My position is NOT, as claimed on some websites, that the Pope can never err in his private teachings. My position is NOT, as claimed on some websites, that the Pope can never err in his non-infallible teachings.
Instead, my position, supported with a few long articles here, is the following:
1. Infallible teachings can never err on faith or morals: Papal Infallibility, Conciliar Infallibility, ordinary universal magisterium.
2. Non-infallible teachings of a Pope or Council can never err GRAVELY on faith or morals. Whether a Council can ever err on faith or morals seems to be an open question. My position is that definitive Conciliar teachings on faith or morals binding on the whole Church and approved by the Pope and the body of Bishops are infallible, whether that definitive teaching is in the form of a formal definition or not.
The above statement in #2 implies that a Pope CAN ERR, to a less than grave extent, on faith or morals, in a non-infallible teaching.
3. Dogmatic facts cannot err.
4. Decisions of discipline, other than dogmatic facts, are non-infallible and so cannot err gravely, when those decisions are of the Pope or a Council.
5. The body of Bishops has the same protections from error and from grave error as the Pope ONLY when they teach as a body with the Roman Pontiff.
6. Individual Bishops, other than the Pope, can go astray in teaching and can fail in faith by apostasy, heresy, idolatry, or schism
7. No Roman Pontiff has ever or can ever fail in faith gravely by apostasy, heresy, idolatry, or schism. This has been the constant teaching of the Church since ancient times, and is the teaching of Constantinople III and Vatican I, and is the teaching of Christ in Luke 22:32, according to the constant interpretation of the Magisterium. No Pope can ever be a heretic (formal heresy).
8. No Roman Pontiff has ever or can ever err gravely in non-infallible teachings on faith or morals, for the charism of never failing faith is also a charism of truth. This means that no Pope can teach material heresy under the Magisterium, not even in a non-infallible teaching, not even inadvertently.
9. The same protections from failing in faith are given to the body of Bishops, only as a body (Lk 22:32c), and only as long as they remain confirmed in faith by the Pope.
10. Can a Roman Pontiff privately “teach” (or rather opine) material heresy by ignorance, that is, inadvertently? My opinion is that he cannot. The reason is that the charism of truth and never failing faith is for the protection of the Church. If a Pope could teach material heresy — an idea contrary to established dogma, not a future dogma — even privately, the harm to the indefectibility of the Church might be grave. We also know of no such private error of material heresy by any Pope in the past, which is a sign that this cannot be.
Note well that this does not include a Pope, like John XXII, opining an error that contradicts a future dogma (the Beatific Vision of all the faithful in Heaven immediately). A law is not a law until it is promulgated. Nothing is a formal dogma until it is taught infallibly by the Magisterium. So John XXII was not guilty of even privately teaching inadvertent mere material heresy, since the dogma had not yet been promulgated. It was taught by John XXII’s successor Benedict XII.
Note that the common opinion is that Pope can privately opine material heresy inadvertently. But this “teaching” is not binding on anyone. All are free to disagree.
Ronald L Conte Jr