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Eugene wrote:

Hi, guys —

When the pope speaks on morality and faith, I understand it is infallible.

  • Does this occur when he makes a speech?
  • in his writings?
  • in general conversation?
  • What about matters that are not about faith and morals?

Sincerely,

Eugene

  { When exactly is the Pope infallible? }

John replied:

Hi, Eugene —

Thanks for the question.

Papal infallibility covers any statement made in the area of faith and moral no matter where it's made, so long as he is speaking as the Universal Pastor of the Church and makes it clear that his statement is definitive.

That said, if Pope Benedict expresses a theological opinion as a biblical scholar (which he is) then it's not in his role as Pope. If he expresses an opinion about who wrote the Book of Revelation or the Epistle to the Ephesians, it's just a theological opinion. It's certainly worth listening to, but it's not binding.

If he's speaking on doctrine, then the Holy Spirit prevents him from teaching error if he's speaking definitively. So when John Paul II said definitively that the Church had no authority to ordain women, it was an infallible statement.

When it comes to matters that are not related to doctrine (faith and morals), the Pope is not infallible. So if the Pope says,

Eugene, should never have left Boston to move back to Texas, he would be expressing an opinion that you can take or leave.

Hope this helps.

John

Mary Ann replied:

Eugene,

It is not true that when the Pope speaks on faith and morals he is infallible. He is infallible when he speaks authoritatively on faith and morals, i.e., when he speaks in his official capacity and citing his Petrine authority.

Mary Ann

John replied:

Eugene,

Mary Ann has a point, however, usually when speaking in these areas he is re-affirming what the Church officially teaches and that is infallible to the degree that it has been defined.

So if the Pope in the 5th century spoke about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist,
his statements probably contained infallible truth although at that time the Church didn't have
a definition for Transubstantiation.

To that end, I suppose when anyone of us quote Church teaching in these areas, we speak infallibly — as long as we get the teaching right.

John

Mary Ann replied:

Eugene,

The Pope is not speaking infallibly in general conversation or in writing or speeches; in the latter two he can, but he must make it clear that he is so doing. The Pope also has a non-infallible teaching authority, when he guides us on matters close to the revealed truth, and we should give these teachings respect.

As John said, Popes can also speak about revealed truth in general conversation, as can we.
We then share in the infallibility of the Church as a whole:

  • Pope
  • bishops, and
  • people holding to the same truth of Christ revealed to the apostles.

From the earliest times, there are writings about the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist because this was a teaching of the Apostles from Christ, as recorded in Scripture.

Mary Ann

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