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Kristina Duffy wrote:

Hi, guys —

My name is Kristina Duffy and I live on the West coast of Newfoundland.

In Confirmation class, we had some questions and I was wondering if you could help me with one.

  • What is the gift of infallibility and how does it differ from impeccability?

I have searched everywhere but no answers make sense.

Thank you.


  { What is the gift of infallibility and how does it differ from impeccability? }

Mike replied:

Hi, Kristina —

Thank-you for the very good question.

Infallibility is a negative safeguard. It does not mean the Pope will always say or do the holiest thing. It protects him against doing or saying anything that would bring errors into the Deposit of Faith: teachings on faith and morals which Catholics must believe if they are to truly call themselves Catholic.

Example: The (Holy Father's/Church's) Teaching on:

  1. artificial contraception
  2. the male priesthood and other sacraments
  3. abortion
  4. Traditional Marriage between one man and one woman for life, etc.

consist of part of the Deposit of Faith.

Example of issues that are not part of the Deposit of Faith:

The (Holy Father's/Church's) teaching on:

  • whether a country should go to war or not.

    If countries want to follow Catholic teachings on issues of self-defense, there are issues on faith and morals in that area. They are called "Just War Principals". The country in question must determine if Just War principles are met. For the USA, this responsibility falls on the President (and the Senate).

  • how illegal aliens should be handled within any country.
    (In My Opinion: Certainly a country and state issue, not a religious issue.)

  • how a country should take care of its poor

    — the Church can give guidelines but the prudential judgment belongs to the country and its people.

  • Also local customs or practices in local Catholic parishes are not an issue of faith or morals,
    like whether you kneel or stand when you receive Our Blessed Lord in the Eucharist.

Issues of faith and morals are teachings Catholics have to believe in order to truly call themselves faithful, practicing Catholics. If someone, man or woman, is attending Sunday Mass on a regular basis, but whose actions are working against what the Church believes, they are not a faithful nor practicing Catholic. Sorry Joe! Sorry Nancy! All actions mean something. You can't divorce all your actions from your words.

Important point: If the Pope starts doing things that scandalize the Church and behaves in ways that are immoral and sinful, these acts are a reflection of the Pope's sinfulness; and do not deal with the issue of infallibility. We would say,

He is infallible but not impeccable.

Catholic Dictionary

Impeccability (ihm-pehk-uh-BIHL-ih-tee): The impossibility of sinning, which both Jesus (because of His divinity) and Mary (because of the Immaculate Conception) enjoyed. The saints in Heaven also are impeccable because they experience the beatific vision, though on earth they were not.

Catholic Dictionary

Infallibility (ihn-FAL-lih-BIHL-uh-tee):

The inability to err in teaching the truth. In theology, it refers to:

  • the Church, in that she preserves and teaches the deposit of truth as revealed by Christ;
  • the Roman Pontiff, when he teaches ex cathedra in matters of faith or morals, and indicates that the doctrine is to be believed by all the faithful; and
  • the College of Bishops, when speaking in union with the Pope in matters of faith and morals, agreeing that a doctrine must be held by the universal Church, and the doctrine is promulgated by the Pontiff.

Infallible statements from the Vatican have only been issued twice within 100 years. (The Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary.) The last time was in 1950. The Holy Father declared, as previous Early Church Fathers and Councils taught, that Mary was assumed in to Heaven body and soul gloriously after her Earthly life.

Important last point: Although not explicitly infallible, there are many Teachings Catholics still have to adhere to it with religious assent. They are the Magisterial Teachings of the Church.

These would include teachings in:

  • Encyclicals
  • Apostolic letters and
  • other teachings that come from the Vatican, like the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says on the topic; note especially paragraphs 889 and 892:

The teaching office (Cross references CCC 85-87, 2032-2040)

888 Bishops, with priests as co-workers, have as their first task "to preach the Gospel of God to all men," in keeping with the Lord's command. (Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis 4; cf. Mark 16:15) They are "heralds of faith, who draw new disciples to Christ; they are authentic teachers" of the apostolic faith "endowed with the authority of Christ." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 25)

889 In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility. By a supernatural sense of faith the People of God, under the guidance of the Church's living Magisterium, unfailingly adheres to this faith. (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 12 and Dei Verbum 10)

890 The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium's task to preserve God's people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church's shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The exercise of this charism takes several forms:

891 "The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful - who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. . . . The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium," above all in an Ecumenical Council. (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 25; cf. Vatican Council I: DS 3074) When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine "for belief as being divinely revealed," (Vatican II, Dei Verbum 10 § 2) and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions "must be adhered to with the obedience of faith." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 25 § 2) This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself. (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 25)

892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a "definitive manner," they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent" (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 25) which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

I hope this helps,

Mike Humphrey

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