I recently sent some questions to Cardinal Gerhard Müller regarding papal infallibility and the Cardinal’s recent words describing Pope Francis as having endorsed material heresy. The Cardinal was gracious enough to answer my questions in the following email exchange.
How would you describe the nature of papal infallibility? Under what circumstances does papal infallibility apply?
Cardinal Müller: The nature, conditions, and limits of papal infallibility as an expression of the infallibility of the whole Church are defined in Chapter 4 of the Dogmatic Constitution Pastor aeternus of the First Vatican Council (1870). With reference to the integration of the supreme authority in the college of bishops, of which he is the visible head, Vatican II declares:
The infallibility with which the divine Redeemer wished to endow his Church in defining a doctrine of faith and morals extends as far as the deposit of divine revelation (divinae Revelationis depositum), which must be purely preserved and faithfully interpreted, requires. (Lumen Gentium 25)
The German bishops, with the approval of Pope Pius IX, declared to the German Chancellor Bismarck, who wanted to misuse Vatican I to justify the destruction of the Catholic Church in the “Kulturkampf”: “…the infallible magisterium of the Church is bound to the content of Holy Scripture and Tradition as well as to the doctrinal decisions already given by the ecclesiastical magisterium” (Denzinger-Hünermann no. 3116). This is also what Vatican II says with the highest authority in the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei verbum (Art. 10). It should be added that the faithful must render “religious obedience of will and understanding” to their bishops and in particular to the authentic magisterium of the Bishop of Rome, even if he does not speak by virtue of the highest magisterial authority (ex cathedra). This applies according to the emphasis placed on a particular doctrine, which must, however, be explicitly or implicitly contained in revelation.
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