Mistakes of the Opponents of Pope Francis: part one

This article considers the errors of those particular traditionalists who have chosen to oppose and resist the authority of Pope Francis over the Church, who accuse him of grave failings of faith (heresy, apostasy, or idolatry) and/or grave errors in doctrine or discipline, and who frequently also oppose Vatican I and II, as well as many different Roman Pontiffs.

Not all traditionalists fit this description. But it is clear that those who oppose Popes and Councils have taken up most of the leadership positions in traditionalism (as well as many positions in conservative Catholicism). Their views vary from one person or outlet to another. However, they have certain errors either held in common or typically held. These errors are not a matter of divergent opinion. Rather, they are opposing dogmatic teachings of the Faith, as well as rebelling against the proper exercise of authority in and by the Church, authority that is from Christ and exercised under the Holy Spirit.

The errors are listed in no particular order.

A. Rejection of the teachings of Vatican I

They frequently speak against Vatican I, accusing the Council of ultramontanism. And this error cannot be rescued by the claim that they are merely rejecting a false interpretation of the Council’s teachings, as the plain and definitive teachings of the Council are entirely contrary to their own position on the authority of the Roman Pontiff and his freedom from grave errors and grave failings of faith.

Here is a detailed list of teachings of Pastor Aeternus and Vatican I. To be brief, the Council taught the following doctrines as “to be believed and held by all the faithful” and the Council did “proscribe and condemn the contrary errors which are so harmful to the Lord’s flock.”

* The worldwide primacy of the Roman Pontiff. This dogma is rejected by those who claim that such authority is an invention of the 19th century — by which they mean Vatican I. “And it was to Peter alone that Jesus, after his resurrection, confided the jurisdiction of Supreme Pastor and ruler of his whole fold….”

* “to this day and forever he [Peter] lives and presides and exercises judgment in his successors the bishops of the Holy Roman See”. Thus the decisions of the Apostolic See are not cruel or wicked or designed to destroy those who proclaim themselves to be the most faithful. Rather, these decisions are confirmed in heaven as on earth (Mt 16:18-19), are the work of the Holy Spirit, and are particularly the work of Saint Peter in heaven, who still presides over the Apostolic See.

* “Therefore whoever succeeds to the chair of Peter obtains by the institution of Christ himself, the primacy of Peter over the whole Church.”

* “For this reason it has always been necessary for every Church–that is to say the faithful throughout the world–to be in agreement with the Roman Church because of its more effective leadership.”

This requirement to be in agreement with “the Roman Church”, meaning the Holy See led by the Roman Pontiff, is a dogma of Vatican I. Those who say “Recognize and Resist” and those who reject Pope Francis as a false or corrupt shepherd, as well as any who simply ignore or oppose each of his decisions on doctrine and discipline, are believing and acting contrary to this dogma.

* “To him, in blessed Peter, full power has been given by our lord Jesus Christ to tend, rule and govern the universal Church.”

* “Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world.”

This submission is required to avoid schism, required by dogma, and extends even to decisions on the liturgical rites of the Church. The supreme and full power of the Roman Pontiff, granted to him by Christ, is not limited to infallible teachings, nor is it restricted by the claim that certain rites are ancient and therefore irreformable. Everyone knows that these same rites have been changed many times, from the 500’s AD all the way to 1955 and 1962.

“3. In this way, by unity with the Roman Pontiff in communion and in profession of the same faith , the Church of Christ becomes one flock under one Supreme Shepherd.”

By rejecting the authority of Pope Francis, per se and in many cases of the exercise of that authority, these opponents of the Pope have fallen into public formal schism.

“4. This is the teaching of the Catholic truth, and no one can depart from it without endangering his faith and salvation.”

The above statement clearly makes the previous teachings required dogma.

These dogmas of Vatican I are the ancient and constant teaching of the Church, as proven here, and so are infallible under the ordinary universal Magisterium as well as under Conciliar Infallibility.

“Since the Roman Pontiff, by the divine right of the apostolic primacy, governs the whole Church, we likewise teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful [52], and that in all cases which fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction recourse may be had to his judgment [53]. The sentence of the Apostolic See (than which there is no higher authority) is not subject to revision by anyone, nor may anyone lawfully pass judgment thereupon [54]. And so they stray from the genuine path of truth who maintain that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman pontiffs to an ecumenical council as if this were an authority superior to the Roman Pontiff.”

Judging and condemning the Roman Pontiff is contrary to the constant teaching of the Church and the dogma of Vatican I that the First See is judged by no one and the decisions of the Apostolic See are not subject to revision or the passing of judgment against them. The opponents of Pope Francis all are guilty of judging the First See, and of seeking to revise and pass judgment against its decisions.

Then some of the papal accusers have asserted that an “imperfect Council” (a Council acting without and in opposition to the Roman Pontiff) can declare a Pope to have failed gravely in faith by heresy and can depose him (or declare that God has deposed him). Such a claim is contrary to the above dogma, that no one can appeal to an Ecumenical Council as if superior to the Roman Pontiff. Declaring a Pope to be guilty of grave failings of faith, and declaring him to be invalid and removed is a judgment of a supposedly superior authority.

Pope Leo XIII: “Rightly, therefore, has Leo X laid down in the 5th council of Lateran ‘that the Roman Pontiff alone, as having authority over all Councils, has full jurisdiction and power to summon, to transfer, to dissolve Councils, as is clear, not only from the testimony of Holy Writ, from the teaching of the Fathers and of the Roman Pontiffs, and from the decrees of the sacred canons, but from the teaching of the very Councils themselves.’ Indeed, Holy Writ attests that the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven were given to Peter alone, and that the power of binding and loosening was granted to the Apostles and to Peter; but there is nothing to show that the Apostles received supreme power without Peter, and against Peter. Such power they certainly did not receive from Jesus Christ. Wherefore, in the decree of the Vatican Council as to the nature and authority of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, no newly conceived opinion is set forth, but the venerable and constant belief of every age (Sess. iv., cap. 3) [Pastor Aeternus, chapter 3].”

B. Accusing the Apostolic See and the Roman Pontiffs exercising the Keys of Saint Peter, as well as accusing Ecumenical Councils (Vatican I and II) of grave errors, contrary to dogma. It is a dogma of the Catholic Faith that neither the Pope in the exercise of the Keys (over doctrine and discipline), nor an Ecumenical Council exercising the same authority of the Pope with the body of Bishops, can err gravely in doctrine or discipline.

“For in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been preserved unblemished, and sacred doctrine been held in honor. Since it is our earnest desire to be in no way separated from this faith and doctrine, we hope that we may deserve to remain in that one communion which the Apostolic See preaches, for in it is the whole and true strength of the Christian religion.” [Vatican I quoting Constantinople IV and the formula of Pope Hormisdas]

Those who claim that Vatican I or II, or particular Popes have corrupted the doctrine or discipline of the Church are heretics and schismatics.

“The Holy Roman Church possesses the supreme and full primacy and principality over the whole Catholic Church. She truly and humbly acknowledges that she received this from the Lord himself in blessed Peter, the prince and chief of the apostles, whose successor the Roman Pontiff is, together with the fullness of power. And since before all others she has the duty of defending the truth of the faith, so if any questions arise concerning the faith, it is by her judgment that they must be settled.” [Vatican I quoting Lyons II, profession of the Greeks]

The opponents of Pope Francis — who also usually oppose Vatican II and even Vatican I — do not wish questions of the Faith (doctrine and discipline) to be settled by the Apostolic See. They do not even wish such questions to be settled by an Ecumenical Council. Nothing from Church authority is acceptable to them unless it conforms to their own minds and hearts. And such an attitude is not faith. It is sinful reason asserting itself above supernatural faith.

Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus: “Indeed, their apostolic teaching was embraced by all the venerable fathers and reverenced and followed by all the holy orthodox doctors, for they knew very well that this See of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error, in accordance with the divine promise of our Lord and Savior to the prince of his disciples: I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren [60].

“7. This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine. Thus the tendency to schism is removed and the whole Church is preserved in unity, and, resting on its foundation, can stand firm against the gates of hell.”

The Apostolic See, that is, the Roman Pontiff exercising the Keys of Saint Peter over doctrine and discipline, is unblemished by any grave error. Such is the dogma of Vatican I, rejected by the papal accusers, and yet it is also the dogma of the ordinary universal Magisterium documented here.

More on this topic in part two in a later post.

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

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