Dissent within, and breakaways from the Catholic Church
Following the first Vatican Council, 1870, dissent, mostly among German, Austrian, and Swiss Catholics, arose over the definition of Papal Infallibility. The dissenters, holding the General Councils of the Church infallible, were unwilling to accept the dogma of Papal Infallibility, and thus a schism arose between them and the Church. Many of these Catholics formed independent communities in schism with Rome, which became known as the Old Catholic Churches.
A few present-day Catholics, including priests and bishops, refuse to accept papal infallibility as a matter of faith, such as the theologian Hans Küng, author of Infallible? An Inquiry, and historian Garry Wills, author of Papal Sin. A recent (1989–1992) survey of Catholics from multiple countries (the USA, Austria, Canada, Ecuador, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Peru, Spain and Switzerland), aged 15 to 25 who may not yet fully understand the theology of infallibility, showed that 36.9% accepted the teaching on papal infallibility, 36.9% denied it, and 26.2% said they didn't know of it. (Source: Report on surveys of the International Marian Research Institute, by Johann G. Roten, S.M.)
Many scholars within the church consider the Cadaver Synod an anomaly, something that stands entirely outside church experience and which, therefore theologically speaking, never happened. However dissenters outside the church have argued compellingly that the 'nullification' of Formosus's ordinations has never been reversed and that raises momentous and troubling questions for the present-day papacy. In particular it challenges the whole doctrine of papal infallibility. Defined during the nineteenth-century reign of Pius IX but held to apply to popes throughout history, this doctrine asserts that the pope, under the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit is incapable of making an error when pronouncing on matters of faith and morals ex cathedra or 'from the chair'. This is a matter of vital importance to millions of Catholics who wait to hear what their leaders have to say on subjects such as birth control, women in the priesthood, homosexuality and the like. Popes selling indulgences or plotting with political conspirators are not generally held to have been speaking ex cathedra. But in the case of the Cadaver Synod, Pope Stephen VI can be seen to have been acting in an official capacity. And Stephen not only declared the entire reign of his predecessor void, he even proclaimed every priest ordained by Pope Formosus to be invalid. As a result some commentators hold that Stephen's actions call into question the entire doctrine of infallibility, and thus the bedrock of the modern church. Some say that the Cadaver Synod casts doubt on the belief in apostolic succession. A line of 263 popes leads all the way back to St Peter, the first vicar of Christ. According to Catholic beliefs, the popes don't replace Peter the way a president or prime minister replaces another; they only succeed Peter. Each of them is to carry on the work of Peter to bring 'truth and unity' to their flocks. The nullification of Formosus's ordinations could be seen to break this apostolic succession since we can't be sure which Bishops, and consequently popes, were ordained by 'nullified' priests. If this is true the sanctity of Petrine succession, which reaches back all the way to Jesus Christ himself, has been broken...' - FROM National Geographics 'History's great untold stories' Page 18-19
Historical objections to the teachings on infallibility often appeal to the important work of Brian Tierney, Origins of Papal Infallibility 1150-1350 (Leiden, 1972). Tierney comes to the conclusion, "There is no convincing evidence that papal infallibility formed any part of the theological or canonical tradition of the church before the thirteenth century; the doctrine was invented in the first place by a few dissident Franciscans because it suited their convenience to invent it; eventually, but only after much initial reluctance, it was accepted by the papacy because it suited the convenience of the popes to accept it". (See also Ockham and Infallibility). The Rome-based Jesuit Wittgenstein scholar Garth Hallett argued that the dogma of infallibility was neither true nor false but meaningless; see his Darkness and Light: The Analysis of Doctrinal Statements (Paulist Press, 1975). In practice, he claims, the dogma seems to have no practical use and to have succumbed to the sense that it is irrelevant.
In the nineteenth century, before the 1870 definition, two catechisms in use in Ireland explicitly denied the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. In answer to the question of whether the pope was infallible they suggested that such an idea was a protestant invention made to discredit Roman Catholics. After the formal declaration of the Pope's Infallibility by Pius IX, this question and answer were quietly dropped in subsequent editions, with no explanation for the change.
It is also argued that since the apostle Peter himself was not regarded as infallible in the Bible, and was corrected--albeit in a matter regarding his personal behavior and failure to live by his own teachings--by the apostle Paul (referenced in Galatians 2:11), that it makes little sense to regard current popes as infallible.
The Catholic priest August Bernhard Hasler provides a detailed analysis of the First Vatican Council, and how the passage of the infallibility dogma was orchestrated. Roger O'Toole identifies the distinctive contributions of Hasler as follows: "
- It weakens or demolishes the claim that Papal Infallibility was already a universally accepted truth, and that its formal definition merely made de jure what had long been acknowledged de facto.
- It emphasizes the extent of resistance to the definition, particularly in France and Germany.
- It clarifies the 'inopportunist' position as largely a polite fiction and notes how it was used by Infallibilists to trivialize the nature of the opposition to papal claims.
- It indicates the extent to which 'spontaneous popular demand' for the definition was, in fact, carefully orchestrated.
- It underlines the personal involvement of the Pope who, despite his coy disclaimers, appears as the prime mover and driving force behind the Infallibilist campaign.
- It details the lengths to which the papacy was prepared to go in wringing formal 'submissions' from the minority even after their defeat in the Council.
- It offers insight into the ideological basis of the dogma in European political conservatism, monarchism and counter-revolution.
- It establishes the doctrine as a key contributing element in the present 'crisis' of the Roman Catholic Church."
The dogma of Papal Infallibility is rejected by Eastern Orthodoxy. Orthodox Christians hold that the Holy Spirit will not allow the whole Body of Orthodox Christians to fall into error but leave open the question of how this will be ensured in any specific case. Eastern Orthodoxy considers that the first seven ecumenical councils were infallible as accurate witnesses to the truth of the gospel, not so much on account of their institutional structure as on account of their reception by the Christian faithful.
Furthermore, Orthodox Christians do not believe that any individual bishop is infallible or that the idea of Papal Infallibility was taught during the first centuries of Christianity. Orthodox historians often point to the condemnation of Pope Honorius as a heretic by the Sixth Ecumenical council as a significant indication. However, it is debated whether Honorius' letter to Sergius met (in retrospect) the criteria set forth at Vatican I. Other Orthodox scholars argue that past Papal statements that appear to meet the conditions set forth at Vatican I for infallible status presented teachings in faith and morals are now acknowledged as problematic (e.g. Exsurge Domine).
The Church of England and its sister churches in the Anglican Communion, having seceded from the Roman Church centuries ago, reject papal infallibility, a rejection given expression in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (1571):
- XIX. Of the Church. The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred, so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.
- XXI. Of the Authority of General Councils. General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of Princes. And when they be gathered together, (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God,) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture.
John Wesley amended the Anglican Articles of Religion for use by Methodists, particularly those in America. The Methodist Articles omit the express provisions in the Anglican articles concerning the errors of the Church of Rome and the authority of councils, but retain Article V which implicitly pertains to the Roman Catholic idea of papal authority as capable of defining articles of faith:
- V. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation. The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation...
Presbyterian and Reformed churches also reject papal infallibility. The Westminster Confession of Faith  which was intended in 1646 to replace the Thirty-Nine Articles, contains the following:
- (Chapter one) IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.
- (Chapter one) X. The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.
- (Chapter Twenty-Five) VI. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.