The Pope is Infallible… Unless He Says Something on Twitter

Everyone caught the Pope’s first tweet yesterday, right?

Probably wasn’t a smart move to use the words “in touch” in his first tweet…

Anyway, this nugget from the New York Times is just hilarious:

A Vatican official has said that papal Twitter messages, as with everything written by the pope, will be part of the church’s teachings, but that they will not be infallible.

So it might be wrong, but the Church will teach it anyway. (Tell me something I don’t know.)

And someone clear this up for me: When is the Pope infallible? When he speaks about faith and morality?

If so, what happens if he reads one of his tweets? Does the universe explode?

Just trying to figure out #Catholiclogic.

(Thanks to Masada for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Stu Minnis

    If I understand it correctly, infallibility is not assumed by invoked. The pope has to say, basically, here is the church’s teaching, and in this instance it is infallible. I think this has actually only happened a few times since the doctrine was adopted in the 19th century. Still nonsense, of course, but not the pervasive nonsense usually assumed.

  • chicago dyke

    anybody else singing that a-ha song that goes “Touch… meeee?”

    anyway, snort. “does the universe explode?” don’t tempt him, man! you put us all at risk. now that the mayans have been proven wrong, the real reason to worry is Killer Jeebus. the pope could call him back now, any day now!

  • Sindigo

    Well I am now! Thanks for that.

  • David McNerney

    Not that I want to defend them, but mocking Catholicism over papal infallibility is as bad as theists mocking us because we cannot prove that no gods exist or because we have no morality.

    It’s a cheap shot.

    Infallibility only applies in a very limited set of circumstances.

  • Andrew Skegg

    Papal infallibility was invented in the late 1800′s and is only invoked when the Pope *really* wants to underline something as important.  In other words, the Pope is infallible when he says he is; although it’s not certain whether he was mistaken in applying infallibility.

  • Sindigo

    That must come in handy at Christmas. 

    Monsignor A: Did you just take money from the bank without selling a property?
    Pope: No.
    Monsignor B: He did, I saw him.
    Pope: I did not and I’m being infallible this time.

  • David McNerney

    When were the Mayans proven wrong? Firstly, the end of the Mayan calender isn’t until the 21st.  And secondly, and most importantly, the Mayans never said the world would end – that was a bunch of new-age weirdo whackadoodles reading too much into it.

  • C Peterson

    Twitter… an indicator of the decline of western civilization, and a channel for trillions of bytes of mindless drivel. How utterly appropriate as a papal communication channel.

  • GodlessPoutine

    I’ve sometimes considered going into Theology just to try to understand Cathology, but I’m not sure if that would help.

    Been trying hard to understand the logic – but I think I just comes down to trying to justify what you desperately want to believe is true any way possible.

  • Matto the Hun

    No it’s nothing like either of those examples. The claim of infallibility is more than any human has a right to. 

    The fact that there are certain instances or conditions to which it applies only makes it more absurd. In fact it is towering arrogance compounded upon a grievous insult. If the Pope can be fallible sometimes then how do we know he is not  fallible in an instance when infallibility is claimed? The only way the Church could insult its flock more is if it came out and said “We think you’re really, really stupid”No, such arrogance and absurdity deserves to be mocked and shown for the nonsense that it is.

  • Edward Tarte

    I am an ex-Catholic priest (1963-1968), now an atheist and contributor of a weekly video at this marvelous website, every Thursday.  I was taught in the seminary that Papal infallibility is very restricted and has in fact occurred only two or three times:  specifically when Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854 that Mary (the mother of Jesus) was conceived free from the Original Sin that has infected all the rest of us humans except Jesus himself (the “Immaculate Conception”), and when Pope Pius XII proclaimed in 1950 that Mary was taken to Heaven body as well as soul (the “Assumption”).  Nevertheless, we were taught,  in spite of Papal infallibility being very restricted, the Pope is the main representative of God on earth,  and therefore the main conveyor of truth; and so all Catholics, indeed all human beings, are obliged to accept as true what he teaches in his writings and oral pronouncements.  What is my present attitude toward all this?  That it is all complete and utter nonsense, and that the Pope is the most egregious impostor on the planet.

  • C Peterson

    What does it matter if infallibility is only rarely claimed? The fact that it exists at all is grounds to mock the concept, and those who believe in it.

  • Stev84

    Wikipedia lists 7 cases:

    But given that papal infallibility was only officially invented in the 19th century, the source seems to apply it retroactively. Only two of the cases (the ones you cited) are after 1850. It seems like even the Vatican isn’t entirely sure when exactly the Pope meant something to be infallible and theologians disagree too. That just serves the church and stokes the general confusion that everything he says is right.

  • Skeletal Dropkick

    I hitnk it is like hte Trinity, it is alittle diffiult for someone who is not Catholic to understand. /sarcasm

  • NotTHATguest

    You’re not supposed to understand. Mysterious ways and all that. Just go stare at a shamrock.

  • The Other Weirdo

     The sarchasm is wide with this one.

  • Edward Tarte

    To underscore these “infallible” doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, on those two feast days (December 8 and August 15 respectively), Catholics are strictly obligated to attend Mass just as on every Sunday.  Deliberately failing to do so on even just one occasion, followed by lack of repentance until death, will according to Catholic teaching result in meek gentle loving Jesus setting the person on fire, presumably with meek gentle loving Mary looking on approvingly, and casting the person into hell to writhe in unspeakable agony and torture forever.

  • The Other Weirdo

     Not quite yet. The Mayans have until Dec 21 to be proven right.

  • Stev84

    In theory it’s pretty simple: unless the Pope explicitly invokes infallibility and/or speaks ex cathedra (from the chair) he isn’t infallible.

    In practice, the concept appears to have been applied retroactively to some things and even the Vatican isn’t entirely sure whether some statements were meant to be infallible. But generally, it happens very rarely and is only used for things they deem very important. The common idea that everything the Pope says is infallible is wrong.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    and when Pope Pius XII proclaimed in 1950 that Mary was taken to Heaven body as well as soul (the “Assumption”)

    How excellent. And did His Royal Popeness explain where this Heaven is? We should be able to go there and find Mary’s body.

  • Reginald Selkirk

     It is complicated a bit because The Popester is not above hinting at infallibility just to lord it over people, even when he’s not making an official ex cathedra pronouncement.

  • Matthew Baxter

    I think this is pretty good evidence that someone is ghost tweeting for the pope.

  • STL

     Sounds reasonable.

  • Kacy

    I learned that the pope is infallable on matters of faith and morals, when speaking ex cathedra (from the chair of St. Peter), and in communion with the bishops.  Basically, the pope has to say, “I’m speaking ex cathedra on this” in order for it to count.  Of course, any number of Catholics will claim that this, that, or the other thing is the official “tradition” of the church.  In this way the pope’s twitter account could be claimed as part of the tradition. 

    But the truth is that the “tradition” has always had conflicting teachings on any given topic.  That’s why Catholic apologists can always find a way to say, “You don’t understand church teaching.”  I was a Catholic for 4 years before becomming privy to this trick, after my husband started translating Peter Abalard’s 12th century work, Sic et Non, from the original Latin.  The full text has never been fully translated into English, probably because it shows all the ways in which the church’s “tradition” contradicts itself.  And that’s one of the reasons (among many) I’m no longer Catholic.

  • Stev84

     It’s not “the end of the Mayan calendar”. It just turns over into a new cycle. If you want to use to write dates further into the future you just need to append more digits than are normally used.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    Everyone knows that you can’t be infallible in 140 characters.

  • Mike De Fleuriot

    Your religions are so interesting, long pig

  • Artor

    How is it a cheap shot? The very idea of “Papal Infalibility,” is absurd to its core. “I’m absolutely right and beyond criticism, because I said so!” In what way is it at all inappropriate to mock such an idea mercilessly? Or to mock your false equivalencies as being completely off the mark as well?

  • Artor

    Doesn’t “ex cathedra,” mean the Pope is talking out of his catheter? I knew Pope JP3 had one at the end there, but I didn’t think Pope Palpatine had been fitted with a catheter yet.

  • Xeon2000

    I know nothing about it, but is the pope infallible when he says he’s infallible? I don’t get the infallibility of his “infallibility-ness”. I guess logic doesn’t need to matter.

  • Xeon2000

    You’re stupid. Shut up.

    P.s. serious response was not deserved

  • Xeon2000

    Ok. Maybe that was rude. Sorry. I’m moody.

  • Amy

    If the pope/church were infalliable, would they go around telling people who live in areas with high HIV rates not to use condoms?

  • NotTHATguest

    Whoa. That means that most Catholics I know are headed to hell! The only ones that never ever forget to go to mass on those two fast days are those who go to parochial schools.

  • Brian Pansky

     ” cannot prove that no gods exist”
    This irrelevancy gets trotted out by people who like false dichotomies etc.  It is a loaded conversation that barely makes sense.  “Infallability” on the other hand is something not loaded by atheists, merely mocked by some atheists.

    “or because we have no morality.”

    But we do, so they are entirely wrong.  Are you saying they don’t claim infallability, so we are wrong to accuse them of it?

  • Frank Mitchell

    The Jesuit high school I went to said something similar, notably “it’s only been used a few times” … as if that makes it OK.  That someone could be infallible *once* offends my epistemological sensibilities.  If the (alleged) Creator of the Universe descended to earth in light and majesty to make a statement, I’d still ask for corroborating evidence.

  • Coyotenose

     I didn’t think it was possible, but Catholicism makes even less sense to me than it did two minutes ago.

  • Coyotenose

     No need to do it by hand. Just take the old giant stone tablet down from your refrigerator and tape the 2013 one in its place.

  • HughInAz

    Well, you know what the bible says: for God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son so that whosoever disbelieveth in him shall be cast into the Lake of Fire to scream forever in infinite agony.

  • NickDB

     I’d say in general most religious people I know are going to hell for not following their religion properly.

  • NickDB

    Agreed 100%,  Church has been blatantly going “We think you’re really, really stupid” to it’s flock for a long time now. The fact that they haven’t got it yet kind of proves them right.

  • TheBlackCat

     Exactly, that is what gets me about all these Catholics saying “what the pope said isn’t infallible, so I am free to disagree with it”.  No, you aren’t.  Whether it is infallible or not you are 100% required to believe everything said by the pope or a bishop until explicitly told not to.  Under Catholic doctrine lay Catholics have no right to question anything said by a pope or bishop.

    Although technically there are some other things that are considered infallible, such as the Ecumenical councils.

  • David McNerney

    Firstly, it’s a cheap shot to suggest that the Pope claims infallibility on some issue that he doesn’t claim infallibility.

    Secondly, the infallibility applies to issues of Catholic morality as it applies to Catholics – so if the Pope says it’s wrong for a Catholic to have an abortion then that is a point where he is infallible… where’s the problem with that.  And who’s to say he’s not infallible in that case.

    If J.K. Rowling says that in the Harry Potter Universe that Wizards can’t use blue toothbrushes, is she infallible? Damn right she is.

  • David McNerney

    My point is that when someone says “you have no morality” it is easy to demonstrate that this is false – and the claimant looks stupid.

    When a jibe is made at the Pope because he is infallible – when he doesn’t claim infallibility – well then same thing.  If, for example, the Pope puts a typo in a tweet, then saying “Aha! I thought you were infallible” is a cheap shot.

  • Salcia

    Only American Catholics! The Canadian bishops, I was taught, recognize only 2 Holy Days of Obligation: Christmas and whatever feast day coincides with New Year‘s Day. (I‘ve gone and forgotten.) But it‘s not a HDO because it‘s New Years‘.

    Not that I imagine it‘s especially well-attended. Do you suppose hell is like an eternal hangover?

  • Artor

    Rowling writes fiction & doesn’t pretend it’s anything else. The Pope claims he’s talking about the real world, when in fact he’s talking out of his ass. It’s absurd that the Pope claims infallibility on ANY topic. Did you actually ask “who’s to say he’s not infallible in that case?” I’ll say it myself if you can’t figure it out. The Pope is not a moral authority. Even scientists don’t claim infallibility; it’s a logical & cognitive failure to do so.