Categories: Ave Maria Press1396 words5.5 min readBy Published On: June 10, 2024

Can the Ordinary Magisterium Err? – Part 2

The Fatima Center

In Part One, we considered the possibility of the Ordinary Magisterium erring. As a successor to St. Peter and as the Vicar of Christ, the Pope holds the position of primacy within the Ordinary Magisterium. Thus, a corollary to our titular question is: “Can the Pope Err?”

Must a Catholic Obey the Pope in All Things?

In today’s world, we are faced with a dire situation that is virtually unprecedented in the history of the Catholic Church. We need only look to Pope Francis’ frequent comments, his support for adulterers, his abuse of the Holy Thursday Liturgy during the Washing of the Feet, the grave controversies arising from prior Synods on the Family regarding contraception and divorce, and much more.

In light of these, if a Pope were to command us to do or believe something contrary to the Deposit of the Faith if he were to teach an error, if he were to abuse the Sacred Liturgy, or anything of the like, must we support him or even obey him?

To understand the answer, we turn to the Church’s Magisterium, which has affirmed the same answer throughout the centuries. The answer is summarized as follows:

  • “…that it is necessary to obey a Pope in all things as long as he does not go against the universal custom of the Church, but should he go against the universal customs of the Church, he need not be followed” (Pope Innocent III).
  • “Peter has no need of our lies or flattery. Those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision of the supreme Pontiff are the very ones who do most to undermine the authority of the Holy See – they destroy instead of strengthening its foundations” (Melchior Cano, theologian of the Council of Trent).
  • “Just as it is lawful to resist the pope that attacks the body, it is also lawful to resist the one who attacks souls or who disturbs civil order, or, above all, who attempts to destroy the Church. I say that it is lawful to resist him by not doing what he orders and preventing his will from being executed” (St. Robert Bellarmine).

So, we can summarize the answer to this question, “When Must a Catholic Obey the Pope?” by repeating Pope Innocent III “…that it is necessary to obey a Pope in all things as long as he does not go against the universal custom of the Church, but should he go against the universal customs of the Church, he need not be followed.”

Furthermore, should a Pope teach anything contrary to the Deposit of Faith as our forefathers and their forefathers held to it, we should resist such a Pope and hold true to the same Faith that we have received. In so doing, we obey the actual Magisterium of the Church. Even more importantly, in so doing we obey God Himself.

What Are We to Think of Vatican II?

Another corollary to our question regarding the Ordinary Magisterium concerns the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

In the history of the Catholic Church, every Ecumenical Council has defined dogmas – except for the most recent one. In fact, the first twenty Ecumenical Councils were called to address doctrinal and ecclesial crises. Vatican II, on the other hand, was not a doctrinal council. Its purpose was not to define dogma. The Fathers at Vatican II explicitly referred to it as being pastoral instead of doctrinal.

A Pastoral Council

Such a fact was asserted by Pope John XXIII himself, who issued the call for the Second Vatican Council. He stated:

“The salient point of this council is not, therefore, a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church which has repeatedly been taught by the Fathers and by ancient and modern theologians, and which is presumed to be well known and familiar to all. For this a council was not necessary. […]

“The substance of the ancient doctrine of the Deposit of Faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another. And it is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character.”[1]

In a similar vein, Pope Paul VI, who concluded the Council, stated:

“There are those who ask what authority, what theological qualification the Council intended to give to its teachings, knowing that it avoided issuing solemn dogmatic definitions engaging the infallibility of the ecclesiastical Magisterium. The answer is known by whoever remembers the conciliar declaration of March 6, 1964, repeated on November 16, 1964; given the Council’s pastoral character, it avoided pronouncing, in an extraordinary manner, dogmas endowed with the note of infallibility” (General Audience, January 12, 1966).

Note, Pope Paul VI was at this time affirming yet again what the Council Fathers had already decreed in their sessions with his approval, not once, but twice. Namely, Vatican II had a pastoral character and avoided pronouncing any dogmas with infallible authority.

Incorrect Understandings of Vatican II

And yet, despite the fact that Vatican II was not a doctrinal council, there are some who erroneously claim it was doctrinal. Worse, some people make Vatican II a “super council,” acting as if it supersedes and renders obsolete the previous twenty dogmatic Ecumenical Councils. This grave error goes against the very concept of Catholic Tradition and Scripture, as well as the constant teachings of the Universal and Ordinary Magisterium, and even implicitly denies the inspiration and governance of the Holy Ghost over the Church.

Another problem is that many Catholics have never carefully read the actual documents of Vatican II. For example, far too many people mistakenly think that Vatican II and Pope John XXIII called for an end to the Mass said in Latin or that they wished for the altar to be “turned around” so that the priest would face the people. Neither the Holy Father nor the Council called for these changes.

Many actions that were done “in the name of Vatican II” are contrary not only to the previous twenty councils of the Catholic Church but also to the intentions of many of the bishops at Vatican II itself.

As Catholics committed to following the truth and understanding our precious history as a Catholic – we know that there must never be a discontinuity in our doctrine since our Faith is timeless. The faith held by our fathers and their fathers, and their fathers, is the same Faith we must profess. What they believed and did and held sacred; we too must believe, do, and hold as sacred. We must assent to that same Faith since that is the Faith affirmed through the Church’s Magisterium.


The Extraordinary and Ordinary Magisterium work together to guide the faithful. The Extraordinary Magisterium provides definitive teachings on key issues, while the Ordinary Magisterium offers ongoing instruction and clarification.

Lay Catholics are required to give religious assent to the teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium and full assent of faith to infallible pronouncements of the Extraordinary Magisterium. However, not all personal comments of the Pope – and the personal comments of any individual bishop (or priest) – are necessarily a part of the Ordinary Magisterium.

In summary, the Catholic Church exercises its teaching authority through both the Extraordinary Magisterium (infallible teachings from Ecumenical Councils and papal declarations) and the Ordinary Magisterium (teachings from the Pope and bishops across the centuries that are ongoing and stand together in an integral continuity).

These mechanisms ensure continuity and clarity in Catholic doctrine and moral teaching.

In this era of doctrinal confusion, we must discern what is truly part of the Catholic Faith and what is not. Sadly, we cannot rely on the title of the author or speaker anymore for assurance that what is taught is true. And as devotees of Our Lady, let us recall that at Fatima She advised all Catholics to hold fast to and preserve the dogmas of the Faith.

Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.

[1] Opening Address, October 11, 1962; Walter M. Abbott, SJ, The Documents of Vatican II, p. 715.

The post Can the Ordinary Magisterium Err? – Part 2 first appeared on The Fatima Center.

These views are those of the Fatima Center and do not necessarily reflect the views of Immaculata South Africa

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Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.