We are now in the second day after esteemed canon lawyer Ed Peters publicly issued an heretical and schismatic proclamation. The heresy is his claim that no Pope can teach under the ordinary magisterium, which requires only religious assent from the faithful, by his sole authority. Ironically, this claim contradicts Peters’ own reading of canon law. Now the authority at issue is NOT the ordinary and universal Magisterium, which requires the Pope and the body of Bishops dispersed in the world to teach one position definitively to be held, and which requires theological assent (the full assent of faith; divine and catholic faith). Peters specifically states that this refers to the “undoubtedly non-infallible” teaching which has an “obligation of ‘religious assent’ “.
By this declaration, that no Pope can teach under the ordinary non-infallible magisterium, which requires only religious assent — and from which the faithful can prescind without sin — unless the Bishops teach the same, Dr. Ed Peters has fallen under the anathema of the First Vatican Council [Session 4, First dogmatic constitution on the Church of Christ, Chapter 1] because he has contradicted the teaching on the primacy of teaching authority of the Pope. Specifically, by holding that the Bishops must teach what the Pope teaches, when he exercise his non-infallible ordinary magisterium, Peters separates the faithful from their Supreme Shepherd and Teacher, making his teachings null and void unless approved by other Bishops. And this implies, no rather, he actually states this, that the faithful need not believe what the Pope teaches ordinarily — his most commonly exercised teaching authority — unless other Bishops intervene and teach the same.
This severe heresy is an attack on the teaching authority of every Roman Pontiff. It is as if the authority that Christ gave to Peter requires, ordinarily, the approval first of the other Apostles, so that Peter cannot bind and loose, cannot hold the keys solely, but only with the other Apostles jointly, and as if the Church were not founded on Peter, but on a combination of Peter and others. And this idea is exactly what the First Vatican Council anathemaed, that primacy was not conferred by Christ immediately and directly on Peter and his successors in the chair, but rather on the Church.
The error is also schismatic. Peters is refusing to submit to the ordinary non-infallible teaching authority of any Pope, unless the Bishops agree. On both counts, the heretical error and the schismatic error, Dr. Ed Peters is automatically excommunicated and is to be prohibited from receiving holy Communion, under both Canon 915 and 916.
Catholic World Report and New Advent have both picked up this article by Ed Peters. CWR has republished the entire piece, while New Advent is promoting it with a link and an excerpt. Quite a few members of the faithful have immediately adopted this heretical and schismatic error. Their souls are being fed poison, and they did not notice.
How can this be? Why is it that the faithful, including many conservative Catholic leaders, are unable to recognize heresy? They seem to adopt whatever is taught by the leaders of the conservative Catholic subculture, and not the Pope. What the Pope teaches is treated with great suspicion, while the errors of conservatives are accepted without question. It has reached the point now, in the conservative Catholic subculture, where the members of the subculture do not see any need to believe what the Pope or the Magisterium teaches. Faith has become adherence to the majority opinion of conservatives and adherence to whatever novelties are being taught by their favorite blogger or speaker.
Soon Pope Francis will teach a controversial true doctrine. The foolish arrogant leaders of the conservative Catholic subculture will cry out a false accusation of heresy, and will depart from their current pretended union with the Roman Pontiff. Peters error is just one more step in the process of conservative Catholics departing from submission to the Pope and the Magisterium.
Should I appeal to the Bishops on this subject, to correct Ed Peters? In a previous dispute, Peters claimed that permanent deacons cannot have marital relations with their wives. The USCCB and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts decided the contrary. And he stood uncorrected. This man is a magisterium unto himself. He is so filled with arrogance that he cannot imagine that any of his own thoughts could err in any way. He is a canon lawyer who does not have the charism of being a theologian. That is why he errs so frequently. He is like a skillful lumberjack who decides to become a surgeon, without first getting any training.
But the Bishops are not likely to intervene in this controversy. God is no respecter of persons, but the Bishops often are. They have an unfortunate tendency to decide theological matters in an administrative way, rather than according to the Gospel. Years ago, when a priest refused Communion to a Buddhist lesbian, the Bishops apologized to her and banished the priest from the diocese [Source]. And in that dispute, Peters sided with the Buddhist, accusing the priest of breaking the law, by denying Communion to this woman. I know he has much training and experience in canon law, but he seems bad at it, and worse at theology.
I wonder if there are any other theologians and some priests, who would be willing to speak out against Peters error?
Edited to add: Robert Fastiggi of Sacred Heart Major Seminary commented at Catholic World Report: “Some of Dr. Peters’ comments about the ordinary papal magisterium need clarification because they could be interpreted as challenging the universal ordinary teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, which is affirmed by three ecumenical councils: Florence (D-H, 1307); Vatican I (D-H, 3064), and Vatican II (Lumen Gentium, 22 and 25).”
Let’s see if Dr. Peters clarifies, and what that clarification would be. (His meaning seems clear to me.)
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian