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The anti-Catholics rejected the dogma of the infallability of the Pope, because for them, there are instances in the Bible and history which invoked the total fallability of the Bishop of Rome. Below are the points used to oppose the dogma:

CASE NO. 1: What about Peter’s conduct at Antioch? Certainly this would be a perfect example of papal infallibility being non-existent.

OBJECTION: Remember St. Peter’s conduct at Antioch, when he refused to eat with the Gentile Christians in order to not offend certain Jews (Gal. 2:11-16). St. Paul reprimanded him, not because of his lack of papal infallibility, but because St. Peter’s actions had to do with matters of discipline, not with issues of faith or morals. It was St. Peter’s actions that were being brought into question, not his teaching. St. Paul even acknowledged that St. Peter was well aware of the correct teaching (Gal. 2:15-16), the problem was that St. Peter wasn’t living up to his own teachings! Another example of this is found in the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus points out the Jewish leaders and reminds all that they possessed a God-given authority to teach, even though many of them were corrupt. Jesus later calls them ‘hypocrites’ and ‘a brood of vipers’ but that they nonetheless had an office with authority.  Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples saying, “The Scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore do, and observe all the things, whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.”  Through God’s providence, there have only been a few Judas-like in the papacy, but these bad popes stand out so much because they are so rare. Even so, infallibility has nothing to do with sin. Thankfully the overwhelming majority of popes have been very holy men. Some unfortunately, were very heavy sinners, who lived horrible lives, but they were prevented by this grace of the Holy Spirit from formally teaching error to the Church.” (Madrid, pp. 132-33, 139, Pope Fiction)

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CASE NO. 2: Citing Matthew 16:18, Christ also said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.” On that note, why would Peter be trusted as a Pope?

OBJECTION: If Peter can’t be trusted as Pope, why trust him as an Apostle?  The answer should be the same: Trust Peter when he’s guided by the Holy Spirit.

It’s a basic prerequisite that for the pope to be infallible, he has to be speaking both as head of the earthly Church, and on behalf of the Church.  Vatican I defined papal infallibility as applying when the Roman pontiff  “speaks ex cathedra, that is, when he, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, decides that a doctrine concerning faith or morals is to be held by the entire Church he possesses.”

CASE NO. 3: Jesus told the Apostles that He’s going to have to suffer and die. “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to You!’” (Mt. 16:22).  Would this meet the criteria to be infallible, according to Vatican I?

OBJECTION: No.  First, it’s private, not on behalf of the Church; and second, there’s no dogmatic definition involved.  So St. Peter shouldn’t be expected to be infallible here and he was not.  Jesus said in response, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Mt. 16:23).

To some Protestant ears, it sounds legalistic to say that Peter is protected by the Holy Spirit in some capacities and not others. But this is something that all Christians believe.  When St. Peter declared Jesus was the Christ, he was not only infallible, but inspired (Mt. 16:16-17).  When he begged Jesus not to go to Jerusalem, he was speaking as a mere man (Mt. 16:22-23).  When he spoke on Pentecost, he was not only infallible, but inspired (Acts 2).  When he declared the Gentiles part of the people of God, he was not only infallible, but inspired (Acts 10-11). When he wrote, in his capacity as a teacher of the faith, he was not only infallible, but inspired (1 Peter and 2 Peter).  So every Christian views some (but not all) of Peter’s actions as specially protected by God.  The only difference is that Catholics have a coherent belief as to which are which, and Protestants typically don’t.

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CASE NO. 4: Catholics claim that the pope is infallible in matters of faith and morals, yet Pope Liberius signed an Arian creed, thereby endorsing a heretical view of Christ. Obviously, then, papal infallibility is a fallacy.” (Madrid, p. 145, Pope Fiction)

OBJECTION: Allegedly, Pope Liberius did not only hold to an incorrect view of Jesus, but actually endorsed this by signing onto a heretical creed. The fourth century was a hard time for the Catholic Church. Despite all hopes of orthodox Catholics, the Arian movement was growing, especially when Emperor Constantius made it his business to spread Arianism throughout the empire. He was gaining strong ecclesiastical support, but he wasn’t able to change Pope Liberius’ mind. Constantius had the Pope arrested and taken to Milan to appear before him. He was pressured to comply with his will, but Pope Liberius resisted, thus Constantius banished Liberius to live in exile. After 2 years of imprisonment, harassment and exile, Liberius was released. Why was he released—did he finally give in and sign this heretical creed, or did the emperor finally give up this battle of the wills? Although it’s possible that Liberius did buckle under the pressure the following evidence indicates he didn’t.  Patrick Madrid writes, “Had he really given in to the emperor during his exile, the emperor would have published his victory far and wide; there would have been no possible doubt about it…..” So if Pope Liberius did end up signing this creed, why was there only silence? While it’s true that this is an argument from silence, it can’t be ignored. Assuming the worst case scenario is true, Pope Liberius only signed the creed after two years of harassment, exile and coercion. The signing didn’t come from his own free will, and for this reason papal infallibility isn’t an issue” (Pope Fiction, pp. 144-147).

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CASE NO. 5: How can the Catholic Church claim infallibility when it officially condemned Galileo for heresy when he declared that the Earth revolves around the sun? Add to this fact that Galileo was cruelly imprisoned and force to recant under pains of torture. Modern science show that Galileo was right and the ‘infallible pope’ was wrong.

OBJECTION: Galileo was a brilliant physicist and astronomer who’s heliocentric theories were contrary to the understanding of the Church of his day, true, but his ideas were also contrary to the Ptolemaic school of thought which was accepted by all contemporary scientists of his day (Madrid, p. 179, Pope Fiction). Interestingly another scientific peer, Johannes Kepler, a Protestant, was vehemently condemned 10 years earlier by a Protestant University of Tubingen, for advocating the very same theory, and we don’t hear the same blown-out-of proportion stories, that Galileo has led us to. Actually for many years, Galileo was held in high regard by many Roman officials, and his work received high honors from three successive popes. So why was he condemned?

First of all, is that Galileo’s heliocentric theory, although completely opposed by theologians, wasn’t the real source of his difficulties with the Church. Actually it was a presumption to teach that God was merely accidental, and not substantial. Galileo confused truths with scientific discoveries by saying that in the Bible ‘are found propositions which, when taken literally, are false; that Holy Writ out of regard for the incapacity of the people, expresses itself inexactly…’. Thus it was Galileo’s attack on theology that brought about the heated response from the Church (Madrid, pp. 181-82, Pope Fiction). Even with all of this the Church neither violated nor compromised the doctrine of infallibility. Remember that in order for a pope to exercise the charism of infallibility, he must offically be defining a doctrine relating to faith or morals—the pope is not infallible when it comes to science or any other field of thought, furthermore, the other two conditions to pronounce an infallible doctrine were not present.

As Fr. Rumble and Fr. Carty in Radio Replies explain: “All his [Galileo] arguments [of the day] gave probability only. In the present state of general education we all know that there is no doubt on the subject, and that the movement of the Earth is in no way opposed to Sacred Scripture, rightly understood. But people did not know that then, and they were not ready for the new knowledge. It’s general publication could result only in widespread disturbance due to a lack of preparatory knowledge . . . the conservatism of the Church was prudence itself in the face of these novelties not yet proved.”

Wasn’t Galileo imprisoned and brutally tortured to get a confession from him?  He was imprisoned but there is no evidence that he was tortured because he provided a retraction of his original statements against the Church regarding his scientific theories.

The Galileo story when wrongly understood seems to stain the credibility of the Church, but when understood correctly, it proves nothing, except that the Catholic Church is very serious in her efforts to safeguard the flock from error or scandal. Throughout the Galileo ordeal, Pope Urban VIII was not acting in his capacity of teacher, but of protective guardian. So as disturbing as this case was, it doesn’t conflict with the Catholic teaching of infallibility.” (Madrid, pp. 188-89, Pope Fiction).

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CASE NO. 6: What about when Pope Sixtus V issued a botched revision of the Latin Vulgate Bible. This edition was so filled with errors, omissions and deformities of the text, that it was hastily recalled after his death by embarrassed Roman cardinals. But the damage was done. Sixtus V had formally taught that the defective edition was to be the only Bible used for the entire Church. If that isn’t a perfect example of a pope fulfilling all the necessary ingredients for teaching ‘infallibly’, nothing else in papal history is. The pope clearly taught error.

OBJECTION: Sixtus V reigned as pope from 1585-1590. He has been described as a “brilliant leader in political and ecclesiastical arenas, a tireless innovator in agriculture, engineering and law, he effectively enacted and enforced laws, created an impressive aqueduct system, reformed clergy and the Church’s liturgical customs, tackled building projects, drained the swamps near Rome to eliminate the siege of malaria, spent large amounts of money on charitable works and missions, and oversaw the completion of the St. Peter’s Basilica.”  Unfortunately he had an ego to match and this got him into serious trouble when a revision of the Latin Vulgate edition of the holy Bible was begun. Historian Francis Gasquet explains the background of the Vulgate: “The Latin text of the Sacred Scriptures had existed from the earliest times of Christianity.” The translators were unknown to St. Augustine and St. Jerome; but the former says that the old Latin version had certainly come “from the first days of the Faith”, and the latter that it “had helped strengthen the Faith of the infant Church.” Made and copied without any official supervision, these western texts soon became corrupt or doubtful.

Since the Church was much threatened by Protestant doctrines that were fast appearing throughout much of Europe and since there were numerous editions of the Vulgate in circulation, Pope Sixtus recognized that the Church required best biblical translation possible to meet Protestant arguments.  He acted forthrightly in assembling a team of scholars and linguists, headed by eminent theologians like Cardinal Robert Bellarmine and others. They compiled as many Greek manuscripts as could be assembled and finished the revision process by the end of 1588. But apparently overcome by pride, the pope found the ten thousand readings they had diligently chosen inadequate, and angrily announced he would personally revise the Vulgate. He declared, “We, weighing the importance of the matter, and considering carefully the great and singular privilege we hold of God, and our true and legitimate succession from Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles . . . Are the proper and specially constituted Person to decide this whole question.”

Equipped for the task, Sixtus eliminated all the work done by the former commission, and started fresh. Unfortunately his abilities to translate, edit and make all the appropriate decisions were beyond his capabilities and the result was an error filled translation presented to the cardinals in early 1590.

Cardinal Bellarmine and Fr. Toledo, another Jesuit scholar, revealed their fears “…that by such mutilation, he [Sixtus] was laying himself open to the attacks of the heretics, and was giving more serious scandal to the faithful than anything else the pope could do . . .”  If Sixtus had formally promulgated this distorted version, it would have allowed a strong case to be argued against the doctrine of papal infallibility since the Pope would have fulfilled the three requirements layed out by Vatican I for an infallible teaching.  But the weight of opposition was sufficient, thanks to Bellarmine and others, to stop the Pope from releasing it.  Still, he worked on correction of typographical errors with the apparent intention of releasing a corrected version soon. Patrick Madrid writes, “Expectation was at a boiling point. The news in Rome had it that the official promulgation would happen any day. Advance copies of the new Vulgate had been bound and delivered to all the cardinals in Rome along with advance copies of the bull officially publishing it. Everything was ready for the pope to promulgate the new version. Nothing could stop him.”  But at the last moment, Sixtus, whose health and vigor were never questioned, took to his bed, dying on August 27, 1590 after a brief illness. The Holy Spirit’s promise to guide the Church to all truth seems to have been fulfilled again. “Only God knows if Sixtus’ sudden death was dramatic proof of divine intervention– the evidence that papal infallibility isn’t just a Catholic idea, but that God Himself will prevent, by death if necessary, the pope from teaching an error formally to the Church.” (Madrid, pps. 242-51, Pope Fiction).

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CASE NO. 7: Pope Honorius (625-638) specifically taught Monothelitism, a heresy that held that Christ had only one will (a divine one), not two wills (a divine one and a human one) as all orthodox Christians hold.

OBJECTION: The critics of papal infallibility feel that this example demolishes the doctrine once and for all. Here, they contend, is an example of a pope teaching error. After the pope’s death, an ecumenical council (The Third Council of Constantinople) condemned him. What could be more contradictory than an infallible pope being condemned by an infallible council?

However, in their excitement the critics have overlooked something — the facts. The controversy stems from a letter that Pope Honorius wrote to Sergius, a Monothelite heretic. The Monothelite heresy maintained that Jesus had only one will, a divine will. The Church had always taught that Jesus was fully God and fully man. As such, He had both a divine and a human will. Before the heresy was widely known, Sergius sought to get the pope’s approval by deception. In a letter to the pope he stated that Jesus never opposed the Father. Consequently, if two persons agree they may be spoken of as being of “one will.” The pope, unaware of Sergius’ deception, answered to the subject of Christ’s “opposition” to the Father. He wrote in part: “We confess one will of our Lord Jesus Christ…Since Christ’s human will is faultless there can be no talk of opposing wills.” Subsequently, Monothelites fraudulently used this statement as proof that the pope believed with them that Christ had no human will. Pope Honorius was deceived and then misrepresented.

Furthermore, the Third Council of Constantinople condemned him for inaction because he did nothing to stop the heresy but not for teaching heresy. In any event, his letter was private. Thus the issue of infallibility never even entered the picture.

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CASE NO. 8: St. Athanasius was condemned by Pope Liberius though he was the leader of the defenders of orthodoxy against Arianism at the time.

OBJECTION: Pope Liberius was a weak man (the first Pope after St. Peter never honored as a saint) and he was imprisoned and probably had been tortured to force him to support the Arian heresy, at the time he condemned St. Athansius. He was therefore obviously acting under duress, as St. Athanasius pointed out when he refused to accept the validity of the excommunication. Though Pope Liberius did condemn St. Athanasius under heavy pressure from his captors, he refused to sign a clearly Arian statement of faith, but did sign an equivocal statement which could be interpreted either in an orthodox or an Arian sense.

The infallibility of the papacy was therefore preserved even under Liberius’ weak leadership. But Popes are not infallible when making excommunications, or any disciplinary judgment, for they are limited by the information they have on the individual or situation in question. They are only infallible in making doctrinal pronouncements ex cathedra.


CASE NO. 9: Pope Pius VII restored the Order of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1814 though it was condemned by Pope Clement XIV. It was an action of fallability.

OBJECTION: Pope Clement XIV didn’t “condemn” the Jesuits in 1773, but he did suppress the order — that is, he “shut it down.” Why? Because the Bourbon princes and others hated the success of the Jesuits. They pressured the pope until he gave in and suppressed the order. Even so, the decree which the pope signed didn’t judge or condemn the Jesuits. It merely listed the accusations against them and concluded that “the Church cannot enjoy true and lasting peace so long as the Society remains in existence.”

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CASE NO. 10: Nine months after Formosus’ death, in January 897, Pope Stephen VI (VII) convened a Synod which would come to be known as the Cadaver Synod. Formosus’ body was disinterred from its tomb in St Peter’s Basilica, dressed in papal vestments and seated on a throne to face the accusers. A deacon appointed to speak for the dead Pope, stood to the right of the corpse. Stephen read the list of charges, then he solemnly, addressed the Pope’s body: “When you were bishop of Porto, why did you usurp the universal Roman See in such a spirit of ambition?” Formosus was naturally found guilty on all charges and excommunicated. The body was stripped of its vestments and the other symbols of office then in a particularly macabre gesture the three blessing fingers were cut from the dead Pope’s right hand. All Formosus’ acts and sacraments were declared invalid and clerics ordained by him were required to be re-ordained. However, Pope Stephen’s successor, Theodore II (November-December 897) annulled the acts of Stephen’s Synod and had Formosus’ body returned to its tomb with the other Popes in St Peter’s Basilica. Pope Theodore’s successor, John IX (898-900), completed and confirmed Theodore’s work by ordering that all the acts of the Cadaver Synod be destroyed. Furthermore, the practice of “damnatio memoriae” (destruction of the person’s memory) was outlawed. Pope Sergius III (904-911) who had been a judge at the Cadaver Synod would overturn the work of Theodore II and John IX and reinstated Formosus’ excommunication.

OBJECTION: Over the centuries the condemnation of Formosus has been used as an argument against infallibility. It is claimed by the anti-Catholics that the conflicting “ex cathedra” teachings of successive Popes, in the case of Pope Formosus, is a decisive argument against the doctrine of papal infallibility. Yet the Formosus affair and its outcomes really do not have any specific impact on infallibility because the various Popes were not making “ex cathedra” teachings on faith and morals. Rather the pronouncements were concerned with interpretations of canon law.

The precise law (canon) in the case of Pope Formosus was Canon 15 of the Second Council of Nicaea. The canon’s purpose was specifically designed to eradicate the abuse of or the amassing of ecclesiastical benefices (Church offices, properties or dioceses) by individuals for “sordid profit- making”. The wording of this canon does not infer that any person who acted in contravention of it would thereby render invalid his subsequent sacraments and acts. The canon does not specify any precise censures or punishments to be imposed upon offenders. The canon’s tone is more exhortative than punitive. Nor can it be argued from the canon’s text or language that it intended to provide a blanket law which would not admit of exceptions. The canon was meant to rule out abuse for profit but there would obviously be times when a bishop might leave his diocese for the good of the Church community such as his election to the papacy.

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MEMENTO: The Pope is not infallible when exercising his governing authority, but still must be obeyed when he does so, as long as his orders apply clearly to the Church rather than to temporal affairs, for the Pope’s authority over the Church is God-given and there is no appeal from it on earth.

The Bishop of Rome is only infallible when speaking “ex cathedra” on matters pertaining faith and morals, which must be held by the entire Church. Absence of one or more of the elements would invalidate the infallibility.

“By the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by Our own authority, We declare, pronounce and define the doctrine . . . to be revealed by God and as such to be firmly and immutably held by all the faithful . . .”


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