There are only two streams from which infallible doctrines of the Catholic Church can originate. The first stream originates from the Church herself. While individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, through the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, they do proclaim Christ’s doctrine of infallibly whenever they are in agreement on one position, as definitively to be held concerning a matter of faith and morals (Cf. Lumen Gentium 25). We see this exercised by them more clearly whenever the college of bishops gather in ecumenical councils and issue binding canons.
The second stream from which an infallible doctrine originates is from the Roman Pontiff, as the head of the college of bishops and the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the charism of infallibility of the Church itself is individually present with the assistance of the Holy Spirit and promised to him in Blessed Peter (ibid). According to the First Vatican Council (convened on June, 29 1868), which taught and formally defined Papal infallible, the Roman Pontiff teaches infallible only when he (1) speaks ex cathedra (that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians), (2) defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church he possesses; that is, the definition must be proposed as something requiring the definitive assent of all Christians (binding, Cf. Matt. 18:18).
The purpose of infallible doctrines are, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, to religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles. In the history of the Catholic Church, infallible doctrines were promulgated primarily to resolve/clarify/expound and bind the faithful to solemn teachings of the Church that were in keeping with sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition. It should also be noted that there is a distinction between binding and non-binding teachings, as well as a distinction between divinely revealed truths and truths definitively taught but not as divinely revealed, which therefore require a definitive assent that nevertheless is not an assent of faith.
Ex cathedra definitions are extremely rare. In fact, there hasn’t been one since Pope Pius XII pronounced the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary on November 1, 1950. Although there have been several instances in the decades following the Second Vatican Council of the of Roman Pontiff speaking about things that are known to be infallible by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, such as when Pope John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that Priestly ordination is reserved only for men.
I learned from Pope Benedict XVI to never presuppose the faith, but I have also learned from decades of writing that the more I write the less people read before they jump to their own conclusions. Therefore, having (hopefully) given enough treatment about what Papal infallibility actually is, now I am going to briefly write about the two infallible ex cathedra definitions that I believe Pope Francis needs to make.
The first infallible definition would concern the Church’s teaching that life begins at the moment of conception (Cf. CCC. 2270). The second infallible definition would concern the Church’s teaching that homosexuality (disordered same-gender attraction) has a developmental genesis, rather than a genesis that derives from the moment of conception (Cf. CCC. 2357). These teachings do concern faith or morals, and are already held to be true by the Magisterium of the Church; therefore, they easily qualify to become solemn Papal definitions.
There are three tremendous benefits of infallibly defining these two teachings. The first benefit is that they would instantly be made binding and require the definitive assent by all Christians. No more confusion about whether a Catholic can believe that people are born homosexual or about when life begins. The second is that it would be a great opportunity for the Church to have conversations about Papal infallibility and about why and how the Roman Pontiff is the supreme teacher of all Christians. Thirdly, the timing for these definitions is optimal right now, because the world plainly needs direction and guidance on these two issues that are threatening the very existence of humanity.
Certainly, the Holy Spirit knows much better than us whether His Church actually needs these two binding teachings, but that’s my perspective. What’s yours?