As the First Vatican Council infallibly taught, every Roman Pontiff has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith and his Apostolic See is unblemished by any [grave] error. It is not possible for any Pope to teach or commit heresy, nor to err gravely in doctrine or discipline, and thereby lose his formal membership in the Church and his authority as Supreme Pontiff. Saint Robert Bellarmine believed this as an opinion, before it was taught as dogma by the Magisterium.
However, since many of his peers thought that Popes could commit heresy, Saint Robert Bellarmine considered what would happen, if he were himself wrong that Popes cannot be heretics. And what does he say? Let’s consider.
Bellarmine: “Next, the Holy Fathers teach in unison, that not only are heretics outside the Church, but they even lack all Ecclesiastical jurisdiction and dignity ipso facto.” [On the Roman Pontiff (De Controversiis Book 1) . Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.]
The Council of Trent ordered the faithful not to contradict the interpretation of Sacred Scripture given by “the unanimous agreement of the Fathers.” And this instruction to us can be extended to any teachings of the fathers on faith or morals, with only the Magisterium able to teach contrary to unanimous agreement (or apparent agreement) of all the holy fathers.
Heretics are automatically excommunicated by divine law as well as Canon law, as also are apostates and schismatics, for the very nature of the act itself is to cut the branch from the Vine. And no faithful Catholic Christian should obey or believe a heretic or schismatic, except in so far as the teaching or order is the same, by coincidence, as that of the true Church and the true Faith.
Heretics cease to be formal members of the Church. They might sin with a sincere but mistaken conscience, and so retain the state of grace, making them still implicit members. But they certainly lose formal membership by manifest, that is, public heresy. For they sin so gravely against the public communion of the one Church in this way.
Bellarmine: “Now the fifth true opinion, is that a Pope who is a manifest heretic, ceases in himself to be Pope and head, just as he ceases in himself to be a Christian and member of the body of the Church: whereby, he can be judged and punished by the Church. This is the opinion of all the ancient Fathers, who teach that manifest heretics soon lose all jurisdiction….” [On the Roman Pontiff (De Controversiis Book 1) . Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.]
If Pope Francis is a manifest heretic, then he has ceased to be a formal member of the Church, and has ceased to be Pope and Head. Then, having no true authority in the Church, and having lost his papal charisms — IF, as I said at the start, a Pope could even possibly be a heretic — he could be judged, deposed, and removed by the Church.
Now I will again remind the reader that my belief, as an article of faith, as my adherence to the dogmas of the First Vatican Council and the ordinary universal Magisterium, is that every Roman Pontiff has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith, and every Roman Pontiff is entirely prevented by the prevenient grace of God, which no one can resist, from all grave errors on doctrine and discipline. Then given the papal charisms of supreme authority, freedom from judgment, absence of appeal, the Pope as the principle of unity, the Pope as the Rock on which the Church is founded, that Christ and His Vicar constitute one only Head, the charism of never-failing faith, the charism of the unblemished Apostolic See, and other charisms, it is entirely impossible for any Roman Pontiff to commit any act which justifies deposition, nor which automatically cuts himself off from the Church. All this is explained in my articles at Catholicism.io and on this blog and in my recent book (see below).
Bellarmine: “I respond: there are five opinions on this matter. The first is of Albert Pighius, who contends that the Pope cannot be a heretic, and hence would not be deposed in any case: such an opinion is probable, and can easily be defended, as we will show in its proper place.” [On the Roman Pontiff (De Controversiis Book 1) . Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.]
Bellarmine agreed with Pighius on certain points. One does not prove error by proving that a position was held by Albert Pighius. Popes cannot be heretics, so they cannot be deposed in any case. This was, at the time of Bellarmine, probable and easily defended. Now it is dogma.
The point of this article is to challenge the papal accusers. If you say that Pope Francis is a manifest heretic, then you are saying either that he is not the current valid Roman Pontiff, no longer has any authority in the Church, and is no longer a formal member of the Church, OR you are rejecting the unanimous teaching of all the holy fathers. And if the latter, then what is your position? It is that heretics retain membership and authority in the Church? Is it that Pope Francis retains his position of authority, but we should fight against him? What kind of Church is that?
What will you say to those outside the Church, whom you hope to convert? Will you say they should join a Church where its Supreme Pontiff is a heretic, but he retains his position and you join the Church to fight against its head? Who wants to join a Church like that? No one, you idiots. If Pope Francis is a manifest heretic, then he is no longer Roman Pontiff and has no authority and is no longer a formal member of the Church.
But if heretics lose their membership and authority in the Church, then know that every Bishop and priest and the laity who commit heresy and schism by rebelling against the Supreme Pontiff have certainly lost membership and authority. You cannot fight against Pope Francis, claiming he is the true Pope, without being de facto a schismatic and therefore being automatically excommunicated.
The position that says recognize and resist is openly schismatic. If you recognize Pope Francis as the valid Roman Pontiff, even an heretical but somehow also valid Pope, then when you resist him, you are automatically excommunicated for schism.
You cannot have it both ways. Either Pope Francis is the valid Pope, whether heretic or not, and you resist him by the sin of schism, resulting in your automatic excommunication; or Pope Francis is a heretic and is no longer the Roman Pontiff, and you must admit this and say so publicly, resulting in your automatic excommunication for schism from the Roman Pontiff. That is why those who accuse Pope Francis of manifest heresy refuse to admit their position implies the Pope is no longer Head of the Church — because it means that they are schismatics.
Accusing the current Pope of manifest heresy makes you a schismatic, as no one submits to one they recognize as a heretic. So the questions are asked of the papal accusers,
Is Pope Francis a manifest heretic?
Do not all manifest heretics lose all authority and formal membership in the Church, as the fathers say?
If you have rejected Pope Francis as the valid successor of Saint Peter, why don’t you admit it and depart from the Church led by him, and leave us faithful Catholics alone.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Please consider reading my new book, Reply to the Papal Accusers: Volume One, available in print and in Kindle formats.