The Roman Catholic dogma of papal infallibility has been a religious hot point of controversy from the time it was first proclaimed. Articles about the pope's adamant refusal to even allow discussion of women priests have focused on what is being called an increasing problem of "creeping infallibility."
What is meant in the Roman Catholic church by the infallibility of the pope? In it's simplest terms the dogma of the Church is that pope is preserved from even the possibility of error when he solemnly declares a statement about faith and morals to be a dogmatic teaching on faith which is binding on all Catholics. The phrase "ex cathedra" (meaning from the chair) is a reference to such a proclamation and refers to a pronouncement by the pope made with the intention of invoking papal infallibility. There have been very few such proclamations designated by a pope as an infallible pronouncement. The most recent was in 1950 when Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be an article of faith for Roman Catholics. Previously Pius IX declared Mary's Immaculate Conception to be an infallible teaching binding on all Catholics. That was in 1854
To be an ex chatedra proclamation, there has to be a specific claim that the matter is an infallible statement and cannot be simply implied or inferred. See http://www.catholic.com/library/Papal_Infallibility.asp
The claim of papal infallibility is only a recent one in terms of church history. The idea that pope could make a proclamation of faith or morals that was infallible was never part of Church dogma for a great many centuries. No such claim was made or was discussed seriously by church Councils, popes or doctors of the Church until around the 16thcentury. In fact, it was not until the mid 1800's the concept became an official dogma of the Catholic Church and that was due to the efforts of one pope, Pius IX. It was under his term as pope that he declared the dogma and conducted a Vatican Council which adopted it. That the new dogma was announced during the First Vatican Council in 1870.
There is general historical agreement that in reality the issue is one of power. If a pope wasn’t infallible then a Church council could overrule him and the council would be superior to the pope. Pius IX thought that to be an invalid situation and believed the Pope was superior to any Council. However, from the time the Council announced the dogma there was controversy about it'. The dogma was criticized by many Catholic theologians and church leaders. For example, Cardinal Newman wrote about the announcement:
"We have come to a climax of tyranny. It is not good for a pope to live twenty years. He becomes a god, has no one to contradict him, does not know the facts and does cruel things without meaning it."
Today there is concern within the Catholic theological scholars about what they refer to as "creeping infallibility." They are referring to the tendency of the Vatican and the present Pope to imply that papal pronouncements on issues like the ordination of women as priests must be accepted as binding on all Catholics as infallible teachings, but without declaring them such clearly and specifically. Such an inference results in supressing discussion or questions about the matter but without officially declaring the matter to be an infallible teaching. Papal infallibility continues to be a tipping point for many,