Q — Is there a scriptural basis for Catholics’ belief in the pope’s infallibility?
A — The Catholic theologian, John Ford, introduces the concept of infallibility in a particularly helpful manner when he says: “Infallibility in its literal sense implies not only the absence of actual error, but also the fundamental inability of erring. Consequently, in the strict sense of the term, infallibility is attributable to God alone. In all other instances, infallibility must be understood as a divine gift that is operative only under restricted conditions” (Joseph Komonchak, Mary Collins and Dermot Lane, ed., The New Dictionary of Theology [Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1987), p. 517). The divine gift of “infallibility” in Catholic theology is a spiritual quality that belongs to the entire church in the sense that in-Christ-by-the-power-of-the-Holy Spirit the church will not err in the fundamental truths of the faith. However, under circumstances this spiritual quality is present in a special way in the college of bishops and the pope. As a result, their doctrinal utterances in matters of faith and Christian life/morals are free of error. The New Testament manifests a conviction about infallibility not in a formal and explicit fashion but more indirectly. Thus, Christ’s promise to be with the church until the end of time, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the church leading the church into all truth may be understood as a scriptural basis for the doctrine (Matthew 28:20; John 16:13).