On Catholics who Claim Orthodoxy in Opposition to the Roman Pontiff

There’s a very telling post at Fr. John Zuhlsdorf’s blog: Cri de Coeur: “What next?” After which, Fr. Z rants. An unnamed reader complains to Fr. Z., saying:

“I am starting to feel like Jonah, who complained that God took away the shade tree that grew over him. So now the Pope is going after EWTN — which, while solidly orthodox, is hardly the fringe right that some might like to portray it as being. What next? A condemnation of one of the four Gospels? … the Pope is engaged in a nasty game of baiting the orthodox … Yes, “they win” to some extent, but we have to believe that Jesus has a plan– a grander plan than anything that Satan can concoct … I really feel bad for good orthodox priests these days.”

The first problem is that some Catholics have become attached to certain “secondary sources” of the Faith. They have watched EWTN for years, and have come to trust it. And at some point, EWTN turned against the Roman Pontiff and the Magisterium. Then which side do they take? They side with EWTN against the Vicar of Christ because they had, in the past, become convinced the network was “orthodox” (and I think it used to be so).

It is debated what Pope Francis exactly meant in his comments. Dave Armstrong has a good commentary here. But in any case, it does seem clear that Pope Francis was criticizing EWTN, without mentioning the name, along with others who behave the same way, for speaking ill of the Roman Pontiff and for thereby attacking the Church. Do you not know that the Church is founded on Peter as on a Rock? But the teaching is that the Church is founded on Peter and his successors, and Peter lives, presides, and exercises judgment in each of his successors.

A sampling of teachings from the Church:

Pope Saint Leo I: “The order of truth remains; blessed Peter, keeping the strength of the rock, does not abandon the helm of the Church. Whatever We do rightly is his work, whose power lives in his See…. In the person of My lowliness he is seen, he is honored, in whom remains the care of all pastors and of the sheep of their charge. His power does not fail, even in an unworthy heir.” [Sermon III, c. 2]

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.’ ” [Satis Cognitum 12]

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]

And more teachings on the Roman Pontiff are here.

It is just astounding, not only to read a supposedly orthodox Catholic side with a television network against the Roman Pontiff — the Vicar of Christ, the successor of Peter, the Father and Teacher of All Christians, the Rock on which the Church is founded — but also to see a very popular online priest speak similarly and support this clearly grave error.

No one is solidly orthodox in the face of the Roman Pontiff, ANY Roman Pontiff. Do you not know that sometimes Saints went astray in opposing a Roman Pontiff. And, in the history of the Church, NONE of these Saints was proven to have taken the right course. Saint Vincent Ferrer supported the Antipope Benedict XIII, and he finally abandoned the man when the Council of Constance insisted on his resignation (as did the true Pope Gregory XII). Saint Hippolytus of Rome was an antipope for a while, and later reconciled with the true Pope. Tertullian, a Church father, fell into the errors of Montanism. Origen, another Church father, also held heretical errors, while at the same time teaching many orthodox doctrines. (I cite him above, as quoted by Pope Leo XIII.) Thus, it is NEVER safe to say to one’s self, “Well this theologian or that priest or this Catholic media outlet is so very ORTHODOX that I should stand with them against the Roman Pontiff.”

The very word orthodox loses all its meaning when it is opposed to the Roman Pontiff and his Magisterium. And those who oppose Pope Francis cannot blame the faults of the individual man who is Pope, for they also reject Vatican I and II, as well as multiple other Popes. They go so far as to deny the canonizations of the three more recent Pope Saints, and to accuse Pope Saint John Paul II of idolatry (over prayers at Assisi). It could not be more clear that these accusers of Popes and Councils have gone astray from orthodoxy.

And there has been innumerable articles written by such persons, in defense of their position, and none of it is orthodox. None of it. You can licitly dissent from some non-infallible decisions of the Roman Pontiff on doctrine or discipline. But that is nothing like the vicious attacks on Popes and Councils that we have witnesses for many years now. Some of these accusers were simply accusers of Vatican II, who added Pope Francis to their list of enemies. Some fell away from the Magisterium because Pope Francis does not teach in agreement with the subculture of traditionalist or conservatism to which some have become attached.

Essentially, there are two errors here. The first is pride. Some persons have just decided that the version of Catholicism in their own understanding is indefectible and infallible. They do not say this, but they act as if it were the case. Whenever any Pope or Council contradicts their own understanding, they assume the Magisterium must have erred, even to the extent of heresy, even to the extent of the Church Herself defecting, contrary to dogma. And the reason is that they are so filled with pride in their own alleged faithfulness and orthodoxy that they can’t imagine that they themselves need to be taught or corrected.

The other error is following the conservative or traditionalist subculture instead of the Magisterium. And when the subculture, which perhaps was actually orthodox at some point in time, falls away from the true faith, you fall with it. Many persons do not have the faith and the backbone to break away from a culture which defined their faith for a time when it becomes corrupt. And, no, that thinking cannot be applied to the Roman Pontiff, who has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith, whose Apostolic See is unblemished by any grave error. We must always side with the Popes and Councils against any individual person or group or organization that claims to be more orthodox than the Pope.

“What next? A condemnation of one of the four Gospels?”

The writer in the Fr. Z. post compares the Pope’s criticism of EWTN, which is much deserved by the way, to rejecting a Gospel. Is EWTN like a Gospel to you? Then you have gone astray from the true Faith. The three pillars of truth in Catholicism are Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium. And tradition is defined by the Magisterium, not by your favorite speaker, author, or media outlet.

“the Pope is engaged in a nasty game of baiting the orthodox”

Read the teachings of the Church on the Roman Pontiff and the Apostolic See. Those who oppose the Roman Pontiff — and this is particularly clear when they are opposing multiple Popes and Councils, but still an error when opposing even one Pope — are not orthodox.

Pope Leo XIII explains this well in Satis Cognitum: “In the same way [Saint] Maximus the Abbot teaches that obedience to the Roman Pontiff is the proof of the true faith and of legitimate communion. ‘Therefore if a man does not want to be, or to be called, a heretic, let him not strive to please this or that man…but let him hasten before all things to be in communion with the Roman See. If he be in communion with it, he should be acknowledged by all and everywhere as faithful and orthodox. He speaks in vain who tries to persuade me of the orthodoxy of those who, like himself, refuse obedience to his Holiness the Pope of the most holy Church of Rome: that is to the Apostolic See.’ ”

You are not orthodox if you resist or oppose or ridicule or contemn the Roman Pontiff. Calling Pope Francis names and making malicious remarks about him is a grave sin of scandal, and can be, in the extreme case in direct blasphemy. Treating the Pope like a heretic, while calling yourself and those who agree with you “orthodox” is schismatic. Popes are free from grave error in their exercise of the Keys of Peter, and each Pope has the gift of never-failing faith. These are dogmas of the ordinary universal Magisterium, taught by many Popes, Saints, and Councils.

“Yes, “they win” to some extent, but we have to believe that Jesus has a plan– a grander plan than anything that Satan can concoct … I really feel bad for good orthodox priests these days.”

Who are these “good orthodox priests”? Are they faithful to the Popes and Councils? Then why feel bad for them? Or are these priests accusers of Popes and Councils? If they are accusers, then they are the ones following the plan of Satan. Using the accusation of a plan by Satan, with reference to the Roman Pontiff, is heretical and schismatic. The Church is indefectible. And so is the Roman Pontiff, the body of Bishops, and the Ecumenical Councils. As I wrote above:

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.’ ” [Satis Cognitum 12]

Read Pope Leo XIII’s Satis Cognitum, especially sections 10 through 16. No Roman Pontiff can ever fall away from the true faith, nor teach grave error, nor err gravely on discipline (which includes the liturgy).

And what does Fr. Z. say, after quoting the above discussed writer? This:

“No matter how badly those who oppose a whole, integrated understanding of Tradition will drive and harass us, we have to strive not to hate them (as many of them do hate us) and pray for their conversion by whatever means God’s knows will work. We want as many people as possible to have the happiness of Heaven, even those who treat us badly.”

Notice the assumption that he and his supporters, he and the subculture that gives him notoriety, influence, and money, cannot be wrong. Instead of accepting whatever the Popes and Councils decide, Fr. Z. speaks as if “they” are evil and need conversion to the Fr. Z. version of traditionalism. And why do you have to “strive not to hate them”???? When I read Fr. Z.’s blog, I often read his malicious ridicule of the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops who support him. It sounds like hate. He needs to strive more.

It is the prayer of the Pharisee in the Temple, when one prays for the conversion of others, in the pride-filled assumption that you yourself cannot be the one in error. And this is particularly true for any person or group who chooses to oppose an Pope or Council.

If Fr. Z. truly wanted people to have the happiness of Heaven, he would accept the teachings of Pope Francis, Vatican I and II, and the other recent Popes. As it stands now, and this has become very clear over the years, Fr. Z. is a schismatic who is leading tens of thousands of persons away from the true Catholic faith and away from communion with the Roman Pontiff.

Lateran V: “It arises from the necessity of salvation that all the faithful of Christ are to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”

Lateran V: “the person who abandons the teaching of the Roman pontiff cannot be within the Church….”

Fr. Z.’s opposition to Vatican II and Pope Francis is very clear from many years of posts and articles. He now writes at the heretical and schismatic publication OnePeterFive. His ridicule and encouragement of opposition to the Roman Pontiff has been expressed publicly, repeatedly, over a large number of posts. I used to admire him, but I will never follow anyone who rejects any Roman Pontiff.

As for the claims of orthodoxy by Fr. Z. and many other traditionalists and conservatives, no one is orthodox who rejects communion with the Roman Pontiff. And, no, you are not in communion merely by acknowledging that Francis is the true Pope. Subjection to the Roman Pontiff is from the necessity of salvation. Opposition to the Roman Pontiff is schism and heresy.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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