Making history in Rome 

Once it was an Arkansas bishop, who said no to infallibility.

'NO': Vote by Arkansas Bishop Edward Fitzgerald.
  • 'NO': Vote by Arkansas Bishop Edward Fitzgerald.
It was called the day “the little rock voted against the big rock.” On July 18, 1870, Bishop Edward Fitzgerald of Little Rock cast one of only two votes in Rome against the proposed doctrine of papal infallibility. Voting for the doctrine were 535 bishops and archbishops still present for a Vatican Council called in December 1869 at St. Peter’s Basilica. “From the back of the hall, in his big booming Irish brogue, Fitzgerald became a footnote in the history of the universal Catholic Church,” wrote James Woods in his 1993 “Mission and Memory: A History of the Catholic Church in Arkansas.” Just as boldly, after the vote was cast, Fitzgerald strode through the assembly to the papal throne, knelt before Pope Pius IX, and submitted to the doctrine, saying, “Holy Father, now I believe.” Fitzgerald and the Sicilian bishop who joined him in voting no weren’t the only opponents. Eighty-eight prelates voted no on a draft of the proposal. Twenty Americans called to Rome, including Fitzgerald, opposed the doctrine — largely because they thought it would hurt their evangelical efforts in the United States, Woods writes. But by the time the fourth vote was taken, the rest of the minority prelates were missing in action. Fitzgerald, since praised (by a non-Catholic) as being a man Arkansas could be proud of “in an age of spineless yes-men, time-serving sycophants and vacillating crowd-pleasers,” was 34 when he arrived by steamboat in Arkansas in 1866. The state’s population of nearly 500,000 people included only 1,600 Catholics and five priests. Before he retired in 1891, there were 15,000 Catholics, 32 priests and 31 schools. Fitzgerald also presided over the building of today’s St. Andrew’s Cathedral. According to “The History of Catholicity in Arkansas,” a 1939 publication of the Diocesan newspaper, Fitzgerald brought in members of the Order of the Holy Ghost to evangelize black people and was known for his “extraordinary business talents” that put the church on solid financial footing. (“The History of Catholicity,” while noting that Fitzgerald took part in Vatican I, did not address his vote on papal infallibility.) Would Catholic clergy vote to preserve papal infallibility today? Probably so, Msgr. Richard Oswald of Rogers said in an interview. The doctrine is “commonly misunderstood,” Oswald said. “Some people say the pope can get up in the morning and say that the Red Sox are going to win the World Series” and that would be that. But the doctrine is narrowly defined as statements the pope makes ex cathedra (as the head of the church) on faith and morality, and which he makes clear are binding on all Catholics. The doctrine isn’t controversial among Catholics “because it is so rarely used,” said Diocesan finance director Greg Wolfe, who holds degrees in theology and is interested in church history. The pope has spoken ex cathedra only once since Vatican I, when in 1950 Pius XII declared that Mary was “assumed into heaven … body and soul,” as was Jesus. Other church teachings — such as the church position on birth control — have come in forms such as encyclicals or letters, in which the pope is not speaking ex cathedra. Pope John XXIII, who reformed the Catholic Mass and reached out to other faiths with Vatican II, once said, “I am not infallible. I would be if I spoke ex cathedra, which I don’t intend to do.” Fitzgerald’s temporary dissent at Vatican I did not, apparently, make him unpopular at home. When he returned to Arkansas, historian Woods writes, “well-wishers, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, crammed into the old St. Andrew’s Cathedral to welcome home this Christian leader.”


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • Kanis development decried

    Fletcher Hollow wrong place for density, neighbors tell LR planners.
    • Oct 8, 2015
  • Eligible voters removed from rolls

    Arkansas Times reporters contacted election officials around the state to see how they had handled flawed felon data from the secretary of state. Responses varied dramatically.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Real Republicans don't do pre-K

    Also, drifting away from trump, Hudson's downfall at ASU and more.
    • Aug 11, 2016

Most Shared

  • Issue 3: blank check

    Who could object to a constitutional amendment "concerning job creation, job expansion and economic development," which is the condensed title for Issue 3 for Arkansas voters on Nov. 8?
  • Little Rock police kill man downtown

    Little Rock police responding to a disturbance call near Eighth and Sherman Streets about 12:40 a.m. killed a man with a long gun, Police Chief Kenton Buckner said in an early morning meeting with reporters.
  • From the mind of Sol LeWitt: Crystal Bridges 'Loopy Doopy': A correction

    Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is installing Sol Lewitt's 70-foot eye-crosser "Wall Drawing 880: Loopy Doopy," waves of complementary orange and green, on the outside of the Twentieth Century Gallery bridge. You can glimpse painters working on it from Eleven, the museum's restaurant, museum spokeswoman Beth Bobbitt said
  • Ted Suhl loses another bid for new trial; faces stiff sentencing recommendation

    Ted Suhl, the former operator of residential and out-patient mental health services, has lost a second bid to get a new trial on his conviction for paying bribes to influence state Human Services Department policies. Set for sentencing Thursday, Suhl faces a government request for a sentence up to almost 20 years. He argues for no more than 33 months.
  • Football and foster kids

    It took a football stadium to lay bare Republican budget hypocrisy in Arkansas.

Latest in Arkansas Reporter

  • Trump country

    Even in deep red Arkansas, Trump could damage some down-ballot Republicans — but will boost others.
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • Youth movement

    Irvin Camacho, 24, hopes to be the first Latino elected to the Arkansas legislature.
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • Democrats' last stand in NE Arkansas

    Nate Looney vs. Rep. Brandt Smith for District 58.
    • Sep 29, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Jodi Morris's lifelong ties to the National Park Service

Jodi Morris's lifelong ties to the National Park Service

"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments


© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation