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Clarifying papal infallibility: Separating myth from fact
September 29, 2015

Clarifying Papal Infallibility: Separating Myth from Fact

The Catholic Church’s teaching on papal infallibility is one which is generally misunderstood by many from both within the Church, and outside the Church. Given these common misapprehensions regarding the basic tenets of papal infallibility, it is necessary to explain exactly what infallibility is not. In particular, below are some myths regarding papal infallibility that are common:

1. The Pope is “perfect” and cannot sin 2. Everything the Pope says is correct and should be believed in as a dogma of faith, because he is infallible 3. The Pope can “change” established Church doctrine. The Pope can make “true” that which has been traditionally held as “not true”, and can make “false” that which is inherently “true”

Before we discuss the myths, let us first understand the exact teaching of the Church regarding papal infallibility.


The doctrine of papal infallibility was defined dogmatically in the First Vatican Council of 1869–1870, but had been generally believed and defended even before that, existing already in medieval theology and being the majority opinion at the time of the Counter-Reformation.

Papal infallibility is a dogma of the Catholic Church that states that, in virtue of the promise of Jesus to Peter, the Pope is preserved from the possibility of error when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church.” (First Vatican Council, First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, chapter 4, 9)

Statements by a Pope that exercise papal infallibility are referred to as solemn papal definitions or ex cathedra teachings.

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