Mistakes by the Teaching Authority in Rome
In very special and limited circumstances, the Pope has the gift of infallibility. It means that, when he is speaking as the supreme teacher of the Church, he can be, provided that all the required conditions apply, the official spokesman of the community of believers, whose common faith is the basic carrier of infallibility. “The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief.” (Lumen Gentium § 12 (a).
The gift of infallibility is, however, often misunderstood — as if the Popes, in matters of doctrine and morals, cannot make mistakes. History proves the opposite, and in view of the overblown claims by the present teaching authority in Rome – by the Pope himself and the Congregation for Doctrine, we must, regretfully, remind people of the historical facts.
Here are some instructive examples of errors in doctrine taught by a variety of Popes:
- defending slavery as willed by God; see also The Teaching Authority and Slavery and Discussion on the Popes and Slavery
- claiming that no one can be saved outside communion with the Catholic Church;
- teaching that it is wrong to take interest for money lent to other people;
- rejection and condemnation of Magna Carta
- the blanket condemnation of homosexuality as evil;
There are also terrible mistakes of judgment and crimes of injustice perpetrated with the sanction of the Popes. Apart from the injustices already contained in the previous list:
- the treatment of wives of clergy in the Middle Ages;
- the Inquisition;
- the persecution of witches;
- the treatment of priests applying for marriage.
See also the list of 65 doctrines in which Church teaching has been changed by Bishop Raymond A. Lucker.
For more information, I recommend:
- Rome has Spoken . . . A Guise to Forgotten Papal Statements, and How They Have Changed Through the Centuries, Maureen Fiedler and Linda Rabben (eds.), Crossroad, 370n Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10017. Published in 1998. ISBN 0-8245-1774-1.
- Theologians and the Magisterium, by Richard A. McCormick. From Corrective Vision, Explorations in Moral Theology, Sheed & Ward, 1994, Chapter 7.
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