Pope Francis appears has embraced what one might dub his own “dogma of fallibility.” The Pontiff seems utterly unabashed about admitting mistakes, and acknowledging that he might have left himself open to misinterpretation, writes John Allen.
When the First Vatican Council formally declared the dogma of Papal infallibility in 1870, it was very carefully circumscribed. According to the council’s formula, a papal edict is regarded as incapable of error only if:
- It pertains to faith and morals
- It does not contradict scripture or divine revelation
- It’s intended to be held by the whole Church
As Benedict XVI put it in July 2005: “The Pope is not an oracle; he is infallible [only] in very rare situations.” Benedict reinforced the point when he published his book Jesus of Nazareth, actually inviting people to disagree with him.
At the popular level, however, those limits often haven’t registered. Many people assume Catholics are supposed to accept everything a pope says as Gospel truth — or, at least, that it’s a major embarrassment if a pope is caught in a mistake.
Whether such candour is charming or simply confusing, leaving one to wonder if the Pope actually means what he says, perhaps is in the eye of the beholder. In any case, it’s become a defining feature of Francis’ style.
A classic, almost emblematic case in point came during the Pontiff’s airborne news conference on the way back to Rome on Sunday after a week-long trip to Latin America...
Photo: Pope Francis rubs his eyes during a news conference aboard the flight to Rome from South America. (AP Photo)