dogmatic fact: Pope Francis is a valid Pope


The one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is indefectible. She can never go astray from the true Faith.

{16:18} And I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.
{16:19} And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound, even in heaven. And whatever you shall release on earth shall be released, even in heaven.”

The Apostle Peter and his successors are the Rock that keeps the Church indefectible: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one shepherd. Moreover, Jesus prayed for Peter and his successors, so that their faith would never fail, and they could therefore strengthen the body of Bishops.

{22:32} But I have prayed for you, so that your faith may not fail, and so that you, once converted, may confirm your brothers.”

As a result, each Pope has a faith that cannot fail. No Pope can ever fall into apostasy or heresy or schism. Each valid Pope remains a valid and true Pope, no matter how many controversies arise, so that the Church will remain indefectible.

Dogmatic Facts

From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

“By a dogmatic fact, in wider sense, is meant any fact connected with a dogma and on which the application of the dogma to a particular case depends. The following questions involve dogmatic facts in the wider sense: Is Pius X, for instance, really and truly Roman Pontiff, duly elected and recognized by the Universal Church? This is connected with dogma, for it is a dogma of faith that every pontiff duly elected and recognized by the universal Church is a successor of Peter. Again, was this or that council ecumenical? This, too, is connected with dogma, for every ecumenical council is endowed with infallibility and jurisdiction over the Universal Church.”

The 21 Ecumenical Councils are established as true and valid Councils because each meets the conditions to be a general Council, and because the whole Church, including successive Popes and Bishops, understands these Councils to be valid and true. “The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief.” [Lumen Gentium 12] The same can be said for each successive Pope. The whole Church understands each of them to be valid Popes, each meeting the conditions for validity. So this judgment cannot err; it is dogmatic fact.

Vatican II has been rejected by some Catholics, including some Bishops and priests. But notice what happened next. These persons left the Church; they parted company with the other Bishops and priests. And they subsequently rejected every Pope since Vatican II. So we can see from this example that their rejection of the Council has no effect on its validity. The whole body of the faithful does not include those who choose to part from our company by rejecting a Pope or a Council.

Pope Francis was elected by the Cardinal electors an election held at Vatican City after the valid resignation of the previous valid Pope, Benedict XVI. He accepted his office freely, and he is a validly ordained Catholic Bishop. Those are the only three conditions needed for a valid Pope, according to the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Saint John Paul II [Universi Dominici Gregis]. Furthermore, Pope Francis has been accepted by all the Bishops and dioceses, priests and parishes, and religious orders of the Church as the Roman Pontiff. And the entire body of the faithful cannot err in matters of belief — which includes the validity of Popes and Councils.

Therefore, Pope Francis is a valid and true successor of Peter. He is the current Roman Pontiff of the Catholic Church. And this assertion is a dogmatic fact.

Can a true and valid Pope teach or adhere to heresy?

No, he cannot. The prevenient grace of God protects every Pope from falling into the sin of heresy and from teaching any material heresy, for the sake of the indefectibility of the Church. The Pope is the head of the Church, and he possesses the fullness of the authority of the Magisterium. If he went astray, then the Magisterium would in effect have gone astray, and along with it the Church. The indefectibility of the Church implies that no Pope can teach or adhere to any heresy.

What Saint Bellarmine really said about Popes and Heresy

Can a true and valid Pope become invalid (or become an antipope) by a false doctrine or a bad decision on discipline?

No, he cannot. For the validity of the Pope is established at his election, by the three required conditions: valid election, freely accepted office, ordained as Bishop. If a valid and true Pope could in any way become invalid or false, then the Pope would not be the Rock on which the indefectible Church is founded.

What if Pope Francis changes “universal ecclesiastical discipline … deeply rooted in Catholic doctrine”?

Then it is changed. The Pope does not need the approval of the Cardinals or the Bishops (or a conservative subset of the same) in order to exercise his authority as the successor of Peter.

Pope Saint John Paul II made sweeping changes to discipline when he signed the new Code of Canon Law into effect in 1983. He did not commit heresy or some other grave sin by doing so. Fortunately, the culture of internet complainers didn’t exist at that time.

Jesus Christ dispensed all the Old Testament disciplines. He did not deny any doctrines of faith or morals by doing so. Jesus did away with the Mosaic death penalty for adultery. He did not thereby reject or change the doctrine that adultery is gravely immoral.

A change in discipline does not imply a change in doctrine. Pope Francis is the valid Roman Pontiff, and he has the authority to make changes to discipline, as he sees fit. You are free to disagree, because discipline is not dogma. But for the same reason, you cannot accuse Pope Francis of denying a dogma due to a change in discipline. The Pope cannot fall into heresy. So if his teaching seems like heresy to you, then you are the one who has fallen away from the true Faith.

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

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