Which Magesterial pronouncements are required to be believed by the laity?

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How are we supposed to determine which Magesterial pronouncements are required to be believed by the laity? I’m a former Baptist who is now 100% convinced that the Catholic Church is the one established by Christ, and that the Pope is infallible when speaking ex cathedra. However, I’ve also heard of debates (disputes?) among bishops and cardinals over various issues. How are we to know which statements we’re required to believe, and what criteria should we use when choosing books, articles, web sites, etc.?

There are several issues which I’m wrestling with, but at the present time, I’m particularly interested in applying this to the Iraq war. Zenit.org posted something recently which says that the Pope is against the actions taken by America. My personal opinion is that we saved many Iraqi lives from Saddam, and are improving life there dramatically. The recent statement I read would indicate that I am wrong to believe this way, and I’m having quite a bit of difficulty accepting that. It sounds like the Pope would have been against us stepping in to stop Hitler, but I just can’t believe we’re not supposed to help those less fortunate than us, even though it means using force.
Some teachings of the Church have a higher degree of certainty than others and, therefore, require a different level of acceptance. It is impossible to list them all here, but to that end I recommend that you get a copy of the book Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Dr. Ludwig Ott from Catholic Answers:


In discussing the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.” (#2309) The Holy Father certainly has the right to comment on the current world situation. But often in situations of highly classified information, only those civil authorities who have access to such information are in a position to understand all the ramifications involved. This is the primary area of their competence. It is possible for Catholics in good conscience to disagree with the Holy Father’s opinions is such cases.

To help you sort out the issues involved with the War in Iraq as it relates to the just war doctrine, I recommend the following article by George Weigel:

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