The Limits of Faithful Dissent – part 1

Infallible Teachings

All Catholic Christians are obligated, under pain of heresy and automatic excommunication, to give the full assent of faith (sacred assent) to every infallible teaching of the Magisterium, whether taught by an Ecumenical Council or Papal Infallibility or the ordinary and universal Magisterium. Obstinate doubt or obstinate denial of any infallible teaching of the Magisterium is the grave sin of heresy.

Formal heresy carries the sentence of automatic excommunication, not only under Canon Law, but also under the eternal moral law. The baptized Catholic Christian who knowingly and deliberately chooses to reject an infallible magisterial teaching is choosing to cut himself off from the Church. Three sins against faith — apostasy, heresy, and schism — each excommunicate by the very nature of the act.

Mere material heresy does not excommunicate, because the person does not realize that the idea, which he holds, is contrary to the infallible teaching of the Church. But if a person chooses to teach the Catholic faith, and yet he teaches material heresy, mistakenly thinking that a heresy is Church doctrine or sound theology, his incompetence is clear for all to see. And he is culpable for teaching heresy because he chose to teach, without first having learned. Negligence to the extent of teaching heresy is almost always culpable, since a person is under no obligation to teach any subject, nor to teach without first obtaining a firm understanding of the subject area.

Rejection of an infallible teaching of the Magisterium is never faithful. It does not matter if you think that you have understood the subject matter better than the Pope or the body of Bishops. It does not matter how compelling your argument seems to be to your own mind. It does not matter if you are convinced that the newly-defined infallible doctrine is contrary to the teachings of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and past magisterial teachings. You are a fallen sinner, who can err. When the Church teaches under any of the three modes of infallibility, She cannot err. Her teaching is of the Holy Spirit; it is the Word of God.

Rejecting an infallible teaching of the Magisterium is the same as if Jesus were teaching in person, and you approached Him to explain to Him that He has erred gravely his teaching. He is the Son of God, and so He cannot err. If you are absolutely certain that He has erred, then you are mistaken. The arrogance of walking up to Jesus, in person, to teach and correct Him is the same as the arrogance of rejecting any infallible magisterial teaching.

If you are a Cardinal or Bishop, who has a Ph.D. in theology (or a Doctorate in Sacred Theology) and is one of the preeminent theologians of the Church on earth, and you disagree with an infallible teaching of the Magisterium, then you are wrong. There is no earthly or heavenly credential which can withstand the authority of an infallible teaching of the Church:

{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.”

But the typical dissenter from an infallible magisterial teaching is not a learned Bishop or an eminent theologian. Many Catholics who publicly reject an infallible magisterial teaching are extraordinarily ignorant of basic Catholic teaching. They not only judge and reject Church teaching, but consider themselves fit to teach, publicly, in contradiction to the Church. It is exceedingly arrogant for someone to judge and reject the infallible teaching of the Church, when they themselves do not have even a basic understanding of the subject in question. And then they go forth on the internet to teach their heretical errors, with the claim that it is merely a correct understanding of doctrine or theology. They accept correction from no one, not from the Pope, not from an Ecumenical Council, and certainly not from a sound theological argument.

The Guarantee of God

Dissent from an infallible teaching is never faithful. For God guarantees that the teaching cannot err. What most Catholics do not understand, though, is that a magisterial teaching is always a required belief whenever it meets the conditions for infallibility. The teaching does not become infallible after you yourself have considered its contents, compared it to your own understanding of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and past magisterial teachings, and then have determined that it is correct. Faith has been given a higher place than the reason of fallen sinners. You are required under pain of heresy and automatic excommunication to believe every infallible teaching of the Magisterium, even when your own reason is absolutely certain that the teaching is erroneous. And if you cannot do that, then you lack faith in Jesus Christ by lacking faith in His promises about His Church.

There is a great advantage here. A Pope teaches under Papal Infallibility. His teaching meets the conditions for Papal Infallibility. Therefore, we believe the teaching, without judging that teaching based on our own understanding of the faith. This gives the Church a unity lacking in every other religion and every other version of Christianity. If any teaching of the Magisterium meets the conditions for an infallible teaching, under Papal Infallibility, or Conciliar Infallibility, or the ordinary and universal Magisterium, then the contents of that teaching are certainly true.

But most Catholics, instead, compare every teaching of the Church to their own fallible and ignorant understanding, and wherever the two conflict, they arrogantly assume that the Church is wrong. They do not imagine for even a second that their own understanding could be mistaken. They speak and act as if they were gods, knowing right and wrong, true and false, with absolute certitude. And that attitude is so far from true faith in God that it is essentially self-worship. It is incompatible with the true love and worship of God. If you truly love and worship God, you put the teachings of the Son of God and His Church above your own heart and mind. If you do not worship God, then you do not love Him.


One of the more common ways to reject Church teaching is to radically reinterpret that teaching. The dissenter, in this case, claims to adhere to magisterial teaching. But then he explains that teaching with distortions, omissions, or additions, such that his adherence to the radically reinterpreted doctrine is in reality a rejection of the teaching of Jesus through His Church. This approach is very common today in the field of Catholic ethics. Grave sins are granted approval, as if they were moral under Church teaching, by the radical reinterpretation of the basic principles of ethics and of specific teachings on immoral acts.

More on this topic in future posts. Please support my work by buying some of my books.

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

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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5 Responses to The Limits of Faithful Dissent – part 1

  1. Patricia says:

    I read your post and have a comment/question. Why is it that bishops/priest do not excommunicate people like Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden who clearly agree and promote abortions?

    I like reading your articles….normally Catholics do not read or study their faith. They are unaware of what is taught by the church and they do not hear it on the pulpit.Plus, there are a lot of Catholics who do not agree with the churches teaching authority what so ever

    • Ron Conte says:

      I don’t know why the Bishops have been so lax. Canon law has a sentence of automatic excommunication for heresy, which would apply to the rejection of Church teaching on abortion, and for being an accomplice in abortion, which applies to those who pass laws allowing abortion.

  2. Rico says:

    Hi Ron,
    What should a baptized Catholic do who has been excommunicated and decides to return to the Faith? The Church does not rebaptize, so is there anything he should specifically do to outwardly signify that he is returning? Of course, it is assumed he will confess his sins to a valid priest and will fulfill any acts the priest may require for his penance. But other than this sacrament and its requirements, is there any other process to do or fulfill? Is there like a rite of exorcism or something similar that needs to be done? Thanks for your response.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Ordinarily, an excommunicated Catholic must repent of the sin that led to excommunication, and receive the Sacrament of Confession, from a priest who has faculties also to lift excommunication. The pastor of each parish typically has that faculty. In some dioceses, all the priests are given that faculty by their bishop. For excommunication due to the sin of abortion, for the Year of Mercy, all priests have the faculty. See my previous post:

      There is no special rite for lifting excommunication.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Concerning Confession and the lifting of the excommunication, even a priest who lacks the faculty to lift the excommunication can forgive the sin and lift the excommunication, with recourse to the appropriate authority at a later time:

      “Can. 1357 §1. Without prejudice to the prescripts of cann. 508 and 976, a confessor can remit in the internal sacramental forum an undeclared latae sententiae censure of excommunication or interdict if it is burdensome for the penitent to remain in the state of grave sin during the time necessary for the competent superior to make provision.

      “§2. In granting the remission, the confessor is to impose on the penitent, under the penalty of reincidence, the obligation of making recourse within a month to the competent superior or to a priest endowed with the faculty and the obligation of obeying his mandates; in the meantime he is to impose a suitable penance and, insofar as it is demanded, reparation of any scandal and damage; however, recourse can also be made through the confessor, without mention of the name.”

      So a person excommunicated in this way — undeclared latae sententiae — under Canon 1357, can receive forgiveness from sin in the Sacrament of Confession and have the excommunication lifted by a priest who lacks faculties to lift excommunication (but has faculties to forgive sin).

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