I looked up “Infallibility”, and according to encyclopedia.com, “Roman Catholics hold that the infallibility of the church is vested in the pope…on matters of faith and morals. Definitive pronouncements resulting from an ecumenical council, when ratified by the pope, are also held to be infallible.”
In Official Declaration 1:12, Wilford Woodruff writes, “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.”
Is there a fundamental difference between these? Growing up in the church, I scoffed at this doctrine of infallibility, yet believed fervently that our prophet would never lead us astray. Now I’m beginning to wonder if these two doctrines are expressing the same thing.It is interesting to see the “Explanation of Papal Infallibility” on the Catholic Encyclopedia. It seems to tone done the rhetoric somewhat and says that yes, the pope can sin, but will never lead the church astray. It seems to whittle away at this controversial subject, making it sounds less controversial. Also, the Catholic Answers website also seems to tone it down, and gets into whether the pope is giving his opinion or speaking for the church. The Catholic church seems to have had problems embracing modernism, and excommunicated some of its’ intellectuals, such as Galileo, who seemed to contradict official church teachings. It seems easy for non-Catholics to reject this dogma.
I see many similarities in the LDS beliefs. It seems like the LDS church also seems to embrace, yet distance itself somewhat on this doctrine. I guess it comes down to how you define “astray.” Were the polygamy revelations or the Manifesto “astray” doctrines or not? How about the Adam-God theory, or King Follet discourse? I understand that as LDS, we believe that God reveals line upon line, but when he turns a 180, it causes most people in and out of church to question why there was a change in policy.
Did the exclusion of blacks from the priesthood imply that previous bans were “astray” or not? Regarding this point, it seems that Joseph Smith was quite “ahead of the curve” when he ordained Elijah Abel, yet Brigham seemed to roll back these doctrines to allow apostles with slaves to be more comfortable.
While Official Declaration 1 deals primarily with the polygamy issue, there is another important doctrine there that doesn’t get as much emphasis, except when we are told to trust our leaders because they won’t lead us astray. This other doctrine doesn’t have a fancy title like “papal infallibility”. However isn’t the doctrine that the Lord won’t allow his prophet to lead the church astray basically the same thing? If we’re uncomfortable with the Catholics proclaiming infallibility, shouldn’t we be uncomfortable with the LDS proclaiming it also? I am sure it was meant to comfort the members of the church during a difficult time, but if the prophet suddenly allowed gay members to go to the temple, women to hold the priesthood, or dropped it’s opposition to gambling, wouldn’t church members rightly wonder if we were being led astray? Aren’t the polygamy and priesthood bans similar reversals of doctrine/policy?