Peter Kwasniewski vs. Papal Authority

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski has a new article, his own written text of his lecture given at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Littleton, Colorado, on July 31, 2021. It is here at Rorate Caeli. The title is “The Pope’s Boundenness to Tradition as a Legislative Limit: Replying to Ultramontanist Apologetics”. So the Roman Pontiff, according to Kwasniewski, cannot teach under doctrine or rule under discipline according to his supreme authority given to him from Christ, as he freely chooses. Instead, his words and deeds are limited by Tradition. If you disagree, you are an “ultramontanist”, someone who overemphasizes the role of the Pope in the Church, he says.

Well, this is new. I’ve been studying theology since the late 1970s, and I’ve never heard that one. That’s because the papal accusers have now resorted to MAKING STUFF UP in order to oppose the Roman Pontiff.

Vatican II, of course, disagrees with Kwasniewski: “The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head. This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. For our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and the bearer of the keys of the Church, and made him shepherd of the whole flock….”

Kwasniewski begins his article/lecture by stating, as if he were the supreme judge of all Catholic apologists, how well and how poorly they have done their work. His reasoning: that it is absurd for Catholics to defend the Roman Pontiff’s authority over the liturgy, such that he might restrict and eventually suspend the traditional Latin Mass. It’s just absurd. Kwasniewski has declared it to be so, in his supreme authority. And where do these apologists of the Roman Pontiff’s authority go astray? One of their errors is said to be “sola papa”, a type of sola Scriptura but applied to the Pope. The other error is “proof-texting” in that they cite “Scripture, the Fathers, the Doctors, or the Magisterium”.

Huh. Well, the first accusation is refuted by the second accusation. Since these unnamed apologists are citing Scripture and the Fathers and the Doctors and the Magisterium, that is not sola papa. And what is wrong with citing the above listed sources?

PK: “For one must not only quote a passage from Scripture, the Fathers, the Doctors, or the Magisterium, one must also understand when, where, why, and how it was stated — in other words, its context.”

That sounds to me like a liberal theologian trying to undermine the teachings of the Church by telling anyone who disagrees that they don’t understand what the quotes they are using “really” mean. And these arguments that Kwasniewski uses are mostly rhetorical: declaring apologetics absurd, only when it defends the Pope; calling anyone who defends the Pope an Ultramontanist; declaring new rules for the Pope to follow if he wishes to exercise his authority.

Conservatives used to defend the Pope and the Magisterium. Then a liberal Pope was elected and, for many not all of them, their support for the Pope and the Magisterium collapsed like a house of cards. It turns out they were not faithful to the Popes and Councils and the Magisterium. They were only faithful to a conservative subculture, or a traditionalist one. Some of them, I mean.

Then using the term “Proof-texting” to sweep away every argument based on Scripture, Fathers, Doctors, and the Magisterium is a denial of theology itself. That’s not a valid argument. And on the claim that the supporters of the Pope have misunderstood the context of all that they cite, Vatican I taught this:

“14. Hence, too, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by Holy mother Church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding.”

There is no special context that changes the meaning of the Church’s dogmas on the authority of the Roman Pontiff so that, suddenly, after 2000 years, he cannot exercise that authority over the liturgy. The Latin Mass was new when it was instituted. Did not the Pope have authority over the liturgy then? And as the TLM gradually took form, changing again and again, did the Popes not still have authority over the liturgy. When Pius XII wrote Mediator Dei, he states not only the authority the Pope has over the liturgy, but the grave error of those who only want what is old in the liturgy, and who reject the authority of the Church to makes changes and to institute what is new. And then John XXIII, whom many traditionalists deny is a Saint and accuse of grave error for initiating Vatican II, they even accept his changes to the Mass. Since the Pope’s authority over the Mass is established by an antiquity greater than the TLM, even if we consider that it goes back to Gregory (in the 600s) and not only to Pius V (in the 1500s), that authority over the TLM must continue even today.

Then, too, one cannot explain away all the teachings of the Church throughout the centuries on the authority of the Pope over doctrine and discipline, which includes liturgy, simply because you do not like the way he has exercised that authority in a particular case. The meaning of these dogmas on the Roman Pontiff remain the same as has ever been declared by holy Mother Church. You cannot make up new limits on papal authority each time the Pope says or does something you dislike.

Kwasniewski then claims that some “texts” are “subtle, partial, overstated, understated”. I did not realize the exercise of the Keys of Saint Peter was so flawed. I thought that the Apostolic See was unblemished by grave error. But that’s my fault for studying what the Church teaches for over 40 years. That kind of study will lead you straight and fast away from the kind of idolatry of traditionalism for which Kwasniewski and others are apologists. Ultra-traditionalism is idolatry. Correcting its errors then becomes like blasphemy. “The Pope has no authority over our gods.”

Such arbitrary and vague claims on the limit of papal authority allow one to manipulate every source and cut away or add or change whatever one likes. That quote is “partial”, so one adds what it supposedly is missing. Another quote is “overstated”, so one subtracts from the text. And still another is not what one likes, so one claims that the “subtle” meaning, in “context”, is other than what is plainly taught by holy Mother Church. This is figurative freemasonry, where those who dislike the decisions of the Church on doctrine or discipline chip away at or replace these “stones” of the Church’s structure, until they remake the Church in their own image.

Kwasniewski then quotes a series of texts that prove Pope Francis has authority over the liturgy, certainly to the extent to restrict the TLM and even to eventually make the Novus Ordo the single liturgical rite of the Roman Rite. He cites sufficient sources to make the case of his opponents!

Kwasniewski then argues against his own summary of the case of his opponents, saying that liturgy is about doctrine as well as discipline. Right, and the Pope holds two Keys, the authority over doctrine and the authority over discipline. Next argument.

Kwasniewski then argues that the authority of the Pope is limited by its purpose and nature: by “wisdom, goodness, or rightness”. And who decides when the Pope has made a decision that supposedly violates this vague rule? The Pope can only do what is wise, good, and right? Sorry, but there’s no such rule. That’s like the priest who says, right after taking his vow of obedience, that he will only obey orders he finds to be wise, good, and right. That assertion basically means he never intended obedience in the first place. We obey the Church out of love for Christ, and out of faith in His teachings given to us through the Church. There is only self-love in these claims that the Pope only has authority to do and say what we, the self-appointed most faithful traditionalists or conservatives, decided is best. Authority NEVER works that way. Try working for a living and see how well that goes over with your boss, as he is yelling at you and firing you.

Who decides if the Pope is within his authority under this new limit of only doing what is wise, good, and right? Peter Kwasniewski does. He has arrogated to himself a supreme authority greater than that possessed by the Roman Pontiff or any Ecumenical Council.

In the article, Lessons from Church History: A Brief Review of Papal Lapses, Peter Kwasniewski accuses a long list of Roman Pontiffs of grave failings of faith and of grave errors on discipline or doctrine. Kwasniewski has given himself the supreme power to judge every Pope, from Saint Peter to Francis, and to condemn whomever he, by his sole authority, has judged to be guilty. He accuses Popes Saint Peter, Saint John 23, Saint Paul VI, Saint John Paul II of grave errors. The accusations themselves are contrary to Catholic dogma. They are heretical claims about the Popes.

Then in the article The Second Vatican Council Is Now Far Spent, Peter Kwasniewski judges the Ecumenical Councils, and he condemns Vatican I as if it were in need of an exorcism, which is a blasphemous claim: “In many ways, we are more threatened today by the spirit of Vatican I, which it will take a mighty exorcism to drive away.” Kwasniewski then condemns Vatican II by saying it should be utterly ignored, along with other Councils that he judges by his own supreme authority to be worthy of oblivion: ” ‘What shall we do about Vatican II?’ — I suggest we leave it alone, leave it behind, leave it in peace, along with Lyons I, Lateran V, and other councils you’ve never heard of….”

Never heard of? What the hell does that mean? The Councils lose their authority if the poorly-catechized faithful never heard of them? Wrong. And Lateran V is the Council that approved of and confirmed Unam Sanctam, one of the documents asserting the supreme authority of the Pope and his freedom from judgment by persons like Kwasniewski. Lateran V also infallibly teaches: “it arises from the necessity of salvation that all the faithful of Christ are to be subject to the Roman Pontiff“. Oh, I see. Kwasniewski doesn’t assign Lateran V to oblivion because his readers never heard of it, but because he doesn’t accept subjection to any Pope or Council. Read the two articles of his I linked above. He is judge over every Pope and Council to condemn whatever he likes for little or no reason. There is no subjection to the Roman Pontiff there, and no acknowledgment of his supreme authority.

So while he claims that the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Saint Peter, the Vicar of Christ, lacks the authority to change, restrict, or abrogate a form of the liturgy, or to choose a newer form over an older form for use by the Roman Rite, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, by virtue of his degrees in Philosophy and his exalted position as an article writer for publications known for attacking the Magisterium, has arrogated to himself the authority to judge every Pope and Council, to accuse, judge, and condemn multiple Vicars of Christ for alleged grave failings of faith (in contradiction to the dogma of the never failing faith of Peter and his successors), to condemn Popes and even Pope-Saints for alleged grave errors on doctrine or discipline (in contradiction to the dogma that the Apostolic See is unblemished and never wanders from the path of Apostolic tradition), to sweep away multiple Ecumenical Councils into oblivion, nullifying their exercise of the authority of Christ and thereby falling under their anathemas, and to accuse Vatican I of needing an exorcism, when Ecumenical Councils are certainly the work of the Holy Spirit.

Peter Kwasniewski claims for himself an authority far beyond restricting a form of the liturgy, or choosing for the Roman Rite one particular form of the liturgy over another. He claims an authority that even Popes and Councils do not claim to possess, the authority to judge every Pope and Council, to judge and condemn Pope Saints, to nullify Councils, and to propose that his understanding on every point of disagreement with Popes and Councils must be right, and theirs must be wrong. So the Popes can only exercise authority when Kwasniewski decides it is in the nature of the Pontificate and it is in accord with “wisdom, goodness, or rightness”. But Kwasniewski’s authority is far greater and has no such restraints. I see now why he wants to restrict papal authority so badly: it conflicts with his own self-proclaimed and literally god-like alleged authority. Even Christ does not nullify Councils along with their infallible teachings (e.g. Vatican I, II, Lateran V). Even Christ does not accuse His Vicars of failing in faith, since He himself promised they would never fail in faith. But Kwasniewski does not accept the promises or teachings of Christ. He puts himself above the Gospels themselves, rejecting the dogmas established by Mt 16:18-19 and Lk 22:32, and later confirmed infallibly by the magisterium. He claims the Popes have failed in faith, nullifying the promise of the Lord Jesus. He speaks as if the Church has defected, as if Peter was never given the Keys to bind even in Heaven — a clear statement of the lack of limits to papal authority over the Church. Nothing the Lord Jesus taught, confirmed infallibly by the Church, holds authority over him, because he has a computer, internet access, and a platform for vomiting hatred and lies on Popes and Councils.

Kwasniewski: “This is why historians can make judgments about when popes exercised their power well or badly, prudently or imprudently, justly or unjustly.”

That is the point of view of someone outside the Church. For we who believe what the Church teaches, historians have no role to judge Popes and their exercise of the Keys of Saint Peter. It is dogma that: The First See is judged by no one but God. That is a dogma of the Church based on the ordinary universal Magisterium, and on Unam Sanctam confirmed by Lateran V, and on Vatican I. Neither historians nor an article-writer with degrees in philosophy has the right to judge the Popes in their exercise of the authority given to them by the divine mouth of Christ.

Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the CDF, writing in “The Primacy of the Successor of Peter in the Mystery of the Church”: “In any case, it is essential to state that discerning whether the possible ways of exercising the Petrine ministry correspond to its nature is a discernment to be made in Ecclesia, i.e., with the assistance of the Holy Spirit and in fraternal dialogue between the Roman Pontiff and the other Bishops, according to the Church’s concrete needs. But, at the same time, it is clear that only the Pope (or the Pope with an Ecumenical Council) has, as the Successor of Peter, the authority and the competence to say the last word on the ways to exercise his pastoral ministry in the universal Church.” [n. 13].

The Pope does exercise his authority in accord with the nature of his ministry. And that ministry, by its nature, has supreme authority over doctrine and over discipline, supreme authority over liturgy and over the punishments meted out to heretics and schismatics, who utterly reject subjection to Popes and adherence to the dogmas of Ecumenical Councils.

So “discerning whether the possible ways of exercising the Petrine ministry correspond to its nature” is a task given to the Church, that is, to the Pope and the body of Bishops led by the Holy Spirit. It is a task given to those with authority. And at the same time, ONLY THE POPE has, as the successor of Peter, THE LAST WORD on the ways to exercise his pastoral ministry, on the ways to exercise the Keys of Peter in the universal Church.

So you can throw an internet temper tantrum and kick, scream, and yell about how that mean old Pope is metaphorically hitting you with his shepherd’s crook, but the Pope has the authority and you do not. No matter how loudly you yell that the Pope is exceeding his authority, he has the authority and he is exercising it. De jure, and if you disagree with that, then de facto. And the Bishops will follow him. And the faithful will follow him. They always do. The Holy Spirit guarantees it.

And you know what happens, in the very end of arguments against the Pope like this one? An Ecumenical Council sides with the Pope, in documents approved by whoever will be the then-current Pope, and anyone who refuses their assent will be struck with an anathema. The Popes and Councils have the full authority of Christ over the universal Church, and if you don’t like the way they use that authority, you can walk away or be excommunicated.

{6:61} Therefore, many of his disciples, upon hearing this, said: “This saying is difficult,” and, “Who is able to listen to it?”
{6:62} But Jesus, knowing within himself that his disciples were murmuring about this, said to them: “Does this offend you?
{6:63} Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending to where he was before?
{6:64} It is the Spirit who gives life. The flesh does not offer anything of benefit. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
{6:65} But there are some among you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who were unbelieving and which one would betray him.
{6:66} And so he said, “For this reason, I said to you that no one is able to come to me, unless it has been given to him by my Father.”
{6:67} After this, many of his disciples went back, and they no longer walked with him.
{6:68} Therefore, Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?”

It is not about context. It is about Faith. We are called to put our Faith in the teachings and rulings of Popes and Councils. We are not called to judge every single decision of every Pope and Council, discuss it endlessly online, and then only accept whatever we decide is right. That is utterly devoid of faith.

Ronald L Conte Jr
believing and practicing Roman Catholic

And here is a nice quote from Scripture that sums up papal authority and those who reject it. Catholics who reject papal authority become like the Gentiles, like the unbelievers. They exalt themselves as if they were kings, but the Lord is King of kings.

[Psalm 2]
{2:1} Why have the Gentiles been seething, and why have the people been pondering nonsense?
{2:2} The kings of the earth have stood up, and the leaders have joined together as one, against the Lord and against his Christ:
{2:3} “Let us shatter their chains and cast their yoke away from us.”
{2:4} He who dwells in heaven will ridicule them, and the Lord will mock them.
{2:5} Then will he speak to them in his anger and trouble them with his fury.
{2:6} Yet I have been appointed king by him over Zion, his holy mountain, preaching his precepts.
{2:7} The Lord has said to me: You are my son, this day have I begotten you.
{2:8} Ask of me and I will give to you: the Gentiles for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession.
{2:9} You will rule them with an iron rod, and you will shatter them like a potter’s vessel.
{2:10} And now, O kings, understand. Receive instruction, you who judge the earth.
{2:11} Serve the Lord in fear, and exult in him with trembling.
{2:12} Embrace discipline, lest at any time the Lord might become angry, and you would perish from the way of the just.
{2:13} Though his wrath can flare up in a short time, blessed are all those who trust in him.

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2 Responses to Peter Kwasniewski vs. Papal Authority

  1. Robert L Fastiggi says:

    Dear Ron,

    You do a great job responding to Dr. Peter Kwasniewski. I notice he cites an alleged papal oath. This article helps to put this alleged oath in proper perspective: Let’s pray for Dr. Kwasniewski. He’s on a dangerous path, and he’s misleading others.

    • Ron Conte says:

      The excellent article you cite ends with this important point: “a supposed oath that no pope would ever be obliged to take after election. The only authority that could install such an oath would be a pope. And no pope can bind a successor in such disciplinary matters as this.”

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