This essay is part of our series on the relationship between Church and State. See the full collection of related articles here. 

When Vatican II promulgated its Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis humanae), few expected that fifty years later the view that people do not have a right to religious liberty would become popular again. Yet this doctrine—commonly known as integralism—is experiencing a resurgence among some conservative Catholic intellectuals.

Integralism is the doctrine that (ideally, if not always in practice) the state should endorse the Catholic faith and act as the secular arm of the Church, punishing heresy among the baptized and suppressing false religious practices if they threaten Catholicism. This doctrine was taught by several nineteenth-century popes. Then, in 1965, the Second Vatican Council taught that all human beings have a right to religious freedom and that it is wrong for the state or anyone else to use force in matters of religion.

As soon as the Council ended, theologians began to argue over how the teachings of the Council should be interpreted. Eventually, three major camps emerged. “Liberals” saw Vatican II as the first step in a program of sweeping change. They proposed radical revisions to the Church’s teachings on the interpretation of Scripture, the role of Christ and the Church in salvation, and numerous moral doctrines, appealing to “the spirit of Vatican II.” At the other extreme, “traditionalists” saw the Council as an illegitimate break with the past, proclaiming their loyalty to the pre-1962 Church rather than the “conciliar” Church. Between these two extremes lay the position often called “conservative.” The conservatives held that Vatican II must be interpreted according to its documents, not according to its nebulous “spirit.” They argued that the documents themselves contradicted no dogmatic (that is, infallibly proclaimed) teachings of the preconciliar Church, even if the Council did change many other things.

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From 1978 to 2013, the conservative position was dominant. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI insisted that Vatican II was an incremental development of the Church’s ongoing tradition, not a radical break with the past. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) was an authoritative statement of this position, weaving pre-1962 and post-1962 Catholic teachings into a seamless whole. Conservative theologians deployed two powerful arguments: Against the liberals, they argued that rejecting the Church’s traditional teachings is profoundly un-Catholic. Against the traditionalists, they argued that rejecting the Church’s recent teachings, both of the Council and of the post-conciliar popes, was equally un-Catholic.

Since the election of Pope Francis in 2013, however, this conservative synthesis has been put in serious question. While not formally rejecting any of John Paul II or Benedict XVI’s teachings, Francis has scuttled many of their initiatives, removed their most ardent supporters from office while promoting several of their critics, and has taken positions on certain matters (such as gradualism in moral theology) that appear to be at odds with the views of his predecessors. As a result, some conservative theologians have concluded that Francis may be teaching serious errors.

However, once a Catholic theologian concludes that the current pope is in error, he or she opens the lid of a very deep box. If the pope has been teaching false doctrine regarding moral gradualism since 2013, then isn’t it possible that all the popes since 1965 have been teaching false doctrine regarding religious liberty? The conservatives’ strongest argument against traditionalism—“How can you call yourself Catholic if you reject the authority of the pope?”—is no longer available. As a result, some conservative Catholic thinkers have recently been reevaluating traditionalist claims on a variety of matters, including integralism.

There is a certain irony in this. Integralism extends the religious authority of the pope and bishops into the sphere of civil law, and yet the people who most adamantly defend integralism today are rarely fans of the current pope. As Michael Brendan Dougherty has commented, “The first thing the pope and the current bishops’ conferences would do if granted greater political authority would be to suppress integralists.” (Proving yet again Cirero’s dictum that nihil tam absurde dici potest quod non dicatur ab aliquo philosophorum, there are some integralists who are fans of Francis, but we leave their views for another day.)

But today’s integralists do not hold these views because they want Pope Francis and Cardinal Cupich to be granted authority to suppress dissent. They hold them because the Catholic Church in the nineteenth-century taught integralism, and if the Church today teaches the opposite, then there is a contradiction between the Church’s older teaching and her newer teaching. And doesn’t even a single contradiction undermine the trustworthiness of the Catholic Church’s teaching authority altogether?

We explain below that the answer to this question is surely in the negative. We do so mostly by way of an extended example, showing how Catholics should understand the contradiction between the nineteenth-century papal teachings on integralism and the twentieth-century teaching of the Second Vatican Council and post-conciliar popes on religious freedom. This will take us through some deep issues concerning which teachings of the Church are infallible and which are not. It will turn out that teachings in this latter category are more important than most Catholics have previously appreciated, especially in a time—a very confusing time—when many Catholics think the pope is teaching error.

A Dangerous Contradiction?

Pius IX, Leo XIII, and some other nineteenth-century popes taught that the ideal state was a confessional Catholic state, which may (and in many cases should) punish heresy among the baptized and suppress the false religious practices of non-Catholic religious groups. By contrast, Vatican II, as well as Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, taught that every person has a natural right to be free from external coercion in religious matters—a right that extends to his acts of private worship, public worship, and testifying to others regarding his faith, including his acts as an individual and as part of a religious community, except insofar as his actions disrupt the public order. The contradiction is obvious. Doesn’t it fatally undermine the Church’s claim to teach infallibly on matters of faith and morals?

No, it does not. The problem is easily solved once we recognize that not everything the Church teaches is taught infallibly. Indeed, Pius XII stated in Humani generis (1950) that the teachings of the popes in their encyclicals are not typically infallible ex cathedra pronouncements but only matters of doctrina catholica: teachings of lesser authority that are not irreformable and that can (and on rare occasions do) change. For example, Eugenius IV taught in Exultate Deo (1439) that the matter of the sacrament of Holy Orders includes the chalice and paten, and this remained doctrina catholica for centuries, until Pius XII taught in Sacramentum ordinis (1947) that the laying on of hands is the sole matter of this sacrament. Hence, if the nineteenth century teachings on integralism are only doctrina catholica, then there is a natural and obvious solution to the apparent contradiction between these teachings and the later ones: the solution, advocated by Benedict XVI and others (see Benedict’s Christmas address to the Roman Curia in 2005), is to take all the documents at face value, candidly admit they contradict each other, and then explain that the older teachings, which were never infallible, were changed at the Second Vatican Council. One of us argued for this solution in Public Discourse back in July.

That piece has been criticized on two fronts. First, John P. Joy has argued that at least some of the nineteenth-century teachings were infallible, not just doctrina catholica. In particular, he thinks that Pius IX’s encyclical Quanta cura (1864) contains infallible pronouncements of integralist theses. Second, Thomas Pink has argued at Public Discourse that, regardless of whether the older teachings were infallible or not, the contradiction between the older teachings and the later ones is merely apparent; correctly interpreted, they are perfectly consistent.

We start with Joy’s arguments about Quanta cura, then consider Pink’s reconciling account, and finally end with some arguments that, for us, are conclusive against both Joy and Pink.

The Maximalist Interpretation of Papal Infallibility

Joy argues that, in Quanta cura, Pius IX infallibly condemned seventeen propositions concerning Church-State relations, and thereby definitively taught that the ideal state should punish heresy and restrict non-Catholic religious practices. He supports this claim by analyzing the text of Quanta cura in light of the conditions for papal infallibility specified by the First Vatican Council’s constitution Pastor aeternus and by the relatio (a document intended to explain the constitution) given by Bishop Vincent Gasser at the council.

As Joy says, Pastor aeternus and Gasser’s relatio specify conditions regarding the subject, the object, and the act of an infallible papal definition. We agree with Joy that Quanta cura satisfies the conditions for the subject (a pope freely teaching) and, at least arguendo, the object (a matter of faith or morals). We disagree about whether the third condition, that pertaining to the act of teaching, meets the relevant standard.

As Joy points out, the act occurs when a pope, “defines a doctrine . . . to be held by the whole Church” (Pastor aeternus), or equivalently, when he “defines what must be believed or rejected by all the faithful” (Gasser). The key word is “defines” (definit in Latin), which derives from finis, indicating that the pope is permanently ending all debate on this topic. Vatican II expressed this same idea by saying that the pope must proclaim a doctrine “in a definitive act.”

These conditions do not require the pope to use a specific word or phrase. But they do require that his words make it manifest that he intends to definitively settle an issue. If there is reasonable doubt about the pope’s intention, then according to theological tradition and canon law, Catholics need not treat this teaching as definitive and infallible.

Joy claims that “Quanta cura is a clear and evident example of infallible teaching ex cathedra,” which he justifies by carefully parsing the text of Quanta cura. In this encyclical, Pius IX summarizes several contemporary theories and then condemns them as follows: “All and each evil opinion and doctrine individually mentioned in this letter, by Our Apostolic authority We reject, proscribe, and condemn [reprobamus, proscribimus atque damnamus]; and We wish and command that they be considered as absolutely rejected, proscribed, and condemned [veluti reprobatas, proscriptas atque damnatas omnino] by all the sons of the Catholic Church” (DS 2896). Joy writes, “There is nothing in the least provisional or inconclusive in such a phrase. It could hardly be more definitive.” Certainly, Pius’s language sounds dramatic and forceful to modern ears.

But what Joy fails to do is to read this document in the context of similar magisterial documents. For centuries before 1864, popes and councils condemned propositions they believed dangerous. A rich theological vocabulary developed in which certain terms had very specific meanings. Naturally, Pius IX used this vocabulary when writing his encyclical.

Reading Quanta Cura in Context

Consider the constitution Auctorem fidei of 1794 (DS 2600-2700) in which Pius VI condemned eighty-five propositions taught by the Synod of Pistoia. Pius closes this document with language almost identical to that of Quanta cura: “We reject and condemn [reprobamus et damnamus]” the Acts of the Synod of Pistoia, “and We wish it to be held as rejected and condemned [pro reprobata et damnata].” Does this mean that all eighty-five propositions have been infallibly condemned as false?

Certainly not, for Pius VI has attached a theological censure to each of these propositions, letting us know exactly how each of them is to be viewed. Some propositions are declared heretical; in these cases the pope is infallibly teaching that the opposite of each proposition is a divinely revealed truth (the primary object of infallibility). Others are condemned with notes indicating that they contradict truths that, while not divinely revealed, are closely connected to revelation (the secondary object of infallibility). Still others are condemned at a much lower level. One proposition is declared “false, rash, and injurious to Catholic schools.” Another is deemed not false but merely “deceitful,” as it can be understood in a sense that is “suspect and favorable to the Semipelagian heresy.” Yet another proposition, which asserts that St. Paul taught death is not the “natural condition of man” but rather “a just penalty for original guilt,” is condemned as “deceitful, rash, injurious to the apostle, and elsewhere condemned.”

So even though the blanket condemnation in Auctorem fidei is very similar to that in Quanta cura, not every proposition is declared heretical or contrary to the secondary object of infallibility. Some of them are not even declared false.

And consider the constitution Unigenitus of 1713 (DS 2400-2502), in which Pope Clement XI condemned one hundred one propositions from a book by the Jansenist theologian Pasquier Quesnel. Unlike Auctorem fidei, which specifies the precise theological censure for each item, Unigenitus presents a list of Quesnel’s statements, and then offers a bevy of censures without indicating which censure applies to which proposition:

We declare, condemn, and reject [declaramus, damnamus et reprobamus] the previously-listed propositions as false, captious, evil-sounding, offensive to pious ears, scandalous, pernicious, rash, harmful to the Church and to her practice, insulting not only to the Church but also to the secular powers, seditious, impious, blasphemous, suspected of heresy, and smacking of heresy itself, and indeed favorable towards heretics and heresies and schisms, erroneous, close to heresy, many times condemned, and, finally, heretical, and manifestly renewing various heresies (chiefly those in the famous propositions of Jansen, and indeed held in the sense in which they have been condemned), respectively.

All these propositions are errores in the original Latin sense: they “wander” or “stray” from the best path, and the pope is concerned because Catholics are being misled by them. Some are false, and some are even heretical. However, others are condemned merely as “offensive to pious ears” or “rash” —theological censures that do not completely rule out the possibility that these propositions might actually be true.

Catholics eager for certitude may wonder why Clement would condemn a list of propositions without specifying what’s wrong with each of them in a permanent, definitive manner. Recall that, as Vatican I taught, a pope has no source of new revelation. Before issuing a definitive judgment, a pope must investigate the matter and reach certainty regarding the truth. This may take a long time. For example, Trent deliberately remained neutral concerning the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which was being debated by theologians at the time; it would take three more centuries before the Church was ready to issue an infallible judgment on the matter.

Unigenitus does what Clement intended it to do: warn Catholics of ideas that were circulating and presented various dangers. If Clement had insisted that each of these hundred-and-one propositions be analyzed to the point that he could infallibly declare exactly what was wrong with it—whether it was false, or subject to misinterpretation, or true yet “offensive to pious ears” —how many decades would have passed before the document could have been released?

Papal documents condemning erroneous propositions are common enough to constitute their own genre, with variations in their arrangement. In one variation, a specific censure is attached to each thesis. Documents of this type include Auctorem fidei as well as In agro dominico (John XXII, 1329), Ex supernae clementiae (Urban V, 1368), and Cum occasione (Innocent X, 1653). In another variation, there are no individual censures, but only a global condemnation. This variation is more common and includes Exsurge Domine (Leo X, 1520), Ex omnibus (Pius V, 1567), Cum alias (Innocent XII, 1699), Unigenitus, and several others.

Quanta cura is a third variation of this genre. It condemns seventeen propositions. None of these propositions is assigned a traditional theological censure; there is merely a global condemnation after the list. But unlike the more common variations of this genre, these propositions are not listed and numbered. (Joy has helpfully done this for us; his article enumerates the seventeen condemned propositions, omitting Pius IX’s commentary on each of them.) Rather, the pope links them together with connecting material that shows how they are interrelated. In some cases, he indicates that those who believe one proposition are usually led to believe the next. Thus he argues that “when religion has been removed from civil society” (proposition 3) and the will of the people becomes supreme, many will come to believe that the will of the majority actually defines what is right (proposition 4), and the people, thus empowered, will also covet the goods held by religious orders (proposition 5). Then he argues that communist and socialist states, unhindered by tradition and religion, will inevitably infringe on the rights of the family itself (proposition 7), and when the Catholic clergy will resist such a move, the state will treat the clergy as an enemy (proposition 8). These propositions are carefully arranged to show the relationship between them, and it is clear that the pope considers all of them dangerous. But he does not use any traditional theological censures that would condemn any of them as heretical or contrary to the secondary object of infallibility.

There is no doubt that Pius IX was familiar with these censures and could have used them if that was his intention. But he chose not to use them. When a pope issues an infallible statement, Catholics should not treat it as possessing lesser authority. But neither is it appropriate for Catholics to assign to a papal statement greater authority than the pope himself invoked. Indeed, it is significant that even though Joy titled his essay “The Theological Note of Integralism,” at no point did he specify what that note is, nor what notes or censures Quanta cura assigned to any of its condemned propositions—and for good reason, for no such notes or censures appear in this encyclical. We can be sure that Pius IX objected to each of these propositions, but we cannot know which of them (if any) he viewed as heresy or error, and which (if any) he viewed as dangerous or rash. What is certain is that he could have used traditional language to definitively pronounce on the truth of these propositions, and yet chose not to do so.

Modus Definitorius” and “Modus Definitivus

Joy also argues that Miller fails to mention that definitions of revealed dogmas (the primary object of infallibility) traditionally use more solemn language than definitions of non-revealed truths (the secondary object of infallibility). Joy says that Miller’s essay

entirely overlooks the distinction between the more solemn modus definitorius, which is traditionally used in dogmatic definitions of truths to be believed as divinely revealed, such as is found in the definitions of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary, and the less solemn (but still infallible) modus definitivus, which is generally used in the definition of those truths not revealed in themselves but connected to divine revelation.

The idea that Miller “overlooks” the “traditionally used” modus definitorius and modus definitivus is absurd. These terms were invented by Ermenegildo Lio, O.F.M., in 1968 and 1986, respectively. Indeed, “definitorius” is not even proper Latin. These terms are not “traditional” in any sense of the word.

Moreover, it is simply not the case that popes have “generally” used one kind of language when defining revealed truths and another when defining non-revealed truths. Consider the textbook examples of the primary and secondary objects: Cum occasione (1653), in which Innocent X defined that five propositions attributed to Jansen were heresy, and Ad sanctam beati Petri sedem (1656), in which Alexander VII defined that these five propositions were accurate summaries of Jansen’s book. These two documents use very similar language; the former calls itself a “declaration and definition,” while the latter says, “We declare and define.” Or consider the papal lists of condemned propositions examined earlier. In each of these documents, revealed and non-revealed matters are taught side by side. For example, Auctorem fidei condemns the denial of Christ’s establishment of the Petrine primacy, and also condemns a theory concerning the historical development of liturgical feast-days. The theological notes are different (the former is declared “heretical,” the latter “false, rash, scandalous, and injurious to the Church”), but the solemnity of the language is the same.

Quanta Cura is Not “Manifestly” Infallible

Pius IX’s primary concern in Quanta cura was to warn Catholics of several dangerous propositions, and to highlight the connections between them. But the encyclical assigns no specific censure to any of these propositions. Its language is similar to that of earlier papal documents that include both infallible condemnations and warnings against rash and evil-sounding statements. Had Pius intended to condemn these propositions in an infallible and definitive manner, he surely knew how to express that intention clearly using the appropriate theological notes, and yet in Quanta cura he did not do so. The most reasonable conclusion is that he did not intend to do so. At the very least, it is reasonably possible that he did not intend to do so. And under the theological and canonical principle that nothing is taught infallibly unless it is manifestly evident that it is being taught infallibly—a principle that Joy himself acknowledges—we cannot conclude that Quanta cura contains infallible teaching.

The Impossibility of Reconciling Nineteenth-Century Integralism with Twentieth-Century Religious Freedom

But although the nineteenth-century teachings in Quanta cura and other encyclicals are not infallible, those teachings still seem to be contradicted by the Second Vatican Council in Dignitatis humanae, and the apparent contradiction must somehow be explained. We follow the solution of John Paul II and Benedict XVI: we take both sets of teachings at face value, admit that they contradict each other, and explain that the earlier teachings were merely doctrina catholica, which are not absolutely binding and are thus subject to future change.

Other solutions claim that the contradiction is merely apparent and seek to reconcile the earlier and later teachings. Naturally, magisterial teachings should be read consistently with each other when possible, but there are limits to this generally sound principle. To our knowledge, all attempts to reconcile the earlier and later teachings about religious freedom transgress these limits because they end up attributing to some document a meaning that no reasonable reader could ever have found in it—indeed, a meaning that would have astonished its authors. Thomas Pink, who has written here at Public Discourse recently defending integralism, offers a harmonizing solution, and we think that Pink’s account fails in just this way.

Pink’s Account of Integralism Founders on the Traditional Prohibition on Bloody Means

On Pink’s account, the older teaching was that the Church has authority to impose not only spiritual penalties (such as excommunication) but also temporal penalties (such as imprisonment) on members of the faithful for religious offenses, but the state, by contrast, has no authority in matters of religion. Traditionally, the Church did not exercise its authority itself but authorized the state, as its agent, to punish heresy and suppress false religions, something the state would lack authority to do on its own. For Pink, Dignitatis humanae merely repeated the teaching that the state has no authority in matters of religion; it was silent about the Church’s authority. Implicitly, the document announced a change not in doctrine but in policy: under current conditions, the Church will not authorize the state to punish religious offenses.

In our view, this distorts the older doctrines a little and the newer ones a lot. As to the older doctrines, Pink is correct that the Church taught (and still teaches) that it has authority to impose temporal punishments for violations of canon law. Pink overlooks, however, the equally traditional teaching (stated as early as Cyprian, Lactantius and Ambrose, repeated by Aquinas, and confirmed by any number of ecumenical councils and canonical sources) that the Church has no authority to impose death or use any “bloody means” to enforce its laws. As Aquinas sees it, the Church administers “the New Law, wherein no punishment of death or of bodily maiming is appointed,” and so the priests of the Church “should abstain from such things in order that they may be fitting ministers of the New Testament.” There was disagreement in the tradition about how far the prohibition extended (is flogging bloody?), but even before the Second Vatican Council, some theologians had concluded that the Church may never use any form of bodily force against its members (see George D. Smith, The Teaching of the Catholic Church). Does it make sense to distinguish temporal punishments from the use of bodily force? Yes, because withdrawing a benefit, such as a payment or an office, is a temporal punishment not involving force. Even imprisonment may be distinguished from using force. When the Church punishes a man by restricting his right to travel, he commits a great sin if he defies the Church and travels anyway, and this remains true even though the Church has no authority to send burly men to track him down and carry him kicking and screaming back to his place of confinement.

But if the Church has no authority of its own to use bodily force and certainly no authority to impose death, then it may not authorize others to do on its behalf what it may not do itself. So why did the Church hand heretics over to the state? The traditional answer was that although the state was incompetent to recognize heresy (the Church alone judges of the true faith), nevertheless, contrary to Pink’s account, the state did have authority of its own to punish heresy. The reason was that, besides being an offense against God, heresy was also a threat to the temporal common good akin to sedition. It would lead to disorder, chaos, and even revolution. Thus, once the Church determined that someone was a heretic, the state could punish him on its own authority for the temporal aspects of the offense.

Given the traditional teaching that the Church has no authority to use bloody means, Pink’s theory of the state as agent of the Church collapses. He is forced to say that a principal with no authority to impose a death penalty for heresy (the Church) authorizes an agent with no authority to impose a death penalty for heresy (the state) to impose a death penalty for heresy, and somehow the resulting execution is licit. That doesn’t work. If neither the principal nor the agent has authority to perform an action, the action performed by the agent on behalf of the principal is illicit too.

Pink’s Account of Dignitatis Humanae Makes the Council Fathers Fraudsters

Pink’s interpretation of the newer doctrines fares even worse. In Dignitatis humanae, the council declared that all human beings have “a right to religious freedom,” which it explained as meaning that “all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.” The plain meaning of these words is that no one may licitly use force in matters of religion. Pinks offers a radically different interpretation. In his view, the declaration’s ringing endorsement of religious freedom is subject to a gigantic and entirely unspoken qualification: the Catholic Church is no “human power,” and so it may, at any time, use force, including deadly force, against heretics, and it may suppress the worship, teaching, and proselytizing of non-Catholic Christians.

If this is the correct reading of the text, then there is only one thing to be said about it: Dignitatis humanae was the greatest fraud in the history of Christianity. By stating some facts but omitting crucially important others (what lawyers call fraud by omission), the council fathers grossly misled Christ’s faithful and indeed everyone else concerning what the Church teaches—and did this, no less, in a declaration of an ecumenical council. Indeed, except for a few integralists who know the truth, the fraud continues undetected to this day.

But, of course, Pink’s interpretation is not correct, and none of the 2,308 bishops who voted for Dignitatis humanae at the council has ever given it the meaning he suggests. Neither, incidentally, have any of the 70 bishops who voted against it on the grounds that it contradicted earlier Church teaching. Indeed, no one would give it that meaning unless he were trying desperately to avoid conclusions he feared were even worse, and this is exactly what emerges from Pink’s account. For he ultimately says that, if the doctrine of the Church changed, then “the Church must have taught error about religious liberty—either before the nineteen-sixties, or else since,” and this “would seriously undermine the authority” of the Church.

In our view, the earlier teaching was merely doctrina catholica, which the Church has always said is reformable. It may be embarrassing to have to admit the Church got this important point wrong for a long time, but it creates no serious problem in the theology of the Church’s magisterium and no threat to the infallibility of the Church.

Joy and Pink Both Make John Paul II a Material Heretic, or At Least Not in Communion with the Catholic Church

Moreover, the views of both Joy and Pink (assuming he too thinks the earlier teaching is infallible, a view strongly suggested but, to our knowledge, not explicitly stated in his writings) have much more dire consequences for the authority of the Church than ours do. For example, John Paul II expressly rejected integralism. Addressing the European Parliament, he said that the line between what is Caesar’s and what is God’s had often been transgressed, and he gave as an example “Medieval Latin Christendom,” which “did not always avoid the integralist temptation of excluding from the temporal community those who did not profess the true faith.” Indeed, “religious integralism, which makes no distinction between the proper spheres of faith and civil life . . . seems to be incompatible with the very spirit of Europe, as it has been shaped by the Christian message.” If integralism is the infallible teaching of the Church, then, since he rejected integralism, John Paul II was either a material heretic, if integralism is a matter of revealed truth, or something close to a material heretic, if it is a non-revealed truth. (A material heretic is a Christian who denies something contrary to an infallibly taught revealed truth; if he does so knowingly and deliberately, he is a formal heretic. One who denies an infallibly taught non-revealed truth, the secondary object of infallibility, is not a heretic, but the Church holds that such a person is “no longer in full communion with the Catholic Church.” If Joy and Pink are correct, then one of these labels applies to Saint John Paul II.)

It gets worse. In Centissimus annus, John Paul affirms “the right to religious freedom” that was “the subject of many solemn International Declarations and Conventions [a footnote refers to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights], as well as of the Second Vatican Council’s well-known Declaration [i.e., Dignitatis humanae], and [John Paul’s] own teachings.” By identifying the right to religious freedom in the Universal Declaration (which certainly did not reserve to the Catholic Church a right to execute heretics) with the right in Dignitatis humanae, John Paul implicitly rejects Pink’s interpretation of that document, and by identifying the right to religious freedom in the Universal Declaration with that in his own teaching, John Paul teaches an understanding of the right clearly contrary to integralism. Moreover, he did all this in an encyclical, and the teachings of the popes in their encyclicals are doctrina catholica. Hence, on Joy and Pink’s view, not only was John Paul personally a material heretic or something close to it, but as Roman Pontiff he also taught error as Catholic doctrine. Similar conclusions follow about Benedict XVI and other modern popes.

Safeguarding the Magisterium of the Church

So, on our view, a few nineteenth-century popes taught something as Catholic doctrine, and then Vatican II and all the post-conciliar popes taught something different, also as Catholic doctrine. This involves a change in the Church’s non-infallible teaching, which has happened more than once in the Church’s long history, and so creates no serious issue in the theology of the Church and its magisterium. One of us (Miller) thinks that the older teaching was false and the newer is one true; one of us (King) is uncertain where the truth lies, which is entirely permissible since Catholics are not absolutely bound to assent to matters of doctrina catholica and may disagree with them in appropriate cases. On Joy and (we assume) Pink’s view, however, the older doctrines were true and were taught infallibly, but popes since the Second Vatican Council, most especially John Paul II, have been contradicting infallible teaching and promulgating error as doctrina catholica in their encyclicals. This sorry state continues to this day, and, amazingly, almost no one realizes it. Whose view undermines the magisterium, ours or Joy and Pink’s?


Thinking through the issues involved in the contradiction between the nineteenth-century teaching on integralism and the twentieth-century teaching on religious freedom holds several lessons. First, against the maximalist view of infallibility advocated by Joy and Pink, we should be minimalists on infallibility: if there is reasonable doubt that a teaching is infallible, then it is not infallible. Moreover, this point should be interpreted sensibly and realistically: a teaching, like integralism, that is held by virtually no bishop alive cannot have been taught infallibly. Christ gave his Church an infallible magisterium so that ordinary faithful Catholics can know, easily and reliably, what they need to know to be saved. Any theory that implies that only professional scholars can figure out what has been taught infallibly has to be wrong.

The second point is a corollary of the first: if we are minimalists on infallibility, we have to be maximalists on doctrina catholica. That is, since the whole of Catholic teaching is composed of infallible teachings and doctrina catholica, the smaller the one, the larger the other. Hence, if the universe of infallible teachings is small, the universe of doctrina catholica must be correspondingly large. Moreover, this is good, not bad. When and if the Church needs to teach infallibly on a certain point, we can be sure it will do so. If the Church has not done so, individual Catholics should generally be content with the matter being left as doctrina catholica.

Finally, although Catholics should give matters of doctrina catholica a greater or lesser religious submission of intellect and will depending on how definitively the Church has taught a given doctrine, Catholics are not absolutely required to believe matters of doctrina catholica. We think that, in practice, this should encourage a live-and-let-live attitude among the faithful. When a given question is only one of doctrina catholica and not infallible dogma, the stakes are lowered considerably; the decibel level should follow.

From the time of the Council to the pontificate of Pope Francis, traditionalists, conservatives and liberals all frequently conflated infallible teachings and matters of doctrina catholica. Traditionalists sometimes took certain pre-conciliar teachings as infallible when they were really only doctrina catholica in order to delegitimize the Council. Liberals did the opposite: they sometimes took other pre-conciliar teachings as doctrina catholica when they were really infallible in order to change what in fact cannot be changed. Conservatives sometimes conflated infallible teaching and doctrina catholica for other purposes. They sometimes took teachings, some pre-conciliar and some post-conciliar, to be infallible that were really doctrina catholica, and did so in order to cudgel liberals who dissented from teachings from which they were in fact entitled to dissent. Needless to say, all of these impulses are wrong and need to be resisted.

Neither of us is inclined to think Pope Francis has been a force for doctrinal clarity, but indirectly he may cause many Catholics to get clearer about which teachings are infallible and which are reformable doctrina catholica. The great mysteries of the Catholic faith are in the former group, including the existence and omnipotence of God, the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the life and salvific death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the unity and apostolic nature of the Church, the sacraments and especially the Holy Eucharist, the moral teachings of the Ten Commandments, the Church’s authority to proclaim the Gospel and interpret the divine revelation, the coming again in glory of our blessed Lord, and his judgment of each human being, both at death and at the end of time. These are the things that unite us as Catholics, and certainly as we live our lives, working out our salvation with fear and trembling, these are the teachings on which we should concentrate, keeping our eyes fixed on them as on a lamp burning in a dark place. Matters of doctrina catholica are often important and should be debated in appropriate ways, but we must not claim that they are infallible and thereby unofficially excommunicate those who disagree with us on points that are subject to legitimate disagreement.