Critics of the Catholic Church claim the teachings are untrue because it has made errors. Two points ...

This article addresses several topics ...

The Catholic Church claims to be the true apostolic church established by Jesus and that it is infallible. The apparent discrepancies are due to various factors ...

  1. The so-called infallible statements were not really intended as infallible (but it is not so clear which statements are infallible and which are not.) Hopefully, the Catholic church will some day define exactly which statements are infallible and which are not.
  2. The infallible statements don't really contradict other infallible statements; they represent different perspectives. (But they do contradict.)Hopefully, the Catholic church will add more clarity to these in the future.

The documents of Vatican IIand the Catechismof the Catholic Church provide a clearly-presented overview of Catholic teaching.

I should mention that for me, the Catholic Church's claim of infallibility,which depends on various trivialities and legal technicalities, is not very satisfying — I can't imagine Jesus teaching anything like this. So while the Catholic system is perhaps technically internally consistent, it does this by using extremely legal arguments and in stretching the sensibilities of logical argumentation to the extreme. I don't think this is what Jesus had in mind when he established the church.

Index ...


Fallibly Infallible?

Faith is not merely "passed-down"

Changes and contradictions


Offensive ideas and actions

Doesn't practice what it preaches

Bad results

Marriage Contradictions

Fallibly Infallible? ...

The Catholic Church claims the pope is infallible (either independently or when agreeing with the bishops) ...

Vatican I | Vatican II

Note that in Vatican II, the infallibility of the pope is not limited to ex cathedra statements. If infallibly were limited to ex cathedra statements then it is a useless doctrine since it only applies to the two modern Marian doctrines (immaculate conception and assumption). Something is wrong if we could only be certain about those two doctrines but not the rest of the faith. The true doctrine of infallibility must, in some way, address the entire faith. The Orthodox church has such a doctrine of infallibility.

An article by Cardinal Ratzinger, formerly Pope Benedict XVI, provides examples of infallible doctrines.

There are clear examples of teachings of popes (or councils approved by popes) which appear to be in error. I can only conclude that these particular statements were not infallible. But these do not address faith and morals, only church discipline. Thus, they are outside of the scope of the doctrine of infallibility. Some examples (and my assessment) ...

  1. Pope John XXII declared in 1324 A.D. that it is an error for a pope to declare a doctrine as infallible. Is this papal bull by John XXII infallible or not?

    I should mention that this incident is difficult to properly interpret because it is tangled up in the historical events. It is not clear to me what John XXII was really saying or what the previous pope had stated.

  2. Pope Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors declared that people are not to have freedom of religion.

    This was in the context of the society of the age. He was trying to protect us from the gross errors of the so-called enlightenment which brought secularism to the modern world.

  3. Various popes and councils declared that non-Catholics cannot be saved.

    Vatican II clarifies what this means. Anyone who is saved is in some sense a member of the Catholic Church. Seems like a change to me.

  4. Pope Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors declared that non-Catholic marriage is not really marriage.

    Marriage is a spiritual institution. How can those in the secular world properly determine who is and who is not validly married? In our modern world we are redefining marriage.

  5. Pope Honorious I was declared a heretic. How can someone who is capable of speaking infallibly be a heretic?

    The doctrine of infallibility only guarantees that dogma is true. It says nothing about the people involved with determining the dogma. In the case of Pope Honorious I, he never defined any dogma at all. This is always the case; bad popes don't define dogma.

  6. The Second Lateran Council declares that priests must be unmarried. Yet priests are allowed to be married in certain cases.

    A disciplinary matter which is subject to change.

  7. Galileo was forced to declare untruth as true or be burned at the stake. Several popes were involved in this incident and approved of the proceedings.

    Yes, the pope was in error. But he did not "officially" declare any untrue dogmas.

  8. Several councils and a papal bull are anti-Semitic.

    Discrimination of classes of people is wrong but is not a dogmatic issue.

  9. Papal bulls by several popes support slavery and imperialism.

    The apostle Paul in the New Testament did not try to change the institution of slavery either.

  10. Pope Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors denies that the popes had any role in the Great Schism of 1054 A.D. Later popes reversed this opinion.

    This is not a dogmatic issue.

  11. Several popes allowed burning alive as a punishment. The 4th Lateran Council decreed that heretics should be executed.

    This is not a dogmatic issue.

  12. Some popes practiced astrology.

    None of these popes defined untrue doctrines about astrology.

  13. Some popes allowed torture.

    This is not a dogmatic issue.

All these examples occurred before Vatican I (1869). I suppose you could make the case that the doctrine of papal infallibility was not retroactive, but the Catholic Church seems to say that it has always been infallible. Certainly, it was infallible when it proclaimed doctrines which are true (and there are many in this category).

A few comments on defending papal infallibility ...

The implications for Catholics ...

Faith is not merely "passed-down" ...

The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus intended for doctrine to developover time. (Actually, it is the Catholic defenders who claim this; the Magisteriumdoes not teach this at all.) In this section I focus on one point which some might find troublesome (I certainly find it troublesome). The Catholic Church claims it has merely "passed-down"the teachings of the apostles. What is the nature of this passing-down? Does it include doctrinal development?

The Catholic Church claims to guard and preserve the deposit of faith (revelation) which was handed-down from the apostles. Since this is such a key point, I provide many quotes from the Catechism and from two Vatican II documents ...

In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority. Indeed, the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.

Paragraph 77, Catechism

Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.

Paragraph 81, Catechism

The Church, the pillar and bulwark of the truth, faithfully guards the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. She guards the memory of Christ's words; it is she who from generation to generation hands on the apostles' confession of faith.

Paragraph 171, Catechism

They [bishops] bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old, making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock.

Jesus Christ, the eternal Shepherd, established His holy Church, having sent forth the apostles as He Himself had been sent by the Father; and He willed that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world.

And this infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded.

But when either the Roman Pontiff or the Body of Bishops together with him defines a judgment, they pronounce it in accordance with Revelation itself, which all are obliged to abide by and be in conformity with, that is, the Revelation which as written or orally handed down is transmitted in its entirety through the legitimate succession of bishops and especially in care of the Roman Pontiff himself, and which under the guiding light of the Spirit of truth is religiously preserved and faithfully expounded in the Church.

The Roman Pontiff and the bishops, in view of their office and the importance of the matter, by fitting means diligently strive to inquire properly into that revelation and to give apt expression to its contents; but a new public revelation they do not accept as pertaining to the divine deposit of faith.

Vatican II, Lumen Gentium

Furthermore, theologians, within the requirements and methods proper to theology, are invited to seek continually for more suitable ways of communicating doctrine to the men of their times; for the deposit of Faith or the truths are one thing and the manner in which they are enunciated, in the same meaning and understanding, is another.

Vatican II, Gaudium Et Spes

There is one small phrase which hints that there is to be doctrinal development ...

Passers-on of the apostolic seed.

Vatican II, Lumen Gentium

The following are examples of dogmas which, in my opinion, are not merely passed-down from the apostles but which developed from the apostolic seed which was passed-down (I should mention, I disagree with many of these; they are inventions, not true developments)...


The papacy is founded on one key verse ...

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter [rock], and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:18,19)

Long before the Great Schism in 1054 A.D. the Orthodox churches of the east acknowledged that the bishop of Rome held a place of primacy among equals. But even today they still believe that the powers of the bishop of Rome are limited to ....

It seems clear that the teachings regarding the papacy go well beyond merely "passing-down", or "handing-on", or "expounding" the teachings of the apostles. They are clearly developments.

Church Hierarchy

This developed significantly after the apostolic era.


This developed significantly after the apostolic era.

Images, statues, Icons

It seems clear that the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church regarding images, statues, and icons go well beyond merely "passing-down", or "handing-on", or "expounding" the teachings of the apostles. They are clearly developments.

Marian Doctrines

These developed late (after at least a hundred years).


This developed significantly after the apostolic era.


As time went on the church claimed more and more control over the lives of Christians.

Church Service

This developed significantly after the apostolic era.

No Woman Deacons

The Catholic Church currently does not allow women to be deacons. But this was not so in the past.

No woman under forty years of age is to be ordained a deacon.

451 A.D., The Council of Chalcedon

It seems clear that the teachings regarding women deacons go well beyond merely "passing-down", or "handing-on", or "expounding" the teachings of the apostles. They are clearly developments.

There is the possibility that the word deacon when applied to women did not mean the same thing as the modern Catholic usage of the word.

State Religion

Even though Pope Boniface VIII (see extended passage below) quotes scripture in defending his claim that the Catholic Church is to rule over secular rulers, it is clear that the Catholic Church is not merely "passing-down", or "handing-on", or "expounding" the teachings of the apostles ...

If the Catholic Church had been above the secular law in the recent priestly scandals, it is likely that the church would not have taken action, since it was so reluctant to do so even when pressured by the Catholic laity and numerous lawsuits.

Offences struck with excommunication: . . . The interference of lay judges in capital or criminal causes of ecclesiastics.

Papal Bull, In Coena Domini

This excerpt from the papal bull by Boniface VIII in 1302 A.D. clearly states that the Catholic Church is to rule over the temporal rulers ...

We are informed by the texts of the gospels that in this Church and in its power are two swords; namely, the spiritual and the temporal. For when the Apostles say: "Behold, here are two swords" (Lk 22:38) that is to say, in the Church, since the Apostles were speaking, the Lord did not reply that there were too many, but sufficient. Certainly the one who denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter has not listened well to the word of the Lord commanding: "Put up thy sword into thy scabbard" (Matthew 26:52). Both, therefore, are in the power of the Church, that is to say, the spiritual and the material sword, but the former is to be administered —for—the Church but the latter—by—the Church; the former in the hands of the priest; the latter by the hands of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest.

However, one sword ought to be subordinated to the other and temporal authority, subjected to spiritual power. For since the Apostle said: "There is no power except from God and the things that are, are ordained of God" (Romans 13:1-2), but they would not be ordained if one sword were not subordinated to the other and if the inferior one, as it were, were not led upwards by the other.

For, according to the Blessed Dionysius, it is a law of the divinity that the lowest things reach the highest place by intermediaries. Then, according to the order of the universe, all things are not led back to order equally and immediately, but the lowest by the intermediary, and the inferior by the superior. Hence we must recognize the more clearly that spiritual power surpasses in dignity and in nobility any temporal power whatever, as spiritual things surpass the temporal. This we see very clearly also by the payment, benediction, and consecration of the tithes, but the acceptance of power itself and by the government even of things. For with truth as our witness, it belongs to spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and to pass judgement if it has not been good. Thus is accomplished the prophecy of Jeremias concerning the Church and the ecclesiastical power: "Behold today I have placed you over nations, and over kingdoms and the rest". Therefore, if the terrestrial power err, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a minor spiritual power err, it will be judged by a superior spiritual power; but if the highest power of [the pope and the church] all err, it can be judged only by God, and not by man, according to the testimony of the Apostle: "The spiritual man judgeth of all things and he himself is judged by no man" (1 Corinthians 2:15). This authority, however, (though it has been given to man and is exercised by man), is not human but rather divine, granted to Peter by a divine word and reaffirmed to him (Peter) and his successors by the One Whom Peter confessed, the Lord saying to Peter himself, "Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven" etc., (Matthew 16:19). Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God (Romans 13:2) , unless he invent like Manicheus two beginnings, which is false and judged by us heretical, since according to the testimony of Moses, it is not in the beginnings but in the beginning that God created heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1). Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.

Papal Bull of Boniface VIII, 1302 A.D., Unam Sanctam

Changes and contradictions ...

The Catholic Church has changed its opinion on many topics over the centuries. Protestant anti-Catholicsfind fault with this, but the Catholic Church teaches that: (1) dogma regarding faith and morals doesn't change (although it has developed and continues to develop), but (2) other "disciplinary" matters can be changed. Here are a few general topics which are commonly cited ...

See ... Catholic Changes and Catholic Problems

Reform is needed but I should note that many charges by Protestant anti-Catholicsare not true. The historical and modern-day Catholic Church is not so perverse as critics claim. In many cases it is the critics who need to reform themselves and to be more truthful and factually accurate in their claims. They should be careful not to ascribe motives to people unless they can prove that these are their motives.

Offensive ideas and actions ...

In good conscience I must object to these ...

The Catholic Church is in need of reform in these areas.

Doesn't practice what it preaches ...

The teaching magisteriumemphasizes the scriptures, but the reality for many Catholics is that the only time they hear scripture is during the readings during mass. But the homilies are often not about the scriptural reading at all. This is an area in which the Catholic Church is in need of reform.

Bad results ...

Various bad results ...

The Catholic Church is in need of reform in these areas.

Marriage Contradictions ...

but ...

but ...

The Catholic Church needs more clarification in the areas of marriage, sacramental marriage, divorce, and annulments to resolve these logical absurdities.