On Infallibility, Popes, and Woods

Over on the LewRockwell.com Blog, Stephen Kinsella has, in response to an e-mail exchange I had with him, retracted his earlier statement that Thomas Storck, Thomas Fleming, and I have claimed papal infallibility for encyclicals on social thought. Even so, he qualifies his retraction by claiming that our “ambiguity led to their view being misconstrued.” Readers can judge for themselves whether he makes a convincing case about our “ambiguity.”

(By the way, while I disagree with Kinsella’s argument—and believe he is quite mistaken at points, as in his remarks about Galileo—I appreciate his largely measured tone.)

My reading of Kinsella’s argument leads me to believe that it wasn’t any “ambiguity” on our part that resulted in his error but his misunderstanding of the Church’s claims about papal infallibility. (It is interesting that he has dropped the “papal” in this post, perhaps anticipating what I’m about to say. I won’t address here the broader question of the infallibility of the Church as a whole, because Kinsella was not discussing that in the post I asked him to retract.)

Papal infallibility is widely misunderstood by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Infallibility has been invoked by popes only twice: by Pius IX, in defining the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin in 1854 (16 years before papal infallibility itself was actually defined at Vatican I), and by Pius XII, in defining the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin in 1950. That’s it: Leo XIII, in Rerum novarum, and Pius XI, in Quadragesimo anno, did not invoke it.

Let me conclude by quoting part of Kinsella’s latest post:

It seems to me that unless the “Church teachings” in question are indeed infallible, then the dispute between Storck/Fleming and Woods is merely economic and has nothing to do with the Church.

This raises the following question: Does Woods believe that “the ‘Church teachings’ in question are indeed infallible”? If so, then he’s taken it upon himself to attack an infallible teaching. If not, then, according to Kinsella, “the dispute between Storck/Fleming and Woods is merely economic and has nothing to do with the Church.” In which case, why is Tom Woods bothering to publish a book on economics and Catholic social thought?

I await an answer from Woods and/or Kinsella.

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