Papal infallibility

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Papal infallibility is a dogma in the Roman Catholic Church that the Pope is immune from error in specific matters of faith and moral doctrine. Many, both inside and outside the Catholic church, erroneously believe the Pope is considered infallible regarding anything he says or does. In fact, Papal infallibility has only been invoked twice since being officially codified into Catholic dogma during the First Vatican Council of 1869.

Conditions for infallibility[edit]

The Vatican Council specified the conditions for Papal infallibility as:[1]

  • The Pontiff must teach in his public and official capacity as pastor and doctor of all Christians, not merely in his private capacity as a theologian, preacher or allocutionist, nor in his capacity as a temporal prince or as a mere ordinary of the Diocese of Rome. It must be clear that he speaks as spiritual head of the Church universal.
  • In this capacity, he teaches some doctrine of faith or morals in which he is infallible.
  • Further it must be sufficiently evident that he intends to teach with all the fullness and finality of his supreme Apostolic authority, in other words that he wishes to determine some point of doctrine in an absolutely final and irrevocable way, or to define it in the technical sense.
  • Finally, for an ex cathedra decision it must be clear that the Pope intends to bind the whole Church. In other words, his intent must be to demand internal assent from all the faithful to his teaching under pain of incurring spiritual shipwreck (naufragium fidei), according to the expression used by Pius IX in defining the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. Theoretically, this intention might be made sufficiently clear in a papal decision which is addressed only to a particular Church; but in present-day conditions, when it is so easy to communicate with the most distant parts of the Earth and to secure a literally universal promulgation of papal acts, the presumption is that unless the Pope formally addresses the whole Church in the recognized official way, he does not intend his doctrinal teaching to be held by all the faithful as ex cathedra and infallible.

The short version: "the Pope is only infallible when he specifically says he's infallible." There have only been seven such proclamations in the history of the Church (including statements made prior to the 1869 First Vatican Council and retroactively deemed infallible).

In Practice[edit]

The journal Free Inquiry noted a case of papal dictatorship far above and beyond the claims of infallibility:[2]

Innocent III declared himself to be the divinely appointed ruler of the world. Innocent III claimed authority to annul the Magna Carta of 1215, calling it "contrary to moral law." This is the same revered creed upon which American founders based the Constitution, the infallible pope quashing both, from across the sea and across time.


If Papal decrees are infallible, the Roman Catholic Church would have to answer how two Popes could be both infallible and in contradiction. For example:

  • Pope Innocent III and Pope Gregory IX (1200) considered abortion to be homicide only when the fetus is "formed".[citation needed]
  • Pope Sixtus V (1588), declared contraception and abortion at any stage of pregnancy, whether the fetus was "animated or not animated, formed or unformed," to be homicide and a mortal sin.[citation needed]
  • Pope Gregory XIV (1591) revoked the previous Papal bull and reinstated the "quickening" test (the perception by a mother that the fetus moves/is animated) which he determined happened 116 days into pregnancy.[citation needed]
  • Pope Pius IX (1869) dropped the distinction between the "fetus animatus" and "fetus inanimatus" saying that the soul enters the embryo at conception.[3][4]

Apologists usually attempt to avoid the paradox by saying that in each case, despite being a pope saying something about morality, he was not, in fact speaking ex cathedra as defined. In other words, even in moral matters, the Pope's infallibility can be turned on and off.

Simply put, the Pope is always right, except when he is wrong. Here are some of the times the popes have broken infallibility.[5]

Le Pape Formose et Etienne VI — Concile cadavérique de 897, painted by Jean-Paul Laurens
  • Pope Stephen VI exhumed Pope Formosus's rotting corpse and put him on trial in the Cadaver SynodWikipedia in January 897. The corpse was found guilty, had three fingers of its right hand (the blessing fingers) cut off and thrown in the Tiber. All ordinations performed by Formosus were annulled.
  • Benedict IX gave up his papacy for the first time in exchange for a large sum of money in 1044. After deposing his replacement he sold the papacy for a second time, to his godfather (possibly for over 650 kg [1450 lb] of gold)
  • Sergius III was Pope from 897 to 911, and has been the only pope known to have ordered the murder of another pope and the only known to have fathered an illegitimate son who later became pope. His pontificate is known as the pornocracy, led by women like Theodora and her daughter Marozia, the mother of Pope John XI (931–935) and reputedly the mistress of Sergius III.
  • In 963, Holy Roman Emperor Otto I summoned a council, leveling charges that his predecessor Pope John XII had ordained a deacon in a stable, consecrated a 10-year-old boy as Bishop of Todi, converted the Lateran Palace into a brothel, raped female pilgrims in St. Peter's, stolen church offerings, drank toasts to the Devil, and invoked the aid of Jove, Venus, and other pagan gods when playing dice. He was deposed, but returned as pope when Otto left Rome, maiming and mutilating all who had opposed him. On 964, he was apparently beaten by the husband of a woman (the lady was having an affair with him) and died three days later. He was also believed to have had sex with his two sisters.[citation needed]
  • Pope Paul III was believed to have poisoned his mother and niece, and took control of some 45,000 Roman prostitutes and then took a cut of their earnings.[6]
  • Leo X was Pope from 1513 to his death in 1521 and was known for selling indulgences to reconstruct St. Peter's Basilica and his challenging of Martin Luther's 95 theses.
  • Alexander VI was Pope from 1492 to 1503, he threw large parties bordering on orgies featuring naked little boys jumping out of cakes.
  • Innocent IV condemned Galileo and approved the use of torture to extract confessions of heresy during the Inquisition.
  • Urban VI was Pope from 1378 to 1389 and was the first Pope of the Western Schism. After being elected he was prone to outbursts of rage. The cardinals who elected him decided that they had made the wrong decision and they elected a new Pope in his place, so he took the name of Clement VII and started a second Papal court. The schism lasted forty years later when all three of the (then) reigning Popes abdicated together and a successor was elected in the person of Pope Martin V.
  • Pope John XV: split the church's finances among his relatives.
  • Pope Leo X (1513–1521) was a spendthrift member of the Medici family who once spent 1/7 of his predecessors' reserves on a single ceremony.[7]
  • Pope Clement VII (1523–1534), also a Medici, whose power-politicking with France, Spain, and Germany got Rome sacked. Also he made his illegitimate son ruler of Florence.
  • Pope Boniface VIII was elected Pope on December 24, 1294 after the pious yet incompetent Pope Celestine V abdicated. One of his first decisions as pope was to sentence Celestine to prison in the Castle of Fumone, where the old man was mistreated and eventually died ten months later. His feud with the powerful Colonna family led to several of their towns being razed, earning him a spot in the eighth circle of Dante's Inferno.[citation needed]
  • Pope Alexander VI bought his way into the papacy in 1492. He sired at least seven different illegitimate children by his mistresses, and didn’t hesitate to reward them with handsome endowments at the Church’s expense. When low on cash he would simply sell the position of cardinal or rob from the wealthy he jailed or murdered using made-up charges.
  • Julius III (pope from 1550-1555) looted the papal coffers to renovate his mansion in Rome. He also had sex with young boys like many others. His mansion was decorated with statues and frescoes depicting kids having sex with each other.[8]

Old Catholic[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Old Catholic Church

After the First Vatican Council, when the dogma was first promulgated, many congregations announced that they refused to accept it. They cut ties, put themselves under the independent "Old" Archbishop of Utrecht, and came to be known as the Old Catholic Church. This would indicate that they are not insane...except that they made a vampire hunter the bishop of England!

Other religions[edit]

Discordianism also has a doctrine of Papal Infallibility, somewhat modified by the fact that Discordianism has somewhere in excess of 2 million registered Popes. To enhance confusion, anything any Discordian Pope says on the subject of religion or morals is automatically Official Doctrine for their personal schism. As a consequence, no two Discordians agree on everything, and most can't agree on anything.

See also[edit]