In a recent blog post, Phil Lawler proclaims the papacy of Pope Francis to be “disastrous,” suggests that the Vicar of Christ poses a “danger to the integrity of the Catholic faith,” and claims that Pope Francis has shown “disdain for what the Church has always taught and believed and practiced.” [This Disastrous Papacy]
As bad as those assertions may be, Lawler goes even further in accusing Pope Francis. He uses the figure of a household with sons to describe Pope Francis as a father whose “pathological behavior threatens the welfare of the whole household.” The he states outright, “I consider this papacy a disaster,” and next he goes entirely off the edge of the cliff. He states that we cannot look to Rome for guidance any longer.
“We have grown accustomed to looking to Rome for guidance. Now we cannot…. But if we cannot count on clear directions from Rome, where can we turn?”
Lawler then suggests that we be guided by the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Bishops, since we cannot be guided by the Roman Pontiff. Finally, he says: “But if I am right, and the current Pope’s leadership has become a danger to the faith….”
Well, it is sad to say, but the set of assertions by Phil Lawler (in the above-quoted article) constitutes formal schism. He has publicly condemned the Roman Pontiff and has stated that we cannot look to him to guide the Church any longer. By the statements in that post, Phil Lawler has utterly rejected the papal Magisterium, and the role of Pope Francis as the Father and Teacher of all Christians. He is clearly stating a refusal of submission to the authority of the Roman Pontiff over doctrine and discipline. And that is the sin of formal schism.
Lawler has written a new book, coming out February 26th, titled, Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock. We already have some reviews of the book, from advance copies distributed by Lawler and his publisher. And the book is no different than the blog post discussed above.
First, let’s consider the title. Calling the Vicar of Christ a “Lost Shepherd” and proclaiming that he is “misleading his flock” is openly and fully schismatic.
Canon 751: “schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him”.
No Catholic can proclaim the Roman Pontiff to be a lost shepherd, who is misleading his flock, call his papacy disastrous and a danger to the faith, and say that we can no longer look to Rome for guidance, and also claim to be submissive to the Roman Pontiff, to his authority over doctrine and discipline. But Lawler is worse than a schismatic. For he also commits the sins of calumny against the Pope and grave scandal of the faithful.
And his new book simply continues these attacks on the Vicar of Christ.
“In the introduction Lawler says that, over the course of several years, ‘I did my best to provide assurance—for my readers and sometimes for myself—that despite his sometimes alarming remarks, Francis was not a radical, was not leading the Church away from the ancient sources of the Faith. But gradually, reluctantly, I came to the conclusion that he was.’ ” [from a Dec. 2017 post by Karl Keating]
Lawler implies that Pope Francis is a radical, who is leading the Church away from the ancient sources of the Faith. And, as the book description states, Lawler also accuses Pope Francis of being “engaged in a deliberate effort to undermine fundamental Catholic doctrines.” That is a grave calumny against the Vicar of Christ, but also an expression of formal schism. No Catholic submits to the teaching authority of someone whom he thinks is “engaged in a deliberate effort to undermine fundamental Catholic doctrines.”
In the book, Lawler presents himself as someone who has given the Roman Pontiff the benefit of every doubt. What that really means is that Lawler has decided that he is a judge over the Supreme Judge of all the faithful. No Catholic on earth or in heaven has the role to judge any Pope. As the Magisterium teaches in Unam Sanctam, (a document confirmed by the Fifth Lateran Council making its teaching infallible), God alone has the authority to judge the highest spiritual power on earth, the Roman Pontiff [Unam Santam].
What arrogance! To dare to say to the Supreme Pastor, in effect: “I’ve given you the benefit of every doubt.” Who is Lawler, that he should take the role of judging Popes at all?
Lawler does not think that Pope Francis is an anti-pope, or that he has taught heresy. However, he makes so many other accusations against the Roman Pontiff, it is clear that Lawler is publicly, obstinately, and with full deliberation refusing to give his submission to the authority of Pope Francis over doctrine and discipline. And that is the sin of formal schism, the penalty for which is automatic excommunication.
Canon 1364, n. 1: “an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication”
Phil Lawler is very upset that Pope Francis allows some of the divorced and remarried to receive Communion. But under Canon law and also the eternal moral law, he himself may not receive Communion because he is guilty and unrepentant of the sins of formal schism, calumny against the Roman Pontiff, and the grave sin of scandal. Schismatics as well as persons unrepentant from grave sin are not worthy to receive the holy Eucharist.
What we are witnessing today is the unfolding of a conservative schism. After Vatican II, conservative leaders gradually took to themselves the role of deciding what is and is not Church teaching, and what is the correct interpretation of magisterial documents. Over time, the conservative leaders — not only ordained persons, but also lay theologians and authors — became a Magisterium unto themselves. They have been sitting in judgment over the true Magisterium and the one Church, as if they each had a role above the Roman Pontiff, to teach, correct, and judge every decision on doctrine and discipline in the entire Church.
God has responded to this arrogance by appointing a Pope, carefully chosen by grace and providence, to oppose and correct the sins of these conservatives. For they speak as if Catholicism were the handmaiden of conservatism, as if the Pope ought to be nothing other than the mouthpiece for the conservative Catholic subculture. But Jesus did not teach liberalism or conservatism or anything other than truth. And they have gone astray from the truth, substituting their own mistaken judgments and narrow understanding and frequent misunderstandings for the truths of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium.
Then, too, many conservative members of the faithful, who think themselves to be faithful merely because they are conservative, have contributed to the schism. They follow leaders who teach grave errors, giving them the support, without which they would be leaders of empty chairs and empty pews. They commit the sins of contraception, abortifacients, various sexual sins, as well as many heresies, without repentance and confession. Then they cry out with indignation when the divorced and remarried, having also committed grave sins, try to receive Communion. And they publicly offer “correction” to the Roman Pontiff, while never accepting correction themselves.
Mark my words. Things are going to get a lot worse. Only those Catholics who are prayerful and humble will be able to remain faithful to the Church and the See of Peter.
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