Infallibility: Reflections from Roman Catholicism

By Franco Famularo

Should we be guided by our conscience or obey authority? Should one be loyal to the leader or be honest and straightforward? Both? Such questions have troubled human beings since antiquity.

Unificationists have at times been asked if they would obey the Founders without question with queries such as: “Would you do anything Rev. Moon asks of you?” or “Do you believe Reverend and Mrs. Moon are infallible?” After all, “absolute obedience” is a term found in the pledge regularly recited by Unificationists.

Recently, an article on this site by Dr. Michael Mickler discussing a Unificationist position on birth control referenced the 1968 papal encyclical entitled Humanae Vitae and its impact on the Roman Catholic world. As is widely known, Roman Catholics generally do not strictly follow church teachings on birth control and other matters.

Mickler’s article also demonstrated that Unificationists also apply church teachings differently on a variety of issues, including birth control. It can further be assumed that given the international nature of Unificationism, responses to authority vary depending on culture, ethnicity, upbringing, and a variety of other factors.

Regardless of theological differences, it may be helpful to study how Roman Catholics relate to papal statements on matters of faith. This article briefly explores the dogma of infallibility and how it is viewed within Catholicism, and offers some reflections in the hope of stimulating discussion about Unificationism’s relationship to conscience, culture and authority.

It has been almost 150 years since the dogma of papal infallibility was proclaimed on July 18, 1870. During the final public gathering of Vatican I, a bishop received from Pope Pius IX’s hand the document defining “Papal Infallibility.” Pastor Aeternus contains the following statement that has been the subject of intense debate to this day:

“The Roman Pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when he discharges his office as pastor and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals, that is to be held by the universal Church, through the Divine assistance promised him in St. Peter, exercises that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed to endow his church.”

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