Can a Popular Idea also be Heresy?

What does Sacred Scripture say?

{23:2} You shall not follow the crowd in doing evil. Neither shall you go astray in judgment, by agreeing with the majority opinion, apart from the truth.

{6:26} Woe to you when men will have blessed you. For these same things their fathers did to the false prophets.

Secular Society

The fact that an idea is popular in sinful secular society does not imply that it is true. Many ideas, widely-accepted by secular society as true or good or moral, are contrary to Christian teaching and morals. Examples:

* the idea that sex outside of marriage is good and moral
* the idea that unnatural sexual acts are good and moral, and are no different from the natural sexual act
* the idea that same-sex marriage is a true type of marriage
* gender ideology
* the idea that abortion and contraception are moral
* the idea that science disproves religion
* the idea that the Bible is full of errors
as well as the rejection of many definitive teachings of Catholicism

The popularity of an idea in secular society does not prove that the idea is true. From a Catholic Christian point of view, many well-accepted ideas, called truth by sinful secular society, are not only false, but also injurious and heretical.


The same principle applies to Christianity in general. The fact that many Christians accept an idea as true does not make it so. Many of the above-listed heretical ideas are widely accepted by various Protestant denominations as well as individual Protestants.

But what about Catholicism? If an idea is well-accepted by most Catholics, can it still be false and heretical? Yes, it certainly can be. Many Catholics, perhaps most of those who call themselves Catholic, accept multiple serious errors on faith and morals, even to the extent of heresy.

Most Catholics reject the idea that they are morally obligated to believe what the Magisterium teaches. Most reject the teaching of the Church on intrinsically evil acts, on abortion and contraception, on sexual sins, and on various other subjects in faith, morals, and salvation. And most have accepted, without even realizing it, some distorted versions of Catholic doctrine, such as on original sin, on the Sacraments, and on grace.

Conservative Catholics

What about Mass-going Communion-receiving Catholics, who pray the Rosary, go to Confession regularly, and even attend daily Mass? Surely, they are free from heresy, right? No, I don’t think so.

I was at Mass, many years ago, and the priest gave a sermon against contraception. He said something like: “As a priest who hears confessions, I can tell you that few persons confess the sin of contraception. But I know that many of you are using contraception.” And that assertion is probably true in most parishes. Contraception is not only committed as a grave sin, it is accepted as if it were not a sin at all, and that acceptance is heresy.

I read and participate in many online Catholic discussions, where self-identified conservative Catholics often justify contraception and abortifacient contraception, and various grave sexual sins. They also assert and argue strongly in favor of numerous doctrinal errors, on almost every subject area. And it seems from their posts that they attend Mass, receive Communion, and go to Confession. Yet they promote heretical ideas online, without remorse. They are not rebuked by the majority of other group members. In fact, I have read many threads in which the majority of persons posting on a topic assert one or another grave doctrinal error, as if that error were Church doctrine. And they are uncorrectable.

We know, from various polls of Catholics, that most persons who attend Mass and receive Communion do not believe that contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. Many do not believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. Many have fallen into various errors, popular in secular society.

Material heresy is very common today among both liberal Catholics and conservative Catholics.

Conservative Catholic leaders

What if several popular Catholic leaders all agree on the same position on a matter of faith or morals? Does this imply that the idea is correct, or at least that it is not heresy? No, the idea can still be abject heresy, even if it is the most common position on a matter of faith or morals among conservative Catholic priests, theologians, or authors.

When I read an heretical claim by some prominent Catholic, it is common for the person to cite other Catholic leaders who adhere to the same error, as if they as a group cannot be wrong because the group includes persons with good reputations among conservative Catholics, and with various credentials.

Consider the history of the Church. The Arian heresy at one point afflicted as many as 300 Bishops. The East-West Schism, which eventually gave rise to the Orthodox Churches, was joined by the Patriarch of Constantinople and many Bishops in the East. The Church has periodically been afflicted by one widespread heresy or another. There is no safety in numbers when it comes to false doctrine.

Concerning the Saints and Doctors of the Church, we know of a number of ideas, which were not then, but are now heresy, which were held and taught by some of them (prior to definitive magisterial teaching on the question).

So it is absurd for Catholics to point to a collection of bloggers, authors, theologians, and priests, then puff up their credentials to make them seem nearly infallible or utterly reliable, so as to support or promote an idea contrary to the teachings of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium. And yet that is what happens.

On the subject of the unfolding conservative Catholic schism, the so-called four Cardinals of the five dubia, joined by a number of priests and authors, fall far short of the support given to various past heresies and schisms in the Church. So it is foolish to speak as if they cannot be wrong, or as if they cannot possibly commit the errors of heresy or schism, because of their reputations or their support among conservative Catholics.

Supporters of Heretical Teachers

There have always been some heretics among the faithful, some wolves among the sheep. What disturbs me about the present situation, is three things:

1. Prominent Catholic teachers of heresy enjoy wide acceptance and support from Mass-going Communion-receiving Catholics.
2. Their heretical ideas are falsely said to be nothing but a proper understanding of Church teaching.
3. The successive Popes and Bishops have not done enough to correct this situation.

Veritatis Splendor was written to address this very problem, as the document itself explains [n. 4]. Veritatis Splendor offers an thorough in-depth explanation of magisterial teaching on the basic principles of ethics and on intrinsically evil acts. And yet most Catholic teachers of heresy either ignore its teaching or radically reinterpret its teaching, so as to teach the opposite. Views utterly condemned by Veritatis Splendor on intrinsically evil acts are being taught and promoted by Catholic leaders, as if this opposing view were Church teaching.

These false teachers, who contradict or radically reinterpret magisterial teaching, especially on morality, enjoy much support from Mass-going Communion-receiving Catholics, and, for the most part, they have not been corrected by the Bishops and Cardinals, or by successive Popes. The harm being done to souls is immense. But, on the other hand, many of those who are led astray wish to be led astray. They are looking for Catholic leaders who will give them some kind of theological rationalization for their sins.

[2 Timothy]
{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.

Conservatism does not equal Orthodoxy

The common opinion among conservative Catholics, priests, theologians, or various online commentators is not necessarily true and may possibly be heretical. And it doesn’t matter how many their number, how great their reputation, how impressive their credentials, how loud their supporters. If they are wrong, they are wrong. Each theological argument stands or falls on its own merits. The conservative answer to any theological question is not necessarily correct.

{10:34} Then, Peter, opening his mouth, said: “I have concluded in truth that God is not a respecter of persons.
{10:35} But within every nation, whoever fears him and works justice is acceptable to him.
{10:36} God sent the Word to the sons of Israel, announcing the peace through Jesus Christ, for he is the Lord of all.

Difficult times are ahead for the Church. The great apostasy follows after two great schisms, the first conservative and the second liberal. Humility and prayer are needed, in order to remain faithful to Church doctrine and discipline.

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

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1 Response to Can a Popular Idea also be Heresy?

  1. Mark P. says:

    Homilies must reflect the issues that Ron brings up. Parish Bible studies must be encouraged and be orthodox, in full support of belief in the Scriptures. Very rarely will you find a healthy fear of the Lord discussed at Mass. It is in this regard (in my opinion) that many priests fall into the modern heresy of “not wanting to offend.” They actually seem afraid to preach ALL aspects of the Gospel and instead focus on the “easy” ones – love of neighbor, help the poor, feed the hungry, etc. These are easy topics to preach about, as just about any compassionate person, Christian or non-Christian, would agree. So many Catholics think that if they give some extra money or food for the poor, that it is ok to go about using contraception. The reason is that the evils of contraception are not discussed at Mass, but helping the poor constantly is. So our Faith is reduced to a charity organization that attends a religious service once per week. Most Catholics are unprepared to talk about these controversial issues in society and are so poorly trained and catechized that they basically roll over on issues like contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage. The clergy are failing the flock. I will be honest, I rarely get anything out of the homilies at my parish. No matter what the readings are, somehow the homily is steered toward “doing good” instead of “avoiding evil.” Both of these are requirements of the faithful, but only one of them is consistently taught.

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