A Conference called: The Deposition of the Pope

A schism is being built up, brick by brick. A conference is scheduled for March 30 and 31 of 2017, in France, titled La déposition du pape, which means “The deposition of the Pope”. The claim implied by the title is that a Roman Pontiff may possibly be deposed or removed from office. That claim, in itself, is heretical, and its proposed application to Pope Francis is schismatic.

One of the speakers is offering a lecture referring to two past antipopes from the early 15th century, John XXIII and Benedict XIII. (The aforementioned John XXIII is of course not the founder of Vatican II, Blessed Pope John XXIII. The numbering of papal names IGNORES antipopes who claim a particular papal name and number.) The suggestion is that Pope Francis is or may be an antipope, and that suggestion is itself the sin of schism.

Now the supporters of that schismatic conference cite an expert in Church law, Gratian, and his assertion as follows: “No mortal shall presume to rebuke [the pope’s] faults, for he who is to judge all is to be judged by no one, unless he is found straying from the faith” (Dist. 40 c.6).” The qualification at the end of the sentence is now being used to claim that a Pope may be judged to be guilty of teaching or believing heresy, and may be deposed (removed from office).

However, Gratian was not a Bishop or Pope, and his assertion was not issued as an act of the Magisterium and was NEVER taught by the Magisterium. To the contrary, the Magisterium has definitively taught that no one may judge the Roman Pontiff, other than God. There is no higher authority in the Church on earth than the Roman Pontiff. Now certainly God, the most holy Trinity, rules over the Church. And the Church is the body of Christ, with Jesus Christ himself as its head. But on earth, the Roman Pontiff is the sole Vicar of Christ. As the First Vatican Council taught:

“we promulgate anew the definition of the ecumenical Council of Florence, which must be believed by all faithful Christians, namely that the Apostolic See and the Roman Pontiff hold a worldwide primacy, and that the Roman Pontiff is the successor of blessed Peter, the prince of the apostles, true vicar of Christ, head of the whole Church and father and teacher of all Christian people.”

That doctrine is the infallible definition of two Ecumenical Councils and is to be held definitively by all the faithful, under penalty of heresy and automatic excommunication. Whosoever claims that any authority on earth may judge or condemn or depose a Roman Pontiff is guilty of the sins of heresy and schism.

Furthermore, the document of Pope Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctam, which was subsequently confirmed and taught by the Fifth Lateran Council, taught that no one but God alone may judge the Roman Pontiff:

“7. Therefore, if the earthly power goes astray, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a lesser spiritual power goes astray, [it will be judged] by its superior; and truly, if the highest [power] goes astray, it will not be able to be judged by man, but by God alone. And so the Apostle testifies, “The spiritual man judges all things, but he himself is judged by no one.” [1 Corinthians 2:15]

8. But this authority, even though it may be given to a man, and may be exercised by a man, is not human, but rather divine [power], having been given by the divine mouth [of Christ] to Peter, and to him as well as to his successors, by [Christ] Himself, [that is, to him] whom He had disclosed to be the firm rock, just as the Lord said to Peter himself: “Whatever you shall bind,” [Matthew 16:19] etc. Therefore, whoever resists this authority, such as it has been ordain by God, resists the ordination of God. [Romans 13:2] Otherwise, he would be proposing two principles to exist, as did Manichaeus, and this we judge to be false and heretical. For Moses testified that God created heaven and earth, not in the beginnings, but “in the beginning.” [Genesis 1:1]

9. Moreover, that every human creature is to be subject to the Roman pontiff, we declare, we state, we define, and we pronounce to be entirely from the necessity of salvation.”

The Church has one head, the Roman Pontiff. No one may judge him to be guilty of heresy, and no authority on earth may depose him. Whosoever claims the contrary is guilty of heresy and schism.

The idea that one may not judge the Pope, unless he strays from the faith contains an inherent contradiction. How does one determine that a Pope has strayed, except by first judging his words or deeds?

More importantly, the teaching of the First Vatican Council is that each Pope has the gift of truth and a never-failing faith. This teaching is based on Sacred Scripture and on the teachings of several previous Councils. Therefore, we must hold that God never permits any Pope to teach heresy, not even as a personal theological opinion, and that God never permits any Pope to commit apostasy, heresy, or schism. For the Pope is the head of the Church, and the Church is indefectible.

A Roman Pontiff cannot commit heresy, and thereby be automatically excommunicated and so be cut off as the head of the Church. For then the Church would be, as it were, beheaded, and that, too, is contrary to the dogma of indefectibility. Instead, the Roman Pontiff has the gifts of truth and of a never-failing faith.

Pope John XXII (22nd)

The valid Roman Pontiff John XXII (22 not 23) has often been accused of teaching heresy, because he taught, in several sermons — clearly by his own words as a mere theological opinion, not an act of the Magisterium — that the blessed departed do not enjoy the Beatific Vision until after the Resurrection. Subsequent to his death, a later Pope (and thereafter a Council) infallibly taught that the faithful enjoy the Beatific Vision as soon as they enter Heaven, prior to the Resurrection.

But at the time that Pope John XXII opined the contrary, the Magisterium had not yet taught infallibly on the subject. And when the teaching of the Magisterium on a particular point is absent or at least non-infallible, the faithful can possibly hold a range of different opinions. The assumption in this false accusation against John XXII is that every false opinion is heresy. Not so. Saint Thomas opined, in the Summa Theologica, the incorrect opinion (which now is an heretical idea) that the Blessed Virgin Mary was only freed from original sin AFTER her conception. He was not a heretic because the Magisterium had not yet ruled infallibly on the subject.

Pope John XXII proposed an incorrect theological opinion, which soon after occasioned the Magisterium to define the correct answer to the question that John attempted to answer. I see no fault in him, in this matter, at all. Does anyone think that every Pope’s every theological opinion is infallible, or else he must be a heretic? That is an absurd standard.

But the conservative Catholic subculture today has the fault of proposing an answer to every question, apart from the Magisterium, and speaking as if the answer were indisputable. Then, if a Pope disagrees, they pretend to be confused and demand an explanation, to their satisfaction, as if the Supreme Pontiff were under their authority.

Another false and absurd claim about the Pope John XXII controversy is that a group of theologians gathered in Paris and corrected the Pope, and that subsequently he accepted their correction. The suggestion contains two grave errors, first, that the Pope taught heresy, and second, the absurd idea that a collection of theologians, even if they are joined by Bishops and Cardinals, somehow has the role to judge and condemn a Pope’s words, and issue a formal correction. Not at all. The clear teaching of multiple Ecumenical Councils and of Sacred Scripture is that the Roman Pontiff has primacy over the entire Church on earth. No person or group of persons has the role or authority to correct him.

Instead, what happened was that a group of theologians, supported by some Bishops and Cardinals, argued against the theological opinion of the Roman Pontiff. Since his opinion was not an act of the Magisterium, they were free to do so. But to whatever extent they acted with pride, they sinned. And the claim that they corrected the Roman Pontiff, and he accepted their correction, is false. They offered a different theological opinion, supported by a theological argument. He commissioned separate group to study the question. And he is said to have changed his mind later that year, prior to his death. The false part of this narrative is as follows:

* that a group of theologians had some type of role or authority to correct the Pope,
* that the Pope had fallen into teaching or believing heresy,
* that the Church was saved from some type of grave harm by the Pope changing his opinion prior to his death.

It is an ordinary part of our faithful life in the Church on earth for believing and practicing Catholics to disagree on matters of faith, morals, and salvation, when the Magisterium has not yet ruled definitively on any point or question. And the Roman Pontiff is not only the head of the Church, he is also a member of the Church. So he may write and publish works of private theology, and his theological opinions need not be correct on every point. There is no harm to the Church when the faithful see that their Pope is also a fallen sinner, who nevertheless follows Christ.

[2 Timothy 4]
{4:1} I testify before God, and before Jesus Christ, who shall judge the living and the dead through his return and his kingdom:
{4:2} that you should preach the word urgently, in season and out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke, with all patience and doctrine.
{4:3} For there shall be a time when they will not endure sound doctrine, but instead, according to their own desires, they will gather to themselves teachers, with itching ears,
{4:4} and certainly, they will turn their hearing away from the truth, and they will be turned toward fables.

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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2 Responses to A Conference called: The Deposition of the Pope

  1. Cyrille Dounot says:

    As you are a brilliant theologian and translator, I’ll continue my message in french, thinking you can read it.
    Premièrement : affirmer, comme vous le faites, que la déposition du pape est une idée hérétique montre à quel point vous ignorez tout de la théologie. Les papes (Innocent III, Adrien VI), les docteurs de l’Église (saint Robert Bellarmin, saint François de Sales), les saints (Antonin de Florence), les théologiens (Cajetan, Suarez, Jean de Saint-Thomas, Billuart, Bossuet, Billot, Journet, etc…) ou les canonistes (Gratien et tous ses commentateurs) ont affirmé la possibilité de la chose. Que la chose soit plus ou moins probable, selon les auteurs, n’enlève pas la possibilité qu’elle puisse arriver.
    Secondement : ce colloque universitaire a pour but d’étudier une question théologique, historique et ses répercussions sur le droit constitutionnel. Il n’y est nullement question du pape François, ni d’une prétendue “application” à sa personne. Écrire : ” its proposed application to Pope Francis is schismatic” est de la pure diffamation, et une invention de votre cerveau…
    Troisièmement : ce n’est pas la peine de vous échiner à prouver que Jean XXII n’a pas été hérétique, son cas ne sera pas traité dans ce colloque, car il n’a pas été déposé. Il en va de même de Boniface VIII.
    Quatrièmement : rejeter l’autorité de Gratien parce qu’il n’est ni évêque ni pape est un sophisme que je ne pensais pas trouver sous la plume d’un théologien. Son Decretum a servi de base à l’enseignement et aux décisions de justice pendant 800 ans, il a acquis une valeur authentique en étant publié sur ordre du pape Grégoire XIII en 1582.
    Conclusion : merci de ne pas mépriser a priori l’étude académique d’une question, la déposition du pape, par quinze universitaires, au nom de faux principes et de fausses imputations.

    Cyrille Dounot, coorganisateur du colloque
    Professeur d’histoire du droit (Université Clermont-Auvergne)

    • Ron Conte says:

      1. At Vatican I, the Magisterium infallibly decided the question as to whether or not a Pope can teach or commit heresy, when it taught that every successor of Peter has the divinely conferred gift of truth and of a never-failing faith. And Vatican I quoted past Councils as well as Sacred Scripture in support of that teaching. So the opinions of theologians, canonists, and even Saints and Doctors, does not stand. Pope Paul VI, in accord with Vatican I, quotes Pope Saint Leo the great as teaching that each and every Pope has an unwavering and invincible faith, as a gift from God (Gaudete In Domino).

      2. If a Pope can commit heresy, and thereby lose his teaching authority, how is it that you cite two popes to support your claim? In my understanding, Innocent and Adrien never taught infallibly on this point, so a subsequent Council is free to teach otherwise. But you are essentially making yourself and the speakers of your conference as judges over every Pope. And you have the arrogance to condemn not only John XXII but also Boniface VIII, whose teaching on submission to the Pope, confirmed by the Fifth Lateran Council, you apparently do not accept.

      3. Bellarmine taught that a Pope cannot “cannot in any way be heretical, or publicly teach heresy”, that the claim that the Pope may be a heretic and may teach heresy, even when defining a doctrine with an Ecumenical Council is an heretical claim, and that the claim that the Pope may be a heretic and may teach heresy, as long as he is NOT defining a doctrine with an Ecumenical Council is “altogether erroneous, and proximate to heresy”. So you are misrepresenting his view.

      4. Gratian had no magisterial authority. And while his work was well accepted and often used, the same cannot be said of his claims about the possibility that a Pope would fall into heresy. You are replacing the authority of the Magisterium, with a collection of opinions.

      5. It is disingenuous for you to say that the conference does not apply to Pope Francis. That application is implied by holding such a gathering at a time when some Catholics are accusing the present Pope of heresy and are speaking about not only a “formal correction” but about how to remove him.

      6. If any Pope can commit heresy, then on what basis would he be judged? You can’t judge him based on lesser authorities, such as the theological opinions of Saints and Doctors — whom everyone admits can err. And if Popes could be heretics, then past Popes cannot be cited, as you could not be sure that they too are not heretics. And if Popes could be heretics, then the teachings of all past Councils would be suspect, since Councils are not valid if called and presided over and confirmed by an heretical Pope. You could cite Scripture and Tradition, but we only know which books are canonical by the teachings of Popes and Councils, which you destroy with your claim that Popes can be heretics. And the Magisterium, of which the Pope is the head, is the sole authoritative interpreter of Scripture and Tradition. You are sawing off the limb you are sitting on.

      7. No Pope can be deposed by any authority on earth. But Cardinals, Bishops, and self-exalting scholars can all be deposed by the authority of the Pope.

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