I was raised in a Catholic family, and this means, which would make me different from most Protestant raised Americans; however, I also have the benefit of living in one of the least religious portions of the United States. What often isn't mentioned in American discourse, and I don't really care that is not talked about to be frank, is that America was pretty hostile to Catholics until quiet recently. My grandmother remembers when her older brothers used to get into fist fights with kids that would call them 'cat lickers', a play on the word catholic. It mostly had a lot to due with the fact that most catholics in this country, until recently were either Italian or Irish.
What this means is that many individuals outright don't understand Catholicism. This mostly results in some pretty harmless, but amusing, questions, but sometimes, I have had outright terrible statements thrown my way when it comes out that I was raised catholic. My favorite was some very young, and very dumb, girl saying that church supports rape in marriage. This is patently stupid on it's face and that is all that needs to be said. What I am writing about is perhaps the most misunderstood concept of the church, and that is the pope, specifically his infallibility.
Many individuals innocently ask if we (catholics) really believe the pope is infallible. Smart asses who don't really think about their philosophical leanings, i.e reddit atheists the Internet equivalent of hillbilly evangelicals, will try to use the concept of infallibility as proof of the absurdity of Catholicism. I don't care what religion a person may or may not have, the world is a mysterious and wonderful place and far be it from me to criticise someones most inner thoughts on existence, but if someone is going to criticise a faith, or lack of faith, then they better do some research.
So with this in mind it is time to spread knowledge. No, catholics do not believe the pope is infallible in the everyday sense. The pope can, and has, been wrong on many things, and it would be stupid to think that a fallable human being suddenly becomes infallible because he dons the miter and holds the crook. The concept of papal infallibility is known as the ex cathedra statement, meaning that the pope is only considered infallible when making a statement that affects the morals and faith of the entire church. Since the ex cathedra has officially been apart of Catholic doctrine, since 1870, it has been issued once, and only once, and that was regarding the assumption of Mary. It is not something popes are in the habit of doing, because the implications of such a statement are profound and should only ever be issued for the most important of issues after long thought and contemplation.
So the next time someone says that they know for a fact that Catholics believe that the pope is infallible, punch them in the throat, and if they are catholic punch them twice for not understanding their faith, and then inform them about the ex cathedra.