Dr. Ed Peters: His Heresy against the Ordinary Papal Magisterium

Dr. Ed Peters is a canon lawyer, who incorrectly holds a number of grave errors on matters of faith and morals. He holds the heretical view that the Church’s condemnation of contraception is limited to its use within marriage. And he openly states that the Church’s teaching on this topic is infallible, which then implies that his own error is heresy.

He rejects the dogma of the Council of Trent, that a person who is married ratum tantum can, by their own decision and initiative, dissolve that non-consummated marriage by making a permanent profession of religious vows.

He holds the grave error that a Pope can commit heresy and can publicly teach heresy, in contradiction to the First Vatican Council.

He strangely claims that most or all women who have abortions are not excommunicated.

His definition of which persons are virgins is absurd, and contrary to the definition given by St. Thomas.

He went on a great length, a while ago, supporting a claim that there is a Catholic “tradition” among moral theologians in support of married persons using sodomy as foreplay. The act must be non-consummated for the husband; but anything goes for the wife, supposedly. This claim is heresy as the condemnation of sodomy is found in Sacred Scripture, so it is divinely revealed, and that condemnation is the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, AND was further condemned by the Council of Trent [Decree on Justification, Chapter XV]. Moreover, Pope Saint John Paul II, in Veritatis Splendor, states plainly, citing this teaching of the Council of Trent, that these moral errors “have always been opposed by the Church” [Veritatis Splendor 49].

Dr. Ed Peters is a pretty good canon lawyer and a terrible theologian. However, he also errs in the realm of canon law, by claiming that current canon law requires permanent married deacons to live in perfect and perpetual continence, even though the Holy See and the USCCB settled that debate by stating clearly that married deacons may have relations with their spouses.

And now for his latest error, which is on the death penalty and also the authority of the Magisterium.

“Specifically I regard the liceity of the death penalty as having been established with infallible certitude by the Church’s ordinary magisterium and am undecided only as to whether that infallible certainty proclaims a “primary object” of infallibility (i.e., an assertion to be believed) or establishes a “secondary object” of infallibility (i.e., an assertion to be definitively held). I lean toward the latter.”

Peters is confusing two different teachings here. The Church has long held that Her teaching authority has primary and secondary objects of infallibility. The primary objects are explicitly stated in Sacred Tradition or Sacred Scripture, such as the condemnation of sodomy in the Council of Trent, Decree on Justification (Sixth Session), Chapter XV. A secondary object of infallibility is something not found in Sacred Tradition or Sacred Scripture; these are truths which “are not formally revealed, but which are closely connected with the teaching of Revelation.”

Examples of truths that fall under this secondary object of infallibility:
“1) theological conclusions;
2) dogmatic facts
3) the general discipline of the Church;
4) approval of religious orders;
5) canonization of saints.” [Source]

At no time can secondary objects become primary objects; they cannot become formally revealed in Sacred Tradition or Sacred Scripture, as they in fact are not, and nothing can be added to the deposit of faith.

The idea that Peters is confusing with primary and secondary objects, is a non-infallible teaching of then-Cardinal Ratzinger. These are teachings: “belonging to the dogmatic or moral area, which are necessary for faithfully keeping and expounding the deposit of faith, even if they have not been proposed by the Magisterium of the Church as formally revealed.” [Ad Tuendam Commenary]

What Ratzinger said was that certain teachings of the Magisterium have been taught infallibly, but the Magisterium has not yet taught them as divinely revealed. The important point here is that, in the future, the Church may define such truths as divinely revealed:

“Such doctrines can be defined solemnly by the Roman Pontiff when he speaks ‘ex cathedra’ or by the College of Bishops gathered in council, or they can be taught infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Church”

But a secondary object of infallibility never turns into a primary object of infallibility. So Peters is confusing two different distinctions.

By the way, this distinction of Ratzinger, dividing divinely revealed teachings of the Magisterium into those that are infallible and said to be divinely revealed, and those that are infallible but not said — not yet anyway — to be divinely revealed, is found only in Ratzinger and in Canon Law (following his teaching). This distinction is itself a non-infallible teaching, which appears to have been taught only by Ratzinger and only when he was Cardinal; the teaching was not repeated by him as Pope. And yet Peters believes it, and, as this article continues, we will see why that is so absurd. But this teaching of Ratzinger is non-infallible, while the other teaching, on primary and secondary objects, is infallible under the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

In any case, the distinction between primary and secondary objects is NOT that the first is to be believed, and the second is to be held. The Church has always used “to be held” for divinely revealed dogma, and this distinction introduced by Ratzinger has little support outside of his work.

But Dr. Peters is so bad at theology, I bet he can’t even understand the above explanation.

And now we move on from a misunderstanding, to a new heresy asserted by Dr. Peters:

“The Church’s ‘extraordinary’ magisterium, capable of binding the faithful in faith and doctrine, can proceed solely-papally or papally-episcopally; but her ‘ordinary’ magisterium, also capable of binding the faithful in faith and doctrine, can proceed only papally-episcopally. As Francis’ move on the Catechism hardly qualifies as papal-episcopal, and there being no such thing as an ‘purely papal, ordinary, magisterium’ “

Dr. Peters denies that any Pope can teach a doctrine, non-infallibly, which requires only religious assent (a lesser type and degree of assent from theological assent to infallible teachings), by himself. Peters claims that a Pope can only teach non-infallibly if other Bishops have also taught the same doctrine.

This claim by Peters is an extreme heresy. Popes rarely exercise Papal Infallibility; they rarely call a Council and participate in Conciliar Infallibility. Popes mainly exercise their ordinary papal magisterium, which teaches non-infallibly, requires only religious assent, and allows for licit theological dissent (to a limited extent). The claim that no Pope can teach ordinarily, unless some other Bishops agree, deprives each and every Pope of his daily teaching authority, and makes the Pope out to be a beggar before the door of the Bishops, pleading with them to teach what he wishes to teach, otherwise his teaching will have no more authority than the sermon a parish priest, or the blog post of a canon lawyer. This claim makes the Pope out to be a slave to the Bishops, unable to teach anything, unless his Bishop-masters tell him he may teach. This claim turns papal teaching into the mere propositions of a theologian, one who is trying to convince his local Bishop to teach his mere opinion.

Dr. Ed Peters has added a new heresy to his past heresies and other errors, and it is a severe one. It is an arrogant and malicious attack on the papal magisterium. Moreover, this error rejects the teaching of each Pope so thoroughly (since Popes rarely teach infallibly) as to constitute also the sin of formal schism. Peters is saying, publicly, that he will not regard any teaching of any Pope as in anyway binding on his conscience, unless it meets the conditions for infallibility, or unless other Bishops agree.

I am reminded of the words of St. Joan of Arc, who proposed attacking a castle across a narrow bridge (that would be easily defended). The other military leaders said: “No one will follow you.” And she said in reply: “I will not look back to see if anyone is following.” And she led that charge, with many troops following her, and the other commanders sat on their hands. And they passed the bridge and took the castle.

As for me, when any Pope teaches, even under his non-infallible magisterium, I will follow with religious assent. And I will not look back to see if the Bishops are following, or sitting on their hands.

Peters’ error confuses the ordinary non-infallible magisterium of the Pope with the ordinary and universal Magisterium. The latter requires the participation of the Pope and the body of Bishops dispersed in the world. The latter is infallible. But the ordinary non-infallible papal magisterium does not require any participation from the Bishops, and it is binding under religious assent. For each Bishop, including the Bishop of Rome, has the authority to exercise the authentic magisterium, non-infallibly on his own initiative.

Next, Peters admits that the current code of Canon law contradicts his own position that no Pope can teach, on his own authority, under the ordinary non-infallible magisterium:

“In light of the foregoing, then, it is easier to see why the present formulation of Canon 752 seems wanting: its language appears (I say appears, because scholars are divided over the meaning and implications of Canon 752) to regard as possible the obligation of “religious assent” being owed to a single, undoubtedly non-infallible, purely papal, no-matter-how-unprecedented, assertion regarding faith and morals. I, for one, frankly doubt that is what the Church meant to say although I grant that seems to be how her new law presently reads.”

A canon lawyer admits that his position is contradicted by Canon Law. But that is a small matter.

What Peters has done, in this post, is to publicly teach and proclaim a severe heresy against the ordinary papal magisterium, and to publicly commit the sin of formal schism — since he refuses to give the submission of will and mind to the ordinary papal magisterium, unless other Bishops teach the same. And that is equivalent to a full rejection of the ordinary papal magisterium, since Peters is then only accepting the teaching of lesser Bishops, and not the Bishop of Rome.

It is as if a student in high school were unwilling to accept any teaching by his instructor, unless some of the other teachers agree. So he sits in class, refusing to believe everything, until he has confirmation of what the math teacher taught from the history teacher, of what the chemistry teacher taught from the French teacher.

Dr. Ed Peters is automatically excommunicated for formal schism, by publicly rejecting the ordinary teaching authority of the Church. This error is also material heresy, and — as if he himself wished to make his own error all the more ridiculous — it contradicts Canon Law.

Primacy of Jurisdiction

Peters’ heresy contradicts the teaching of the First Vatican Council, and asserts an error condemned by that Council:

“This doctrine is to be believed and held by all the faithful in accordance with the ancient and unchanging faith of the whole Church.”

“1. We teach and declare that, according to the gospel evidence, a primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church of God was immediately and directly promised to the blessed apostle Peter and conferred on him by Christ the lord.

2. It was to Simon alone, to whom he had already said You shall be called Cephas [42], that the Lord, after his confession, You are the Christ, the son of the living God, spoke these words:

3. And it was to Peter alone that Jesus, after his resurrection, confided the jurisdiction of Supreme Pastor and ruler of his whole fold, saying:
Feed my lambs, feed my sheep [44].

4. To this absolutely manifest teaching of the Sacred Scriptures, as it has always been understood by the Catholic Church, are clearly opposed the distorted opinions of those who misrepresent the form of government which Christ the lord established in his Church and deny that Peter, in preference to the rest of the apostles, taken singly or collectively, was endowed by Christ with a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction.

5. The same may be said of those who assert that this primacy was not conferred immediately and directly on blessed Peter himself, but rather on the Church, and that it was through the Church that it was transmitted to him in his capacity as her minister.

6. Therefore, if anyone says that blessed Peter the apostle was not appointed by Christ the lord as prince of all the apostles and visible head of the whole Church militant; or that it was a primacy of honor only and not one of true and proper jurisdiction that he directly and immediately received from our lord Jesus Christ himself: let him be anathema.”

Dr. Peters falls under the anathema of the First Vatican Council for denying the immediate and direct primacy of jurisdiction of each Pope over each and all the faithful, without need for the Bishops to agree or for the teaching, when others do not agree, to be infallible. There exists no such limitation on the ordinary papal magisterium. The claim of Peters destroys the primacy of the Pope, since it makes his ordinary teachings null and void in their direct and immediately jurisdiction, and instead substitutes a need for the intermediate agreement of other Bishops, before the faithful would assent. This agreement of the Bishops, controlling as it is said to do, the ordinary papal magisterium, usurps the role of immediacy and primacy, relegating papal teaching to a secondary role.

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

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