VATICAN CITY, October 3, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The question and answer session of a Vatican press conference yesterday was taken up largely by the Pope’s recent interview with La Repubblica.  Vatican spokesman Fr. Frederico Lombardi explained that the both the recent interview and last week’s interview published in Jesuit magazines, represent “conversational” or “colloquial” forms of communication. “It is not,” he explained, “a magisterial document.” 

To help clarify what this means in practice, LifeSiteNews.com went to a Roman theologian specializing in ecclesiology, and asked him to provide an analysis of the Church’s teaching on papal infallibility and how it plays out regarding these interviews with Pope Francis. 

The theologian, who wished to remain nameless, told LifeSiteNews, “Anytime the Pope definitively decides a question of faith and morals, for the whole Church, he acts infallibly.”  

“When a pope teaches in a definitive matter, all Christians are obliged to believe what he teaches," he explained. "This means, though, that the pope must intend to bind Christians in conscience to believe what he is teaching.” 

Speaking to the current situation, the theologian said, “Clearly, off the cuff remarks in a newspaper or to a journalist do not meet this criteria… With regard to the recent statements of Pope Francis, it is obvious—really obvious—that most of his comments are not infallible definitions.” 

The theologian provided LifeSiteNews.com with a short essay explaining infallibility in light of the current circumstances. “Letters to the editor, interviews with journalists, even daily homilies fail to meet the criteria necessary for a statement to be infallible,” he wrote. “Although he may be speaking about faith or morals, he is emphatically not making a solemn definition that the Church must hold this teaching.” 

He adds: 

Most often, he is speaking in a familiar manner about his own personal feelings. As many people have pointed out, precisely because he is speaking to individuals or to small audience, his remarks often lack the precision of a formal definition. 

Moreover, he is usually tailoring his remarks to that particular audience. Further, because of his informal manner of speaking, he often leaves out necessary precisions and clarifications that might help clarify his thought.

Concluding, the essay notes:

However, because he is the Pope, we must have a certain respect for the man and the office, especially when he is trying to teach us or lead us into good Christian belief and practice. It seems obvious that Pope Francis is sincere in his belief. It is our duty, as good Christians, to be predisposed to think the best of what the Pope says and to be genuinely open to his teaching and docile to his leadership.

Pope Francis, though, has himself called on the laity to take a greater role in the Church, and has called on us to challenge him and to make our own contributions to the Church. We can look at the Pope’s words and actions, and, with a spirit of humility and charity, come to the conclusion that they are not particularly helpful—or that they are positively counter-productive, even dangerous.

In that case, we might have an obligation to speak out or even resist the Pope. I say might: one does not always have the duty to act, especially when one recognizes that acting would do no good, or that it might even cause greater harm. All of this calls for great prayer and discernment. 

The spiritual counsels that we must begin with humility and charity; that we must have a great distrust of ourselves and a great confidence in God; that we must begin by looking at and correcting our own faults, are all relevant and necessary. This doesn’t mean we must be perfect before we do anything—else we could never act. As always, we must rely on God to guide and direct us, doing what we can, with God’s grace, to know His will and to do it.