Lots to Say about the Formal Correction

1. Formal Correction equals Formal Schism

It’s like watching a Rube Goldberg device. Events have already been set in motion. Lots of individual things have to happen next, one after another. But the end result is linear and relatively certain.

Cardinal Burke and his ilk will issue a formal correction. Pope Francis will not reply. More and more conservative Catholics will support the correction, with increasingly dire rhetoric. Pope Francis not stand corrected. The leaders of the conservative Catholic subculture will declare that he is in a state of heresy, and will declare that he is no longer a valid Pope. And then an increasing number of Catholics will join this group, opposed to Pope Francis. And that is a formal schism.

2. Cardinal Burke is already in a state of formal schism

Several prominent conservative Catholic leaders and many individual Catholics are already in a state of formal schism. For they speak and act as if they had the role to teach and correct the Pope, and as if he had no authority over them. Their complete unwillingness to suffer his authority, and their pride in speaking as if they had the role to judge and correct and even to condemn the Vicar of Christ is a grave sin against the theological virtue of faith.

Cardinal Raymond Burke is in a state of formal schism. He has publicly repeated stated that he and a few other Cardinals will formally publicly correct the Roman Pontiff:

“It seems to me that the essence of the correction is quite simple. On the one hand, one sets forth the clear teaching of the Church; on the other hand, what is actually being taught by the Roman Pontiff is stated. If there is a contradiction, the Roman Pontiff is called to conform his own teaching in obedience to Christ and the Magisterium of the Church.

The question is asked, “How would this be done?” It is done very simply by a formal declaration to which the Holy Father would be obliged to respond. Cardinals Brandmüller, Caffarra, Meisner, and I used an ancient institution in the Church of proposing dubia to the Pope.

This was done in a very respectful way and not in any way to be aggressive, in order to give him the occasion to set forth the Church’s unchanging teaching. Pope Francis has chosen not to respond to the five dubia, so it is now necessary simply to state what the Church teaches about marriage, the family, acts that are intrinsically evil, and so forth. These are the points that are not clear in the current teachings of the Roman Pontiff; therefore, this situation must be corrected. The correction would then direct itself principally to those doctrinal points.” [The Wanderer Press]

Why is the above statement schismatic? First, Cardinal Burke assumes that his own understanding of doctrine and discipline is entirely inerrant. There is no acknowledgement that he himself might err or misunderstand. He considers that the successor of Peter has badly misunderstood Church teaching and has taught error on doctrine and discipline. But that judgment assumes Burke’s own infallibility.

Second, he usurps an authority not given to Cardinals or Bishops, the role to judge, correct, and give orders to the Vicar of Christ. Cardinal Burke does not have the authority to correct the Successor of Peter. Christ gave supreme authority in the Church on earth to Peter and his successors, not to Cardinals or Bishops, and not to the conservative Catholic subculture.

Third, it is a false statement of alleged fact to claim that, in the Church, there exists a process to correct the Roman Pontiff. No such process exists, or has ever been used. The process of posing dubia allows lower authorities in the Church to be taught by the Holy See. It is not a process for correcting the Holy See or the Pope. A dubium proposes a doubt about a matter of doctrine or discipline, which requests teaching or correction from the Roman Pontiff or the Holy See. It is not a process for demanding that the Pope clarify or change his teaching.

Fourth, Cardinal Burke and his cohort have no authority to demand that the Roman Pontiff reply to their dubia, nor that he accept correction from them. The very fact that they issue a correction is schismatic. For they speak and act as if they had no obligation to submit their own minds and hearts, their own understanding of doctrine and discipline, to the authority of the Pope. In fact, they speak and act as if he were under their authority.

Therefore, Cardinal Raymond Burke is in a state of formal schism.

3. The Penalty for formal schism is automatic excommunication

Canon 751: “schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

Canon 1364: “an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication”.

Cardinal Burke and more than a few other conservative Catholic leaders are presently in a state of formal schism and are automatically excommunicated. They are angry at the Pope for permitting Communion to the divorced and remarried. But they themselves are unworthy to receive Communion, being automatically excommunicated for the sin of schism.

4. John-Henry Westen is in a state of formal schism

John-Henry Westen, editor-in-chief of LifeSiteNews.com, has committed the grave sin of bearing false witness against the Roman Pontiff, the grave sin of scandal, and the grave sin of formal schism by his public assertions about Pope Francis.

Westen: “The dichotomy is clear evidence that the Pope himself, in refusing to clarify despite the formal and public request of the four Cardinals and associated pleas by countless other Catholic clergy and laity, is guilty of betraying the entire Church.” [Source]

Westen is not a Cardinal, Bishop, priest, deacon, or religious, and he has zero degrees in theology. Yet he considers himself fit to judge and condemn the Vicar of Christ. By speaking as if he has the role to judge and condemn the Pope — judging him guilty of the grave sin of betraying the entire Church — he has committed formal schism.

In a subsequent article, Westen set himself up as a judge over number decisions of the Vicar of Christ on doctrine and discipline. And in each case, he spoke as if his own point of view were absolute and inerrant, and as if he had the role to pass judgment over every decision of Pope Francis on doctrine and discipline. That article also expresses the sin of formal schism, as it unequivocally and publicly displays an absolute refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff, by Westen, unless the Supreme Pontiff were to submit to the pretended authority of his conservative critics, and were to issue only the decisions on doctrine and discipline which they believe to be correct.

5. Unam Sanctam on Papal Authority

Unam Sanctam, the papal bull of Pope Boniface VIII, was approved by the Fifth Lateran Council. Therefore, its teaching is irreformable:

“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]

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.”

The highest power in the Church on earth is the Roman Pontiff. And “it will not be able to be judged by man, but by God alone.” And whosoever “resists this authority” thereby “resists the ordination of God.”

Anyone who says that a Roman Pontiff can be corrected, by any means or scheme or person or procedure whatsoever, is guilty of heresy for contradicting the above teaching, and guilty of schism for refusing submission to the authority of the Roman Pontiff, as ordained by God.

6. The First Vatican Council on Popes and error

The Magisterium has always taught that the Church is indefectible. She can never go astray, nor lead anyone astray, and Her teachings can never lead us away from the path of salvation. For Jesus promised that the Church Herself and each successor of Peter would never go astray, and would always withstand even the gates of Hell:

{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.

{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.

The First Vatican Council interpreted these passages to mean that each successor of Peter has the “gift of truth and never-failing faith” which is “divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine.”

Therefore, any kind of claim that the Church or the Pope has gone astray is contrary to the Gospel, contrary to the dogma on the indefectibility of the Church, and contrary to the teaching of Vatican I on the never-failing faith of each Pope. No Pope can teach heresy. No Pope can teach heresy, as this is contrary to the gift of truth. And no Pope can commit apostasy, heresy, or schism, as this is contrary to the gift of a never failing faith.

7. “We’re right, therefore we’re not schismatics”

That’s not how the sin of formal schism works. Any Pope might err, to a limited extent, in his non-infallible teachings, or decisions on discipline, or personal theological opinions. And you might be right in opposing his decision on discipline or doctrine. But if you then usurp the pretended authority to judge, correct, accuse, or condemn the Roman Pontiff, no matter how right you may be on discipline or doctrine, you are nevertheless guilty of formal schism.

If you are living in the time of Pope Honorius I, and you rightly criticize him for failing to decide the question of whether Christ has one will or two, you are without fault. But if you next decide to issue a formal correction, and when he fails to stand correct, you condemn his as guilty of betraying the Church, or teaching heresy, or committing heresy, or if you declare that you will resist his authority, or if you refuse to submit to his authority, then you are guilty of formal schism, despite being right on some point of doctrine or discipline.

And when the next Pope takes office, and he decides that you were right. He will nevertheless hold you to be still in a state of schism, even if you accept him, the subsequent Pope, and submit to his authority. For no one is absolved from any grave sin, until and unless he repents. So it is not sufficient that the Pope you rejected is eventually succeeded by the next Pope. You are still automatically excommunicated.

Pope SAINT Celestine V committed so many errors in discipline and in the administration of the Church, that he was compelled by circumstances to resign. But if anyone, objecting to these errors, separated themselves from the authority of the Roman Pontiff, over doctrine and discipline, he would nevertheless be guilty of schism.

If you are living in the time of Pope John XXII (22, not 23), and he opines that the departed faithful do not have the Beatific Vision of God until after the general Resurrection, and you oppose that error, you are without fault. But if you next decide to issue a formal correction of him, and to judge and condemn him as if he were guilty of committing or teaching heresy, you are automatically excommunicated for formal schism. It doesn’t matter if you are right. You have no authority to judge or correct or condemn the Supreme Pontiff. And if you usurp that pretended authority, you commit formal schism.

8. We are following holy Cardinals, Bishops, and priests, so we can’t be schismatics

Saint Hippolytus was an antipope and a schismatic. No one who followed him into schism was justified by the fact that he later repented and became a Saint.

So it doesn’t matter if you gather a collection of the allegedly most holy persons on earth, and follow them in doctrine and discipline. And it doesn’t matter if the current Roman Pontiff is Pope Alexander VI, allegedly one of the most sinful Popes. As long as you refuse submission to the Roman Pontiff, and to his authority over doctrine and discipline, you are automatically excommunicated in the eyes of God and guilty of the grave sin of formal schism.

You do not have the role to judge, correct, or condemn any Roman Pontiff. And it doesn’t matter if you can point to an allegedly very holy person — who is also committing the grave sin of schism — you are not thereby exempted from guilt.

9. Canon Law

“Can. 1404 The First See is judged by no one.”

The First See is the Holy See, led by the Roman Pontiff. This Canon clearly states that no one on earth, neither Cardinals, nor Bishops nor other holy or scholarly persons, many judge the Roman Pontiff.

“Can. 1372 A person who makes recourse against an act of the Roman Pontiff to an ecumenical council or the college of bishops is to be punished with a censure.”

Even an Ecumenical Council, absent the Roman Pontiff, and even the entire body of Bishops, absent the Roman Pontiff, cannot judge or take any recourse (such as a formal correction) against the person or acts of the Roman Pontiff.

“Can. 1373 A person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry or provokes subjects to disobey them is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties.”

“Can. 1374 A person who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; however, a person who promotes or directs an association of this kind is to be punished with an interdict.”

Currently, some persons who are openly opposing, resisting, and accusing Pope Francis are themselves guilty of inciting animosity and hatred against the Roman Pontiff and his office.

And if, after the formal correction, they join together to oppose the Pope, or to demand his submission to their correction, or to demand his resignation, they will constitute a type of association which literally plots against the Church. For whosoever opposes the Vicar of Christ, opposes Christ and His body the Church.

“Can. 336 The college of bishops, whose head is the Supreme Pontiff and whose members are bishops by virtue of sacramental consecration and hierarchical communion with the head and members of the college and in which the apostolic body continues, together with its head and never without this head, is also the subject of supreme and full power offer the universal Church.”

The supreme and full power of the universal Church can be exercised by the Roman Pontiff acting alone, or by an Ecumenical Council led by the Roman Pontiff, or by the body of Bishops dispersed in the world led by the Roman Pontiff.

Pope Boniface: “And so, the one and only Church is one body, one head, (not two heads like a monster), Christ certainly, and the vicar of Christ, who is Peter and the successor of Peter. For the Lord said to Peter himself, “Feed my sheep.” [John 21:17] He said “my” generally, not solely of these or of those. By this, it is understood that all [universas] were committed to him.”

10. The Errors of Dr. Ed Peters

Peters: “Canonical evidence of one such limitation on papal power is found in, for example, Canon 336 which recognizes the college of bishops (properly understood) as also a subject of full and supreme power in the Church—a mystery, to be sure, how one Church can have two subjects of full and supreme power, but nevertheless an ecclesiological given to be reckoned with, not ignored.”

Canon 336 is quoted above. It states clearly that the college of bishops, “together with its head and never without this head”, i.e. the Roman Pontiff, has the authority of the universal Church. So that canon in no way supports any type of second authority in the Church which could formally correct the Roman Pontiff. It’s not a mystery. The college of Bishops is led by the Pope. An Ecumenical Council must be led by a Pope. There are not two entities with “full and supreme power”, as Peters suggests. For then the Church would be a monster with two heads, as Pope Boniface explains above.

Peters: “Tradition has some even more startling things to say about popes who might fall into heresy. To summarize a long story already shortened here, the Church is not defenseless against heresy from popes. Under certain rare circumstances, one is talking, according to several weighty authors, about the loss of pontifical office itself.”

It is a grave error, contrary to the definitive teachings of the First Vatican Council, to claim that a Pope could ever teach heresy or commit apostasy, heresy, or schism. The opinions of some persons in the distant past, prior to the First Vatican Council, that a Pope might fall into heresy, are not Sacred Tradition. For Sacred Tradition cannot be contradicted by an Ecumenical Council, and only the Magisterium can judge which assertions are and are not of Tradition itself.

Any Catholic today who holds that a Pope may fall into heresy is halfway to formal schism.

11. Saint and Doctor of the Church Robert Bellarmine

In my post What Saint Bellarmine really said about Popes and Heresy, I explain that St. Bellarmine held that the Pope could not be a heretic and could not teach heresy.

The fact that some authors, in the past, opined that a Pope could commit heresy, does not establish that idea as a truth of the faith. And those past opinions are contradicted by St. Bellarmine. But more importantly, the First Vatican Council definitively decided the question when it declared that every Pope possesses the “gift of truth and never-failing faith” which is “divinely conferred on Peter and his successors”.

12. My Faith

I hold Pope Francis to be the current valid Pope, and to hold the full authority given by Christ to Peter and his successors, over doctrine and discipline. I consider Pope Francis, in his person, to be a holy and faithful disciple of Christ and a loving competent Shepherd. I submit my mind and heart to the teachings of his ordinary papal magisterium, and I believe, without reservation, any and all infallible teachings issued under Papal Infallibility, Conciliar Infallibility, and the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

I believe that every valid Pope, including Pope Francis, has the gift of truth and the gift of a never-failing faith, such that he can never commit apostasy, heresy, or schism and can never teach material heresy (not even inadvertently), due to the protection of the Holy Spirit and the prevenient grace of God.

Whosoever rejects the authority of Pope Francis, Vicar of Christ, thereby rejects Christ himself. I will hold all such persons, who reject the authority of Pope Francis as a valid Pope, to be wicked schismatics, who have chosen the path to Hell by rejecting the Successor to Saint Peter, the Supreme Teacher of the Universal Church, the Rock on which the Church is founded, the Pilot and Helmsman of the Ark of Salvation. Their pride is openly displayed in that they presume to judge the Supreme Judge of the faithful and the Supreme Head of the whole Church. In an astounding combination of arrogance and ignorance, they assume that their understanding of doctrine and discipline cannot possibly err, and cannot ever be in need of guidance, teaching, and correction from the Father and Teacher of all Christians.

Whosoever commits formal schism suffers the immediate penalty of automatic excommunication, under both the eternal moral law and Canon Law. All such persons are unworthy to receive Communion and unworthy to receive any Sacrament, other than confession, if and only if they repent.

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 Lots to Say about the Formal Correction

  1. Turnrod says:

    In my view, nothing was schismatic about the issuance or content of the dubia and there would be nothing schismatic about issuing a ‘formal correction’ if it is issued in the same manner as the dubia. In other words, if it is focused on correcting what they see as interpretations of AL (vs papal teaching) that are contrary to the Catholic faith.

    However, if the ‘formal correction’ is issued to correct papal teaching then that would be problematic. With that said, regardless how ‘formal correction’ is issued, it would provide the Pope an opportunity to clarify AL and to make clear that it is magisterial teaching (since Burke says it is not).

    • Ron Conte says:

      Dubia are not per se schismatic. This one was worded in a rebellious manner, which presumes that the authors of the dubia understand the faith better than the Pope. But if both sides behave very well, a schism could be avoided. I just don’t see that happening based on the many articles and comments so far by papal critics. They are certain that their own point of view is absolute truth, and nothing short of the Pope bowing down before them, kissing their rings, and becoming their “Yes Man” will satisfy them.

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