A Refutation of Siscoe and Salza’s Article on Deposing the Pope

The article is here: The True Meaning of Bellarmine’s Ipso Facto Loss of Office Theory for a Heretical Pope. I will briefly refute the article below.

1. The article is based on Bellarmine’s opinion on what would happen if a Pope were heretical, and how the Pope might be deposed. The article ignores the fact that Saint Robert Bellarmine believed that no Pope could ever teach or commit heresy. He only discussed what if a Pope became a heretic because his position was opinion. Vatican I dogmatized his opinion that no Pope can ever teach or commit heresy. Therefore, the opinion of Bellarmine on what would happen if a Pope were heretical is null and void.

Furthermore, it is dishonest of Siscoe and Salza to base their attacks on the papacy on Bellarmine’s opinion without informing readers that Bellarmine believed no Pope could teach or commit heresy.

Saint Robert 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. Still, because it is not certain, and the common opinion is to the contrary, it will be worthwhile to see what the response should be if the Pope could be a heretic.” [Bellarmine, Robert. On the Roman Pontiff (De Controversiis Book 1) . Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.]

Saint Robert Bellarmine: “The Pope is the Teacher and Shepherd of the whole Church, thus, the whole Church is so bound to hear and follow him that if he would err, the whole Church would err.” [Bellarmine, Robert. On the Roman Pontiff, vol. 2: Books III-V (De Controversiis) (p. 162). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.]

Bellarmine: “Now our adversaries respond that the Church ought to hear him [the Roman Pontiff] so long as he teaches correctly, for God must be heard more than men. 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, 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.]

Bellarmine: “It can be believed probably and piously that the supreme Pontiff is not only not able to err as Pontiff but that even as a particular person he is not able to be heretical, by pertinaciously believing something contrary to the faith.” [Bellarmine, Robert. On the Roman Pontiff (De Controversiis Book 1) . Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.]

Saint Robert Bellarmine: “THE FOURTH proposition. It is probable and may piously be believed that not only as ‘Pope’ can the Supreme Pontiff not err, but he cannot be a heretic even as a particular person by pertinaciously believing something false against the faith. It is proved: 1) because it seems to require the sweet disposition of the providence of God. For the Pope not only should not, but cannot preach heresy, but rather should always preach the truth. He will certainly do that, since the Lord commanded him to confirm his brethren, and for that reason added: ‘I have prayed for thee, that thy faith shall not fail,’ [Lk 22:32] that is, that at least the preaching of the true faith shall not fail in thy throne.”

“How, I ask, will a heretical Pope confirm the brethren in faith and always preach the true faith? Certainly God can wrench the confession of the true faith out of the heart of a heretic just as he placed the words in the mouth of Balaam’s ass. Still, this will be a great violence, and not in keeping with the providence of God that sweetly disposes all things.”

“2) It is proved ab eventu. For to this point no [Pontiff] has been a heretic, or certainly it cannot be proven that any of them were heretics; therefore it is a sign that such a thing cannot be.” [Bellarmine, Robert. On the Roman Pontiff, vol. 2: Books III-V (De Controversiis) (p. 171). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.]


It is often falsely claims that Bishop Gasser in the Relatio of Vatican I condemned this opinion, that the Pope cannot be a heretic as the extreme opinion of Albert Pighius. But Gasser defends this opinion by saying that it is not the extreme opinion of any school, but the pious opinion of Bellarmine. Gasser also says that the Council fathers will be raising that opinion of Bellarmine to the dignity of a dogma if they vote for the proposed chapter, which they did.

2. The article, apart from Bellarmine, is largely based on the opinions of theologians. Almost all magisterial teachings on this subject are ignored. See the Church teachings here and also in this summary here.

The Church has always taught that no Pope can fail in faith, nor succumb to heresy, nor err gravely in the use of the Keys of Peter. The Apostolic See is always unblemished by any grave error. I said any grave error, not all error.

Since it is a teaching of the ordinary universal Magisterium, as well as the Council of Constantinople III and Vatican I that Popes cannot fail in faith and that the Apostolic See is always unblemished, there can be no justification for deposing a Pope.

The long discussion of what theologians think about heresy and papal deposition is irrelevant given the above teachings of the Church.

3. Even so, the article omits two prominent theologians often used by Siscoe: Berry and Van Noort. Here’s why they are omitted from this article, but used in others:

Fr. Berry: “Cardinal Bellarmine, Suarez, and many other eminent theologians consider the opposite opinion more probable. Suarez says: ‘God could provide that no injury would accrue to the Church from an heretical pope, but it seems more in accord with His divine providence to preserve the pope from heresy in consequence of the promise that he shall never err in defining faith. Furthermore, as such a thing has never happened in the Church, we may conclude that, in the providence of God, it cannot happen.’ ” [The Church of Christ: An Apologetic and Dogmatic Treatise, n. 478]

Msgr. Van Noort: “All theologians admit that the pope can make a mistake in matters of faith and morals when so speaking: either by proposing a false opinion in a matter not yet defined, or by innocently differing from some doctrine already defined. Theologians disagree, however, over the question of whether the pope can become a formal heretic by stubbornly clinging to an error in a matter already defined. The more probable and respectful opinion, followed by Suárez, Bellarmine and many others, holds that just as God has not till this day ever permitted such a thing to happen, so too he never will permit a pope to become a formal and public heretic. Still, some competent theologians do concede that the pope when not speaking ex cathedra could fall into formal heresy.” [Msgr. G. Van Noort, Christ’s Church, p. 294, 1957]

How can a Pope be removed from office on the pretext that he is a heretic, when it is widely held that no Pope can even be guilty of heresy in the first place?

4. The First See is judged by no one.

The way that Salza and Siscoe get around this divine law is by making up two different types of judgment, and then claiming that the judged by no one only applies to the one type and not the other. This claim is clever, but is really just a way to avoid accepting the teachings of Vatican I and II on the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff. He is the supreme judge of all the faithful, and therefore no special type of judgment can be used to accuse and convict him of heresy — contrary to the prayer and promise of our Lord that Peter and his successors would never fail in faith.

5. Assumed guilt.

All these articles across the internet on deposing heretical Popes assume that the Pope is guilty. What if he is not guilty? What if the persons judging the Pope, under whatever pretext, err gravely? Is there an infallible judge, who can judge whether the Pope is guilty? “Well, the heresy is manifest. It is just so obvious.” Really?

{6:61} Therefore, many of his disciples, upon hearing this, said: “This saying is difficult,” and, “Who is able to listen to it?”

Maybe the teaching of the Pope is just difficult to accept. We know that Ecumenical Councils have sometimes erred gravely EXCEPT that the Pope did not approve the grave error. Since even an imperfect Council can err gravely, who is to say whether the Pope is actually guilty of heresy? The more probably opinion among theologians is that “just as God has not till this day ever permitted such a thing to happen, so too he never will permit a pope to become a formal and public heretic.”

It is a serious problem in all these proposals saying that the Pope can be judged and deposed that they never deal with the issue of fallibility. Without the Pope, the body of Bishops cannot teach or rule infallibly. Therefore, any deposition of the Pope is fallible and can remove an innocent Pope. There is no infallibility in the Church without the Pope, and so the process of judging and removing him — a process that does not exist and is contrary to Canon Law — could err and harm the Church.

“But the Pope is harming the Church by heresy!” How would you know? Are you infallible? All these judges of Pope Francis, who are upset that he does not teach the version of Catholicism in their own fallible minds, assume the Pope errs whenever they disagree or dislike what he is saying. But they are unable to judge whether a Supreme Pontiff is guilty of heresy.

6. My position is that no Pope can ever teach or commit heresy, nor fail in faith in any grave way, nor err gravely in doctrine or discipline. The Apostolic See is always unblemished by any grave error. Also, no one has the authority to depose the Pope.

7. In addition to failing to account for (a) magisterial teaching (b) possibility of error in deposing a Pope (c) the true opinion of Bellarmine — all these proposals for deposing a Pope never take into account his reponse.

A group of Bishops deposes the Pope. The Pope responds by excommunicating them. You don’t think that could happen? All the Bishops of Chile offered to the Pope their resignations. He accepted some, not all. The Supreme Pontiff is not going to walk away from his office because a group claims to have the authority to remove him. He will not be leaving. He will continue to teach and rule the Church, and the vast majority of Bishops will continue to obey him.

What if the Pope is accused of heresy for teaching “this”, and in response, he issues an ex cathedra teaching making “this” infallible?

What if the Pope removes from office and therefore from presumed authority, anyone who tries to judge or depose him?

The Pope has supreme authority. If you think he is going to step down because a few articles say he can be deposed, or a group of dissidents attempts to judge him, you are sadly mistaken.

8. Siscoe and Salza say “Post Vatican I Theologians: The Church has the Authority
to Investigate a Pope and Declare Him a Heretic”

Right. There have always been some theologians who misunderstood or rejected Vatican I. But as the quotes above from Berry and Van Noort assert, the more probable and respected opinion is that Popes have never and can never be heretics. So a minority of theologians holding an opinion, and some speculations by a Saint who believed that no Pope could be a heretic, is not sufficient basis for judging and deposing a Pope.

It is not sufficient to have some theologians agree with you!!!

9. The strongest case against any Pope has been against Honorius, and yet Bellarmine, St. Maximus, Pope John IV, Cardinal Manning and many others exonerate him, as does Fr. Berry. How are you going to depose a Pope when you cannot even prove that a single Pope in Church history was ever guilty of heresy?


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