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By David Martin
While Bishop Athanasius Schneider remains one of the finest prelates left in the Catholic Church today, his March 20 statement “On the Question of a Heretical Pope” warrants some constructive criticism, for while it encourages militant action to offset the errors of the present pontificate, it nonetheless dissuades legitimate action that could be used to effectively deal with a heretical pope.
Bishop Schneider rightfully admits that a pope in his person is not infallible but can “promote doctrinal errors and heresies,” against which faithful Catholics must always guard themselves. Should such a pope emerge, the bishop offers the following as a remedy.
“In dealing with the tragic case of a heretical pope, all the members of the Church, beginning with the bishops, down to the simple faithful, have to use all legitimate means, such as private and public corrections of the erring pope, constant and ardent prayers and public professions of the truth in order that the Apostolic See may again profess with clarity the Divine truths, that the Lord entrusted to Peter and to all his successors.”
While the bishop on one hand exhorts the faithful to staunch action in defending the Church against a heretical pontiff, he turns around and denies the Church’s centuries-old teaching that a pope can lose his papacy ipso facto through the profession of formal heresy and that the Church fathers can declare him deposed on account of it. Bishop Schneider states:
“A pope cannot be deposed in whatsoever form and for whatever reason, not even for the reason of heresy.”
This doesn’t stand next to the teaching of St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church.
“Now when [the Pope] is explicitly a heretic, he falls ipso facto from his dignity and out of the Church, and the Church must either deprive him, or, as some say, declare him deprived, of his Apostolic See.” — St. Francis de Sales, The Catholic Controversy, Pages 305-306
Nor is Schneider’s opinion any match to St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church.
“A pope who is a manifest heretic by that fact ceases to be pope and head, just as he by that fact ceases to be a Christian and a member of the body of the Church; wherefore he can be judged and punished by the Church.” — St. Robert Bellarmine, On the Roman Pontiff
Consider also the teaching of St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Doctor of the Church.
“If God permitted a pope to be notoriously heretical and contumacious, he would then cease to be pope, and the Apostolic Chair would be vacant.”
— St. Alphonsus de Liguori, The Truths of the Faith
What is strange is that, while Bishop Schneider denies the possibility of a pope losing his papacy because of heresy, he admits that this thesis has been voiced by great canonists and theologians, like Cardinal Cajetan and St. Robert Bellarmine, in favor of it. Schneider says that “the loss of his office ipso facto because of heresy – is only a theological opinion, that does not fulfill the necessary theological categories of antiquity, universality, and consensus.”
So were the saints and doctors of the Church off-key? Cardinal Raymond Burke made it clear in an interview with Catholic World Report (CWR) in December 2016 that if a pope were to “formally profess heresy he would cease, by that act, to be the Pope.”
Burke was reiterating Church teaching, as expressed by famed canonist Franz Wernz in his Ius Canonicum: “In sum, it needs to be said clearly that a [publicly] heretical Roman Pontiff loses his power upon the very fact.”
Bishop Schneider seems to have a false security that Christ is always with us and everything is secure. He says that “even if a pope is spreading theological errors and heresies, the Faith of the Church as a whole will remain intact because of the promise of Christ concerning the special assistance and permanent presence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the truth, in His Church (cf. John 14: 17; 1 John 2: 27)”.
Unfortunately, this is not true. The faith today has been all but devastated by heresy and has not remained “intact” as a whole. If a pope “is spreading theological errors,” it destroys the Church, just as a major part of the Church has now been destroyed because of the many errors issuing forth from Rome.
Christ Never Promised No Destruction
Christ’s promise to His Church didn’t mean that the Church in part couldn’t be destroyed but simply meant that the Church in the end wouldn’t be completely destroyed. The Bible points to the fact that the Church would be reduced to a mere remnant in the end through apostasy. (Isaias 24;13, 2 Tim. 4:3)
Schneider seems to downplay this reality. He notes that many generations of Catholics did not find it scandalous that Pope Honorius I was found guilty of heresy or of supporting heresy and says that the words of Honorius were harmless against the fact of the inerrancy in Faith of the Apostolic See.
Unfortunately, Honorius’ words were scandalous. And whereas his errors could not interfere with the continuity of the orthodox Faith in the hearts of the true Catholics, the Holy See was used to subvert the Faith in the hearts of many.
Even so, Schneider says that in a similar way Honorius I was tolerated and not condemned until after his death, we likewise should tolerate Pope Francis. The problem is that if we do this while believing the Church is not being destroyed, we could be contributing to its destruction, and as such, could be accountable. For if God has given us a legitimate means to effectively correct a situation and then we don’t use it, it could show lack of care for the Church.
But the bishop insists that deposition is not an option.
“The attempt to depose a heretical pope at any cost is a sign of all too human behavior, which ultimately reflects an unwillingness to bear the temporal cross of a heretical pope.”
Could it be that it is Bishop Schneider who reflects this “unwillingness to bear the temporal cross of a heretical pope?” Is he soft-pedalling to avoid backlash from Rome?
Taking responsible action to depose a renegade pope would reflect a selfless and heroic resolution to stand up to a heretic without respect to persons. We must be willing to bear the persecution that such an action incites, just as Archbishop Vigano did in calling for Francis’ resignation.
Vigano Was Wrong?
Schneider’s position suggests that Archbishop Vigano has been wrong in his position on Francis. For while Vigano hasn’t called for Francis’ deposition, he is calling for his resignation, so the intention is essentially the same—he wants him out. This reflects, not an unwillingness to bear the cross of an errant pope—quite obviously, since Vigano is probably carrying a heavier cross than most of the bishops—but a true and selfless Apostolic zeal for souls. He’s simply not willing to stand by and watch souls being placed daily onto the path to hell because of bishops who are too lazy and fear-ridden to take action against a heretical pope. He is thinking of souls, not himself.
Bishop Schneider is certainly correct in reminding us that Christ’s promise to His Church guarantees that the See of Peter could never make erroneous ex-cathedra pronouncements, however, this does not discount the possibility that a renegade pope could feign an ex-cathedra pronouncement for deceptive purposes, which if he did, would render the pronouncement null and void. Such a pronouncement would fulfill Christ’s promise that the papacy would never be used to dogmatically declare an error true.
With the situation growing more and more treacherous with each passing day, it’s important that we remember this because if we blindly lock into the idea that a pope cannot err when speaking “ex-cathedra,” we could be forfeiting our mission to defend the truth. What if a pope suddenly stood up as “Supreme Pastor of All Christians” and decreed that “God wills diversity of religions” or that “There is no eternal condemnation in the next life”? Would we take it bait, line, and sinker?
In plotting against the Church, the Freemasons long ago had determined that they would attempt to do away with all the Church’s dogmas, with the exception of the Dogma of Papal Infallibility, for their plan was to eventually hijack the papacy and then use this dogma to bind the faithful to error. This they would execute through heretical bishops.
Heretics Can Participate at Conclaves?
Bishop Schneider seems to dignify the “right” of such heretics to operate within the Church, saying that “even a heretical person, who is automatically excommunicated because of formal heresy, can nevertheless validly administer the sacraments” and that “an excommunicated cardinal could participate in the Papal election and he himself could be elected pope.”
Unfortunately, this is only a theological opinion, and one that contradicts the Apostolic Constitution Cum Ex Apostolatus, which was issued ex-cathedra by Pope Paul IV on February 15, 1559. The document states that the office of any bishop, cardinal, or even a pope is null if he had fallen to [formal] heresy prior to his elevation.
“[By this Our Constitution, which is to remain valid in perpetuity We enact, determine, decree and define:] that if ever at any time it shall appear that any Bishop, even if he be acting as an Archbishop, Patriarch or Primate; or any Cardinal of the aforesaid Roman Church, or, as has already been mentioned, any legate, or even the Roman Pontiff, prior to his promotion or his elevation as Cardinal or Roman Pontiff, has deviated from the Catholic Faith or fallen into some heresy:
(i) “the promotion or elevation, even if it shall have been uncontested and by the unanimous assent of all the Cardinals, shall be null, void and worthless.” (6:1)
The pope states in his decree that “each and every member” of the Bishops, Archbishops, or Cardinals who “have been detected” or “have been convicted of having, deviated [i.e. from the Catholic Faith], or fallen into heresy” or who “in the future also shall [so] deviate, or fall into heresy” (3:1) … “shall automatically incur sentence of excommunication.” (5:1)
Thereupon, the pope says:
(iii) “They shall be excluded on pain of invalidity from any public or private office, deliberation, Synod, general or provincial Council and any conclave of Cardinals or other congregation of the faithful, and from any election or function of witness, so that they cannot take part in any of these by vote, in person, by writings, representative or by any agent.” (5:3)
This radically contradicts Bishop Schneider’s statement that “an excommunicated cardinal could participate in the Papal election and he himself could be elected pope.”
Schneider quotes Pope Paul VI from his Romano Pontifice Eligendo as saying that “No cardinal elector may be excluded from active and passive participation in the election of the Supreme Pontiff because of or on pretext of any excommunication, suspension, interdict or other ecclesiastical impediment.” (35)
The problem is that the document he cites is not credible since it was primarily the work of Cardinal Jean Villot, who had a history of forging the pope’s documents. It is no secret that Pope Paul’s papacy was overthrown in 1972 through the intercession of Cardinals Villot, Casaroli, and Benelli, whereupon it was subjugated to the Office of the Secretariat, during which time they completely overtook the papal office, something that was well established before summer 1975. The document that Schneider quotes from was issued in October 1975, and as such, is not a true papal document but a Masonic construct that was designed to empower Christ’s enemies inside the Church.
Let us pray for Bishop Schneider and all the good bishops, remembering that they too are human and must carry the cross of infirmity. If we take the liberty to correct Francis year in and year out, then we can certainly correct a bishop by pointing out that he may be softening up under pressure. Having a missionary spirit he probably can’t bear the thought of having more travel restrictions placed upon him by Rome, so this is something we need to look at too.
Pope Francis’ Election
Tradition-minded Catholics on the blogosphere should encourage the idea of an episcopal committee looking into the matter of Francis’ deposition, especially since the 2013 conclave contained multi-violations against John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution Unversi Dominici Gregis, which governs papal conclaves. The mere fact that Cardinal Danneels confessed on video in September 2015 that he and several cardinals were part of the notorious “St. Gallen’s Mafia” that had conspired for the ouster of Benedict XVI and the election of Cardinal Bergoglio through vote canvassing is every reason to question the validity of the 2013 election.
“The Cardinal electors shall further abstain from any form of pact, agreement, promise or other commitment of any kind which could oblige them to give or deny their vote to a person or persons.” (81)
Section 76 of the Constitution furthermore states:
“Should the election take place in a way other than that prescribed in the present Constitution, or should the conditions laid down here not be observed, the election is for this very reason null and void, without any need for a declaration on the matter; consequently, it confers no right on the one elected.” (76)
This cut-and-dry juridical approach doesn’t always rest well with Catholic bloggers, because unfortunately, they tend to get caught up in the buzz where they like keeping the saga going because it generates donations, but they should be more open to the idea of episcopal action in at least looking into the matter Pope Francis’ resignation if they can’t elicit from him a firm statement of amendment.
Indeed the Church has the right to separate herself from an heretical pope according to divine law. Consequently it has the right, by the same divine law, to use all means of themselves necessary for such separation.
— John of St. Thomas
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