LifeSiteNews asks “Is Pope Francis Catholic?”

In an opinion piece published 29 July 2022 on LifeSiteNews, author Claude Beard (possibly a pseudonym) asks “Is Pope Francis Catholic?” And then he answers, at the end of his article: “it is clear that Francis does not profess the faith.” The article exists in two forms: Is Pope Francis Catholic? and Is Pope Francis Catholic? Extended version. This post will explain the errors in the article and its arguments. I will rely on the extended version, which includes everything in the shorter version. Note that the URL says “is-the-pope-catholic”, suggesting that phrase as the original title of the article.

LifeSiteNews (LSN) has repeatedly chosen, very many times, to publish attacks on Pope Francis, on other Popes, and on Vatican II (e.g. the writings of Vigano, Schneider, Kwasniewski, and many others). LSN cannot evade responsibility for publishing this attack on the Roman Pontiff by “Claude Beard” by saying it is merely the opinion of its author. LSN has chosen to publish this same type of accusation against Pope Francis — alleged grave errors and grave failings of faith — so many times as to have positioned the publication as a place for open dissent against the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

Claude Beard at LifeSiteNews: “If we want to answer this question in relation to Francis, we first have to know the criteria which determines whether someone is a Catholic, a member of the visible Church – and in reality – and not just by desire.”

Membership in the Church

Now the Catholic Church teaches that not only those persons are saved who are visible members of the Church (and who die in the state of grace, of course!), but also those persons who belong to the Church at least in desire and longing. One can be a member of the Church implicitly, especially by the state of grace, and therefore be saved by dying in that state.

Pope Pius XII: “Above all, the state of grace is absolutely necessary at the moment of death without it salvation and supernatural happiness — the beatific vision of God — are impossible. An act of love is sufficient for the adult to obtain sanctifying grace and to supply the lack of baptism….” [Address to Midwives, 21.a.]

However, the question as to whether someone is Catholic pertains to visible membership in, and communion with the Catholic Church. A believing and practicing Catholic who commits apostasy, heresy, or schism falls away from full membership and is separated from that communion. Such a person might still be in the state of grace, by a sincere but mistaken conscience, or might return to the state of grace prior to death. Other than by a ferendae sententiae excommunication, or by a violation of Canon Law that carries the penalty of latae sententiae excommunication (such as abortion), a Catholic Christian might lose this communion with the Church via apostasy, heresy, or schism.

Canon 751: “Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

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

A baptized Catholic loses their communion and full membership in the Catholic Church by any of the above grave failings of faith. If such a sin is also an actual mortal sin against faith (apostasy, heresy, or schism), then all three theological virtues and the state of grace are lost. Actual mortal sin that does not gravely offend against faith causes the loss of the state of grace, and the loss of love and hope as theological virtues, but not the virtue of faith.

I say “full membership” as membership in the Church is a matter of different degrees or states. A person can be an implicit member of the Church by an implicit baptism of desire. A Catholic who is excommunicated can possibly be in the state of grace, and in any case, such an excommunicated Catholic has the right as a baptized (possibly confirmed or even ordained) Catholic to receive forgiveness upon repentance and confession (and other requirements for ferendae sententiae or latae sententiae excommunication, depending on the case). Only Catholics may (ordinarily) receive the Sacrament of Penance. So a person who is excommunicated (say, for abortion) is still in some sense a member, as they can repent, confess, and return to full membership.

Pope Francis

LSN author Claude Beard uses an abbreviated quote from Pope Pius XII, Mystical Body of Christ.

“Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed.”

Here is the full paragraph:

Pope Pius XII: “22. Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed. “For in one spirit” says the Apostle, “were we all baptized into one Body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free.” As therefore in the true Christian community there is only one Body, one Spirit, one Lord, and one Baptism, so there can be only one faith. And therefore, if a man refuse to hear the Church, let him be considered – so the Lord commands – as a heathen and a publican. It follows that those who are divided in faith or government cannot be living in the unity of such a Body, nor can they be living the life of its one Divine Spirit.”

Notice the statement: “if a man refuse to hear the Church,” then the Lord Jesus commands us to treat him “as a heathen and a publican” (Mt 18:17). LSN and in particular the article by Claude Beard are refusing to hear the Church in the Roman Pontiff, who is Her Head, Her foundational Rock, the Vicar of Christ — Pope Francis.

Pope Pius XII continues, saying that “those who are divided in faith or government”, meaning the government of the Church, do not have the unity of the Body of Christ, the Church. And if they are culpable to the extent of actual mortal sin, for such an objectively grave offense against God, then they also cannot be “living the life of its one Divine Spirit”.

Rejection of Pope Francis as Roman Pontiff, refusal of submission to his authority over doctrine and discipline as Supreme Pontiff, and any accusations against him contrary to dogma, such as that he supposedly has taught grave error or failed gravely in faith, constitutes this division of faith or of Church government which removes one from the unity of full communion with the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

This LSN article by Claude Beard errs in claiming that membership in the Church — not specifically the visible membership of a Catholic — is limited to the baptized, by which he clearly means (due to the context) the Sacrament of Baptism with water. This claim is contrary to the teaching of the Council of Trent, which states that a baptism of desire also makes one children of God by spiritual adoption and gives one the state of grace. Such persons are also members of the Church. Beard then claims that only three things can cause one to lose membership: “(i) departure from the public profession of the Catholic faith; (ii) separation from the unity of the body and from lawful authority; (iii) “perfect” excommunication decreed by the Roman Pontiff.”

This is incorrect. Excommunication can be decreed by a Bishop and, as Saint Thomas Aquinas says, sometimes by non-Bishops with certain authority. Also excommunication can be automatic (latae sententiae). It does not need to be decreed by the Roman Pontiff.

Note the hypocrisy here. The full quote from Pius XII states that one can lose visible membership by refusing to hear the Church, that is, by division in faith or Church government. The phrasing of Beard notes that separation from “lawful authority”, which certainly includes the Roman Pontiff, also causes this separation from the Church. And he attributes to the Roman Pontiff the ability to remove someone by excommunication from communion with the Church. And yet, at the same time, Beard attacks the Roman Pontiff Pope Francis, accusing him of no longer professing the Catholic Faith, and therefore of no longer being a member of the Catholic Church.

Clearly, the author Claude Beard, whomever he may be, is subject to his own judgment. By the measure he has measured out, he has separated himself from the unity of the body and from lawful authority by division from the faith and government of the Church. Neither can he reply that Pope Francis is not really the Pope, as he is supposedly not professing the true faith and so is no longer a member. For the teaching and the law in the Church is that the First See is judged by no one but God. This is Canon Law (1983), and was also found in the old Code of Canon Law (1917). It is also the teaching of Vatican I, with different wording, and the teaching of Pope Saint Nicholas I.

Beard’s appeal to Pius XII ignores that holy Pontiff’s other teachings in the same document:

Pope Pius XII: “That Christ and His Vicar constitute one only Head is the solemn teaching of Our predecessor of immortal memory Boniface VIII in the Apostolic Letter Unam Sanctam; and his successors have never ceased to repeat the same. 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.”

This unity of Christ and His Vicar as one Head is the source of the papal charisms, including the charism of truth and never-failing faith taught by the ordinary universal Magisterium throughout the history of the Church and confirmed infallibly by Vatican I (Pastor Aeternus, chapter 4, n. 6-7).

This never-failing faith of Peter and his successors has been taught by Popes, Councils, Saints, Fathers, and Doctors of the Church as the true interpretation of the words of our Lord in Luke 22:32, “But I have prayed for you, so that your faith may not fail, and so that you, once converted, may confirm your brothers.” Peter’s Pontificate began at the Ascension (Lyons I, Pius XII Mystical Body of Christ, Leo XIII Satis Cognitum). Thus, Peter’s denial during the Passion does not refute this charism of never-failing faith.

The Church is apostolic and indefectible. Therefore, the body of Bishops, as the successors of the Apostles, cannot go astray from the true faith by following a false or invalid, apostate, heretical, or idolatrous Pope. Since the body of Bishops has not only accepted Pope Francis as the true Roman Pontiff and successor of Peter, but continues to follow his teaching and submit to his authority, Pope Francis cannot be a false or invalid Pope. But if he were no longer a visible member of the Catholic Church, he would also not be a valid Pope. Thus, the indefectibility of the Church and Her apostolicity proves that Pope Francis is still a visible member of the Catholic Church, and is still the valid Roman Pontiff.

Moreover, the adherence of the body of Bishops also proves that Pope Francis is innocent of every accusation of grave failings of faith, as that body of Bishops, successors to the Apostles, has not rejected the Roman Pontiff Pope Francis as an apostate, heretic, schismatic, idolater, or the like. They cannot be mistaken in this adherence to Pope Francis as the rock of faith on which the Church is founded, as as the true successor of Peter with the charism of truth and never-failing faith, for then the Church would have lost Her indefectibility, which is contrary to the promise and prayer of Christ.

Pius XII: “But we must not think that He rules only in a hidden or extraordinary manner. On the contrary, our Redeemer also governs His Mystical Body in a visible and normal way through His Vicar on earth.”

The LSN article by Beard states that professing the faith is necessary to remain a member of the Church: “It means the outward profession of the Catholic Faith, and a manifestation of submission to the Church’s magisterium.”

But the LSN article rejects submission to the Roman Pontiff Pope Francis. And this cannot be excused on the basis of a claim that the article author (or the LSN website editors and authors) have judged and condemned the Roman Pontiff. For they have no such authority. Then, too, every Roman Pontiff has the charism of truth and never-failing faith, which prevents the Pope from failing in faith and thereby losing membership in the Church. Furthermore, the body of Bishops exercises the authority of the Church with the Roman Pontiff, and they have not accused Pope Francis of failing in faith, nor of grave errors in Catholic truth. So the judgment, condemnation, and refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff Pope Francis is clearly a refusal of “submission to the Church’s magisterium”. Note also that the submission required of all the faithful — including those who consider themselves so holy or so wise as to be above the Roman Pontiff and the body of Bishops — is full submission to the authority of the Roman Pontiff over doctrine and discipline, not merely submission to the Magisterium in some more general or vague sense.

All those who reject submission to Pope Francis are also rejecting submission to the body of Bishops who continue to hold him to be the valid successor of Peter, and who continue to adhere to his decisions of doctrine and discipline. By his own metric, Claude Beard lacks the criterion he puts forward to be a full member of the Catholic Church, professing the Catholic Faith and submission to the Church’s magisterium.

Here are some of the teachings of the Magisterium on the Roman Pontiff, his never-failing faith, and submission to his authority [See this Source for the references] —

Supreme Authority:

* Pope Saint Innocent I, in 417, praised the local Council of Carthage for having “kept and confirmed the example of ancient discipline.” He states: “You have referred to our judgment, knowing what is due to the Apostolic See, from which the Episcopate itself and all authority of this Name has come…. You know that nothing, even in the most distant provinces, is to be settled until it comes to the knowledge of this See; so that the decision be established by the whole authority of this See.”

* Saint Augustine: the Roman Church, “in which the ruling authority of the Apostolic See has always held firm.”

* Pope Saint Zosimus, 417-418: “the tradition of the Fathers attributed so much authority to the Apostolic See that no one dared to challenge its judgment and has always preserved it through canons and regulations … such great authority belongs to Us that no one could argue again with Our decision….”

* Pope Saint Celestine I, 422-432: “The sanctions of the blessed and Apostolic See may not be violated.”

* Pope Saint Nicholas I: “Since, according to the canons, where there is a greater authority, the judgment of the inferiors must be brought to it to be annulled or to be substantiated, certainly it is evident that the judgment of the Apostolic See, of whose authority there is none greater, is to be refused by no one…the judgment of the Roman bishop being no longer open for reconsideration….”

* The Council of Florence: “We also define that the holy Apostolic See and the Roman pontiff holds the primacy over the whole world and the Roman pontiff is the successor of blessed Peter, prince of the apostles, and that he is the true vicar of Christ, the head of the whole Church and the father and teacher of all Christians, and to him was committed in blessed Peter the full power of tending, ruling and governing the whole Church, as is contained also in the acts of Ecumenical Councils and in the sacred canons.”

* Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus: “So, then, if anyone says that the Roman Pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, and not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Church, and this not only in matters of faith and morals, but also in those which concern the discipline and government of the Church dispersed throughout the whole world; or that he has only the principal part, but not the absolute fullness, of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate both over all and each of the Churches and over all and each of the pastors and faithful: let him be anathema.”

Judged by no one but God:

* Pope Saint Nicholas I (the great), 858-867: “Neither by the emperor, nor by all the clergy, nor by kings, nor by the people will the judge be judged…. The first See will not be judged by anyone….”

* Pope Saint Leo IX, 1049-1054: “By passing a preceding judgment on the great See, concerning which it is not permitted any man to pass judgment, you have received anathema from all the Fathers of all the venerable Councils…. As the hinge while remaining immovable opens and closes the door, so Peter and his successors have free judgment over all the Church, since no one should remove their status because ‘the highest See is judged by no one.’ ”

* Pope Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctam, approved by Lateran V: “Therefore, if the earthly power goes astray, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a lesser spiritual power goes astray, it will be judged by its superior; and truly, if the highest power goes astray, it will not be able to be judged by man, but by God alone. And so the Apostle testifies, ‘The spiritual man judges all things, but he himself is judged by no one.’ [1 Cor 2:15]”

* Pope Gregory XI, in 1377, Condemned the Error: “An ecclesiastic, even the Roman Pontiff, can legitimately be corrected, and even accused, by subjects and lay persons.”

* Canon 1404: The First See is judged by no one. [Current Code of Canon Law, 1983]
* Canon 1556: The Primatial See can be judged by no one. [Previous Code, 1917]

No appeal from the decisions of the Roman Pontiff:

* Pope Saint Boniface I, 418-422: “there is to be no review of our judgment. In fact, it has never been licit to deliberate again on that which has once been decided by the Apostolic See.”

* Pope Clement VI, 1342-1352: “whether you have believed and do believe that the supreme and preeminent authority and juridical power of those who were the Roman pontiffs, We who are so, and Those who will be so in the future have been, are, and will be such that They and We were not, are not, and in the future will not be able to be judged by anyone; but that They and We have been, are, and will be reserved in judgment by God alone; and that it was not possible, is not possible, and will not be possible for Our decisions and judgments to be appealed to any other judge.”

* Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus: “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, and that in all cases which fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction recourse may be had to his judgment. 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. 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.”

* Lateran IV: “the Roman church, which through the Lord’s disposition has a primacy of ordinary power over all other churches inasmuch as it is the mother and mistress of all Christ’s faithful”

* Lateran IV on the Greeks: “conform themselves like obedient sons to the holy Roman church, their mother, so that there may be one flock and one shepherd.”

* Lateran IV on the Patriarchal Sees: “In all the provinces subject to their jurisdiction let appeal be made to them, when it is necessary, except for appeals made to the Apostolic See, to which all must humbly defer.”

Never-failing faith of the Roman Pontiff:

* 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.”

* Saint Jerome as quoted by Pope Benedict XVI: “This is what Jerome wrote: ‘I decided to consult the Chair of Peter, where that faith is found exalted by the lips of an Apostle; I now come to ask for nourishment for my soul there, where once I received the garment of Christ. I follow no leader save Christ, so I enter into communion with your beatitude, that is, with the Chair of Peter, for this I know is the rock upon which the Church is built’ (cf. Le lettere I, 15, 1-2).”

* Francisco Suarez, 1548-1617: “The faith of Peter was catholic and not able to fail; but the faith of the Roman Church is the faith of Peter; therefore, the faith of the Roman Church is the catholic faith, from which this See can never defect.”

* Pope Leo XIII, quoting Origen with approval: ” ‘neither against the rock upon which Christ builds His Church, nor against the Church shall the gates of Hell prevail’ (Origenes, Comment. in Matt., tom. xii., n. ii).”

* Pope Saint Gregory I (the great), Doctor, 590-604: “Who does not know that the whole Church was strengthened in the firmness of the Prince of the Apostles, to whom it was said, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church … and thou, being converted, confirm thy brethren?’ [Mt 16:18; Lk 22:32]”
* Saint Bellarmine: “There Gregory clearly teaches the strength of the Church depends upon the strength of Peter, and hence Peter is less able to err than the Church herself.”

* Pope Pelagius II, 590 AD, writing to the Bishops of Istria: “For you know how the Lord in the Gospel declares: ‘Simon, Simon, behold Satan has desired you that he might sift you as wheat, but I have prayed to the Father for thee, that thy faith fail not, and thou, being converted, confirm thy brethren.’ See, beloved, the truth cannot be falsified, nor can the faith of Peter ever be shaken or changed.”

* Pope Saint Gelasius I, 492-496, epistle to the Emperor Anastasius: “This is what the Apostolic See guards against with all her strength because the glorious confession of the Apostle is the root of the world, so that She is polluted by no crack of depravity and altogether no contagion. For if such a thing would ever occur (which may God forbid and we trust cannot be), why would we make bold to resist any error?”

* Pope Saint Leo IX: “Without a doubt, it was for him alone, whom the Lord and Savior asserted that he prayed that his faith would not fail, saying, ‘I have prayed for thee, etc.’ [Lk 22:32]. Such a venerable and efficacious prayer has obtained that to this point the faith of Peter has not failed, nor can it be believed that it is ever going to fail in his throne.”

* Pope Saint Leo IX: “By the See of the Chief of the Apostles, namely by the Roman Church, through the same Peter, as well as through his successors, have not the comments of all the heretics been disapproved, rejected, and overcome, and the hearts of the brethren in the faith of Peter — which so far neither has failed, nor up to the end will fail — been strengthened?”

* Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor, 1090-1153, writing to Pope Innocent II: “It is fitting that every danger and scandal of the kingdom of God be referred to your Apostolate and especially these which touch upon the faith. For I regard it worthy that there, above all, dangers to the faith are mended, where one cannot think the faith is lacking. For to what other See was it ever said: ‘I have prayed for thee, that thy faith not fail?’ [Lk 22:32]”

* Pope Innocent III, 1198-1216: “The Fathers, for the sake of the Church, understood especially in regard to articles of faith that those words [Lk 22:32] refer to the See of Peter, who knew the Lord had prayed for him, lest his faith would fail.”

* Pope Innocent III: “To him [Peter] the Lord committed his sheep to be shepherded by a thrice-repeated word, so that anyone who wishes not to have him as his shepherd, even in his successors, should be deemed an alien to the Lord’s flock.”

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….”

Note Well: the words of Pope Innocent, that anyone who is not willing to have the Roman Pontiff Pope Francis as his Shepherd “should be deemed an alien to the Lord’s flock”. Similarly, the Fifth Lateran Council says that anyone who abandons the teaching of the Pope “cannot be within the Church”. And such expressions cannot fail due to the claim that the Roman Pontiff has failed in faith — as the LSN article claims about Pope Francis — because Peter and his successors have the charism of truth and never-failing faith [Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, chapter 4, n. 7.] This never-failing faith is the constant teaching of the Church, as is the teaching that the Apostolic See remains always unblemished [Pastor Aeternus, chapter 4, n. 6]

* Saint Robert Bellarmine: “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.”

Therefore, as a matter of dogma requiring the full assent of faith, the rejection of which is heresy carrying the penalty of automatic excommunication, each Roman Pontiff has the charism of truth and never-failing faith, and therefore, no Roman Pontiff can have failed in faith by apostasy, heresy, schism, or idolatry. Regardless of the proposed explanation and accusation, as a matter of revealed truth, no Roman Pontiff can be guilty of gravely failing in faith.

That the Apostolic See is unblemished, just as Vatican I taught, is also the constant teaching of the Church. See the many quotes, throughout the history of the Church, here. Therefore, Pope Francis cannot be guilty of any grave errors on doctrine or discipline. Peter lives, presides, and exercises judgment in his See forever, and that See is preserved by the grace of God from ever leading the faithful astray by any grave errors, whether in doctrine or discipline.

Claims of the Papal Accusers

If the truth of the teachings of the papal magisterium and the faithfulness of the Roman Pontiff himself were not secured by the promises of Christ and the graces of the Holy Spirit, then the Ark of Salvation would be guided — as the accusers of Popes and Councils claim — by popes who are heretics, apostates, or idolaters. If so, then the Ark of Salvation would be often guided to run aground or shipwreck on sharp rocks. If so, then the faithful would need to judge every Pope, every Ecumenical Council, every teaching, to assure themselves that they were not being led astray from the path of salvation. Such a Church could not secure the salvation of all who are saved. Such a Church would not truly have Christ as Her head and the Holy Spirit as Her Soul. But such is not the plan of Christ for His Body.

Instead, as proven by the Popes, Councils, Saints, Fathers, and Doctors of the Church, Peter and his successors have the charism of truth and never-failing faith, and their See is unblemished by any grave error on doctrine or discipline. The Church is therefore secured in truth and in faith, and Her indefectibility is established by the infallibility of the faith and teachings of each Roman Pontiff.

It is not necessary to address every accusation against every Pope or Council, made by these persons who by their own admission have rejected the required submission to the Roman Pontiff. We know by faith that the Roman Pontiff cannot fail in faith and cannot lead us away from the path of salvation. And while the non-infallible teachings and decisions of the Roman Pontiff are not necessarily free from every error or deficiency, no grave errors can be found in the doctrine or discipline of any Roman Pontiff or Ecumenical Council approved by the Roman Pontiff.

The LSN article by Claude Beard states: “If those who visibly and deliberately profess a different faith are somehow still members of the Church, this unity of faith would be lost.”

And yet the article and its author do profess a different faith. They do not accept the above teachings of the Church, the authority of the Roman Pontiff and the body of Bishops, and the required submission to that authority. They reject the Roman Pontiff Pope Francis, and openly resist his teaching and authority, proving that they “profess a different faith” than that of the Roman Church, the Apostolic See, the See of Peter.

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

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