Questions and Answers on Popes and Heresy

* Can the Catholic Church ever go astray, lead astray, or become corrupt or untrustworthy?

No. It is a dogma taught by the Ecumenical Councils and the ordinary and universal Magisterium that the Church is indefectible. The Church as an institution which, like Her Savior, is both human and divine is indefectible in both Her human and divine aspects. The Church on earth, led by the Pope and the body of Bishops is indefectible. This truth is based on the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew:

{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.

The one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, founded by Christ on Peter as on a Rock, has the divine charism of indefectibility. Therefore, the Church can never go astray Herself, nor lead others astray from the path of salvation. She can never become corrupt. She remains always a pure and spotless Bride, until the return of Her Groom, Jesus Christ our Savior, and forever after.

{7:24} Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and does them shall be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock.
{7:25} And the rains descended, and the floods rose up, and the winds blew, and rushed upon that house, but it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.

The Church is the House built upon the Rock that is Peter and his successors. Even during the most sinful and spiritually dangerous times of human history and human future, the Church will not fall, for She is founded on the Rock that is the Roman Pontiff.

If anyone says that the Catholic Church has been infiltrated at the highest levels by Satan, or by evil, or by evil persons who are leading the faithful astray, then he sins by heresy against the dogma of indefectibility of the Church. If anyone says that the Church has been transformed or is being transformed into a false or evil or untrustworthy Church, or into anything other than the spotless Bride of Christ, the body of Christ with Him as her true Head, he sins by heresy against the dogma of indefectibility.

The saying that the “smoke of Satan” has entered the Church refers only to the corruption of a minority of Bishops and the corruption of some leaders who are not Pope or Bishop, as well as to the corruption of some of the faithful. Those persons who falsely accuse the Church Herself, the body of Bishops, and the valid Roman Pontiffs of corruption are themselves an example of that corruption which is of human sin and of demonic influence. But the Roman Pontiffs, the body of Bishops, and the Church Herself can never lead the faithful away from the path of salvation, can never fail in faith, and can never err gravely on doctrine or discipline. Neither Satan, nor the Antichrist, nor evil human persons of any stripe can deprive the Church, the Pope, or the Bishops of indefectibility.

* Which Roman Pontiffs are valid and true successors to Peter?

A valid Roman Pontiff is ordinarily elected by a conclave of Cardinals according to the then-current rules established by the Church, and is a validly ordained Bishop, and he must freely accept his office. However, even if the conclave were invalid, or the election were in any way invalid or non-existent or, God forbid, corrupt, he is nevertheless the valid Roman Pontiff and successor of Peter who is accepted by the body of Bishops as the Roman Pontiff and successor of Peter. For the Church is indefectible, and so the body of Bishops never accepts someone as the Roman Pontiff who is an invalid or false pope. The prevenient grace of God always protects the Church from corruption and from going astray or leading astray. Therefore, the Roman Pontiff accepted by the body of Bishops is the true and valid Roman Pontiff.

Even so, every true Pope is always necessarily a validly ordained Bishop who freely accepts his office, or else he is not the true and valid Roman Pontiff. But the grace of God ascertains that the body of Bishops will never accept a Pope who is not a Bishop, or who has not freely accepted his office.

* When one Pope dies and the next has not yet been elected, where does the authority to elect the next Pope reside?

The authority to elect each successive Roman Pontiff, after the Apostle Peter, resides in the body of Bishops, who are the successors to the Apostles, just as each Roman Pontiff is the successor to the Apostle Peter. Though the actual conclave and election of each Pope has long been entrusted to the College of Cardinals, they act as representatives of the body of Bishops. Therefore, Cardinals who are not also Bishops should not be permitted to vote in a conclave. Therefore also, the rules for the election of the Roman Pontiff may possibly be changed so as to permit other Bishops to vote who are not Cardinals.

* Can the body of Bishops ever pass away, such that no valid election for Roman Pontiff could be held?

No. Since the Church is indefectible, the body of Bishops can never pass away, and so the ability to elect successive Popes will always remain.

* Does God choose each and every Roman Pontiff?

Yes, the providence and grace of God, especially by means of the prevenient grace of God which no one can resist, chooses each and every valid Roman Pontiff. Some chosen Popes are Saints, others have an ordinary level of holiness, still others have sinned gravely even after their election. Even so, the ineffable wisdom of God chooses each Roman Pontiff.

For proof of this truth, see this excellent article by Francisco Figueroa

* Why would God choose Popes who are very sinful?

The one true God, the Most Holy Trinity, is wisdom and truth by His very Nature. The wisdom of God is far above the very limited wisdom of even the holiest of Saints. We must not speak as if we were wise and God were foolish. Perhaps God, at times, chooses personally sinful Popes to show that the Church of Jesus Christ is not founded on the holiness of men, but on the holiness of God. Perhaps God so chooses to show the members of the Church their own sins. For a sin is not found among the clergy, except that it is also found among the laity, from whom the clergy arise. Perhaps God so chooses to confound the wise and the strong, and so as to reduce to nothing those who claim to be something.

[1 Cor]
{1:27} But God has chosen the foolish of the world, so that he may confound the wise. And God has chosen the weak of the world, so that he may confound the strong.
{1:28} And God has chosen the ignoble and contemptible of the world, those who are nothing, so that he may reduce to nothing those who are something.

Whatever the reason may be, we must not presume to understand better than God. The Church is the body of Christ, with Christ as Her Head. And Christ may choose whomsoever He wishes to be His Vicar.

* Are the Pope and the body of Bishops indefectible?

Yes. Our Lord Jesus Christ chose to found the Church upon Peter and his successors as upon a Rock, and chose to give to each Roman Pontiff a body of Bishops, who are the successors to the other Apostles, as his brethren in the Faith. Therefore, if either any single valid Roman Pontiff, or the body of Bishops at any time, were to go astray, lead astray, or become corrupted in teaching or in faith, the Church Herself would have defected. Since the defection or corruption of the Church is prevented, necessarily always by the promise, will, and power of Christ, neither can any individual valid Roman Pontiff or the body of Bishops go astray, lead astray, or be corrupt. Therefore, every valid Roman Pontiff as well as the body of Bishops at all times are each indefectible.

The Roman Pontiff, in whom the charism of the indefectibility of the Church itself is individually present, holds this gift as a person; it is not a gift given solely to his office. He may choose to sin gravely, even by actual mortal sin; but certain sins are prevented in his person and certain errors are prevented in his office.

Then the indefectibility of the Church is also present in the body of Bishop, though not individually, but only as a body. For just as Peter could not lead astray or become corrupt in faith (Lk 22:32a), so also the body of Bishops, confirmed by the faith of Peter (Lk 22:32b), cannot fail in faith nor depart gravely from truth. The body of Bishops is indefectible, as is the Pope and the Church.

* Does indefectibility extend to discipline?

The Church at all times, each valid Pope, and the body of Bishops at all times, are each and all indefectible in doctrine as well as in discipline. For Peter was given two keys, not only one, and the Church possesses two swords, not only one. And if either key or sword were corrupted, the Pope or the Church would be corrupted. Therefore, the Church, each individual Roman Pontiff, and the body of Bishops at all times are preserved from every grave error on doctrine as well as discipline by the prevenient grace of God.

* Can the Roman Pontiff ever fail in faith?

Each Roman Pontiff has the charism of a never-failing faith from the prevenient grace of God, which no one can resist. This truth is already a dogma of the First Vatican Council [PA 4:7], which the Council taught as an infallible interpretation of our Lord’s words in Lk 22:32.

{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.”

Since the faith of Peter and his successors may never fail, every valid Pope Francis is preserved, necessarily at all times, regardless of his own personal holiness or sinfulness, from every failure of faith and from apostasy, heresy, and schism, as well as from idolatry, sacrilege, and blasphemy.

When considered together, the charism of truth prevents the Roman Pontiff from every grave error on doctrine and discipline, and the charism of never-failing faith prevents the Roman Pontiff from ever failure of faith. As a result, the Roman Pontiff can never teach material heresy, not even inadvertently and without sin, and can never fall into material heresy, neither publicly nor privately (nor even most secretly in his heart and mind).

* Can the body of Bishops ever fail in faith?

Our Lord prayed for Peter so that he and his successors would never fail in faith. But He did this also, in part, so that the Roman Pontiff, with a never-failing faith, would then confirm in faith his brethren, the body of Bishops. Therefore, they too have the charism of truth and of a never-failing faith. Though individual Bishops can fall away by teaching material heresy, or by committing formal heresy, the body of Bishops cannot. As a body, the Bishops can never fail in faith, nor can they, as a body, ever err gravely on doctrine or discipline.

* Can the one true Church ever become a body of faithful apart from the Roman Pontiff and the body of Bishops?

No. The Church is founded on Peter and his successors, and each successor confirms his brethren, the successors to the other Apostles in faith. So the Church does not exist apart from the successors to the Apostles, who must be Bishops. No true Church exists apart from the successive Popes and the ever-present body of Bishops. Though the true Church may be without a Pope for some length of time, She can never exist as a body of faithful laypersons led by priests, deacons, and religious, nor even led by a few Bishops apart from the body of Bishops.

The one true Church is that body of faithful led by the successive Popes and the continuous body of Bishops.

* Does God require the faithful to submit to the teaching and leadership of the most sinful Popes?

Yes. Each Roman Pontiff, no matter whether he is a great Saint or a great sinner, is preserved from all error in his infallible teachings (dogma) and decisions (dogmatic facts), and from grave error in all other decisions of doctrine and discipline. And every Pope, even the most sinful, has a never-failing faith. Therefore, the faithful must submit to each and every Roman Pontiff, even the most sinful, and must accept each Roman Pontiff as his or her own Teacher and Shepherd, without reservation.

If the Roman Pontiff is particularly sinful, the faithful should choose not to imitate those sins. But they must also not exercise rash judgment, nor set themselves above the Roman Pontiff or the body of Bishops, usurping a role of judgment possessed only by God.

* May the faithful correct the Roman Pontiff, just as the Apostle Paul corrected the first Roman Pontiff, Peter?

Since every Pope has the gift of truth and of never-failing faith from prevenient grace, the correction of Peter, during his Pontificate, by the Apostle Saint Paul, was neither a grave error on doctrine, nor a grave error on discipline, nor a grave failure of faith. The error of Peter was nothing other than an error in his personal behavior, thus indicating that Roman Pontiffs are in the fallen state. Now some Popes are very holy Saints, while others are guilty of some number, few or many, of personal mortal sins. Such failures are permitted by God so that the election to the papacy is not a guarantee of salvation, and so that each Supreme Shepherd must walk the same path as the sheep he leads, stumbling perhaps at times as they also stumble. But the Roman Pontiff, no matter how sinful he may be, always retains the charisms of truth and never-failing faith.

Paul was a successor to the Apostles, correcting the Roman Pontiff for a personal failure, not a grave error on doctrine or discipline, and not a failure of faith. The Cardinals and Bishops may contradict the Roman Pontiff, if he deviates from the faith in some way that is less than grave, or if he sins mortally in his personal life. But neither Cardinals, nor Bishops, nor any group of the faithful may accuse the Roman Pontiff of things that are contrary to the charisms of the Roman Pontiff, as then they would be acting upon the heretical and utterly false idea that a Pope could err gravely on doctrine or discipline, or could fail in faith. A rebuke of the Roman Pontiff contrary to these charisms is an expression of schism and heresy, and therefore carries the penalty of automatic excommunication.

* Can a valid Roman Pontiff ever lose his validity, other than by death or resignation, so that, subsequently he might err gravely or fail in faith?

No. Since each valid Roman Pontiff has the charism of truth and never-failing faith, nothing he says or does can carry the penalty of automatic excommunication. Therefore, a valid Pope never loses his validity, other than by resignation or death. No authority on earth may judge and remove a Roman Pontiff from office. An Ecumenical Council is not superior to the Roman Pontiff, so even an Ecumenical Council may not remove the Pope from office. And an Ecumenical Council is by definition a gathering of the body of Bishops led by the Pope. In so far as they oppose the Roman Pontiff, the gathering is not an Ecumenical Council.

Therefore, every Pope accepted by the body of Bishops is the valid Roman Pontiff and remains so until his death or resignation.

* Were Popes Marcellinus, Vigilius, Honorius I, John XXII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, or Francis guilty of apostasy, heresy, or idolatry, or guilty of grave errors on doctrine or discipline?

No. The prevenient grace of God and the gift of a never-failing faith absolutely prevented (and will continue to prevent) every valid Pope from grave errors on doctrine and discipline, and from failures of faith. Therefore, it is a dogmatic fact that all Roman Pontiffs were free from such errors and failures, and that all such accused Popes are falsely accused, as Saint Robert Bellarmine also explains.

* Will the Antichrist or the false prophet of the Antichrist or the devil ever take control of the Papacy or the body of Bishops or the Church Herself?

No. Since the Roman Pontiff and the body of Bishops and the Church are each and all indefectible, neither the Pope, nor the body of Bishops, nor the Church can be controlled or taken over or placed under the influence of the Antichrist, the false prophet, or the devil. Such claims are contrary to the dogma of the indefectibility of the Church.

The prophecies on the Antichrist given to the Saints or found in Sacred Scripture are not to be interpreted such that the Antichrist ever takes control of the true Church. Rather, the Antichrist and the false prophet found their own false Church, which exists alongside and competes with the one true Church. Thus, the faithful are given the choice between good, the true Church, and evil, the false Church of the Antichrist.

Moreover, the Antichrist is not in the world today, and will not be born until the latter part of the reign of the kingdom of the ten kings.

* Are Catholics who reject Pope Francis as Teacher and Shepherd over them or who accuse Pope Francis of grave errors on doctrine or discipline, or grave failures of faith, guilty themselves of schism and heresy?

Yes. Since Vatican I, any Catholic who rejects the dogma of the Council on the charism of truth and never-failing faith, whether by directly denying the dogma, or by implying a rejection of the dogma by making an accusation against any valid Roman Pontiff, is thereby guilty of heresy. And any Catholic who rejects the current or any recent valid Roman Pontiff (one accepted by the body of Bishops) is also guilty of schism.

* After the Pontificate of Pope Francis, will the schismatics who rejected Francis be reconciled to the Church and be restored to full communion if they accept his successor?

No. They remain heretics and schismatics until they accept the dogma of Vatican I and the Pontificates of the recent Roman Pontiffs. A heretic is someone who picks and chooses which dogmas he will accept or reject. A schismatic is someone who tears apart the body of Christ by rejection of a Roman Pontiff, or of the Bishops and faithful in communion with the Roman Pontiff. Just as the teachings of past Popes remains effective after each Pontificate ends, so also the guilt of schism remains on the soul after the rejected Pontificate ends.

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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7 Responses to Questions and Answers on Popes and Heresy

  1. Thomas Woodard says:

    Can you explain how the prevenient grace of God which no one can resist is reconciled with free will. I think I may not fully understand free will.

  2. Ron Conte says:

    Everyone, please stop posting off-topic comments about Trump. Let’s focus on religion.

  3. Matt says:

    Is there a possibility that some Popes have been condemned to Hell for gravely immoral sins that were not confessed before their deaths?

  4. doctormaniax says:

    Dear Ron,
    I’ve got a short question for you. As you said, a condition for the validity of a Papal election is that the new Pope is accepted by the body of Bishops. Now, the question is: how, and by what means, may the body of bishops validly reject a Pope, declaring him non-valid from the very beginning?
    This is just in the hypothetical
    (1) I guess it can’t be an Ecumenical Council, since a Council needs a valid pope for confirmation.
    (2) Would they need to refuse any mention of the current Pope in the Eucharistic Prayer? Of course, that would apply to individual bishops, but that makes no sense: any individual bishop may be wrong in the decision to reject a pope, becoming automatically excommunicated as a schismatic. Also, under this condition, how many bishops do we need to demonstrate that a pope is invalid? The large majority? I don’t think so: there is no definite number indicating when a majority becomes effective. All of them? Unlikely, if not impossible, since at least two thirds of the cardinals (who are bishops) elected the Pope, which means that they obviously accept him.

    So, I don’t really understand how the “body of Bishops” might validly and effectively reject a presumed invalid pope… Much better to think that, whoever is elected in a conclave, is automatically the valid pope. Maybe you’ve got some alternative ideas…

    • Ron Conte says:

      Conditions for validity are:
      1. validly elected
      2. freely accepts office
      3. is ordained as Bishop

      The acceptance of the body of Bishops follows afterward (usually). Sometimes, in the past, an election was not held, or the election was invalid. But then the body of Bishops accepted the man as Pope, so he then becomes the true Pope. The body cannot reject a valid Pope; they are the indication that the Pope is valid. They have the authority also to choose or choose to accept a man as Pope.

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