The Pope is infallible , that is, he has the power to “not be wrong” in a very defined and limited area. For a teaching of his to be considered infallible, several conditions must be met:
If he speaks as a private person or speaks to a particular group of Christians, his teachings should not be considered infallible. If the Pope, addressing the Argentine people, who know, tells us something particular to our idiosyncrasies, the rest of the Church may or may not take that teaching, but it does not fall within the ordinary magisterium of the Pope.
It has to be in matters of faith and morals (or customs). The Pope is quite a fanatic (like a good Argentine) of a soccer team, San Lorenzo de Almagro. Their definitions of faith and moral of course I must obey and abide by, but we can fight for a lifetime because the biggest team in Argentina is River Plate. Jokes aside, this means that the Pope can define a dogma that is related only to faith and morality. Your personal opinions do not fall within the infallibility.
There must be a formal declaration that the teaching is “irreformable”, that is, definitive. But for this, the definition has to be in agreement with the previous teaching of all the Popes. The Pope has power over what is not yet clearly defined by the doctrine, and it is not that he can define what he thinks of: there must be an indication, in the Scripture or in the Tradition of that teaching. For this reason, when discussing the “limbo,” that is, where the souls of the innocent who had not been baptized went, Pope Benedict XVI said that there being no specific teaching in Scripture about it, one could not define, leaving those souls to the infinite Divine Mercy.
The Magisterium of the Church is of such richness and depth that “indefinite” issues are few and limited. The last ex-cathedra definition of a pope was in 1950, the dogma of the Assumption of Our Lady in body and soul to Heaven was proclaimed by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950, in the Constitution “Munificentisimus Deus”. This type of definitive teaching is known as “extraordinary magisterium”. The so-called “ordinary magisterium,” that is, the rest of the teachings of the popes and the bishops in communion with the pope, are not infallible in that strict sense, although they should be given “religious submission”. As the constitution “Lumen Gentium” says :
” This religious submission of the will and of the understanding, in a particular way, is due to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even though he does not speak ex cathedra; in such a way that his supreme magisterium is recognized with reverence and with sincerity he apparently adheres to it according to the mind and will that he himself manifested and that is discovered mainly, either by the nature of the document, or by the insistence with which it repeats the same doctrine, either also by the formulas used ” (LG, 25).
What does this mean? That we should receive the teaching of the popes in the matter of faith and morals with submission, and trying to understand it in such a way that it is not an obstacle to our faith or that of other brothers. If everything that the Pope publishes, we are going to be arguing wildly for every dot that we do not understand or (probably) misinterpret, the teaching of the Church would be impossible. I will take an example to illustrate this. The year I was born, far away and long ago, was the year that Pope Paul VI published the “Humanae Vitae”. It must have been the most misunderstood and rejected encyclical, even by many Catholics in good faith. Why did this happen? Because, according to his detractors, the Pope was “holding back an advance of science” and because the writing did not say clearly: “you will not take synthetic hormonal contraceptives produced by pharmaceutical multinationals that fill their pockets ruining the health of women”.
Today, the “Humanae Vitae” is a classic, a key piece that pro-life activists know, and that is perfectly understood by the vast majority of Catholics. Is it infallible? Do not! However, his teachings are so clear and vivid, so incontrovertibly secure, that there is hardly anyone who dares to question them.
Returning to the initial theme, the Church is Catholic, that is to say that it is universal, and apostolic, because it received from the apostles and their successors a mission, that of teaching all nations what Jesus taught them, and confirming us in faith through an infallible Pastor. And it is Roman because Peter chose Rome as the apostolic seat, and Catholics who are directly subject to him have the same rite that we call Latin.