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Maryellen Jones wrote:

Hi, guys —

On Catholic World News today, one of the headlines stated that the Pope would issue an Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist.

During his February 22nd meeting with the priests of Rome, the Pope said that his Apostolic Exhortation would offer a series of meditations on some of the key points made during the Synod.

I've never been sure when to consider a Papal statement infallible. He issues:

  • statements
  • documents
  • encyclicals, and
  • other letters

  • Is an Apostolic Exhortation an infallible teaching?

I hope someone can set me straight on when to view his statements as binding.

Thanks,

Maryellen

  { Is an Apostolic Exhortation an infallible teaching, and if not, when are the Pope's words binding? }

Mary Ann replied:

Hi Maryellen,

The short answer is:

Not unless it says so.

Of course, the matter treated in the statement may already be part of the Church's

  • ordinary universal teaching, or
  • defined by Her extraordinary teaching

both of which are infallible.

Mary Ann

Eric replied:

Maryellen,

It is not possible to determine whether a statement is infallible based on the type of document it is. Infallible statements can be made in a wide variety of documents, but there has never been a document which has always carried the charism of infallibility. Nor is there specific language that the Pope has to use to indicate infallibility, although they tend to use something of the form of:

We [or I] declare by virtue of our apostolic authority . . .

or something similar.

A good discussion of the four characteristics of an infallible teaching is in the EWTN document:

This specifically discusses the document Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, which infallibly declared that women cannot be ordained, and it does an excellent job of discussing the principles. EWTN also has other documents on the subject; go to:

and search on keyword "infallibility".

It is extremely unlikely that this upcoming document contains any new infallible teachings. It is intended as an exhortation and meditation, which is not a typical opportunity to make infallible statements.

Infallible statements are exceedingly rare. John Paul made only two of them:

  1. one in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, pertaining to women's ordination, and
  2. one in the encyclical Veritatis Splendor, regarding abortion.

Before that, you have to go back to the 1950s to find one (the Assumption).

Side note to Mary Ann's replied:

Infallible statements don't explicitly say they are infallible, although you can tell by the way they are written; for example, they usually:

  • say they are defining or declaring something
  • they invoke Petrine authority
  • they are addressed to the whole Church, and so forth.

Hope this helps,

Eric

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