Questions linger about papal infallibility



I would like to thank Father Brian Morris for sharing his thoughts on papal infallibility in the Rhode Island Catholic (Ask the Newly Ordained 10/5/17). I have some reservations about what he is saying, in particular, that the pope has so rarely exercised this authority, and would like to bring up a couple of points.

It seems to me that anything in the Code of Canon Law which specifies something about the faith is infallible. In the Apostolic Constitution of the Latin-rite Code of Canon Law, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the Latin-rite code is binding on the Latin rite Church, and that canonical laws by their nature “demand observance.”

He thus made it very clear (provided the English translation is accurate) that he was requiring absolute obedience to the Code of Canon Law, in other words, that he was binding the Latin-rite Church to this body of laws. Per the authority of binding and loosing specified in Matthew 16:19, it seems to me that none of the canons can therefore have any inherent defect, and that anything specified in the code about the faith is also infallible.

Also, the Apostolic Constitution of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was addressed to the entire church, specifies that it is a “sure norm”for the faith; this is a definitive statement. I don’t believe that the pope would have used that language if he thought that the contents of the catechism were merely opinion. It seems to me, therefore, that anything specified about the faith in the catechism is infallible. Am I overlooking something?

One thing that Father Morris’ column did not mention is the duty of all Catholics to avoid anything that contradicts the teachings of the pope when he is exercising his authentic teaching authority, even when he is not teaching infallibly. In other words, when the pope is exercising his authentic teaching authority, and yet not teaching infallibly, we still need to consider that teaching probable. It seems to me that most Catholics are not aware of that restriction, and therefore do not value the pope’s non-infallible teaching as much as they should. Merely saying that we should regard such teachings as deserving the “respect that comes from the office” is not enough, because most Catholics don’t understand how much respect that is.

I would be interested in Father Morris’ feedback, as it is always possible I am missing something.

Jonathan Hill

Editor’s Note: Father Brian Morris offers a response to Mr. Hill’s questions in his “Ask the Newly Ordained” column this week.