Problems with “Recognize and Resist”

Those who say “Recognize and Resist” mean two things by that expression, and both are in error. It is not a faithful expression, but instead it is a public announcement of schism.


By “recognize”, they mean that they acknowledge that Pope Francis is the Roman Pontiff. That is problematic. First, even an atheist does the same. And their recognition that Francis is Pope does not include submission to his authority.

Second, this recognition does not include acceptance of the ancient and unchanging faith of the Church on the charisms of the Roman Pontiff. So again they more resemble unbelievers than Christians in full communion with the Church.

Third, they have for many years been calling Pope Francis a heretic, an idolater, and even an apostate. Now it is a well-established dogma that every Pope has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith, which therefore excludes him from ever teaching material heresy (which is contrary to truth), or falling into formal heresy, apostasy, or idolatry (all of which are contrary to a never-failing faith). But it is well known that any Bishop who fails gravely in faith, by apostasy, heresy, schism, and idolatry, loses all jurisdiction (Leo XIII, Satis Cognitum 15). So all the church fathers are in agreement that IF it were possible — and it is dogma that this cannot be — but as a counter-factual hypothetical, if it were possible for a Pope to fail gravely in faith by heresy, apostasy, or idolatry, he would lose all jurisdiction and no longer be a valid Roman Pontiff.

The papal accusers have often acknowledged this teaching, found particularly in Saint Robert Bellarmine, that an heretical Pope soon loses all jurisdiction. But we also know that Bellarmine believed that no Pope could lose jurisdiction by failing in faith, since by the grace of God he cannot fail in the first place. Therefore, since the papal accusers refuse to believe Bellarmine on the never-failing faith of the Pope, a teaching taught many times over by the Church, and instead believe that Popes lose jurisdiction if he is a manifest heretic:

“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….” [Bellarmine, Robert. On the Roman Pontiff (De Controversiis Book 1) . Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.]

But this does not imply that Popes can be manifest heretics, as Saint Robert Bellarmine teaches clearly in multiple places. Rather, Bellarmine opines on what would happen IF a Pope could be a heretic, since, at that point in Church history, it was not dogma, as it is today. In the dogmatic teachings of Vatican I, and in the ancient and continual teaching of the Church through Popes, Councils, Saints, and Doctors, it is clear that Luke 22:32 means Peter and his successors each have the charism of truth and never-failing faith, which therefore absolutely prevents them from ever teaching or committing heresy. Then that teaching and other related teachings on the authority and charisms of the Roman Pontiff mean that no Pope can err gravely in doctrine or discipline, that is, in the exercise of the Keys of Saint Peter.

So while the accusers of Pope Francis say they recognize him as Roman Pontiff, they do not accord to him the charisms which the Church teaches are given to every Roman Pontiff. And they contradict themselves by accusing him of manifest heresy and worse, by citing Saint Robert Bellarmine that Popes lose jurisdiction and cease to be Pope, and yet recognizing him as Pope nonetheless. How can the Pope be a heretic, apostate, and idolater, and yet be recognized as the true Pope? He cannot. Anyone who was truly a heretic or apostate or idolater cannot be the true Pope.

When Vigilius was installed as pope by the Roman emperor, with the true Pope (Silverius) being forced into exile, he ruled from Rome as a manifest heretic, schismatic, and antipope. He was not at that point a valid Pope. But when Silverius died, and Vigilius was accepted not only by the clergy and people of Rome, but by the body of Bishops, he became the true Pope. And from that time forward, grace vanquished in him every trace of heresy and schism, and gave him the same never-failing faith as Peter and all his successors. So what happens if a heretic becomes Pope? He ceases to be a heretic. What happens if a Pope falls into heresy? God’s grace does not permit that to happen.

So if you say “Recognize and Resist”, I ask you, is Pope Francis a heretic, and/or idolater, and/or an apostate? Then why do you contradict Bellarmine and “all the ancient Fathers, who teach that manifest heretics soon lose all jurisdiction”? How can you recognize someone as the true successor of Peter, and at the same time accuse him of gravely failing in faith? The claim that Popes can be heretics, idolaters, or apostates — at this point in time, after so many teachings by the Church — is contrary to dogma. But it is also necessarily impossible to have a valid Pope who is a manifest heretic, as the papal accusers claim.


Then the second part of the expression, to resist the Roman Pontiff, is openly schismatic.

Saint Thomas Aquinas: “For it is revealed that to be subject to the Roman Pontiff is from the necessity of salvation…. And [Saint] Maximus [the Confessor] in the epistle to those of the East directly says: ‘We state that the universal Church has been united and founded upon the rock of the confession of Peter, [and] according to the definition of salvation, in Her, by the necessity of salvation, our souls are to remain, and to her [our souls] are to be obedient, keeping her faith and confession.’ ” [Saint Thomas Aquinas, Contra Errores Graecorum, pars 2, cap. 38]

Pope Boniface VIII: “Moreover, that every human creature is to be subject to the Roman pontiff, we declare, we state, we define, and we pronounce to be entirely from the necessity of salvation.” [Unam Sanctam, 9]

Fifth Lateran Council: “And since it arises from the necessity of salvation that all the faithful of Christ are to be subject to the Roman Pontiff, just as we are taught by the testimony of the divine Scriptures and of the holy Fathers, and as is declared by the Constitution of Pope Boniface VIII of happy memory, which begins ‘Unam Sanctam’….”

Canon 1364 §1: “an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”

Refusal of the above required subjection (also called submission) is formal schism, which carries the penalty of automatic excommunication.

The complaints of the papal accusers, of those who accuse Pope Francis of a very long list of allegations — none of which are convincing to me — are based on placing their own judgment and their inordinate attachment so the conservative or traditionalist subcultures above FAITH in Christ himself and therefore in His Vicar. For as Pius XII taught: “Christ and His Vicar constitute one only head” of the one Church [Mystical Body of Christ 40]. We are required by faith to accept what the Popes and Councils decide, even if it seems wrong to us and we are confused or we misunderstand. To accept only what a subculture teaches, and to oppose the one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church otherwise, is idolatry of that subculture and it is rejection of the body of Christ with Christ as its head.

Recall what Jesus did in John chapter 6. He taught, in advance, on the Eucharist. But His teaching was obscure to the disciples and apostles, since as yet there was no Mass and no Eucharist. Similarly, the Old Testament contains many obscure foreshadowings of the future new Covenant and the Sacraments. The faithful Jews followed the commandments of the Lord, unable to understand the meaning of these hidden mysteries for many centuries. So when some disciples murmured against the teaching of the Lord Jesus, saying that this teaching was too difficult to accept, Jesus did not explain further. He did not give them an explanation that would satisfy their fallen faculty of reason. Instead, He demanded faith of them, faith in Himself. And those who refused to believe were permitted to walk away from Christ and perhaps lose their salvation. And that is by design, as salvation is only given to those who die in a state of grace, with the virtues of love, faith, and hope. They who refuse faith, and only believe what seems right to their own minds and to the minds of their peers are LOST.

And as if to prove that they are taking the wrong path by attacking the Popes and Councils, they do so with extreme and constant malice, with nasty rhetoric and vicious remarks, directed at all the successors of the Apostles and even at the Apostolic See and the Church Herself. They do not love the Pope or the Bishops, at least that is what their behavior says. They cannot be right who have no love. They claim to be more faithful than the Pope, while proving themselves to lack love. If indeed they have no love, as it seems by their hateful behavior, then they cannot have faith or hope either. And their lack of hope is often seen in the way that they speak about the Church and Her future.

And it is absurd to take the position, often used to justify resistance to the Roman Pontiff, that the Pope has clearly departed from Tradition — as it is understood and judged by fallen sinners, without any of the papal charisms, who follow a subculture rather than following Popes and Councils. Such a claim is not true obedience, nor is it true faith, for it allows those who Resist the Pope to be the judges over the whole Church and the whole Faith. They alone decide which Popes supposedly erred gravely, and the list becomes longer and longer every month. They rejected Vatican II, then this was extended to reject Vatican I, and later to reject Lateran V (which taught subjection to the Roman Pontiff). What is left of the Faith when one is only faithful to one’s own understanding and one’s own judgment on doctrine and discipline? Nothing. That is not faith. Even an atheist believes whatever he or she understands or judges to be true and correct.

Then those who say “Recognize and Resist” point to certain quotes by various authors, often not Popes or Saints, and to certain doctrines and disciplines of the Church which they accept, as if to confirm their faithfulness. But this is cafeteria Catholicism, in which one picks and chooses from the foods presented at the counter, taking only what one likes and refusing the rest. That is not faith.

They make themselves out to be antipopes who put themselves above the Popes and Councils, and above all that is called Catholic, to judge and to condemn, to decide every question of doctrine and discipline. And the result is that more and more Popes are condemned by them for allegedly erring gravely, when the only fault in the decision of the Pope was to decide contrary to this group of schismatics and their self-exalting opinions. You cannot be obedient to the teachings and disciplines of the Church only when you agree. That is not obedience to anyone or anything but yourself.

Essentially, they have this attitude: “I only agree with a Pope when he is right, and I decide if he is right.” And they take the same attitude toward Ecumenical Councils.

Infallibility versus Non-infallible Decisions

It is a common grave error to say that the Pope, when not exercising infallibility, can err to any extent, even to grave errors on doctrine or discipline, even to heresy, apostasy, or idolatry. Such a claim is contrary to dogma. The ancient and constant teaching of the Church, well-proven in this list of teachings, is that no Roman Pontiff can err gravely on doctrine or discipline, and no Roman Pontiff can fail in faith by apostasy, heresy, schism, or idolatry. For each Pope has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith, and the assistance of the Holy Spirit in the integral exercise of his ministry, even when not deciding infallibly.

Therefore, one cannot accuse a Roman Pontiff of erring gravely on the excuse that he is not speaking ex cathedra. For even his non-infallible decisions of doctrine and discipline are at least free from grave error. Those who accuse many Popes of many grave errors are sinning by pride, as they imagine that their every opinion is infallible, and that whenever the Popes or Councils or the body of Bishops disagree with them and their likeminded peers, the Church must be wrong. “Oh, no! Another Pope has departed from the Faith into heresy, by contradicting my ignorant prideful ideas about Catholicism! Why does this keep happening! Why can’t all the Popes follow me and my friends, instead of using their own divinely-guided judgment!” That’s what they are like.

They cannot give up their pride and simply submit to the decisions of the Church on doctrine and discipline. Instead, they are trapped in their own faulty and very narrow-minded understanding of religion. They also commit idolatry by worshipping the conservative or traditionalist subculture and the exterior form of the Latin Mass. And when the Pope corrects them, they respond by calling him cruel and abusive and worse. And they think that the more conservative they are, the more faithful they are. But Jesus never taught conservatism. Or liberalism.

For years, the papal accusers accused Pope Francis of every spiritual sin under the sun, including heresy, apostasy, idolatry, and complicity in child abuse and the sins of gay clergy. They issued documents, passed around petitions against the Pope, held conferences accusing him and the Bishops who support him, and online as well as in books, they make very malicious remarks about him. One particular author called Pope Francis “a pope for Satan on the Roman Chair of Saint Peter.” Another author called Pope Francis “Lost Shepherd”, and another called him “The Dictator Pope”.

And then Pope Francis restricted the Latin Mass, for the very reason of their behavior. They reject submission to Pope Francis, openly calling for resistance. They use the Latin Mass and the traditionalist subculture to gather supporters against many different Popes and multiple Ecumenical Councils. They use the Latin Mass as a way to lure faithful Catholics toward a more and more conservative view, and then they turn them against the Pope on the grounds that the Pope is rejecting the teachings and disciplines of that subculture.

Why is Pope Francis restricting the traditional Latin Mass? I think Pope Leo XIII said it best in 1885, Est Sane Molestum, in his Apostolic Letter to the Archbishop of Tours:

“It is certainly sad and painful to treat with severity those whom We cherish as children, but to act in this way, whatever it may cost, is sometimes a duty for those who have to labor for the salvation of others and keep them in the way of holiness. A greater severity becomes necessary when there is reason to believe that the evil only increases with the passage of time and is working harm to souls.”

Pope Francis has in mind the good of the Church and the good of souls. And some Bishops dispensed their faithful from the restrictions, on the grounds that their groups did not reject Pope Francis or Vatican II. But the Pope does have the right to gather the faithful into one form of the Mass, and to choose one form over the other. On the one hand, subjection to the Roman Pontiff is from the necessity of salvation. On the other hand, the exterior points of liturgical form, whether in the ancient Latin Mass or the Novus Ordo Mass, are not Tradition. They are not required for salvation. God requires the one and not the other. It is not cruel or abusive to ask the faithful to follow the Roman Pontiff and the recent Popes and Councils, and to abandon those self-appointed shepherds who lead the sheep away from the Vicar of Christ. And if you must give up the Latin Mass in order to avoid certain unfaithful traditionalist leaders, then that is what you must do. (Of course, some traditionalist leaders are faithful, but the ones that attack the Popes and Councils have much support from conservatives and traditionalists.)


Recognize and Resist is an heretical and schismatic position. It rejects the teachings of the Church on the papal charisms. It puts the faithful above the Popes and Councils to decide what to accept and what to reject. It openly calls for refusal of subjection to the Roman Pontiff, the Apostolic See more generally, and the Church Herself. It calls the faithful into a schism where they are led by false shepherds and incompetent teachers, who fail to understand some of the most basic teachings of Catholicism.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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