Recent articles online speak as if the papacy were simply an artifice of the people, to be changed or limited in whatever way they wish. A similar approach is to claim that the “true” nature of the papacy is other than what the Church has taught in two Ecumenical Councils, Vatican I and II, and in recent documents as well as Canon Law. This approach seeks to return to an allegedly historical version of the papacy that is fictitious. Both approaches are simply a way to avoid putting one’s faith in what the Church teaches, over and above one’s own understanding, as Christ requires of us.
The truth is that the Papacy was founded by Christ, just as the Sacraments were founded by Christ. Therefore, as the Church cannot change the fundamental nature of the Sacraments, similarly, the Church cannot change the fundamental nature of the Papacy, nor of the Apostolic College (the body of Bishops with the Roman Pontiff as their head). The Roman Pontiff has special charisms (divinely-conferred gifts) which are for the purpose of Teaching, Guiding, and Sanctifying the people of God to assist in their path of salvation. No one else possesses the papal charisms individually, except the Roman Pontiff. Some papal charisms can be exercised by the body of Bishops, but then only with the Roman Pontiff as their head, never without him, and never with him solely as a fellow Bishop. This structure to the Church was chosen by Christ, when He both chose the Twelve Apostles and made Peter the Prince of the Apostles. The Roman Pontiff is the successor of Peter and the Bishops are the successors of the other Apostles. But if any Bishop breaks away from the Roman Pontiff, then he ceases to have the authority of a Bishop.
The papacy cannot be changed to suit the desires of those sheep who do not wish to have any shepherd rule over them. Suggestions such as greater synodality or greater participation of the laity would soon be thrown out the window, the minute that such a new process resulted in a decision that was disliked by some individual or group. Unfortunately, many calls for greater participation by the laity in power in the Church are just an attempt to get from the laity what one cannot get from Popes and Bishops.
But more important is the dogma that the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops have charisms that are solely given to those who are ordained to the episcopal degree, first of all, and the Pope has charisms that are only given to the Pope. Neither priests, nor lay persons can possess these charisms, which are absolutely essential for the Church to be the Ark of Salvation, and not merely a political body. The Pope can teach infallibly by his own authority from Christ; the body of Bishops can participate in infallibility as long as the Pope also participates as their head. The Pope has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith; and this makes him the preeminent Teacher in the Church not merely by authority, but by divinely-conferred ability. The Bishops participate in this charism of truth and of never-failing faith only as a body and only as long as they have the Roman Pontiff as their head, confirming them in truth and never-failing faith. The Pope cannot be replaced by a group of Bishops acting as a body without a head (like a monster). The Church can never be led only by the Roman Pontiff, with no other Bishops, with no Apostolic College, like a head without a body. However, the Pope absolutely can teach and rule by his sole authority, whenever he wishes, as he exercises the authority of Christ.
The Catholic World Report article
Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille writes in the Catholic World Report: Opinion: A papacy big enough to fulfill your wishes can also destroy them. This article contains serious doctrinal errors, and also misrepresents the papacy pre- and post-Vatican I (1870).
First, the title. Is the papacy about your wishes? We do not support the Roman Pontiff to obtain what we desire, but to be taught what to desire. We support the Roman Pontiff to be united by him under the authority of Christ. Trying to reconfigure the papacy to get what you want out of the Church is not true religion, but narcissism and self-idolatry. Such persons who oppose the Pope seem to want a Pope that never teaches any new insight and never corrects any popular errors; they want a religion where each person is their own Pope.
Let’s review some of the worst claims in the article by Dr. Deville.
DeVille: “the post-1870 papacy is seriously at odds with the developed tradition up to that point.”
I have been compiling the teachings of Popes and Saints in the history of the Church on the papacy. The same few teachings, so closely related to one another as to be credibly called a single doctrine, occur again and again from the third century all the way to the present day. So the claim that the post-1870, meaning post-Vatican I, papacy is any different from the papacy in the Church today or in any other century is false. Instead, the teaching of Pastor Aeternus from Vatican I is well supported by a myriad of references from Popes, Saints, and even other Councils throughout the history of the Church, all the way back to Mt 16:18-19 and Lk 22:32. Note also that most of Pastor Aeternus chapter 4, n. 6 seems to come from the Letter of Agatho to Constantinople III (680-681). Vatican I dogmatized the perennial teaching of Popes and Saints on the Roman Pontiff. It was not a new teaching, but the continual teaching of the Church.
Another claim of the article: “Ultramontanism and papal centralization are enemies of the common good of the entire Church as such.”
This claim contradicts the decision of the Lord to found the Church on Peter and his successors. Also, it is quite unclear what papal critics mean, today, by ultramontanism, other than the Pope exercising the authority given to him by Christ. And it is noteworthy that the term has often been used by non-Catholics to ridicule the fact that only the Roman Catholic Faith has such a role as the successor of Peter.
If the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff were the enemy of the common good of the entire Church, then this implies that the Lord Jesus erred grievously by choosing to found the Church on Peter and his successors. The assertion contradicts the ordinary role of the Roman Pontiff as the Head of the Church and the Vicar of Christ. Using negative terms like “ultramontanism” and “papal centralization” simply disguises an open attack on the role given to the Roman Pontiff by Christ himself.
Pope Pius XII teaches that Christ and His Vicar constitute one only Head of the one Church [Mystical Body of Christ 40]. These attacks on the Roman Pontiff are attacks on Christ and on His plan for the Church. The Pope is not a politician acting based on a political platform. He is guided by God in his teachings and rulings for the Church. Those who do not believe that, are not Catholic Christians.
Then DeVille suggests a better plan for the Church, synodality and more lay person participation. “Such synodality would also require recognizing that the laics are not some optional add-on to a church run exclusively by clerics, but must be included in all structures of governance with equal voice and vote.”
The Roman Pontiff and the Bishops have charisms, just as Vatican II teaches, which lay persons and even priests, deacons, and non-Bishop religious do not have. Including the laity in all governance with equal voice and vote openly fights against the charisms divinely-conferred on the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops individually and as a body. Does the Church not have the Lord Jesus as her Head and the Holy Spirit as Her soul? Lay persons cannot have “equal voice and vote” nor anything similar or approaching that expression because they do not have the charisms, the God-given abilities, needed to exercise the authority.
By reference to one of his own books, DeVille suggests that the abuse crisis in the Church would be solved by greater involvement of laity. I’ve heard this before. Really? Why? Do you not know that most child abusers in society are lay persons? What would make lay persons in the Church any better than clerics? This type of claim that more lay involvement will solve problems is entirely unsupportable. And the contrary assertion, that more lay involvement does not really help is provable by the fact that many problems in the Church are found in the laity, more so than among priests: lack of faith in Church teaching, lack of knowledge of Church teaching, and a vast array of grave sins.
DeVille then suggests that “papal slenderizing” can occur “in several ways. One relatively easy way to begin would be to ensure that regular papal interviews are scrapped.”
Huh. Popes should not do regular interviews, says the regular author of articles on CWR. I’ve heard this claim before. They say the Pope should not speak extemporaneously in the media. Who says this? Priests and lay persons with blogs, who often speak extemporaneously in the media. The Pope is so much less than they are, in their own minds, that he cannot be allowed to speak as freely as they themselves do.
And how do you stop the Pope from doing regular interviews, if he so wishes? Is there some person or committee that would be above him? That is the heresy of conciliarism, if it is a “committee”. Or if it is one person who makes sure the Pope complies with the new rules, then you are just replacing one Pope with another. The highest authority in the Church on earth is the Pope. If you set up some authority to make sure the Popes doesn’t do things that you dislike, you are just making someone else Pope (basically, whoever is restricting the Pope is making himself Pope.)
DeVille suggests a smaller Curia. The Roman Curia is already relatively small, compared to the over one billion Catholics in the world. Consider the size of the U.S. government over a population of 330 million. The Curia is proportionately small. Then DeVille wants accountability. That requires some person or group over the Pope, which is not how the Church founded by Christ is structured. And what would guarantee that the persons to whom the Pope or the Bishops are accountable would have better judgment? Nothing. We are all fallen sinners. Putting a different set of fallen sinners in charge, instead of those chosen by Christ and given special charisms by the Holy Spirit, is unworkable. All these complaints about the way the Church works reflect against the decisions of Christ.
DeVille: “Such a rethinking would require abandoning shoddy notions of ‘sovereignty.’ ”
Here, he is just playing with the meaning of words. He wants good synodality, not bad synodality, and good sovereignty not bad. These are to a large extent shoddy suggestions. Or just empty suggestions. The Pope is our Sovereign, and taking that away is schismatic and heretical. Christ founded the Church on Peter and his successors, and the Church has always taught the supreme authority of the Pope, long before Vatican I.
Blessed Pope Pius IX, 1873, on those who reject the teachings of the First Vatican Council: “For these writings attack and pervert the true power of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff and the bishops, who are the successors of blessed Peter and the apostles; they transfer it instead to the people, or, as they say, to the community. They obstinately reject and oppose the infallible magisterium both of the Roman Pontiff and of the whole Church in teaching matters. Incredibly, they boldly affirm that the Roman Pontiff and all the bishops, the priests and the people conjoined with him in the unity of faith and communion fell into heresy when they approved and professed the definitions of the Ecumenical Vatican Council. Therefore they deny also the indefectibility of the Church and blasphemously declare that it has perished throughout the world and that its visible Head and the bishops have erred.” [Etsi Multa 22]
Increasingly, the opponents of Pope Francis are attacking the First Vatican Council. They realize that the teaching of that Council supports the Roman Pontiff, exonerates him from any accusations of grave errors against truth or faith (via the charism of truth and of never-failing faith), and teaches that the Apostolic See is without blemish (without grave error). Such a teaching, infallibly declared by the First Vatican Council, absolutely destroys most of the arguments and all of the serious accusations against Pope Francis. And his opponents know it. So they fight against that Ecumenical Council as well as Vatican II, Pope Francis, and other recent Popes.
Pope Pius XII, 1943: “They, therefore, walk in the path of dangerous error who believe that they can accept Christ as the Head of the Church, while not adhering loyally to His Vicar on earth. They have taken away the visible head, broken the visible bonds of unity and left the Mystical Body of the Redeemer so obscured and so maimed, that those who are seeking the haven of eternal salvation can neither see it nor find it.” [Mystical Body of Christ 41]
Pope Leo XIII, quoting Church father Origen: ” ‘neither against the rock upon which Christ builds His Church nor against the Church shall the gates of Hell prevail.’ ”
The above quotes speak for themselves. You cannot accept Christ as the Head of the Church without loyally adhering to His Vicar on earth. For “Christ and His Vicar constitute one only Head” of the one Church [Mystical Body of Christ 40]. And then the phrase used to establish the indefectibility of the Church, that the gates of Hell shall not prevail, is also applied by Pope Leo XIII, borrowing the words of Origen, to the rock on which the Church is founded, that is, to Peter and his successors. Therefore, Peter and his successors are also indefectible.
John Paul II: “In foretelling the triple denial which Peter would make out of fear during the passion, Jesus also predicted that he would overcome the crisis of that night: ‘Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail, and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers’ (Lk 22:31-32). With these words Jesus guaranteed Simon a special prayer for the perseverance of his faith, but he also announced the mission entrusted to him of strengthening his brothers in the faith.”
“This is what Innocent III wrote in the Letter Apostolicae Sedis Primatus (November 12, 1199), citing the text of Luke 22:32 and commenting on it as follows: ‘The Lord clearly intimates that Peter’s successors will never at any time deviate from the Catholic faith, but will instead recall the others and strengthen the hesitant’ (DS 775). That medieval Pope felt that Jesus’ statement to Simon Peter was confirmed by the experience of 1,000 years.”
“These words of the evangelist Luke (22:31-33) are very significant for all who exercise the munus Petrinum in the Church. They continually remind them of the kind of original paradox that Christ himself placed in them, with the certitude that in their ministry, as in Peter’s, a special grace is at work which supports human weakness and allows him to ‘strengthen his brothers.’ ‘I have prayed’ — Jesus’ words to Peter, which re-echo in his ever poor, humble successors — ‘I have prayed that your own faith may not fail, and once you turned back, you must strengthen your brothers’ (Lk 22:32).”
The words of Pope Saint John Paul II and Innocent III above clearly indicate that the Roman Pontiff as the never-failing faith was found in the first 1000 years of the Church, just as much as in the next 1000 years. And many teachings from Popes and Saints throughout Church history bear this out.
So Dr. DeVille errs gravely by claiming that the First Vatican Council was rejecting the traditional view of the papacy, in order to create an ultramontanistic and corrupt version of the papacy — which supposedly has prevailed from then till now, contrary to the indefectibility of the Pope and the Church. Such an error is not only historical, but heretical.
Unfortunately, it has become commonplace today for Catholic publications and media outlets to publish articles in direct contradiction to Catholic dogma and the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.