How the Canonization of Three Popes by Pope Francis utterly defeated the Papal Accusers

The position of the typical Francis critic is an unusual amalgam of essentially incompatible claims. For example, they say “Recognize and Resist”. With or without that phrase, it is the most common position they take. First, they “recognize” Pope Francis as the valid Roman Pontiff. They have to do that, regardless of the conflict of that assertion with the remainder of their claims. If they admit they think Pope Francis is not the valid Roman Pontiff, they cannot avoid the accusation of schism. They obviously, even to their own minds, become public formal schismatics if they say Francis is not valid. So they must “recognize” as a defense against the accusation of schism.

Second, they resist him, as if the mere recognition that he is a valid Pope allows them to reject any and all teachings of his as supposedly erroneous. The proclamation to resist the Pope is itself inherently schismatic. But they justify the “Resist” part of the formula by saying that Pope Francis has never exercised Papal Infallibility. It is as if they are saying, “We haven’t rejected any infallible teaching by Pope Francis, so we are free to criticize and reject all of his other teachings.” And this is the same approach many persons use toward Vatican II. They recognize it as a valid Council, but then they claim to be free to reject any and all of its teachings, since the Council supposedly did not teach under Conciliar Infallibility.

Of course, a person may recognize that someone is the legitimate Pope, and still be a schismatic. Schism is the refusal of submission to the Pope, not the refusal to admit that he is the Pope. Even so, refusal to admit that Pope Francis is the valid Roman Pontiff does imply schism. You do not submit to the papal authority of someone you do not believe is Pope. So they have to say “Recognize” to avoid the type of obvious schism when one denies the current Bishop of Rome is the Roman Pontiff.

Therefore, they will not say that Pope Francis is an antipope or is invalid. Yet they describe the conclave that elected him as if it were the culmination of a successful conspiracy against the Faith. They are not willing to say that Pope Francis is invalid. But they accuse him of heresy, idolatry, and even apostasy. And they refuse to explain how a Pope can be guilty of so many alleged offenses against the Faith, and yet still be the valid successor of Peter.

Why don’t they explain this? It’s because their position is unsupportable. It is an inexplicable theological position. They would have to admit that either Pope Francis is not the valid Roman Pontiff, making it obvious that they are schismatics, or they would have to admit that he must be innocent of their accusations (which is the truth, so they ought to admit it). That is why they retreat to a claim that he is still valid because he has not taught any error ex cathedra.

Now I’m describing their disordered opinions, so do not mistake these claims for my own. But as far as I can tell, they think that a Pope can issue a teaching which is in error, even grave error, and which meets all the conditions for an exercise of Papal Infallibility, but then the Pope becomes invalid by doing so. So they can’t admit that anything Pope Francis has taught meets the conditions for infallibility, but is also in error. Then the only way to refuse to accept the infallible teaching would be to say that the person who issued the teaching is not a valid Pope, and so cannot exercise Infallibility.

The truth is that God absolutely protects every teaching of the Magisterium that meets the conditions for infallibility from all error. It is not the case that error is taught, meeting the conditions for infallibility, and then one of the conditions is removed (essentially by means of the error), the condition that the Pope who so teaches is in fact the Pope. Such a system would not really protect the Church from error, as it leaves each person judging every teaching, and making accusations of heresy against each Pope and each Ecumenical Council, whenever they disagree with a teaching that meets the conditions for infallibility.

So they say that since Pope Francis has not taught any of his errors or heresies ex cathedra, they can still claim to recognize him as valid Pope, while resisting him. What happens if Pope Francis exercises Papal Infallibility, teaching a dogma that his critics reject as error? This situation would force their hand. They would have to claim that Pope Francis is not valid, resulting in their admission that they are not in communion with the Roman Pontiff. They would be forced, by force of reason that is, to admit they are schismatics and to depart. They could not attend parishes that recognize Pope Francis as Pope.

And now to the title of this article. Pope Francis has essentially already spoken ex cathedra, or at least he has spoken in a way that a majority of theologians believe falls under papal infallibility: canonizations. How is this a problem for the papal accusers? Pope Francis canonized Popes John 23, Paul 6, and John Paul II, and all three were closely involved in the Second Vatican Council. Pope Saint John XXIII founded the Council, and he was a liberal Pope. Pope Saint Paul VI approved of the Council’s documents, which contain many teachings the Francis critics think are error or heresy.

And Pope Saint John Paul II took the name John Paul to show his approval for Vatican II. More importantly, John Paul II did more than any other Pope so far to spread the teachings of the Second Vatican Council throughout the Church and to weave the doctrines, disciplines, and the spirit of Vatican II into every aspect of the life and belief of the Catholic Church. If you wish that Vatican II would be forgotten, it can’t be, as Pope Saint John Paul II has irreversibly woven the Council into the fabric of the Faith.

Now some theologians, including myself, have expressed the opinion that canonizations do not fall under Papal Infallibility. However, that does not negate this argument, first and foremost because we all accept the canonizations of the Vatican II Popes. But, more importantly, many papal accusers firmly believe that canonizations are infallible.

Taylor Marshall, for example, as recently as January of 2018, asserted that the canonizations of Saints falls under infallibility. The title of his post is: “Are Catholic Canonizations of Saints Infallible? Yes”. Dr. Marshall strongly asserts that papal canonizations are infallible. So then Popes John 23, Paul 6, and John Paul 2 are certainly Saints. I agree that they are Saints.

But Dr. Marshall’s position on Vatican II is contradicted by three Saints. Whom should we accept as our teacher? Three Popes who were also Saints and an Ecumenical Council? Or Dr. Taylor Marshall (with his doctorate in philosophy) who has been a Catholic for only 14 years or so? Nothing Marshall says about Vatican II can outweigh the argument that three Pope-Saints not only approved the Council, but made it a fundamental part of their theology and their Pontificates.

And no, you cannot retreat to the claim that the only thing asserted infallibly is that they went to Heaven. That is not what we mean by the term Saint. A Saint lives a holy life and is a shining example to the faithful of how to follow Christ. Saints are exemplary in both behavior and beliefs. Their theological opinions are a reliable guide to us, even if they were not Bishops or Popes. Add the fact that these Saints were also Popes, and that canonizations are considered by many to be infallible, and the Francis’ critics cannot reject Vatican II. Not with three Saints who were also Pope supporting the Council and its teachings.

This argument is so compelling that some of the papal critics have begun to reverse their position, and instead now say that canonizations are fallible. They realize the issue. If Pope Francis is valid, as the “Recognize” term implies, then his canonizations are infallible. And if his canonizations are infallible, then the three Popes who founded, approved, and inextricably wove the teachings of Vatican II into the Catholic Faith are Saints. This leaves the Francis critics in the position of either admitting they think all the recent Popes and the recent Council were invalid, making them sedevacantists (which is what they have been all along), or claiming that three Pope Saints erred — not merely on certain points of theology, but erred by being responsible for infusing the Catholic Faith with the teachings of an Ecumenical Council which supposedly departed from the true Faith. That just is not a tenable claim about three Pope Saints and an Ecumenical Council.

So if you are a Francis critic, one who accuses both Francis and Vatican II of grave errors, you are done. Pope Francis has pushed you into the corner and made you sit with a dunce cap on your head. You will forever be remembered by the Church (if you are remembered at all) as Catholics who rejected the crowning achievement of the lives and pontificates of three Pope-Saints. For as long as you maintain that Pope Francis is the valid Pope, you have to admit that his canonizations are infallible, that the three Vatican II Popes are Saints, and that your position on Vatican II is untenable. The only other position for you to take is to reject the validity of Pope Francis, and admit that you are, what you have been all along, a sedevacantist, a schismatic, and a heretic.

Suppose they change their position on the infallibility of canonizations. Fine, that’s still an open question. But then they are left with the claim that the Church erred in canonizations to such an extent as to have falsely taught that three Popes were Saints who instead erred very gravely, founding, participating, approving, and teaching from an Ecumenical Council which also supposedly erred gravely. That is just too hard to believe. It is fantasy island. The Church is indefectible. Their position now becomes that three Pope Saints aren’t really Saints, and they erred very gravely regarding an Ecumenical Council, and the Council itself erred gravely, and that God left the Church in said allegedly grave error for very many years.

Thus, their denial of the canonizations of the Three Vatican II Popes becomes an implied rejection of the indefectibility of the Church.

So the canonizations of John, Paul, and John Paul put the final nails into the coffin that is the return to traditionalism and the end of modernism. It’s over Dr. Marshall. The traditionalists will forever be relegated to a corner of the Church, and they will never become the whole Church, as they imagined they would. And who delivered the final coup de grace to a movement which wanted to confine the Church to the past? Pope Francis did that, by canonizing the three Vatican II Popes.

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

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6 Responses to How the Canonization of Three Popes by Pope Francis utterly defeated the Papal Accusers

  1. Robert Fastiggi says:

    Thank you, Ron, for this very good article. I think formal papal canonizations pertain to secondary objects of infallibility to which we owe definitive assent. They are to be “held as of the faith” rather than “believed as of the faith (de fide tenenda rather than de fide credenda). In the formula of canonization, the Roman Pontiff draws upon the authority of Jesus Christ and the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul to declare and define the Blessed to a Saint. The language used resembles that of the definitions of the Immaculate Conception (1854) and the Assumption (1950)–although the declaration of sainthood is not presented as a “truth revealed by God.” I find it difficult to believe the Holy Spirit would allow the Roman Pontiff to draw upon the authority of Jesus Christ and the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul to make a fallible pronouncement. Here is the formula used for the canonization of St. Junipero Serra:

    “For the honor of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own, after due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother Bishops, we declare and define (decernimus et definimus) Blessed Junípero Serra to be a Saint and we enroll him among the Saints, decreeing that he is to be venerated as such by the whole Church. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

    But even if a Catholic were to argue that canonizations are not infallible, there would still be the obligation to adhere to the canonization decree of the Roman Pontiff with religious submission of will and intellect. Unfortunately some Catholic ‘traditionalists” reject the canonizations of St. John XXIII, St. John Paul II, and St. Paul VI.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Thanks, Robert. It’s been a while since I have written my opinion on canonizations. I once wrote to the CCS on canonizations (2006) and they stated: “we wish to inform you that it is the opinion of the majority of theologians that canonizations done by the Holy Father enter within the limits of his infallible teaching authority.” Perhaps I should revisit the question.

  2. Matthew 16:19 might support the opinion of the infallibility of canonizations done by the Pope.

  3. Alessandro Arsuffi says:

    Dear Ron, I just read the CDF document “Profession of Faith” issued in May 1998. Here the text summarizes the fundamental truths to be held and believed. At point 11 it says:
    “With regard to those truths connected to revelation by historical necessity and which are to be held definitively, but are not able to be declared as divinely revealed, the following examples can be given: the legitimacy of the election of the Supreme Pontiff or of the celebration of an ecumenical council, the canonizations of saints (dogmatic facts), the declaration of Pope Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations.37…”
    Curiously, at point 6 the text defines which kind of truths are mentioned in the 2and paragraph of the Professio. It goes like this:
    “The second proposition of the Professio fidei states: “I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals”. The object taught by this formula includes all those teachings belonging to the dogmatic or moral area,13 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.

    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 as a ‘sententia definitive tenenda’.14 Every believer, therefore, is required to give firm and definitive assent to these truths, based on faith in the Holy Spirit’s assistance to the Church’s Magisterium, and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium in these matters.15 Whoever denies these truths would be in a position of rejecting a truth of Catholic doctrine16 and would therefore no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church.”
    That means that canonizations are specially guided by the Holy Spirit according to the CDF, led by future Pope Ratzinger, the Champion of the so-called conservatives (who really tried very hard to hijack the words of this brilliant and holy Pope against his immediate successor). What do you think of it? After all, the text puts canonizations on the same level of authority as the election of Pontiffs and calls these acts “dogmatic facts”!

  4. Paddy says:

    I would object to your characterization of Pope S. John XXIII as a radical liberal but otherwise, very good post! I think the “Recognize and Resist” position is tenable when it sticks to the Aristotelian mean between its two components. That said, I am worried that the recent attacks on the Council and Pope by the new wave of Traditionalist celebrities are leading people away from the authentic Magesterium of the Church. That’s why I appreciate apostolates such as yours, Dave Armstrong’s, and Richard DeClue’s that go through the trouble of sifting through the hyperbolic rhetoric to find the “priceless pearl” of truth. And as an aside, I love the EF and absolutely support returning to a more traditional expression of our Faith, lest anybody accuse me of Modernism. God bless!

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