One of the many problems Protestants have with the Catholic faith is the notion of human infallibility, specifically as it applies to the pope and his brother bishops. According to our faith, proclaimed by Vatican II, infallibility is a charism the pope “enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith (Luke 22:32), he proclaims by a definitive act some doctrine of faith or morals. Therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly held irreformable, for they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, an assistance promised to him in blessed Peter.”
“This doctrine was implicit in the early Church and referred to in Scripture in the gospels. Our full understanding of infallibility that has developed and been more clearly understood over time. The pope and an ecumenical council can pronounce an infallible teaching. Finally, while individual bishops do not enjoy the gift of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly when they maintain the bond of unity among themselves and with the Pope, while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith” (Lumen Gentium 25.)
A pope’s private theological and other various opinions are not infallible. He must solemnly define what is considered to be infallible teaching, and, the gift of infallibility bestowed by Jesus on his successors prevents the pope from solemnly and formally teaching as “truth” something that is, in fact, error. It does not help him know or inspire him to know what is true, but rather the gift of infallibility prevents the pope and his brother bishops from teaching false doctrine or dogma.
So how does all of this help us deal with our Protestant brothers and sisters who claim that “no one is infallible?”
First, if you choose to debate using the teachings above, these teachings can form some of the basis of your apologetics.
Second though, if you don’t want to get deep into Catholic teaching, I’ve come up with a much quicker, common-sense approach to the pronouncement that “no one is infallible.”
I would begin the “debate” by then asking, “Are you infallible?”
If your friend is intellectually honest and consistent, he would have to answer, “No. No one is infallible.”
To which I would respond, “Since no one, including you is infallible, that would mean that your statement, “No one is infallible,” could in fact be incorrect since you’ve admitted you can’t make an infallible statement, correct?”
This now presents a dilemma, as our friend has admitted he made a fallible statement when he said “no one is infallible.” If the statement “no one is infallible” could be an incorrect statement, then the possibility exists that someone (or many people) could be infallible, including our church leaders.
If he’s open to further discussion, I might ask him if the writers of the Bible were infallible, or if they could have made mistakes when writing Scripture. Many Protestants would respond that the Bible is infallible text written by fallible men, guided by the Holy Spirit.
To which I might, if I chose to help the Protestant dig an even deeper hole for himself (or rather bring him to begin to see the truth, which is the goal of apologetics,) ask how he knows this? Which infallible source told him this was true if there are no infallible sources? And if it’s true that the Holy Spirit could allow some people to speak/write infallibly, isn’t it even possible that this same Holy Spirit, could, if He chose to do so, allow popes and bishops to speak and write infallibly? No honest person could answer “No” to this last question, unless he wants to admit that there is something God can’t or won’t do!
No matter how you slice it, the statement “No man is infallible” is itself a fallible statement that can’t be seriously defended (kind of like me saying that my name is Shawn, but I’m a habitual liar!)