that which is untrue.

      It’s a “negative” (not in the sense of being “bad”, but in the sense of negating, or preventing something from happening) charism that only applies when the pope is formally declaring to the Church some doctrine that is supposed to be binding on everyone.

    • Elijah fan

      Greg,
      For one Fr. Brian Harrison in his online essay on Torture, the protection of papal statements by the Holy Spirit throughout history and topics is not simple. At the below link, you will find him deal with this complexity in section c.2 starting at the second paragraph and continuing for several paragraphs.

      http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt119.html

    • Greg

      Again, no (apparent) disagreement here.

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  • Guy McClung

    Could a person who knows tell us: is it true that if a person who has been elected Pope utters or proclaims heresy, by that act he invalidates his papacy and from that moment is no longer Pope?

    • Irish Catholic Papist

      Only if said pope “formally” (key word) proclaimed or taught heresy. If said pope formally proposes a heretical doctrine, he loses infallibility. For a pope to say something heretical at an airplane interview session or at the local bar or at a routine speech at a Vatican gathering is NOT the same as using Formal means of papal teaching (encyclical, papal bull, etc.). A pope can speak heresy at a local pub (which would be wrong, grave, & unfortunate) but it wouldn’t be considered to be formally & publicly teaching heresy (which would actually render him to lose infallibility). Fortunately, popes have rarely used their “ex-cathedra infallibility” ability/gift to formally clarify doctrine, so we don’t even have to worry (mathematically) about popes formally proclaiming heresy any time soon (or even in the next 5 or so centuries). That & we’ve got to trust on the Holy Spirit.

    • Leila Miller

      Jus to clarify…

      As I posted below, there are other, more widely used forms of infallibility other than “ex cathedra” pronouncements:

      http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/07/answer-to-doctrinal-quiz-show-third.html

      If that were not so, and if the only infallible teachings were taught “ex cathedra”, then the only things infallibly taught would be a couple of Marian doctrines. Not even “God exists” could be considered infallible teaching, and we know that’s not right. 🙂

    • Greg

      “infallibility” is not a “trophy” that is kept until a pope formally preaches error, at which time he has to “hand it back.” It’s a guarantee by the Holy Spirit to the rest of us that he is not able to *formally* teach error in the first place.

      Like you say, this does not preclude any pope from casually suggesting (or even vigorously defending) a heresy in the general circumstances of his daily life. It DOES mean that all popes are physically prevented from ever being able to FORMALLY teach as binding on all the Christian faithful something that is not true.

    • Read the interesting story of Pope Honorius who was anathemized by the Third Council of Constantinople for his support and belief in monothelitism. Acts of the Thirteenth Session of the Council state, “And with these we define that there shall be expelled from the holy Church of God and anathematized Honorius who was some time Pope of Old Rome, because of what we found written by him to [Patriarch] Sergius, that in all respects he followed his view and confirmed his impious doctrines.” The Sixteenth Session adds: “To Theodore of Pharan, the heretic, anathema! To Sergius, the heretic, anathema! To Cyrus, the heretic, anathema! To Honorius, the heretic, anathema! To Pyrrhus, the heretic, anathema!” This happened 40 years after his death. There is debate whether he simply opined on monthelitism or spoke more with infallibility …big debate among scholars and historians.

    • Leila Miller

      The best treatment of this pope can be found in the book Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic, by David Currie. Such a great book, and I use the example of Honorius often. He was actually an anti-pope when he was spouting heresy as a stooge of the empress (the real pope was in prison). By the time he was the legit pope, he ceased to pronounce his heresies. Not surprising, since the Holy Spirit promised what He promised. 🙂

    • Greg

      Exactly…There is no debate on whether a pope has ever “spoken error with infallibility.”

      That’s a self-negating claim.

      Infallibility is the guarantee of the Holy Spirit that that will never happen (at an official and universally binding level) in the first place.

    • Greg

      I am not canon lawyer, nor do I have and STL, or anything of that sort. But I am a “seasoned” and widely-read catechist, and would strongly lean toward “No.”

      The papacy is not “magic” whereupon everything that happens with a given pope has to be flawless. Popes can be bad administrators, bad poets, bad people(!), and still legitimately hold office…which is ok for the rest of us (life goes on, that is) because the only thing we are bound to follow from the pope (all by himself, absent reference to the other bishops) is an ex-cathedra statement. We have to separate the office from the man.

      If a pope were so bold as to repeatedly insist on something as heresy, the rest of us, presumably, would have to just “grin and bear it” until he died…? Which, again, is ok because we’re not the Mormon Church that is supposed to jump at every new revelation from their own “pope.” We’re Catholic and have previously settled doctrine to stand strong on.

    • Greg

      New post to draw attention to the edit immediately above, for those who get notifications of new postings…