I’m Revising my book: In Defense of Pope Francis

In the revised version, I add this argument, that if Popes could commit heresy, we could never be sure which teachings to believe. We would not even know which ideas were heresy. If any Pope might be a heretic, we would not be able to trust any particular Pope’s teaching. Then the teaching of Councils would also be in doubt. If a Pope commits formal heresy, he ceases to be a member of the Church and therefore ceases to be Pope. But an Ecumenical Council is only a true Ecumenical Council if it has a true Pope as its head. You would never be sure which Popes might be secret heretics, having lost the faith interiorly. Therefore, you would never know which Ecumenical Councils were valid.

Having lost all confidence in Popes and Councils, we would be left with Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. But we require an authoritative interpreter to understand Tradition and Scripture. Otherwise, we would end up disagreeing and dividing into different factions, as has happened to the Protestants. So even by considering Tradition and Scripture, we could not be sure which Popes were heretics, since it would depend on interpretation.

The section of the book examines this argument in greater depth. But essentially, if any Pope could teach heresy, or could commit formal heresy, the surety of the faith is lost. We would never be sure which Popes and Councils to trust and which teachings are truly of the Magisterium. The only solution to the problem is that God prevents every Pope from teaching material heresy and from committing formal heresy.

The final point is whether God might permit a Pope to teach mere material heresy, inadvertently, only as a private theological opinion. This would not seem to harm the Church in the ways described. My response is this: God does not do things by half measure. Since He has decided to give the Church the gift of a Pope who cannot commit formal heresy, nor teach material heresy under the Magisterium, there would be no reason for Him to permit material heresy as a private opinion. For the private opinions of Popes are given more weight than the private opinions of ordinary theologians. And God does not give flawed gifts. Since He decided to give the Church the gift of Popes who are free from teaching or committing heresy, He would not leave this gift with the flaw of the accidental teaching of mere material heresy.

The book will have some new chapters, to consider documents and controversies since the book was published in 2015.

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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35 Responses to I’m Revising my book: In Defense of Pope Francis

  1. Francisco says:

    That would be a great addition Ron.

    What I find in common among the Amoris Laetitia critics is that they ignore or don’t know the difference between *Objective* sin and *Actual* sin. A person in the state of ACTUAL mortal sin cannot receive Communion and the Pope is NOT saying that such persons can receive Communion.

    They usually refer to Bible verses such as Matthew 5:32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 or 1 Corinthians 11:27 and the document by Pope St. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor #’s 56 and 79 as if Pope Francis is contradicting them. Pope Francis is NOT saying that intrinsically evil acts become good with a good intention or with good conscience, they remain evil, but there are mitigating factors that can reduce culpability in an objective mortal sin to an actual venial sin.

    They conclude that since adultery is a mortal sin, no one with this sin can receive Communion.

    But like I said above, there are mitigating factors that can reduce an OBJECTIVE mortal sin to an ACTUAL *venial* sin, and persons with venial sin do not lose the state of grace (CCC# 1863) and therefore can receive Communion. For example, masturbation is intrinsically evil (CCC# 2352), but mitigating factors can reduce this objective mortal sin to an actual *venial* sin: “To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety, or other psychological or social *factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability*” (CCC# 2352).

    Also, some seem to ignore that this is not a new doctrinal teaching, but a Pastoral decision of the prudential order, so the faithful is free to respectfully disagree with this pastoral decision but still be bound under the authority of the Vicar of Christ who holds the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.

    Perhaps you may cover a more detailed explanation regarding AL in the book.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Yes, well I respectfully disagree with the Pope’s decision on discipline, but I also recognize that this might be the work of God. The papal critics are too quick to assume that their own point of view is equal to God’s point of view.

    • stefano says:

      Mitigating factors may alleviate the judgement on individual culpability, but in no cases can they mitigate the commandment not to commit sin anymore.

      Instead, this argument has been used to theorize that the divorced and remarried can persevere adultery on the assumption that in their objective/subjective situation they do not commit grave sin. It is terrible that so many catholics do not realise that this is pure relativism, which undoubtely is a heretic ideology.

      Furthermore, it is dishonest to quote CCC #2352 in support to such theory, being quite obvious that if the above conclusions were possible, the CCC would have drawn the same conclusions itself 40 years ago.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I think the theory is that the person wishes to avoid sin, tries to remain continent, and perhaps repeatedly falls into the same objective sin. In which case, they can be admitted to Communion. If they know that these sexual acts are grave sin, and are not even trying to change their situation, then the theory is that the mitigating factors continue, making it still not an actual mortal sin. It is possible for a person to know the teaching of the Church, that an act is grave sin, and still disagree (thinking the Church wrong, or thinking that there are exceptions), and so not be in actual mortal sin. That is possible. However, I disagree that the best approach is to permit Communion.

      It does happen that persons are admitted to Communion, knowing that contraception is a mortal sin, but thinking the Church wrong. So they might be in the state of grace. But why do the AL critics not speak of this type of continuing mortal sin? The Pope’s error in this regard is limited; he is being too lenient with the divorced and remarried — perhaps at the prompting of God, for some reason in God’s plan. But the worse error is by the critics who do not apply their own preferred standard to contraception, to calumny against the Pope, to schism, to teaching heretical errors, to other sexual sins, etc. The critics are making a worse error.

    • Francisco says:

      Stefano –
      What makes a baptized person worthy to receive Communion is to be in the state of grace, period. People need to differentiate between ‘objective’ mortal and actual mortal sin (see also St. JP2’s general audience October 29, 1986 on degrees of sins #4). The Vatican doesn’t have an English version available now, but it’s in Italian and Spanish:

      And as Ron explained above, there can be a case where a person wishes to avoid sin, tries to remain continent, and repeatedly falls into the same objective sin but retains the state of grace due to mitigating factors. Now the decision of who may receive Communion is the Church’s prudential order (not a teaching, thus it cannot be heretical in any way), future Popes may or may not change this decision so that anyone in *objective* mortal sin cannot receive Communion (and that also includes many other objective mortal sins), so the faithful is free to respectfully disagree with this pastoral decision (this is only a disciplinary decision) as explained above.

      Church’s development of doctrine can take even hundreds of years (like “Outside the Church there is no Salvation) so one cannot dogmatize one’s limited understanding of doctrine as if it will not develop or go deeper. The Church can come up with an even more detailed teaching on this subject in the future along the same lines.

    • stefano says:

      Francisco, you cannot say “What makes a baptized person worthy to receive Communion is to be in the state of grace, period”, because this has never been the catholic doctrine of sacraments, and AL hasn’t changed it. Now I can say “period”.

      If you commit mortal sin (objective mortal sin) you should confess your sin, then you can receive communion. No one can grant you a sort of dispensation from confession on the assumption that your objective/subjective situation makes your sin less grave, therefore allowing you to persevere in your objective state of sin, as if it was no longer a sin, just because you so special to the eyes of God.

    • Ron Conte says:

      No, I think the state of grace is what matters. The Council of Trent permitted a priest to receive Communion, after he commits an actual mortal sin, if he is unable to get to Confession with another priest, as long as he makes an act of contrition, so that he returns to the state of grace.

      And if you commit a sin which is objectively grave, but you are certain you did not have full culpability, e.g. you did not realize the act was a sin (invincible ignorance), under discipline prior to Pope Francis you could still receive Communion without Confession. Being conscious of actual mortal sin is the standard for being unworthy for Communion.

    • Marco says:

      Not to mention that absolution can be granted to a faithful who confesses his sins but cannot stop doing them for reasons outside of his control, if the priest acknowledges that he/she lacks full awareness or full deliberation.

      So there is no need to go to Communion without going to Confession.

    • Marco says:


      You keep on beating the same old dead horse, the point is that you can’t say that Pope Francis is going against the Divine Law now without at the same time saying that JPII was heretical as well in 1983. As i’ve shown here https://ronconte.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/the-distortion-of-pope-francis-teaching-by-liberal-catholics/#comment-5704 you you can’t have your cake and eat it, you can’t have it both ways.

  2. stefano says:

    Concerning the possibility that a Pope might be capable of inadvertent heresy, we have plenty of evidence with the present pontif, when he speaks off the cuff.
    I think that a Pope should be entitled to his own personal opinion, as long as he can discriminate between his opinions and the true teaching of the Church. As a precautionary measure, he should speak as little as possible, and only on formal occasions.

    However there have been also cases of non infallible magisterial teaching that turned out to be heretical. For example, the case of Pope Honorius (625 to 638) who approved a heretic statement of Monothelism, which became an official doctrine predominant during 40 years in the Bizantine Empire. This caused Honorius posthumous anathematization by the VI Ecumenic Council.

    The Catholic faith was restored by the Third Council of Constantinople, VI Ecumenical Council (7 Nov 680 in the presence of Emperor Constantine IV and representatives of the new Pope, Agathone, 678-681). The Council condemned Monothelism and launched anathema against all those who promoted or favored heresy, including Pope Honorius in the condemnation (“With them we banish from the Holy Church of God and we anathematize also Honorius, former Pope of elder Rome, because we found in his letter to Sergio that he followed his opinion in all and that he ratified his impious teachings” – Mansi, XI, col. 556).

    In the letter sent to the Emperor Constantine IV, the Pope wrote: “We anathematize the inventors of the new error, that is, Theodore, Bishop of Pharan, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul, and Peter, betrayers rather than leaders of the Church of Constantinople, and also Honorius, who did not attempt to sanctify this Apostolic Church with the teaching of apostolic tradition, but by profane treachery permitted its purity to be polluted” (Mansi, XI, col. 733)

    • Ron Conte says:

      Saint and Doctor of the Church Robert Bellarmine, as well as subsequent holy Pontiffs, found that Honorius did not commit heresy. The Council erred in this decision of prudential judgment. Councils are not infallible in all that they say and do. Only certain teachings of a Council are infallible (and some dogmatic facts). It is actually well established that Honorius did not commit heresy. See Fr. Iannuzzi’s article (linked from my post)

    • stefano says:

      It is by faith that we affirm that a Pope cannot formally teach heresy, but this applies strictly only to infallible teaching, as dogmatically proclaimed by the I Vatican Ecumenic Council.

      Therefore you are right to say that Honorius was not tecnically heretical, since he did not make a dogmatic statement, and that the anathema was not for the heresy, but for not having opposed to the heresy (which, however makes little difference when you are a Pope).

      The anathema of the VI Ecumenical Council was perhaps a bit of an overkill, but this doens’t mean that the Council was wrong, as you also admit in one of your replies to the post you just linked. They only had to make the point clear.

      But it is true that inadvertent heresy is possible. Monothelism is heretical and cannot become catholic, not even in another 2000 years.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Saint Robert Bellarmine says Honorius did not teach or commit heresy. He says that no Pope can teach heresy or in any way be a heretic, regardless of whether the Pope is teaching in an Ecumenical Council. Honorius did not assert the Monethelite heresy, according to Bellarmine.

    • stefano says:

      I do respect the opinion of Saint Robert Bellarmine, but I have to stick to the declarations of a valid Ecumenical Council presided by a regnant Pope.
      It is certainly true that Honorius did not formally teach the Monethelite heresy, but it is also true that he inadvertently approved (in writing) a monethelite statement, and, more importantly, he did not oppose the spreading of the heresy in the Church.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Bellarmine’s opinion is not baseless. He explains why Honorius is innocent. He explains what Honorius said that was mistakenly seen as supporting the heresy. I recommend you get the book, as it would be too lengthy a passage for me to quote the whole of it. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B017FOE0VI/

    • stefano says:

      OK, he was mistakenly seen as supporting the heresy, but Saint Robert Bellarmine admits that there was at least a mistake somewhere.

      But even if the mistake were totally on the side of Pope Agathone, does it make a difference? Pope Agathone would be then implicitly teaching the heresy that a Pope can be heretical.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Not every error is a heresy. At the time when Pope St. Agatho wrote, 40 years after the death of Honorius, there was no infallible definition that a Pope cannot commit heresy. The First Vatican Council taught that each Pope has the gift of truth and a never-failing faith — which implies that he cannot teach or commit heresy. But I don’t think that teaching is yet infallible. It seems to be only non-infallible, as it was not stated explicitly, but only implied.

    • Francisco says:

      How can Pope Honorius I be teaching heresy since at his lifetime the teaching whether Jesus had one will or two wills was not infallible defined yet?. It cannot be since heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of *some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith* (Canon 751). During Honorius I, it was not a teaching to be believed by divine and Catholic faith, it was not infallibly defined yet.

      Actually, a subsequent Pope Leo II condemned Pope Honorius I, not of heresy, but for not being active enough in opposing the contrary idea at the time. From the Catholic Encyclopedia:
      “At the same time he was at pains to make it clear that in condemning his predecessor Honorius I, he did so, *not because he taught heresy*, but because he was not active enough in opposing it.” – Pope Leo II.

      A Heresy can be committed AFTER a teaching of the Church becomes infallible, not before. Was Saint Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church, a heretic for denying the sanctification of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the first moment of her Immaculate Conception? No, he was not a heretic. For at the time, the Magisterium had not yet infallibly taught the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. It was at the time an open question. Pope Honorius I reigned in a time *before* the Church had decided the question of the two wills of Jesus Christ.

    • stefano says:

      Ron, the infallibility defined in the I Vatican Council necessarily extends to the previous teaching of all the previous Popes and Councils. Otherwise, we should be wondering even if the Sacred Scriptures are truly the word of God (by the way, it just reminded me that the Father General of the Jesuits, Father Arturo Sosa, recently expressed some doubts over the actual words spoken by Jesus in the Gospels, arguing that at that time there were no voice recorders. And guess which words he was referring to, in particular? Right! “whoever repudiates his wife and marries another commits adultery”).

      Back to discussion, when along time the Church defines a doctrine dogmatically, she does not insert something new in the body of the doctrine; she just defines infallibly, now and forever, what the Church of all times has always believed and tought. Generally, the scope of a formal definition is to put any residual discussions on that matter to an end.

      Replying to Francisco, in the Church of the origins there was little doctrine defined dogmatically as we understand today, but the Church was much smaller and much closer to the live testimony of the Apostoles. This means that the true believers knew very well how to discriminate between what was catholic and what was “heretical”, even before a specific doctrine was theologically understood and authoritatively defined.

      So, yes, I would say that heretics have always existed, also at the time of Christ (Judas was the first, even if technically you would rather call him a betrayer).

    • Ron Conte says:

      There are new definitions of dogma, which were only ever implicit in the Deposit of Faith. Thus, these new definitions were not always believed and thought by the faithful. Saint Thomas did not understand the Immaculate Conception correctly. So this disproves your claim that any idea that is now a heresy, always was a heresy.

    • stefano says:

      I am sorry, but I disagree. S.Thomas did not understand the Immaculate Conception because he could not explain it. This is not enough to say that he did not believe it at all, or that he did not whish to believe it. If he did not (this is possible), he might be excused for this, but then his faith was lacking in something, and this diminution cannot be appealed against my argument. For example, if I were to quote Origen in some wrong theological conclusions, it would not be wise for me to say that, however, he is a Doctor of the Church.

      One thing is for sure: if S.Thomas dedicated his precious time and effort to study the matter, it was not to win a theological contest, but because this was a widespread belief amongst the faithful and so remained in the later centuries, despite his conclusions, so much that the Church eventually proclaimed the dogma in 1854.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Are you actually claiming that the faithful knew about the Immaculate Conception all along? From the earliest years of the Church?

    • stefano says:

      Yes. No doubt.

    • stefano says:

      Let me refrase. They knew immediately from the very first moment that somebody raised the issue.

    • Ron Conte says:

      False. That is not how dogma works in the Church. And no theologian proposes such a claim. It was many centuries before the conception of Mary was even proposed in its correct form, and many more centuries before it became the general understanding of the faithful.

    • stefano says:

      Would you please expand a little bit more, I am not sure of what you are actually saying.

    • Ron Conte says:

      The Magsterium teaches from natural law and from the truths implicit and explicit in Tradition and Scripture. A new definition of dogma is not necessarily or even usually a truth understood and lived explicitly from the beginning of the Church. Often a truth, implicit in the deposit of faith, gradually becomes know over the centuries. A question may be proposed, and different answers considered. It may take a long time for the correct answer to first be proposed, a later to gain adherents, then much later become a general understanding of the faithful, or an infallible teaching.

      It is not true that all dogmas were understood correctly by the faithful as soon as the question arose. It is not true that the incorrect position in answer to a question was always heresy. It only becomes heresy after the Magisterium teaches that answer infallibly.

    • stefano says:

      Ah, theologians! Why don’t you take a minute to read this excerpt:
      “…And indeed, illustrious documents of venerable antiquity, of both the Eastern and the Western Church, very forcibly testify that this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the most Blessed Virgin, which was daily more and more splendidly explained, stated and confirmed by the highest authority, teaching, zeal, knowledge, and wisdom of the Church, and which was disseminated among all peoples and nations of the Catholic world in a marvelous manner — this doctrine always existed in the Church as a doctrine that has been received from our ancestors, and that has been stamped with the character of revealed doctrine. For the Church of Christ, watchful guardian that she is, and defender of the dogmas deposited with her, never changes anything, never diminishes anything, never adds anything to them; but with all diligence she treats the ancient documents faithfully and wisely; if they really are of ancient origin and if the faith of the Fathers has transmitted them, she strives to investigate and explain them in such a way that the ancient dogmas of heavenly doctrine will be made evident and clear, but will retain their full, integral, and proper nature, and will grow only within their own genus — that is, within the same dogma, in the same sense and the same meaning” (Ineffabilis Deus – Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius IX on the Immaculate Conception, Dec 8, 1854).

    • Ron Conte says:

      Yes, all doctrines are in the received deposit of faith, just as I said. But often a doctrine is only implicit, and over the course of many years, it becomes known to the faithful. But up to and including the time of Saint Thomas, 700 years ago, the faithful did not know the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception explicitly. It was implicit in the holiness of the Virgin Mary and her sinlessness. But St. Thomas erred in describing it because it was not yet understood explicitly by the faithful, nor the Magisterium.

    • stefano says:

      The veneration of Mary dates back to the Church of the origins and found its justification in the belief of the special nature of the Mother of Christ, that is in her being totally sinless or immaculate. This is aknowledged by Saint Augustine in the third century.
      How that was possible is a problem that puzzled the theologians for centuries, but historically the veneration of the Immaculate went along with the growth of the Church and of the doctrine (lex orandi, lex credendi).

    • Ron Conte says:

      The idea that Mary was preserved from original sin in the first moment of her conception had to wait until the doctrine of original sin was worked out, and then subsequently whether she was saved before conception or after (as the problem was commonly stated), or (in the correct understanding) in the first moment. It did not merely puzzle the theologians. The faithful did not understand original sin very well for a long time. Knowing that the mother of God is very holy is not tantamount to knowing specifics of doctrine.

  3. Guest says:

    Why is obedience to the hierarchy used to discern mystics? Why is a mystic who claims to be obedient to God rather than man as a justification for disobedience suspect? Because the understanding is that God founded a hierarchical Church that He Himself guides and preserves from error. The idea that you can be more loyal to Jesus by bypassing Church authority seems strange. It sounds like a temptation from the Devil, because the voice of the Church is the normal voice of God. If His divinely authorized teachers could mislead the faithful by teaching damnable error in His name, Catholicism would be false–not just after Pius XII, but from the very beginning. It would be a foolish way to build a Church, not a wise way, if He did not make it so that the hierarchy was somehow protected from this, especially the papal rock on which it is built.

    • Ron Conte says:

      In my experience, reading thousands of messages from over 200 claimed visionaries, and writing over a hundred posts and articles on the topic, the best criterion for judging claimed “mystics” or visionaries is not obedience to a local Bishop, but whether the messages are in agreement with the teachings of Jesus and His Church. Most false visionaries are recognized in this way, they teach grave error on faith or morals. A local Bishop can be holy or sinful. A local Bishop might not be faithful himself to the Church. So obedience to a particular Bishop or a few Bishops is not the right measure to use.

    • Guestt says:

      I agree, but I have always hear of obedience to the proper authorities as an important factor in discernment. It’s not the final criteria but something to consider initially.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I have not found a single claimed revelation where that was a deciding factor. There are just too many failures among the Bishops nowadays

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