I am a Catholic convert, in the Church since November of '08. One of the main principles that led to my full entry into the Roman Catholic Church, after years of atheism and philosophical searching, was its definitive authority. Recently, however, a Catholic told me that the Catechism, which I had always thought of as the complete, infallible teachings of the Church, was not actually infallible or dogmatic.
This led me to research exactly what constitutes the dogmas, doctrines and infallible, certain teachings of the Church. It has been more difficult to find a definitive answer to this than I expected. For example, Scripture contains the totality of Revelation, but attempting to understand all the literary senses, its purposes (historical, scientific, spiritual), its internal connections, and reconciling it with the views of Catholics throughout history (such as Pope Benedict saying that the Bible "corrects itself") makes it very difficult to use the Bible as the clear and entire guide to the dogma of the Church. And, since we are not sola scriptura but rather obedient to the authority of the Pope and the Magisterium, I knew the Bible could not be everything. I then examined the infallibility of the Catechism and found very difficult answers. Many say that it can and does contain errors, some of which have been changed with newer versions but not entirely fixed; others say that it it not meant to be a summary of Catholic dogma, nor is it completely definitive in all areas (such as those that are more open, like social teachings). However, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: "The individual doctrine which the Catechism presents receive no other weight than that which they already possess. The weight of the Catechism itself lies in the whole. Since it transmits what the Church teaches, whoever rejects it as a whole separates himself beyond question from the faith and teaching of the Church [pp. 25-27]." (In his intro to the Catechism)
So, if the doctrines told in the Catechism are not a representation of every Church doctrine, nor a necessarily complete or perfect presentation of them, where can one find the full, perfect statement of these teachings? Must a teaching be presented "infallibly" for its acceptance to be necessary? Can the Catechism be used with absolutely certain reliance, except in those matters that are more open? What exactly are we, as Catholics, morally obligated to accept - infallible documents, a certain list of doctrines and dogmas, or everything taught or done by the authority of the Church even if it is not specifically infallible?
I would greatly appreciate help with these issues. God bless.