Does infallibility mean the pope’s always right?

As a matter of fact, this dogma does not mean that everything the Pope says is infallible. It simply means that in Christianity, at any rate, as Catholics believe, there is a final decision-making authority. That ultimately there can be binding decisions about essential issues and that we can be certain that they correctly interpret the heritage of Christ. In one form or another this obligatoriness is present in every Christian faith community, only it is not associated with the Pope.

For the Orthodox Church, too, it is clear that conciliar decisions are infallible in the sense that I can be confident that here the inheritance of Christ is correctly interpreted; this is our common faith. It’s not necessary for each person, as it were, to distill it and extract it from the Bible anew; rather, the Church has been given the possibility of reaching communal certainty. The difference from Orthodoxy is only that Roman Christianity recognizes another level of assurance in addition to the ecumenical council, namely, the successor of Peter, who can likewise provide this assurance. The Pope is of course bound to certain conditions in this matter, conditions that guarantee — and in addition put him under the deepest obligation — that he doesn’t decide out of his own subjective consciousness but in the great communion of the tradition. . . .

Perhaps we ought also to note that in our day an understanding is awakening even outside Catholic Christianity that a guarantor of unity is necessary for the whole. This has emerged in the dialogue with the Anglicans, for example. The Anglicans are ready to acknowledge, as it were, providential guidance in tying the tradition of primacy to Rome, without wanting to refer the promise to Peter directly to the Pope. Even in other parts of Protestant Christianity there is an acknowledgment that Christianity ought to have a spokesman who can express it in person. And also the Orthodox Church has voices that criticize the disintegration of the Church into autocephalies (national Churches) and instead of this regard recourse to the Petrine principle as meaningful. That is not an acknowledgment of the Roman dogma, but convergences are becoming increasingly clear. – from Salt of the Earth (1997) with Peter Seewald