The Errors of John Salza and Robert Siscoe on the Papacy

This post exposes the errors and falsehoods in the article titled, “FR. KRAMER’S ERROR CONCERNING “THE UNFAILING FAITH OF PETER“. The article begins with a quote from Fr. Kramer. I don’t know Fr. Kramer and his position is not mine. Therefore, let me be very clear, one cannot refute anything I argue by quoting and refuting something Fr. Kramer wrote. My position differs from his.

{22:32} ego autem rogavi pro te ut non deficiat fides tua: et tu aliquando conversus confirma fratres tuos.
{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.”

At issue, is Jesus’ payer in Luke 22:32. Jesus has prayed for Peter, so that his faith may not fail, and so that he, once converted, may confirm his brothers. The First Vatican Council interpreted this verse of Sacred Scripture as referring to all the successors of Peter.

Vatican I: “For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter, not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the Revelation or Deposit of Faith transmitted by the Apostles. Indeed, their apostolic teaching was embraced by all the venerable fathers, and reverenced and followed by all the holy orthodox doctors, for they knew very well that this See of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error, in accordance with the divine promise of our Lord and Savior to the Prince of his disciples: ‘I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.’ [Lk 22:32].

“This charism of truth and of never-failing faith was therefore divinely-conferred on Peter and his successors in this See, so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine. Thus the tendency to schism is removed and the whole Church is preserved in unity, and, resting on its foundation, can stand firm against the gates of Hell.” [Pastor Aeternus, ch. 4, n. 6-7]

Now some persons have attempted to undermine the above teaching by claiming that it is merely about Papal Infallibility, and therefore this never failing faith only shows itself when a Pope exercises Papal Infallibility. But such an interpretation is not at all compatible with what is plainly stated. Is it the case that “the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter”, to sit around and do nothing until Papal Infallibility is invoked? Of course not. And how can the successors of Peter “religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the Apostles,” if “this charism of truth and of never-failing faith” [as the Latin text states] only appears when infallibility is used?

And the same thinking applies to the next teaching of Vatican I, that the Apostolic Teaching of all the Roman Pontiffs “was embraced by all the venerable fathers, and reverenced and followed by all the holy orthodox doctors, for they knew very well that this See of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error”. Did they embrace and reverence and follow the apostolic teaching only when the Pope was speaking ex cathedra? No, such an interpretation is incompatible with the plain meaning of the text: “ALWAYS remains unblemished by ANY ERROR” cannot mean “errs to the extent of teaching and committing heresy, one Pope after another after another” except when speaking ex cathedra. Can a Pope teach heresy? No. Such a claim is contrary to the teaching that the Apostolic See remains unblemished by any error.

All teachings of the Roman Pontiff are of his See, that is, of the Chair of Saint Peter. And this is proven from the dogmatic definition of Papal Infallibility, which has multiple criteria for a teaching to be infallible, not only that it be taught from the Chair, but also that it be a definition on faith or morals from Divine Revelation binding on the whole Church. Which teachings are non-infallible, but still of the Magisterium? Those that are taught from the Chair, but without all the conditions for Papal Infallibility. Therefore, the See of Peter only remains unblemished by any error if the Holy Spirit guard the Roman Pontiff from every heresy at every time, and from every grave error, when teaching non-infallibly, and also from all possible error when teaching infallibly. Limiting the “unblemished by any error” teaching to exercises of Papal Infallibility is contrary to the plain meaning of the text.

How could a Pope teach heresy one moment, and the next, speaking infallibly, teach without any error? Does the Holy Spirit alternately abandon and embrace the Roman Pontiffs? Of course not. Does the Pope guide the Ark of Salvation like an insane blind man, until speaking ex cathedra, and then he guides it unerringly? And how will the Roman Pontiff serve the salvation of all, and keep the whole flock from “the poisonous food of error” — and what error is more poisonous than heresy? — when the Pope is supposedly able to teach and commit heresy at any time, Pontificate after Pontificate, except when speaking ex cathedra? Is Peter a pile of sand and mud, which turns into an unfailing Rock, on which the Church is founded, only when speaking ex cathedra — and then he turns back to sand and mud again? The position is deserving of ridicule which interprets Vatican I in such a manner. Instead, the only interpretation which makes any sense is to accept the plain meaning of the words.

This controversy is like the dispute over the infallibility of Sacred Scripture. People want the Bible to contain errors so they can disagree whenever they wish. They don’t want to humble themselves to believe whatever they are taught. The same is true of the papacy. They want Popes to be able to commit heresy, so they don’t have to follow him, humbly, and believe things contrary to their own whims, likings, and musings. Each one wants to be superior to his peers, each one a leader, and no one a follower, not even of Christ. That is why they do not want to believe that the Pope has the charism of truth and of never failing faith.

Are the faithful only “nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine” when Popes speak ex cathedra, and at all other times, we could be fed with either doctrine or error, without knowing which is which? And how can the “tendency to schism” be removed “and the whole Church is preserved in unity,” if Popes can fail in faith except when speaking ex cathedra — which they do not exercise very often. Some Popes do not speak ex cathedra at all; are those Popes unable to keep the flock from the poison of err and lead them on the path of salvation and the rest? And how can the Church be “resting on its foundation,” and also “stand firm against the gates of Hell”, if any Pope can teach or commit heresy, at any time, again and again, except when speaking ex cathedra?

So the teaching above is clear. Each and every valid Roman Pontiff has the charism of truth and of never failing faith divinely-conferred by the prevenient grace of God. Each and every valid Pope is continuously the Rock on which the Church is founded, and is continuously able to exercise the charism of truth — not only by teaching infallibly, but also in his ordinary non-infallible Magisterium, which is protected by the charism of truth from every grave error at all times, except when exercising the infallible Magisterium, when his teaching is protected by the same charism from all error. And the same charism also confers the gift of never failing faith guaranteeing that the Roman Pontiff can never commit any grave failure of faith: apostasy, heresy, schism, idolatry. And this is how the successors of Peter fulfill the task described above by Vatican I. It makes perfect sense.

That is my understanding of the First Vatican Council, and it is entirely compatible with the teaching of Saint Robert Bellarmine and also, Cardinal Manning, one of the fathers of Vatican I. It is also the plain meaning of the words. To make the text seem to say something else, you have to use an interpretation that is contrary to that plain meaning.

In addition, Saint Robert Bellarmine has taught that when the Roman Pontiff and the body of Bishops gather in an Ecumenical Council to teach on faith and morals, their teaching is infallible, that is to say, not only their dogmatic canons, but every teaching of every Ecumenical Council is infallible. For even when the teaching is not a definition, it is taught definitively. For when the Roman Pontiff and the body of Bishops gather and together teach one doctrine on faith or morals, to the whole Church, that is sufficient for the teaching to be infallible. Just as the infallible teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium need not have a specific dogmatic definition (nor an attached anathema), so also the definitive teaching of the Pope and the body of Bishops in an Ecumenical Council need not have a per se definition, as long as it is a definitive teaching.

In De conciliis, Liber II, chapter II, Bellarmine makes this point: “A general Council represents the universal Church, and hence has the consensus of the universal Church; wherefore if the Church cannot err, neither can a legitimate and approved ecumenical Council err.”

“It has been the constant teaching of the Catholic Church from the earliest times that the teachings of the General Councils are infallible.” Ludwig Ott, The Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma Revised and Updated Edition (London: Baronius Press, 2018), p. 321.

And so the teaching of Vatican I in chap. 4 n. 7 is infallible, as are all the teachings of Vatican I and Vatican II.

Siscoe and Salza

Sounds like the name of a buddy-cops TV show. Salza is a by-the-book detective, and Siscoe is his jaded break-any-rule partner. They’re thrown together to solve a crime with ridiculously high stakes, and they shoot up the city, while making all kinds of clever wise-cracks in the process.

But, in real life, on the website, they are simply two Catholic authors who’ve decided to make accusations against the Popes and the Church. They assert an interpretation of Vatican I which is easily refuted. First, they say: “The Church has never taught that Christ’s promise to St. Peter that his ‘faith will fail not,’ means a successor of St. Peter is unable to fall into personal heresy and lose the faith.” And then later they assert: “Nowhere does it teach that a Pope is unable to fall into personal heresy, nor does state that he is unable to publicly teach heresy when he is not defining a doctrine.”

So their position is that a Pope is able to commit formal heresy; so a Pope can be a heretic. Then they also claim that a Pope is able to teach heresy, except when defining a doctrine. The term “defining a doctrine” means speaking “ex cathedra” or infallibly. So their position is that any Roman Pontiff can be a heretic and teach heresy, except when teaching infallibly.

The hilarious thing about this common erroneous opinion, is that those who hold to it always assume that they themselves can never teach or commit heresy. For they make themselves to be the judges over every Pope and Council, deciding what is and is not error. Those who hold that Popes can teach heresy always have a list of Popes whom they so accuse. But they never explain which passage of the Gospels teaches that they themselves have the gift of truth and of never failing faith.

Now, whenever anyone says “the Church has never taught”, it is suspect. Where is the proof that the Church has never taught something? It puts the burden of proof, unfairly on the other person, and establishes a theological argument with a premise that the person making the argument does not bother to prove. They simply dare you to disprove it, and that takes much more time than making the bare assertion.

Fortunately, I have already disproven that “never taught” claim here: The Roman Pontiff: Immunity from Error and Never-failing Faith and so has Cardinal Manning in his book “The Vatican Council and Its Definitions” see the link to the PDF on this page. A subset of all the examples will suffice to prove that the Church has in fact taught that the Pope has a never-failing faith, not merely in the sense that he can teach infallibly, and that he cannot teach or commit any grave error.

Cardinal Manning in “The Vatican Council and Its Definitions” [ref. no. are PDF page number followed by printed page number, e.g. [100-79].

“The words, ‘ Ego rogavi pro te, ut non deficiat tides tua, et tu aliquando conversus confirma fratres tuos,’ are interpreted, by both Fathers and Councils, of the perpetual stability of Peter’s faith in his see and his successors ; and of this assertion I give the following proofs.” [100-79]

Thus, Cardinal Manning, one of the fathers of Vatican I, understood the teaching of the Council to refer to “the perpetual stability” of the faith of each successive Pope. That means the Pope cannot lose his faith. Manning wrote this book, not as a book of private theology, but instead, he addresses it to the clergy to teach them from the teachings of the Ecumenical Council. It is a Council father and Cardinal teaching his clergy from the teachings of the Council. So a Council father taught, as an act of the Magisterium, that the teaching of that Council is that Peter’s faith has perpetual stability.

“St. Ambrose, A.D.’ 397, in his treatise on Faith, says, Christ ‘ said to Peter, I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not. Was He not therefore able to confirm the faith of him to whom by His own authority He gave the kingdom ? whom He pointed out as the foundation of the Church, when He called him the rock ? ’ ” [100-79]

Pope Pelagius II., A.D. 590, in like manner writes to the Bishops of Istria, “See, beloved, the truth cannot be falsified, nor can the faith of Peter ever be shaken or changed.” [102-81]

St. Ambrose says Jesus was confirming the faith of Peter. Pope Pelagius teaches the Bishops of Istria that the faith of Peter, referring to the Roman Pontiff, can never be shaken or changed. These teachings on the never-failing faith of the Popes is incompatible with the Siscoe interpretation that they only cannot fail in faith when teaching infallibly. No such qualification is added to the magisterial teachings above or below.

“Stephen, Bishop of Dori, A.D. 649, at a Lateran Council under Martin I. says, in a libellus supplex or memorial read and recorded in the acts: ‘again, he chiefly and especially, having a faith firm above all, and unchangeable in our Lord God, was found worthy to convert and to confirm his fellows and his spiritual brethren who were shaken’ ” [104-83]

Siscoe claims that Peter was given two gifts, and only one was handed down to his successors. That is what Saint Robert Bellarmine taught, but the gifts as Siscoe claims are not what Bellarmine actually says. Siscoe laughably says that the first gift to Peter, the one not handed down to his successors was this: “The first privilege prevented St. Peter from falling into formal heresy and losing his personal faith.” So not falling into formal heresy and not losing personal faith is essentially a description of the “charism of truth and never failing faith” — exactly what Vatican I says was handed down to the successors of Peter. You can’t use your personal interpretation of Bellarmine to contradict an Ecumenical Council.

What Bellarmine actually says is in book IV, chapter 3 of “On the Supreme Pontiff.” There he states that “without doubt” (sine dubio) the privilege has been handed down to Peter’s successors, which insures that “in his chair there would never be found someone who would teach contrary to the true faith” (in sede ejus numquam inveniretur qui doceret contra veram Fidem). [Thanks to Dr. Fastiggi for stating this in a previous comment on my blog.]

Siscoe claims that the second privilege, the one handed down to every Pope, is this: “the second prevented him from erring (even materially) when he defined a doctrine, ex cathedra.” That is nothing like what Bellarmine says. To justify this misinterpretation, here is what Siscoe does to a quote from Bellarmine:

“The second privilege is that he, ‘as Pope’ [i.e., teaching ex cathedra], could never teach something against the faith, or that there would never be found one in his See who would teach against the true faith.”

Siscoe has to add a phrase to the quote which contains Siscoe’s conclusion, in order to justify his position. What a stunning example of intellectual dishonesty! To insert your own words into a quote, to force it to prove your conclusion is a type of theological argument that is absurd. And to claim that the words “as Pope” mean teaching ex cathedra, is also contrary to reason. And then the actual quote refutes Siscoe’s conclusion. What Saint Robert Bellarmine actually says, he says twice, with two different wordings, perhaps for clarity, and this is the full quote from the Ryan Grant translation:

“The second privilege is that he, as the Pope, could never teach something against the faith, or that there would never be found one in his See who would teach against the true faith.” [Bellarmine, Robert. On the Roman Pontiff, vol. 2: Books III-V (De Controversiis) (p. 156). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition. ]

The Pope could NEVER teach something against the faith. There’s no qualification that limits this to only when teaching ex cathedra. And then Bellarmine rephrases this as also there would never be found anyone in this Chair of Peter, “who would teach against the true faith” — again, no qualification! And what does it mean, to teach against the true faith? The reference is to teaching heresy. Bellarmine states exactly the opposing view to what Siscoe is arguing. Saint Robert Bellarmine believed that no Pope could teach or commit heresy, and he states so in those words elsewhere.

As Dr. Robert Fastiggi has stated: “Bellarmine and Suárez expressed their confidence in the protection of divine providence from there ever being a heretical pope. In fact they both came to believe there cannot be (non posse) such a heretical pope.

“In Book 4, chapter 6 of De Summo Pontifice,, when speaking of the Pope as a particular person, Bellarmine maintains that “it is probable and can piously be believed that the Supreme Pontiff not only cannot err as a Pontiff, but also that as a particular person he cannot be a heretic, by obstinately believing something false contrary to the faith.”

“Bellarmine then provides two proofs for this position. First, “because the gracious disposition of divine providence seems to require it. For the Pontiff not only should not but cannot preach heresy, but also should always teach the truth, and without doubt he will do that, since the Lord commanded him to confirm his brothers” (Nam Pontifex non solum non debet nec potest haeresim praedicare, sed etiam debet semper veritatem docere et sine dubio id faciet, cum Dominum illi juserit confirmare fratres suos). The second proof is from the events of the past (ab eventu): “Because there has never been a heretical pope up till now, or certainly it cannot be proved that any Pontiff was a heretic. Therefore, this is a sign that it cannot happen.” (ergo signum est, non posse est).

“The Jesuit theologian Francisco Suárez (1548–1617) argues that not only could God prevent a heretical pope from harming the Church, but by His divine providence it seems more likely that He would also insure that there would never be such a heretical pope.On whether a pope could fall into heresy, Suárez says: “Even though many affirm this as more probable, nevertheless to me (in brief) it seems more pius and more probable that a Pope could indeed err as a private person out of ignorance but not out of contumacy. For although God is able to prevent a heretical Pope from harming the Church, nevertheless it is more agreeable to the way of divine providence that—since God has promised that the Pope would never err in his definitions—He would insure that there would never be such a heretical Pope. And since up till now there has never been one in the Church, it should consequently be thought that, by the ordination and providence of God, there cannot be one.” De Fide, disp. 10, sect. 6, no. 10: Opera Omina, Vivès ed. Vol. XII, 319.

“(Quod licet multi verisimiliter affirment, mihi tamen breviter et magis pium et probabilius videtur, posse quidem Papam, ut privatam personam, errare ex ignorantia, non tamen ex contumacia. Quamvis enim efficere Deus possit ut haereticus Papa non noceat Ecclesiae, suavior tamen modus divinae providentiae est, ut, quia Deus promisit Papam definientem numquam erraturum, consequentur provideat ne umquam ille haereticus sit. Adde, quod hactenus in Ecclesia numquam accidit, censendum ex Dei ordinatione et providentia accidere non posse).

“What these two Jesuit theologians believed could not happen was confirmed by Vatican I’s affirmation of the “charism of truth and of never-failing faith” conferred upon Peter and his successors (Denz.-H, 3071). We need to thank God for this charism given to Peter and his successors and have faith it this special charism. It’s very sad that certain bishops and theologians today are undermining faith in this clear doctrine of the Catholic Church.”

Thanks to Dr. Fastiggi for those comments, originally posted at my article: “The Argument from Past Papal Error is not Valid”.

In addition to the above assertion by Bellarmine that “the Pontiff not only should not but cannot preach heresy, but also should always teach the truth, and without doubt he will do that, since the Lord commanded him to confirm his brothers”, he reviews four opinions on heresy and the papacy:

“1) Should the Pope define something, even as Pope, and even with a general Council, it can be heretical in itself”

“2) The second opinion is, that the Pope even as Pope can be a heretic and teach heresy, if he defines something without a general Council, something that this opinion holds did in fact happen.” [Bellarmine, Robert. On the Roman Pontiff, vol. 2: Books III-V (De Controversiis) (p. 154). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.]

And Bellarmine condemns this first opinion as heresy. Then, this second opinion, Bellarmine calls “not properly heretical, for we see that some who follow this opinion are tolerated by the Church, even though it seems altogether erroneous and proximate to heresy.” And that is the opinion of Siscoe and Salza. So their use of Bellarmine to support their position, when that Saint and Doctor called their position “altogether erroneous and proximate to heresy” is another example of intellectual dishonesty.

Saint Robert Bellarmine goes on to speak about the Second Privilege at length: “On the second privilege, we have, in the first place, the testimonies of seven Fathers who were also holy Popes. Lucius I, a Pope and Martyr said, “The Roman Apostolic Church is the mother of all Churches and has never been shown to have wandered from the path of Apostolic tradition, nor being deformed, succumbed to heretical novelties according to the promise promise of the Lord himself, saying, ‘I have prayed for thee, etc.’”

Bellarmine then quotes Pope Saint Agatho: “Here the Lord promised that the faith of Peter was not going to fail, and admonished him to confirm his brethren. The fact that the Apostolic Pontiffs, predecessors of my lowliness, always did this from the divine assurance is recognized by all.” So the second privilege, the one handed down, is that the faith of the Pope cannot fail and that he cannot teach contrary to the faith (i.e. cannot teach heresy).

Pope Leo IX, referring to the prayer of Jesus about Peter: “and efficacious prayer obtained that to this point the faith of Peter has not failed, nor can it be believed that it is ever going to fail in his throne.”

Saint Robert Bellarmine then makes an argument from the indefectibility of the Church: “On the other hand, who will judge whether the Pope has taught rightly or not? For it is not for the sheep to judge whether the shepherd wanders off, not even and especially in those matters which are truly doubtful. Nor do Christian sheep have any greater judge or teacher to whom they might have recourse. As we showed above, 399 from the whole Church one can appeal to the Pope yet, from him no one is able to appeal; therefore necessarily the whole Church will err if the Pontiff would err.” [Bellarmine, Robert. On the Roman Pontiff, vol. 2: Books III-V (De Controversiis) (p. 162). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.]

Pope Saint Agatho, 680 AD: “For Peter himself received from the Redeemer of all, by three commendations, the duty of feeding the spiritual sheep of the Church. Under his protecting shield, this Apostolic Church of his has never turned away from the path of truth in any direction of error.”

“…the evangelical and apostolic uprightness of the orthodox faith, which has been established upon the firm rock of this Church of blessed Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, which by his grace and guardianship remains free from all error….” [Letter to the Sixth Ecumenical Council 680 AD]

Pope Saint Leo IX, 1053 AD: “By the See of the Chief of the Apostles, namely by the Roman Church, through the same Peter, as well as through his successors, have not the comments of all the heretics been disapproved, rejected, and overcome, and the hearts of the brethren in the faith of Peter — which so far neither has failed, nor up to the end will fail — been strengthened?” [In Terra Pax Hominibus, September 2, 1053; Denz. 351]

Look at the teachings of the Popes and Saints above! These teachings are incompatible with the idea that a Pope can teach or commit heresy. The Faith of Peter cannot fail, as Pope Leo taught, “nor up to the end”, clearly meaning that the faith of Popes cannot fail. And to limit this to merely not teaching error under infallibility is incompatible with all the above teachings and more:

Cardinal Manning, 1870: “The application of the promise ‘Ego rogavi pro te,’ [“I have prayed for you”] etc. to the infallible faith of Peter and his successors, is made by St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Leo, St. Gelasius, Pelagius II., St. Gregory the Great, Stephen Bishop of Dori in a Lateran Council, St. Vitalian, the Bishops of the IV Ecumenical Council AD 451, St. Agatho in the VI. AD 680, St. Bernard AD 1153, St. Thomas Aquinas AD 1274, St. Bonaventure AD 1274: that is, this interpretation is given by three out of the four Doctors of the Church, by six Pontiffs down to the seventh century. It was recognized in two Ecumenical Councils. It is expressly declared by the Angelic Doctor, who may be taken as the exponent of the Dominican school, and by the Seraphic Doctor, who is likewise the witness of the Franciscan; and by a multitude of Saints.”

“The interpretation by the Fathers of the words ‘On this rock,’ etc. is fourfold, but all four interpretations are not more than four aspects of one and the same truth, and all are necessary to complete its full meaning. They all implicitly or explicitly contain the perpetual stability of Peter’s faith….”

“In these two promises [i.e. Lk 22:32, Mt 16:18] a divine assistance is pledged to Peter and to his successors, and that divine assistance is promised to secure the stability and indefectibility of the Faith in the supreme Doctor and Head of the Church, for the general good of the Church itself.”
[Cardinal Manning, “The Vatican Council and Its Definitions: A Pastoral Letter to the Clergy”, p. 83-84.]

Pope Leo XIII, 1890: “And since all Christians must be closely united in the communion of one immutable faith, Christ the Lord, in virtue of His prayers, obtained for Peter that in the fulfilment of his office he should never fall away from the faith. “But I have asked for thee that thy faith fail not” (Luke xxii., 32), and He furthermore commanded him to impart light and strength to his brethren as often as the need should arise: “Confirm thy brethren” (Ibid.). He willed then that he whom He had designated as the foundation of the Church should be the defence of its faith. “Could not Christ who confided to him the Kingdom by His own authority have strengthened the faith of one whom He designated a rock to show the foundation of the Church?” (S. Ambrosius, De Fide, lib. iv., n. 56).” [Satis Cognitum 12]

Here are some other quotes from the Magisterium and the Saints about the never-failing faith of the Roman Pontiff.

And what does Siscoe and Salza offer to support their position? Some quotes which are not of the Magisterium, and not of Saints. My quote and references above are from Saints or the Magisterium, and so my reply to the quotes and references from the non-magisterial lesser sources offered by Siscoe and Salza, is simply this: they are not from Saints or from the Magisterium, they contradict the teachings of Saints and the Magisterium, therefore, the higher authority prevails over the lower authority and those without authority.

On the Relatio of Bishop Vincent Gasser: See my refutation to mistaken claims about Bishop Gasser and his relatio on Vatican I. His Relatio is often misrepresented, just as Saint Robert Bellarmine’s words are often misrepresented.

** So from all the above, we can see that the teaching of the First Vatican Council, that each Pope has the gift of truth and of never-failing faith, is not limited to his teaching ex cathedra. But instead, the Council dogmatized the opinion of Saint Robert Bellarmine, that the Pope can never teach or commit heresy.

Why didn’t the Council merely state that Popes cannot teach or commit heresy? What Vatican I taught was so much greater, that it is clear this teaching is from the Holy Spirit, and not merely from men. A group of men, wishing to settle this question, would have said, “No, the Popes cannot teach or commit heresy”. But the profound wisdom of the Holy Spirit teaches in a fuller and positive manner, as if to say: Each Pope has a special charism from God that enables him to teach Truth without grave error and to remain ever firm in the gift of Faith. And of course this not only implies that Popes cannot teach heresy, as that would be contrary to truth, and that Popes cannot commit heresy, as that would be contrary to faith, but that the Popes are teaching Truth and confirming the Church in Faith by the gift of God, and not merely by God preventing the Popes from one thing or another.

What about Honorius or John 22 or other examples? Saint Robert Bellarmine refutes each of these and many other examples of Popes who allegedly taught or committed heresy, and so does Cardinal Manning. The fathers of Vatican I were well aware of the accusations against the past Popes, but they also knew that Bellarmine refuted each of those accusations.

And since Vatican I has now taught infallibly that each Pope has the charism of truth and never failing faith, no faithful Catholic should claim otherwise. I understand that some of the faithful doubt this interpretation, but it really cannot mean anything else. If the Pope teaches heresy, he has violated the charism of truth; if the Pope commits heresy, he has gravely failed in faith. And there are many teachings throughout the centuries from the Magisterium teaching the very same doctrine. So at this point, it is also infallible under the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

And that brings me to my final point:

Ordinary and universal Magisterium

What about the infallibility of the ordinary and universal Magisterium? If the Pope can be accused of teaching heresy, whenever he is not defining a doctrine under Papal Infallibility or by an Ecumenical Council, this position on the possibility of error does away with the infallible teachings of the ordinary and universal Magisterium. For nothing a Pope teaches is permitted by them to be a part of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, if they themselves judge it to be error. Those who take this type of position never allow that a Pope can teach under his non-infallible Magisterium, and then it becomes infallible when the body of Bishops dispersed in the world agree. How many of Pope Francis’ controversial teachings are already infallible under the ordinary and universal Magisterium?

How many of the teachings of Vatican II are infallible under the ordinary and universal Magisterium? All the teachings of every Ecumenical Council are infallible, essentially by meeting the conditions for infallibility under the ordinary and universal Magisterium. For the condition that the Bishops are dispersed in the world is merely an obstacle that does not prevent them from teaching infallibly: they are able to teach infallibly, even when dispersed in the world. So if they gather together with the Roman Pontiff, do they lose the ability to teach infallibly under the Ordinary and universal Magisterium? Of course not. Then whenever an Ecumenical Council teaches on faith and morals, even without a formal definition, they are in agreement on one position definitively to be held — or it would not be taught by an Ecumenical Council, for all such teachings are of grave weight, being of the successors of Peter and of the other Apostles. So the definition of the infallibility of the ordinary and universal Magisterium proves that all teachings of all Ecumenical Councils are infallible.

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

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4 Responses to The Errors of John Salza and Robert Siscoe on the Papacy

  1. Robert Fastiggi says:

    Thank you, Ron, for this excellent and detailed anlaysis. I am glad you are drawing attention to the great contributions of Cardinal Manning on Vatican I. I am happy and honored that some of my references to Bellarmine and Suárez are cited. With regard to infallible teaching at Vatican II, it’s instructive to read what one of the periti of Vatican II, said about Lumen Gentium a year after it was promulgated. Father [later Cardinal] Umberto Betti, OFM, a peritus or expert at the Council, explained in 1965 that the doctrine on the Church expressed in Lumen gentium, “as the conviction of the universal Church,” is infallible. [Cf. U. Betti, “Qualificazione teologica della Constituzione” in G. Barauna, OFM, editor “La Chiesa del Vaticano II” (Florence: Vallechi Editore, 1965), p. 273]. In other words, what Lumen gentium teaches about the the Church represents the infallible doctrine of the ordinary and universal Magisterium expressed at an ecumenical council.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Awesome. And it stands to reason that the ability of the Church to teach under the OUM does not disappear when the Bishops gather with the Pope in a Council. Thanks for your support for my lowly writings.

  2. Robert Fastiggi says:

    Dear Ron,

    The sources you cite are hardly lowly, and you understand magisterial authority far better than a certain Italian archbishop in hiding. May God bless you for your defense of ecumenical councils and papal authority.


  3. Matt Z. says:

    John Salza has done a terrific job refuting Freemasonry, he should continue to do that.

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