The Five Protections given to every Roman Pontiff

Each Pope is the successor of Peter, and each has the gift of truth and a never-failing faith. Therefore:

1. No Pope can ever teach material heresy, not even inadvertently.
2. No Pope can ever commit apostasy, heresy, or schism.
3. No Pope can ever be evil or corrupt, in his heart and mind, even in matters beyond his office.
4. No Pope can ever speak or act so as to gravely harm the Church.
5. No Pope can ever intend to harm the Church at all.

Popes can err in non-infallible teachings, to a limited extent. Popes can err is decisions of discipline, such as in choosing whom to promote to Bishop or Cardinal. But every decision on doctrine or discipline by the Pope is protected from grave error and from harming the Church. This is true because of the indefectibility of the Church. The Roman Pontiff is the head of the Church, and if he were to teach error, or believe error, or be corrupt, or act against the Church, or intend harm to the Church, then the head would have defected. And if the head has defected the body cannot be said to be sound.
{6:23} But if your eye has been corrupted, your entire body will be darkened. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great will that darkness be!

The Pope is the eye of the Church, and the whole head of the Church. He cannot be darkened, neither personally, nor in his office, nor in his word, deeds, or intentions.

I still wonder whether a Pope is capable of committing an actual mortal sin. Apparently, Popes can commit objective mortal sins that do not harm the Church. Perhaps a Pope could commit a mortal sin, and then promptly repent with perfect contrition. But a Pope cannot continue in a state of unrepented actual mortal sin. Otherwise, the eye of the Church would be corrupted, and the body would be darkened. For the sake of His Body, the Church, and for the sake of salvation, God does not permit this to happen.

Protection for Doctrine and Discipline

Each Roman Pontiff has two types of authority:

A. The teaching authority (Magisterium)
* infallible
* non-infallible
B. The temporal authority
* dogmatic facts (infallible)
* other decisions (non-infallible)

The teaching authority is protected from all error, when the teaching meets the conditions for infallibility. Otherwise, it is protected from grave error, and so it is called non-infallible (it is not called “fallible”). The temporal authority is protected from all error, when the decision concerns dogmatic facts. Otherwise, it is protected from grave error, and therefore should be called non-infallible.

Religion is not Politics

Therefore, it is sinful to treat any Roman Pontiff as if he were merely an elected leader of a human institution. And it is sinful to treat any Roman Pontiff as if he were your political opponent. The current trend within the conservative Catholic subculture is to look with severe bias on every word and deed of the Roman Pontiff, to publicly decry his every decision, and to accuse him at every turn. This behavior is schismatic and gravely immoral.

No human person on earth has the role to judge the Roman Pontiff. Nor can it be said that he is capable of grave errors, that will harm the Church, and that we must simply endure his pontificate. Rather, we are called to support the Vicar of Christ, to forgive and forbear the limited errors which are permitted by the grace of God, and to defend him against exaggerated and false accusations, especially those from his own flock.

Sinful secular society has taught its citizens to set themselves up, individually and in groups of like-minded persons, as judges over all things. And being judges, they are also encouraged to speak and act with bias against anyone with a different point of view, conservatives against liberals and vice versa. They are taught to hold up opinions as if dogma, and to refuse to be taught or corrected by anyone in authority. They are taught to treat authority figures with even greater contempt and disdain than anyone else, if those figures have a different viewpoint.

Many Catholics are behaving in the same way, except they are treating the Vicar of Christ, appointed Pope by divine grace and providence, as if he were a political opponent. They call Pope Francis by his last name, Bergoglio. They engage in name-calling: bully, dictator, lost shepherd, etc. They interpret his every word and deed with bias and make every possible accusation.

Pope Francis is right that this type of false or exaggerated accusations are of the devil. The Holy Spirit is not guiding anyone to treat the man He chose as Pope with contempt, malice, and derision.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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5 thoughts on “The Five Protections given to every Roman Pontiff

  1. I once heard a story.
    Back in the 15th Century, a priest was trying to convert a Jewish businessman to the Faith. Eventually, the Jew had to go to the Vatican on business. The priest thought “That’s it, he’ll never convert now!”. When the Jew got back, he came to the priest and said “OK, I’m ready to become a Catholic!”. The priest asked why. The Jew replied “I am a businessman. If any business was run as corruptly as the Church it would not last fourteen days. You’ve lasted fourteen centuries. You’ve got to be guided by God!”.


    • That’s an amusing story. But the Church is indefectible, despite the sins and failings of many of Her leaders. And the Pope, being the head of the Church, cannot defect either: he cannot teach or commit heresy, nor be evil or corrupt, nor harm the Church gravely, whether intentionally or not. He is not a politician elected by the people, and subject to their will. He is subject to the will of God.


  2. I definitely disagree that a Pope cannot continue in the state of unrepentant mortal sin until the end.

    If that were true, it would go against Jesus words “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48) and the Papacy would become a guarantee of salvation regardless, while normal Catholics have to fear Hell every day. Indeed, Jesus taught us that those in positions of power are more at risk if they don’t correspond fully to the graces that God gives them and they don’t everything they can to shepherd the faithful.

    I also think that papal infallibility covers the Pope from committing the sins of formal schism and heresy, but that a Pope has necessarily to be a good man is your opinion,in no way dogmatic.


    • A Pope could possibly commit an actual mortal sin, shortly before death, and so end up in Hell. So it is not a guarantee of salvation. But having a Pope who is continually in a state of unrepented actual mortal sin is contrary to the indefectibility of the Church.


    • As i said many times, quoting many saints, i don’t believe that the timing with which you commit a sin can decide your eternal destination. I think that those who end up in Hell are those who stubbornly refuse to repent until the very end, so i believe that many Popes who led wicked lives are possibly saved, while maybe others chose otherwise.

      I was against the idea of the impossibility for a Pope to commit actual mortal sin, but you clarified your point so i’m ok.


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