Monday, March 29, 2010

To the Media: Learn what "infallibility" means.

Over the past several days as a media frenzy has blown up around the Pope, the word "infallibility" has been bandied around quite liberally. It's interjected into almost every news story done on the pope as if trying to show some sort of hypocracy or inconsistency. Unfortuantely, the media almost always uses the word in the wrong way, or uses it in such a way that it's implication is totally off. Perhaps some reporters are aware of the true defintion, but interject it into ambiguous places to give readers or listeners the wrong idea.

For example, I heard a CBC reporter talking about sex abuse, and he ended his commentary with a line something like "accusations are reaching all the way to the Vatican on the doorstep of the man Catholics believe is infallible." Or someone might make a comment like "How can the Pope be infallible if his apology left much to be desired!" and so on.

Infallible has a variety of meanings, but in Catholic theology, there is only one. Papal infallibility does not mean the pope is perfect or that he cannot sin. It does not mean he doesn't make mistakes or that he can't be wrong. It doesn't mean he is holy or righteous or even a good example to follow. Of course, personal goodness and holiness are desirable characteristics of the Pope, but they do not fall under the definition of infallibility.

According to its definition, Papal infallibility is the dogma in Roman Catholic theology that, by action of the Holy Spirit, the Pope is preserved from even the possibility of error when he solemnly declares or promulgates to the universal Church a dogmatic teaching on faith or morals as being contained in divine revelation, or at least being intimately connected to divine revelation.

So it's a pretty tight definitions. In July 2005, Pope Benedict even remarked "The Pope is not an oracle; he is infallible in very rare situations, as we know."

Theoretically the Pope could commit terrible sins and this would not destroy papal infallibility. It is also a necessary doctrine. Since Catholics believe that the Church is the "foundation and bulwark of the truth", there needs to be a final arbiter, and that final arbiter is the Pope. This was promised to the Church when Jesus said the gates of Hell would not prevail against her.

Popes are human, given a special office. Our current and past popes were known to frequent the confessional often, probably more frequently than most other Catholics. These would not be the actions of someone who couldn't make mistakes.

I hope the media start using the definition of infallibility correctly.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I hate how people misunderstand this concept.