I understand your point about how the notion that the pope would teach something erroneous contradicts the understanding of faithful Catholics that the pope and the Magisterium are divinely inspired and could never teach error.Now, unless I am much mistaken, it seems to me that the general drift here is: "If at some future date it should prove that Catholicism is false, how can we revise what Catholicism is believed to be so that we don't actually have to admit that our religion has proved false?"
What bothers me about this notion is that it seems to put our faith on something rather precarious. If a future pope were to promulgate immorality, most of you posting here would probably lose your faith instantly. You'd want to die if such a thing should happen, because it would mean that everything you ever believed to be true has turned out to be a huge lie.
In asking about an "escape hatch," I am trying to see if faith can be rested upon something a little less precarious than the public statements of the guy who happens to be elected by the majority of the Cardinals gathered at a conclave in Rome. Should this happen in the future, the SSPX might provide a model to follow-- that is, a way to remain Catholic and loyal to the Church even if the "smoke of Satan" has indeed entered it.
Hanging out as I do, at times, in science enthusiast/skeptic circles, I hear all too often the claim that religion doesn't attempt to say anything that is really "true" about the world, but rather just provides a codification of peoples feelings and hopes. This strikes me as a deeply wrongheaded and ignorant summary of religious belief, and one which suggests very little acquintance with the history of religion. And yet, there are folks like this who do indeed seem to be playing that game.
What, the commenter asks, if "the guy who happens to be elected by the majority of the Cardinals" should teach error in a matter of faith and morals? The answer seems to me pretty clear: If that should happen, then the doctrine of papal infallibility is false. And if that doctrine is false (which though it was not formally declared until the 1870s was clearly understood with increasing clarity for at least a thousand years) then Catholicism is also clearly false in one of its rather basic precepts. Perhaps many would, based on this, conclude the Orthodoxy's critique of Catholicism is correct. But at least as likely, many would be forced to admit that Christianity as a whole was false.
Yet this author's instinct of trying to revise doctrine in order to put in an unfalsifiable form strikes me as deeply wrongheaded. In the end, a faith so defined as to say nothing which can be found to be untrue is a faith in one's self and one's preferences, not in some set of real statements about the nature of the world.
One hears the same sort of error out of the extreme 'progressive' end of the spectrum at times, when some fool or other says that the truth of our faith does not simply rely on whether or not some man actually rose from the dead in 1st century Palestine. St. Paul would be all over that in a moment. Without the cross and resurrection, in what is our faith? However warm, fuzzy, and inspiring Christianity might be as a story, it can hold no weight as a faith unless it is true in some deeper sense than the artistic one.
Perhaps the temptation to bolster our faith in ways that rob it of meaning is built into some of the common elements of our understanding of faith as a virtue. We are reminded of the importance of remaining solid in our faith, of not being shaken or losing faith. Losing faith in this sense is a matter not of seeing your faith proved false, as a loss of nerve in the face of elements of the faith which are difficult to live. If after the death of a loved one, a Christian begins to lose faith in God's love, it is not because Christianity states that one's loved ones will not die, but because Christianity asks us to do a difficult thing: believe that God love us while at the same time understanding that there is great suffering in the world. However, according to traditional Christian theology, there is no sense in which this suffering disproves God's love or existence. This is not a case of the faith being falsified, but rather being difficult.
If, on the other hand, we should come face to face with clear evidence that the faith we have held simply is not true (as would be the case if a pope were to teach heresy ex cathedra) rationalizing some way to coontinue clinging to it would be no virtue. If the correct object of faith is truth, then having faith in that which is false is a mis-use of it.