Reply to Pat Archbold on schism and heresy

In his post of 02/23/2015, titled Schismania, Pat Archbold comments on the practice, by some members of the faithful, “to declare groups and individuals in schism.” He begins with a straw-man argument, the hypothetical case of a Catholic who declare everyone to the left or right of his own position as a schismatic or heretic. But that is a greatly-exaggerated description. I know of no one who uses the terms heresy or schism so broadly.

Then he asks: “Why is it that those very same people who would never dream of referring to the Orthodox or even the Protestants as schismatic or heretical are so quick to use that label on their fellow Catholics?”

I’ve written on this topic before, but I’ll say it again. Protestantism is material heresy. The adult Protestant who possesses sufficient accurate knowledge of Catholicism has a moral duty to convert. Failure to do so is an objective mortal sin. But it might not be an actual mortal sin, if the individual does not realize that Catholic Church is the one true Church. Therefore, such a Protestant can be saved, despite his failure to convert. The same can be said for the Orthodox Christian. At this point in time, the Orthodox are in a state of both schism and heresy. For they do not accept infallible teachings of the Magisterium issued since the schism. But they too can be saved, despite these objective mortal sins of heresy and schism, if they possess a sincere but mistaken conscience.

Archbold makes the point that we should not be too quick to accuse anyone of heresy or schism. Fine. But neither should we be too slow to accuse our fellow Catholics of teaching heresy or promoting schism. For the eternal salvation of souls is at stake.

I love my fellow Catholics. I pray and work for their salvation. But it is all too clear that many of them are in a state of material heresy. They reject the infallible teaching of the Magisterium on transubstantiation, on the infallibility of Sacred Scripture, on the authority of the Magisterium to teach and correct, and on many moral matters. The Magisterium has infallibly taught, by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, the grave immorality of abortion, abortifacient contraception, contraception, and many sexual sins. Yet a large portion of the Catholic “faithful” not only commit these sins, but also refuse to believe the infallible teaching of the Magisterium that such acts are gravely immoral. Therefore, in so far as they reject any infallible magisterial teaching, such Catholics are in a state of at least material heresy. And more than a few Catholics know the teaching of the Magisterium so well that their heresy is likely formal, not merely material.

A worse problem exists on the internet and in some print publications. Some Catholics are teaching heresy, along with the claim that their heretical ideas are really just a proper understanding of magisterial doctrine, or at least a sound theological opinion. If an individual Catholic falls into heresy or schism, privately, then you might approach that person privately. But when a Catholic decides to teach heresy or to promote the rejection of papal authority for all to see and imitate, we have a moral obligation to publicly rebuke that person. We faithful Catholics are required by the eternal moral law to warn the faithful when someone publicly teaches heresy or promotes schism. We must do so in order to save souls and to protect the Church from grave harm.

Pat Archbold: “Why is that some of us are so convinced of the merits of our own prudential judgment that we publicly declare our friends who differ as schismatic or schismatish? This has to stop. Look, the Church has the authority to declare groups or individuals in schism, we do not. Period.”

So you claim, Pat. But the Magisterium has never taught that the faithful are unable to recognize heresy or schism, nor has the Church ever prohibited the faithful from publicly stating what they recognize, whether it is a doctrinal error, or a more severe heretical error, or the grave sin of promoting a schism.

Archbold would have us stand idly by while so many Catholic leaders, some ordained and some not, teach heresy and promote schism. He would have us watch our fellow Catholics be led into grave sin, and be lead away from the teaching and authority of the Pope, as if we were powerless to help. But I say that if you see your neighbor drowning, you are morally obligated to provide whatever assistance you are able to offer. And all the more so when your neighbor is drowning spiritually in a sea of false teachings, schismatic proclamations, and encouragements toward grave sin.

Heresy is not merely a matter of prudential judgment. Heresy is the rejection of an infallible teaching of the Magisterium. Material heresy, committed without knowledge that an idea is contrary to definitive teaching, nevertheless harms souls. Or do you think that knowing the truth on faith and morals has no effect on our path of salvation? Formal heresy is a grave sin. Teaching heresy harms many souls. Prudential judgment refers to the temporal authority of the Church over discipline. Heresy pertains to infallible magisterial teachings, which must be believed with divine and catholic faith. Any Catholic who commits the sin of formal heresy is automatically excommunicated.

Can. 751 Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.

Schism is not merely a matter of prudential judgment. Schism is the refusal to submit to the authority of the Pope. Whosoever commits formal schism is automatically excommunicated. If anyone promotes the sin of schism among the faithful, we must warn the faithful about this danger.

Recently, three Cardinals — Burke, Sarah, Pell — each publicly stated that they would reject any teaching of the Pope contrary to their own understanding, and would reject any decision on discipline, which in their opinion implied a contradiction with Church teaching. If such a situation arises, and these Cardinals act as they say, they would then be in a state of formal schism and automatically excommunicated. Moreover, a theological argument can be made that such a public assertion constitutes, in principle, a schismatic act, since it is a public repudiation of the authority of the Pope over both doctrine and discipline.

Pat Archbold decries those Catholics who accuse other Catholics of heresy or schism. Yet he has the audacity to cheer on Cardinal Sarah, in his rejection of papal authority. See his post: The Heresy of Pastoral Detachment. Who is committing this alleged heresy? The post implies that Pope Francis is, or will soon, commit such a heresy. Archbold’s post publicly affirms Cardinal Sarah’s schismatic declaration with the words: “Amen and Amen”.

Archbold’s post “The Heresy of Pastoral Detachment” promotes schism. And his subsequent post “Schismania” is blatant hypocrisy. For he tells his fellow Catholics not to accuse anyone of heresy or schism, but he rejoices when a Cardinal rejects the authority of the Pope.

I challenge Pat Archbold to take the Profession of Fidelity to Pope Francis. For no Pope can ever fall into heresy, neither in his teaching, nor in his heart and mind.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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