Catholics catch a lot of heat for believing that the Pope is infallible. The problem is, we don’t. The Pope can be wrong. He can, and does, sin. Infallibility refers to the Pope, acting as head of the body of bishops, in unity with the bishops, teaching a specific doctrine of faith or morals as true. That’s a lot to swallow! Let’s break it down.

The Pope speaks infallibly only on certain occasions. This is referred to as speaking “ex cathedra.” It doesn’t happen often, and when it does, the topic is not going to be controversial. You’re not going to hear the Pope expound infallibly on the best flavor of ice cream. Speaking ex cathedra is a big deal. When it happens, the subject is a basic, universal matter of faith, such as: Jesus is the Son of God. Mary was without sin. Stuff like that. The big stuff.

Second, he only does it with the full force of all the bishops behind him. The Pope is sort of “president of the bishops.” He’s not going to speak ex cathedra about a divisive topic. Everyone must be in agreement. Third, he only discusses matters of faith or morals. And all he really says is, “This is true. You must believe this.” Again, nothing far-out is being thrown out there. Just the basics, the no-brainers. Pretty much the stuff all Christians feel comfortable signing off on.

So, yeah, we know some of the Popes were rotters. No one’s giving them a pass. Even the best Popes aren’t perfect. They’re human. Infallibility is just one tiny piece of what the Pope does. And a large portion of them never speak infallibly! So don’t worry. You’re allowed to say the Pope is wrong. I do it all the time.

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