Can an Imperfect Council Judge Pope Francis?

The suggestion of some of the papal accusers has been that, though a Pope cannot be judged by anyone, an imperfect Ecumenical Council could recognize that a Pope has taught heresy and is a manifest heretic, and recognize that he has lost his validity, and thereby depose him.

Wrong. Absurd. Self-contradictory.

“Canon 1404: The First See is judged by no one.” This is also a teaching. No one on earth has the authority to judge the Roman Pontiff; only God can judge the Pope.

But in this proposal, a group of Bishops would declare that a Pope has taught heresy, is a heretic, and would exercise an alleged authority to remove him. No matter what clever wording or explanation you use, that is judgment. Calling the Pope a heretic and removing him from office is a judgment.

But the Church has always taught that no one but God has authority over the Roman Pontiff. So this proposal is heretical. It contradicts a dogma of the ordinary universal Magisterium.

In addition, the proposal is schismatic, as it suggests that the Bishops who are below the Roman Pontiff in authority, should usurp a role above him, to refuse submission under his authority, and pretend to have the authority to condemn and remove him.

And could such a group of Bishops be mistaken? Yes. Teachings of Ecumenical Councils are only possibly infallible if approved by the Roman Pontiff who is the head of the Council. Recall the document Haec Sancta (by the Bishops assembled at Basil), which was rejected by the Roman Pontiff who otherwise approved of the Council’s teachings. It taught the error of Conciliarism, the claim that Ecumenical Councils are above the Pope and can remove the Pope from office. That is a grave error. It is in fact currently a heresy to put a Council above the Roman Pontiff.

First Vatican Council: “8. Since the Roman Pontiff, by the divine right of the apostolic primacy, governs the whole Church, we likewise teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all cases which fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction recourse may be had to his judgment. The sentence of the Apostolic See (than which there is no higher authority) is not subject to revision by anyone, nor may anyone lawfully pass judgment thereupon. And so they stray from the genuine path of truth who maintain that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman pontiffs to an ecumenical council as if this were an authority superior to the Roman Pontiff.”

Vatican I infallibly taught that there is no higher authority (on earth, of course) that the Roman Pontiff. No one may lawfully judge the Roman Pontiff, or appeal his decisions to any other authority, even an Ecumenical Council. So it is contrary to the teachings of Vatican I to claim that a Pope can be judged and removed by an “imperfect” Council, meaning an Ecumenical Council without the Pope as its head.

Thus, the suggestion that the Bishops should remove Pope Francis, or should simply judge that he has taught or committed heresy or apostasy or idolatry is an heretical and schismatic plan.

Moreover, the body of Bishops has never done such a thing. The gathering of Bishops at Basil was not a true Ecumenical Council, as there was no Roman Pontiff in office at the time of their gathering, and when the next Pope was elected, some Bishops rejected him. The Bishops who were faithful to the Pope moved to another city, and then to another (Florence) where they finally joined with the Pope in the Ecumenical Council of Florence.

The Bishops at Basil did not represent the body of Bishops. A group of Bishops in communion with the Roman Pontiff can represent the body of Bishops worldwide, as they are joined to the Bishops not present by their mutual submission to the Pope. A group of Bishops who reject the Pope are not so joined, and so they cannot represent the body of Bishops. Therefore, in theory, a small group of Bishops with the Pope can form an Ecumenical Council, whereas a larger group of Bishop, even a very much larger group, cannot form an Ecumenical Council and do not represent the body of Bishops.

{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.”

The Roman Pontiff confirms his brother Bishops, therefore, the charism of truth and of never-failing faith which applies to the Pope as an individual also applies to the Bishops as a body, but only when they are confirmed by the Pope. And this confirmation requires their submission to his authority and guidance, and requires communion with the Pope and with the other Bishops subject to him.

So then, even a very large group of Bishops does not constitute an Ecumenical Council, when they are in opposition to the Roman Pontiff. And they do not constitute the body of Bishops, not unless they are in communion with the Roman Pontiff. In no case can an imperfect Ecumenical Council judge, condemn, or depose a Roman Pontiff. They are not a true Ecumenical Council. They would be schismatic by their refusal of submission to the Pope. They would commit heresy by claiming such an authority. And the true body of Bishops has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith, so they would never commit the aforementioned sins of heresy and schism.

If you think Pope Francis is a heretic, you are the one who is a heretic, for rejecting the teaching of Vatican I, and you are also a schismatic. Neither can you hope that the body of Bishops will join you in rejecting the Pope, as the grace of God prevents that grave sin, and they also lack the authority to judge or remove the Roman Pontiff.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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