Do not be deceived. We are in another time, like so many times in Church history, of heresy and schism. The current heresy bears some resemblance to past heresies, but it is also clearly a new heresy. And this particular heresy is schismatic by its very nature. The nature of any heresy is found in the dogmatic truth that it denies.
This heresy denies the dogma of the authority of the Church over both doctrine and discipline. This heresy denies that the one holy catholic and Apostolic Church has a certain charism: the divinely-conferred and unique gift, role, duty, right, ability, and authority to teach for Christ through the Holy Spirit. The Church is the body of Christ, with Christ as Her Head and with the Holy Spirit as Her Soul. Therefore, when She teaches, She exercises that gift, role, duty, right, and authority. And those who refuse to accept Her teaching, unless it agrees with their own judgment, reject that charism; they reject that divinely-conferred authority to teach for Christ through the Holy Spirit. When you only accept those teachings of the Church which you yourself — or any other person, group, or culture — judge to be truth, you put yourself outside the Church. You commit formal heresy, for rejecting the dogmatic truth of that role and authority of the Church. You commit formal schism, for you are refusing to submit yourself to the Church as your Teacher and your Guide, appointed by the Son of God.
Thus, these heretics and schismatics not only reject many teachings of the Popes, Councils, and the body of Bishops led by each successive Pope, but also reject many decisions of discipline. They reject the teachings of Vatican II, of John Paul II, of Pope Francis on various subjects. They disagree among themselves on many points, as is common when Catholic Christians turn away from the authority that unites us in belief, and become like dead leaves blown about by the wind. But many of these heretics and schismatics reject the decision of the Church to permit Communion in the hand, to worship God with a liturgical form in the vernacular language of the faithful throughout the world, and to have the priest face the people at Mass. Many of the decisions of past Popes and of Pope Francis that they reject are similarly are of discipline not only doctrine. So they reject the authority of the Church over both doctrine and discipline. They reject both keys of Saint Peter, the Apostle. They reject both swords of the Church, Her spiritual and Her temporal authority.
And these authorities are replaced with their own pretended authority to judge each teaching and decision of the Popes, the Councils, and the body of Bishops led by the Pope. Though they claim to only judge what is non-infallible, they will not admit that anything they reject is infallible, even if the Pope and the body of Bishops dispersed in the world are in agreement on one position definitively to be held, or even if it is the definitive teaching of an Ecumenical Council. And if Pope Francis were to teach anything contrary to their own understanding, in a teaching that meets all the conditions for Papal Infallibility, it is abundantly clear that they would find some way to reject it, just as they do with teachings of Ecumenical Councils and of the ordinary universal Magisterium.
This heresy began with criticism of Pope Francis, harsh and unjust criticism. It was a criticism bore from ignorance and arrogance. The criticism then became progressively worse, until critics turned into accusers, and accusations turned into condemnations. At one point, the Roman Pontiff was said to be “propagating heresy”. Subsequently, he was condemned as a formal heretic. He was even accused of apostasy and idolatry.
Then they began to examine past Popes, and to accuse them of heresy, apostasy, and idolatry also. They denied the validity of the canonization of the recent Popes — John, Paul, and John Paul II. They next expanded their accusations to include multiple Ecumenical Councils, especially Vatican I and II. Their accusations went on to accuse the body of Bishops, for they support Pope Francis and the other recent Popes and the recent Council. Vatican I was accused of the heresy of ultramontanism, for asserting the primacy and authority of the Roman Pontiffs, something which was also taught by the Council of Florence and by the Fifth Lateran Council, when it reaffirmed Unam Sanctam.
So the Francis critics turned into papal accusers, and then into accusers of Ecumenical Council, and of the body of Bishops, and finally of the Church Herself. For the book titled “Infiltration” by Taylor Marshall, which accuses the Church of having been infiltrated by Satan, is one of the foundational books of this group of heretics. And this alleged infiltration not only utterly rejects the indefectibility of the Church, but also rejects the role of the Holy Spirit as the Soul of the Church, and as the divine source of Her teachings.
This constant increase in the extent and nature of the accusations has finally reached the state of a single coherent set of ideas, contrary to dogma, that is to say: a new heresy.
The fundamentals of this heresy were listed in my previous post: The Theological Position of the Francis Critics. And I will continue to expound upon those errors going forward. See the first in that series of posts here: Errors of the Francis Critics 1 – 3.
In order to give this heresy a name, we must find a succinct term that summarizes its most fundamental malice, the very core of its perverse mind and heart.
Fundamentally, the heresy is a rejection of the promises of our Lord in Matthew 16:18 and Luke 22:32. It is a rejection of the indefectibility of the Church. It is a rejection that Peter and his successors are the Rock on which the Church is founded. For even though they will pay lip service to those teachings, they deny the teachings and the very authority of the Church to teach, at every turn. Each Roman Pontiff is not considered to be an unfailing Rock of faith. They falsely accuse many Popes of a host of grave failures of faith and grave errors of teaching. And if the Popes cannot be trusted to remain faithful to Christ and to teach the true Faith, then neither can the body of Bishops who follow each Pope, and neither can an Ecumenical Council, be trusted by them either. For an Ecumenical Council is nothing but a Pope (or Popes) and the body of Bishops. Thus, the entirety of the Church’s authority over doctrine and discipline falls to the ground like a house of cards. They have attacked and tried to destroy not only particular decisions on faith, morals, liturgical form, etc., but the authority itself.
Therefore, the Church is considered to be able to go astray to any extent, even to the extent of being led by the Antichrist or the false prophet of the Antichrist, even to being led by a man who is deliberately knowingly maliciously doing the work of Satan. The beginning of this heresy was to reject particular teachings of Pope Francis. The end result was to reject the Magisterium. Nothing is left of the Magisterium, under their version of Catholicism. They claim to accept infallible teachings of the Magisterium, but in reality, they accept nothing contrary to their own minds. To reject an infallible magisterial teaching, they simply deny that it has been taught infallibly.
I believe that Pope Francis might possibly use Papal Infallibility during his Pontificate, perhaps very soon. But if he does, it is certain that most of the papal accusers will find some way to reject it. And the same can be said for Conciliar Infallibility. For they reject the infallible definition of the First Vatican Council that each Roman Pontiff has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith, and that the Apostolic See remains unblemished by any (grave) error.
One way to define a heresy, especially one that includes many false assertions, is to identify the central dogma, denied by them, which, if they instead believed that dogma, would cause their heresy to turn to dust. For this heresy, that central dogma is that each Roman Pontiff has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith. And the dogma necessarily implies that no Pope can teach heresy or any other grave error and no Pope can fail in faith by committing apostasy, heresy, or idolatry. The preservation of the Roman Pontiff, from grave error on doctrine and discipline and from grave failures of faith, by the Holy Spirit, as a result of the promises of Christ in Mt 16:18 and Lk 22:32, destroys the heresy. It secures the teachings of the Ecumenical Council, including Vatican II. It secures the teaching of the ordinary universal Magisterium, which is always also the teaching of the Roman Pontiff. Their heresy falls like a house of cards in the fact of the teaching of Vatican One.
Their only response would be to accuse a Pope or series of Popes of being invalid or antipopes. But the indefectibility of the Church implies necessarily that God does not permit the body of Bishops to follow an invalid Pope or antipope, as then the Church would have defected. So every Pope accepted as Pope by the body of Bishops is the true valid successor of Peter, with the charism of truth and of never-failing faith. These heretics would then have nowhere to hide from the light of truth. Vatican One destroys their heresy.
How can it be the case that, so many years after the First Vatican Council, many of the faithful have not properly understood its definitions? This happened before between the first and second Ecumenical Councils of the Church: Nicaea and Constantinople. Arianism should have been destroyed by the decision of the Council at Nicea. But it continued in various forms, with various proponents, until the next Ecumenical Council at Constantinople. It does happen sometimes that a teaching of an Ecumenical Council takes a long time to become generally understood and accepted by the body of the faithful.
There are still theologians, unfortunately, who claim that the charism of truth and of never-failing faith only means that the teaching of the Pope under Papal Infallibility is true. The claim is absurd. What would be the necessity of this charism? The definition of Papal Infallibility suffices for its own point, that the Pope can teach infallibly, when his teaching meets certain conditions. Thus, additional definitions were needed on what happens when the Pope is not teaching under those conditions. And the answer is that he has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith, such that all grave errors are prevented in his non-infallible Magisterium (i.e. the Apostolic See is unblemished, and lesser errors are not counted against it as a blemish) and that the Roman Pontiff himself has the gift of never-failing faith.
The definition of Papal Infallibility is clearly an entirely different definition. It answers the question as to whether the Roman Pontiff can absolutely settle a theological controversy by teaching without any possibility of error. The answer is “Yes, when his teaching meets certain conditions.” The charism of truth and of never-failing faith answers the question as to what happens OTHERWISE. And the answer is that Jesus himself taught that Popes are the Rock of the Faith, and therefore cannot teach grave error nor fail in faith (Mt 16:18; Lk 22:32). And this is expressed as the charism of truth, that the See is unblemished by (grave) error, and that the person of the Roman Pontiff has the gift from grace of never-failing faith.
Vatican I also taught the indefectibility of the Church, and this indefectibility destroys the rest of this heresy. It refutes the claim that Pope Francis is not the valid Pope. For the body of Bishops has accepted Pope Francis as Pope, and the Church cannot go astray. And it destroys the claim that the Church, the body of Christ, with Christ as its Head and the Holy Spirit as its Soul, has been infiltrated by Satan and that the many errors over the past 150 years are from the influence of evil persons, infiltrating the Church in a “Satanic revolution” (as it is claimed). All this is contrary to the indefectibility of the Church, and the charism of truth and of never-failing faith, and the Apostolic character of the Church in that She is comprised of the successors of Peter and the successors of the other Apostles, who cannot, the Pope individually and the Bishops as a body, go astray.
The reply from the heretics is to point to past Popes and accuse them of grave failures of faith or grave errors in teaching. “See how these Popes disprove what you say!” But such accusations are of prudential judgment. They require an assessment of the circumstances, whether a Pope said what is claimed, what did he mean, whether he actually did what is described, whether his words were in fact heresy, and so on. In each case of Popes accused of grave errors or grave failures of faith, I have found them to be innocent. And other theologians have said the same, including Doctor of the Church, Saint Robert Bellarmine. So there is no proof in such alleged examples of heretical Popes. The position that they are falsely accused is well-supported. AND since Vatican I did teach that the Apostolic See remains unblemished by error, that Popes have the charism of truth and of never-failing faith, and clearly this goes beyond Papal Infallibility, the argument based on past examples does not stand. The teaching of Vatican I is clear, and adds irrefutable support to an examination of each case of accusations against Popes.
Such is the nature of the heresy of the Francis critics. But what shall we call it?
Name That Heresy
Arianism is named after Arius, the person who promoted the error. But this heresy of the papal accusers has no one particular founder. Gradually, as the Pontificate of Pope Francis unfolded, more and more conservatives began to disagree with his teachings, and they came together by opposing him. The error gradually arose from multiple sources, gradually increasing their accusations and broadening them to include many other Popes and multiple Councils. Certain few persons rose to the top of the leadership against the Pope, but there seems to be no single king of the hill.
Carlo M. Vigano, a retired Archbishop, is the most extreme of the papal accusers. He claims Pope Francis is not the true Pope, but a false Pope, associated with the Antichrist (or perhaps paving the way for the Antichrist in the future). Vigano claims Francis, whom he insists on calling “Bergoglio,” is presiding over a false Church, which has been superimposed over the true Church. He accuse Pope Francis of apostasy, heresy, and of provoking a schism, and of idolatry. He attributes malicious intentions to Francis, as if Vigano could read peoples’ minds, hearts, and souls. But his views on many points are extreme, and are not shared by the majority of those who have rebelled against Pope Francis from the pews. It’s also best not to give Vigano more publicity by naming a heresy after him. It would only puff up his pride further.
Auxiliary Bishop Athanasius Schneider is another prominent leader, but again, he too is not followed by most of those who have rebelled against the Church. He also has unique and heretical views on salvation theology, which are not shared by many of the other papal accusers. In addition, he is less prominent than Vigano. We don’t need to give him more publicity.
Then Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke is the third of the Bishops who oppose the Pope, but he speaks out much less often than the other two. Among priests and laypersons, there are many who have spent much time accusing the Popes and Councils. So, in the final analysis, the heresy cannot really be named after any one or few founders.
Another approach to naming a heresy is to use a one or two word description of its error. Taylor Marshall Ph.D., wrote one of the most fundamental and extreme expressions of this heresy of the papal accusers. He went so far, in his book “Infiltration,” as to accuse the Church of being infiltrated and controlled by a group of evil persons, carrying out a multi-generational plot to overthrow the Church from within. The book has become one of the source texts for those who accuse Pope Francis of anything. But we don’t want to promote the book by naming the heresy after it.
How else can we express the heresy in one or two words? Anti-papalism has been used to describe them, but it is too broad a term. They are not against the Church having a Pope. They just reject his authority whenever they judge that he has erred. So they put their own pretended authority above his. I suppose it is a type of anti-papalism, but its not specific enough.
Judgmentalism seems fitting, but is too vague. “Cafeteria Catholicism” has been used to describe them; they believe whatever they choose from among the doctrines taught by the Church. Some traditionalists are turning traditionalism into a heresy, but it need not be a heresy. The same could be said for conservatism.
They reject Vatican I. They reject the indefectibility of the Church. They reject the Primacy of the Pope, placing him instead beneath the Tradition, as interpreted by the conservative Catholic subculture or any individual within that culture. Above the Pope, then, would seem to be placed every Catholic who considers himself or herself to be a faithful conservative or traditionalist.
They reject Peter and his successors. They are anti-Apostolic. They are anti-Peter. Instead of a never-failing faith in the Pope, instead of unfailing faith, they have proposed that the Popes are ever-failing or often-failing. So in Latin, they might be called: Iudicantes Petram (Judging the Rock), or Petram Arena (the Rock is Sand).
Some of the papal accusers are Sede Vacantists, as they don’t believe Pope Francis is the true Roman Pontiff. Most of them should be sedevacantists, as they accuse Pope Francis of errors, the penalty for which is automatic excommunication: heresy, idolatry, apostasy.
I’m not sure what to call this heresy, but it is a single discrete heresy. And it is harming the Church as much or more than Arianism, though through different errors. They are the Arians of today. Until a better term is suggested, I’ll continue to call these heretics “the papal accusers”. It is the heresy of accusing the Pope, the Councils, the Magisterium, and the Church. They are like their father, the great Accuser, Satan.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
If you have your own suggestion for naming this heresy, let me know. Please submit only serious suggestions for naming the heresy in comments below: