A writer at the ultra-liberal National Catholic Reporter reacted with outrage that Fr. Schall would dare mention such issues during the current Pontificate. He declared Fr. Schall’s article to be “irresponsible and inflammatory”, and suggested the only response to this “danger” is “to seek even harder to embrace Pope Francis and his effort to renew the Church.”
In light of recent events, even mainstream Catholics are beginning to openly ask if it is possible for a pope to be a heretic, and, if so, what means would the Church possess to remedy such a dangerous situation. For if Providence could permit a man to be raised to the Pontificate whose words and actions risked leading countless souls into sin and heresy, surely the Good God has likewise provided the Church with the means necessary to protect herself, and to remedy the dire situation. During the First Vatican Council, Bishop Zinelli, a Relator for the Deputation of the Faith (the body charged with explaining the meaning of the schemas to the Council Fathers), said the following about the hypothesis of an heretical Pope: “God does not fail in the things that are necessary; therefore, if He permits so great an evil, the means to remedy such a situation will not be lacking”. (1)
In this article, we will delve deep into the issues that were only touched upon by Fr. Schall. We will not only consider the possibility of a Pope falling into heresy, but, more importantly, the way in which an heretical Pope can be deposed. We will consider this complex and difficult question on both the speculative and practical level by consulting the theologians and canonists who have written on the subject over the centuries. We will employ the distinctions necessary to navigate through the minefield of possible errors that touch upon the issue of deposition, while carefully avoiding the heresy of Conciliarism.
Can a Pope fall into heresy?
We will begin by considering the two-fold question: can a pope fall into personal heresy internally, and can he profess heresy externally?
It is the common opinion amongst theologians that a Pope can fall into personal heresy, and even public and notorious heresy. Regarding this point, Fr. Paul Laymann, S. J. (d. 1635), who was considered “one of the greatest moralists and canonists of his time” (2) wrote the following:
"It is more probable that the Supreme Pontiff, as a person, might be able to fall into heresy, and even notorious heresy, by reason of which he would merit to be deposed by the Church, or rather declared to be separated from her." (3)
In his famous book The Catholic Controversy, St. Francis de Sales wrote:
"Under the ancient Law, the High Priest did not wear the Rational except when he was vested with the pontifical robe and was entering before the Lord. Thus we do not say that the Pope cannot err in his private opinions, as did John XXII; or be altogether a heretic, as perhaps Honorius was." (4)
Pope Adrian VI († 1523) went further by saying “it is beyond question” that a Pope can err in matters of faith, and even “teach heresy”:
"If by the Roman Church you mean its head or pontiff, it is beyond question that he can err even in matters touching the faith. He does this when he teaches heresy by his own judgment or decretal. In truth, many Roman pontiffs were heretics. The last of them was Pope John XXII († 1334)." (5)
While St. Bellarmine personally held to what he called the “pious opinion” of Albert Pighius, (6) namely, that a Pope could not fall into personal heresy, he conceded that “the common opinion is the contrary”. (7)
Several years ago a lengthy article was published (8), which interpreted Chapter IV of Vatican I’s Constitution, Pastor Aeternus, as teaching that a pope can not fall into personal heresy (cannot lose the virtue of faith). The author essentially argued that the First Vatican Council raised to the level of dogma the opinion of St. Bellarmine and Albert Pighius (who held that a pope cannot lose his personal faith), and that, consequently, the contrary opinion can no longer be defended.
Without getting into a detailed analysis of this author’s novel interpretation of Vatican I (which, as far as I know, is shared by no one), suffice it to say his private interpretation of Pastor Aeternus is in direct contradiction to the official interpretation of the document given during the Council.
In his famous four-hour speech, delivered during Vatican I, Bishop Vincent Gasser, the official Relator (spokesperson) for the Deputation of the Faith, stated that this is precisely not what the document intended to teach. During the speech, which provided the Church’s official interpretation of the document to the Council fathers, Bishop Gasser responded to what he called “a very serious objection raised in this podium, to the effect that we wish to elevate the extreme opinion of a certain school of theologians into a dogma of the Faith”. What was this extreme opinion? He goes on to explain:
"As far as the doctrine set forth in the Draft goes, the Deputation is unjustly accused of wanting to raise an extreme opinion, viz., that of Albert Pighius, to the dignity of a dogma. For the opinion of Albert Pighius, which Bellarmine indeed calls ‘pious and probable’, was that the Pope, as an individual person or a private teacher, was able to err from a type of ignorance but was never able to fall into heresy or teach heresy." (9)
After quoting the text in which St. Bellarmine agrees with the opinion of Albert Pighius, Bishop Gasser concluded by saying: “it is evident that the doctrine in the proposed Chapter [of Pastor Aeternus] is not that of Albert Pighius or the extreme opinion of any school…” (10)
Suffice it to say that the hypothesis of a pope falling into personal or even public heresy is not contrary to the teaching of Vatican I when interpreted according to the mind of the Church. This explains why the dogmatic manual of Msgr. Van Noort, which was published many decades after the Council, noted that “some competent theologians do concede that the pope when not speaking ex cathedra could fall into formal heresy.” (11) Clearly, neither Msgr. Van Noort, nor the other “competent theologians” he is referring to, considered this teaching to be at variance with Chapter IV of Pastor Aeternus.
There is a great deal of confusion over the issue of papal infallibility, which prevents the pope from erring when defining doctrines for the universal Church. Many erroneously believe that the charism would prevent a person raised to the Pontificate from erring when speaking on matters of faith and morals. In reality, the charism of infallibility only prevents the pope from erring in limited circumstances. (12)
Infallibility is not to be confused with inspiration, which is a positive divine influence that moves and controls a human agent in what he says or writes; nor is it to be confused with Revelation, which is the communication of some truth by God through means which are beyond the ordinary course of nature.(13) Infallibility pertains to safeguarding and explaining the truths already revealed by God, and contained within the deposit of faith (14), which was closed with the death of the last apostle. (15) Since infallibility is only a negative charism (gratia gratis data), it does not inspire a pope to teach what is true or even defend revealed truths, nor does it “make the pope’s will the ultimate standard of truth and goodness” (16), but simply prevents him from teaching error under certain limited conditions.
During Bishop Gasser’s address at Vatican I, he said:
"In no sense is pontifical infallibility absolute, because absolute infallibility belongs to God alone, Who is the first and essential truth, and Who is never able to deceive or be deceived. All other infallibility, as communicated for a specific purpose, has its limits and its conditions under which it is considered to be present. The same is valid in reference to the infallibility of the Roman Pontiff. For this infallibility is bound by certain limits and conditions... "(17)
The conditions for Papal Infallibility were subsequently defined by Vatican I as follows:
"We teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman pontiff speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals." (18)
Here we see that the divine assistance is present only when a pope, (a) using his supreme apostolic authority in the exercise of his office as teacher of all Christians (b) defines a doctrine, (c) concerning faith and morals, (d) to be held by the universal Church. If any of these conditions are lacking, infallibility is not engaged and error is possible. Therefore, when considering whether a Pope can teach errors regarding faith and morals, we must make three distinctions:
1) A pope teaching as a private person.
2) A pope teaching as pope on matters of faith or morals, but not intending to define a doctrine.
3) A Pope, teaching as Pope, defining a doctrine of faith or morals, to be held by the universal Church.
It is only in the last instance that the charism of infallibility will prevent the Pope from erring. What this means is that, not only can a pope err when teaching as a private theologian, (19) he can also err in official papal documents (20), as long as he does not intend to define a doctrine to be held by the universal Church. (21)
In light of the foregoing, we can see that it is within the realm of possibility for Pope to lose the faith internally, and it is also possible for him to err in teaching the faith externally, provided he does not meet the four conditions set down by Vatican I. To insist on the contrary is to affirm what the Church herself has never taught.
Can an Heretical Pope Be Deposed?
The common opinion of theologians and canonists is that an heretical Pope can be deposed for the crime of heresy. The highly respected author, Arnaldo de Silveira, surveyed the writings of 136 theologians on this question (22), and found only one who taught the contrary. All other affirmed that if a Pope falls into heresy he can, and indeed should, be deposed. (23)
Fr. Francisco Suarez, whom Pope St. Pius V called Doctor Eximus et Pius (Excellent and Pious Doctor) (24), is considered one of the greatest theologians of the Society of Jesus. In his commentary on this point, he states that, according to Pope Clement I (who was ordained by Peter himself) “St. Peter taught that an heretical Pope should be deposed.” Suarez then explains why this is so:
"The reason is the following: It would be extremely harmful to the Church to have such a pastor and not be able to defend herself from such a grave danger; furthermore it would go against the dignity of the Church to oblige her to remain subject to a heretic Pontiff without being able to expel him from herself; for such as are the prince and the priest, so the people are accustomed to be (…) heresy ‘spreads like cancer,’ which is why heretics should be avoided as much as possible. This is, therefore, all the more so with regard to an heretical pastor; but how can such a danger be avoided, unless he ceases to be the pastor?" (25)
Cardinal Thomas Cajetan, the Master General of the Dominican order and the trusted adviser to Pope Clement VII, wrote the following in his extensive treatise on this subject:
"Three things have been established with certainty, namely, 1) that the pope, because he has become a heretic is not deposed ipso facto (26) by human or divine law; 2) that the pope has no superior on earth; and 3) that if he deviates from the faith, he must be deposed." (27)
In the next quote, John of St. Thomas, who was considered one of the most learned men of his day (28) and one of the greatest Thomists the Church has produced, begins by saying the Church has the right to separate herself from an heretical Pope, and then logically concludes that the Church also possesses a right to the means necessary to accomplish such a separation. He wrote:
"Indeed the Church has the right to separate herself from an heretical pope according to divine law. Consequently it has the right, by the same divine law, to use all means of themselves necessary for such separation; and those that juridically correspond to the crime, are of themselves necessary." (29)
Who Would Oversee the Deposition?
John of St. Thomas, Suarez, Cajetan, and others all teach that a general council alone would be the competent authority to oversee the matter of an heretical Pope. John of St. Thomas explained why. He wrote: “since the matter at hand concerns the universal Church, it must be overseen by the tribunal that represents the universal Church, which is that of a general council”. (30) He cites three historical examples to confirm the point:
"This is indeed evident from the practice of the Church, for in the case [Pope] Marcellinus, who offered incense to idols, a synod was gathered together for the purpose of discussing this case, as is recorded in Cap. Hunc c, distinct. 11. And in the case of the schism in which there were three reputed pontiffs, the Council of Constance gathered for the purpose of settling that schism. And also in the case of Pope Symmachus, a council at Rome was gathered to treat those things which were presented to it. It is known, from the resources cited above, that the pontiffs, who, being accused of various crimes and wanting to excuse themselves of charges, did so in the presence of a council." (31)
Suarez said it is “the common opinion of the doctors” that a general council would be responsible for overseeing the matter of a heretical pope. He began by saying: “I affirm: If he is a heretic and incorrigible, the Pope ceases to be Pope as soon as a declarative sentence of his crime is pronounced against him by the legitimate jurisdiction of the Church.” Then one paragraph he adds:
"In the first place, who should pronounce such a sentence? Some say that it should be the Cardinals; and the Church could undoubtedly assign them this faculty, above all if it were established with the consent and decision of the Supreme Pontiffs, as was done for the election. But to this day we do not read anywhere that such a judgment has been confided to them. For this reason, it must be affirmed that, of itself, it belongs to all the Bishops of the Church. For since they are the ordinary pastors and the pillars of the Church, one should consider that such a case concerns them. And since by divine law there is no greater reason to affirm that the matter involves some Bishops more than others, and since, according to human law, nothing has been established in the matter, it must necessarily be held that the matter should be referred to all of them, and even to a general Council. This is the common opinion of the doctors. One can read Cardinal Albano expounding upon this point at length in De Cardinalibus, (q. 35, 1584 ed., vol. 13, p. 2)." (32)
Perfect and Imperfect Council
This brings up a question: How can the Church convene a general council to oversee such a situation, when a general council must be called and overseen by a Pope, either personally or through his legates? In answering this question, theologians make a distinction between a perfect council and an imperfect council.
A perfect council is one in which the body is united to its head, and therefore consists of the Bishops and the Pope. This is sometimes referred to as an absolutely perfect council. (33) Such a council has the authority to define doctrines and issue decrees that regulate the universal Church. (34)
An imperfect council is one that is convened “with those members who can be found when the Church is in a given condition.” (35) Cardinal Cajetan refers to an imperfect council as “a perfect council according to the present state of the Church”, and explained that such a council “can involve itself with the universal Church only up to a certain point”. (36) Unlike a perfect council, it cannot define doctrines or issue decrees that regulate the universal Church, but only possesses the authority to decide the matter that necessitated its convocation. Cajetan notes that there are only two cases that justify convoking an imperfect council. They are: “when there is a single heretical pope to be deposed, and when there are several doubtful supreme pontiffs”. (37) In such exceptional cases, a general council can be called without, or even against, the will of the Pope. Writes Cajetan:
"A perfect council according to the present state of the Church [i.e. an imperfect council] can be summoned without the pope and against his will, if, although asked, he himself does not wish to summon it; but it does not have the authority to regulate the universal Church, but only to provide for the issue then at stake. Although human cases vary in infinite ways … there are only two cases that have occurred or can ever occur, in which, I declare, such a council should be summoned. The first is when the pope must be deposed on account of heresy; for then, if he refused, although asked, the cardinals, the emperor, or the prelates can cause a council to be assembled ked, the Cardinals, the emporer, the prelates.st is that if the pope must be deposed on ac, in which will not have for its scope the care of the universal Church, but only the power to depose the Pope. (…)
"The second is when one or more Popes suffer uncertainty with regard to their election, as seems to have arisen in the schism of Urban VI and others. Then, lest the Church be perplexed, those members of the Church who are available have the power to judge which is the true pope, if it can be known, and if it cannot be known, [it has] the power to provide that the electors agree on one or another of them." (38)
The council of Constance is often cited as an example of an imperfect council. It was convened during The Great Western Schism, when there were three claimants to the papacy and sufficient uncertainty as to which of the three was the true Pope. The council ended the schism by deposing or accepting the resignation of the papal claimants, which then paved the way for the election of Cardinal Odo Colonna, who took the name Martin V. (39)
Another council that is often mentioned is the Council of Sinuesso, which was conveyed by the Bishops to oversee the matter of Pope Marcellinius (d. 304), who offered incense to idols. (40) Today such papal actions would likely be explained away (“10 Reasons Why Pope Marcellinius Didn’t Really Offer Incense to Idols”), or praised as a positive ecumenical gesture. In the time of the early Church, however, there was a different reaction: a council was called, and the Pope, through shame, deposed himself. But this tragic story had a happy ending. For the bishops were so edified by his public repentance that they re-elected him to the Papacy. Pope Marcellinius went on to die as a martyr for the Faith and is now a canonized saint. Here we see the good fruit that followed such a council. How different his end may have been had his scandalous actions been explained away or, worse still, defended and praised as a positive good.
Deposing a Heretical Pope
One of the difficult questions the theologians have had to sort out, is how a Pope “who is judged by no one” and who has no superior on earth, can be judged and deposed for heresy? How can a pope be declared a heretic, and then deposed for his heresy, without the Church judging him or claiming authority over him? Theologians have had to navigate through these difficult questions while carefully avoiding many errors, especially that of Conciliarism, which maintains that a general council is superior to the Pope.
John of St. Thomas discusses at length the four opinions enunciated by Cardinal Cajetan (41) regarding this question. Of these four opinions, there are two extreme opinions and two middle opinions.
The two extreme opinions are: That a Pope who commits the sin of heresy falls from the pontificate ipso facto without human judgment. The second holds that the Pope has a superior over him on earth, and therefore can be judged and deposed. Both of these opinions are shown to be false and therefore rejected. (42)
Within the two extreme opinions, there are two middle opinions: The first maintains that a Pope does not have a superior on earth unless he has fallen into heresy, in which case the Church would be superior to the Pope. This is a variant of Conciliarism and is therefore rejected. This leaves the second middle opinion which holds that the Pope has no superior on earth, even in the case of heresy, but that the Church does possess a ministerial power when it comes to deposing a heretical Pope. This opinion avoids the error of Conciliarism by affirming that the Church has no authority over a Pope, nor does the Church herself depose the pope, but only performs the ministerial function required for the deposition. The ministerial function consists of those acts which are necessary to establish that the Pope is indeed a heretic, which is then followed by a public declaratory sentence of the crime. It is God himself, however, who causes the man to fall from the Pontificate, but not without the Church herself performing the ministerial functions necessary to establish the crime.
Establishing the Crime
Heresy consists of two elements, namely, the matter (which exists in the intellect) and the form (which exists in the will).
The Matter: The material aspect of heresy is a belief, or proposition, contrary to what Catholics must believe with Divine and Catholic Faith. Doctrines that must be believed with Divine and Catholic Faith are truths that have been revealed by God (contained in Scripture or Tradition), and which have been definitively proposed as such by the Church, either by a solemn pronouncement, or by virtue of Her Ordinary and Universal Magisterium. (43) Two points are to be noted in this explanation: To qualify as heresy on the material level, the doctrine denied must be 1) a revealed truth, and 2) it must have been definitively proposed as such by the Church. (44) Not all errors are qualified objectively as heresy.
The Form: The formal aspect of heresy is pertinacity, which is the willful (conscious and stubborn) adhesion to a proposition (teaching) that is at variance with what must be believed with Divine and Catholic Faith. Simply put, pertinacity exists when a person knowingly rejects an article of Faith, or willfully embraces a condemned heresy. Without pertinacity in the will, the subjective element of heresy does not exist, and consequently the person in question would not be a heretic in the true sense of the word.
The Matter: While the Church does not possess the authority to judge a Pope, it does possess the competency and the right to judge whether or not a proposition professed by a Pope is materially heretical. This is an objective judgment, and therefore makes no difference if the proposition was professed by a pope or a non-pope. If any person (Pope or not) was to proclaim, for example, that “the old Covenant was never revoked by God” (45), or that “the resurrection of the body does not mean the resurrection of the actual physical body, but only the resurrection of the person”, the Church, or any Catholic who knows his Faith for that matter, can judge the statement to be heretical. Such a “judgment” would not constitute an inappropriate judgment of the person, since it is only an objective judgment of the proposition itself. Therefore, a council can certainly judge whether or not the material aspect of a teaching professed by a pope is heretical, but this objective judgment does not yet determine if the Pope himself is a heretic, since the second element, pertinacity, must also be established.
The Form: Establishing pertinacity is more difficult since it involves something that exists within the internal forum (the realm of conscience). If a person suspected of heresy does not openly admit that he rejects a Catholic dogma, pertinacity must be “drawn out” for it to be established with sufficient certainty.
A public warning serves as the most effective means for establishing pertinacity. For this reason, canon law requires that a warning be given before a prelate loses his office for the crime of heresy. (Canon 2314.2, 1917 Code) This aspect of canon law is founded on divine law (Titus 3:10) and is considered so necessary that even one who publicly defects from the faith (Canon 188.4, 1917 Code) must be warned before losing his office. (46) In addition to the canonical warning, in most cases the loss of office also requires a declaratory sentence of the crime. (47)
The warning determines, with a sufficient degree of certitude, whether or not the person who has professed heresy is pertinacious, rather than merely mistaken, or perhaps only guilty of a regrettable statement made out of human weakness, which might be a sin, but not necessarily the sin of heresy. Since pertinacity is itself a necessary element of heresy, it does not suffice that its presence be presumed; it must be confirmed. The warning accomplishes this by removing any chance of innocent ignorance, and/or providing the suspect with a chance to affirm what was denied in a moment of weakness.
In Canon law, there are two distinct penalties for the crime of heresy. One is a censure and the other is a vindictive penalty.
The censure of excommunication is incurred automatically by one who knowingly commits any offense that carries the penalty (such as internally denying a dogma within his heart). Such excommunications can be public or occult (secret) (48), and require no warning or declaration, per se. However, when the public good demands it, a declaration must be issued for a person to be considered to have incurred the excommunication in the external forum. (49) And, as the canonists teach, when the person in question is a cleric, the public good does demand it. (50) Therefore, while a cleric may have secretly incurred excommunication in the internal forum, he is not considered to have incurred the censure of excommunication in the external forum, without a declaration by the Church.
But what is important to note is that the censure of excommunication does not result in the loss of office for a cleric. The loss of office is a vindictive penalty, and vindictive penalties always require a warning (usually two). (51) In fact, as mentioned above, even in the case of a more severe vindictive penalty, which is incurred by a cleric who publicly defects from the faith (canon 188.4) by joining a false religion, either formally (sectae acatholicae nomen dare) or informally (publice adhaerere), a canonical warning is required before the office is rendered vacant. (52)
In his commentary on the 1917 Code of Canon Law, Fr. Augustine explains this point. Referring to a cleric who joins a false religion, he wrote:
"A cleric must, besides, be degraded if, after having been duly warned, he persists in being a member of such a society. All the offices he may hold become vacant, ipso facto, without any further declaration. This is tacit resignation recognized by law (Canon 188.4) and therefore the vacancy is one de facto et iure [by fact and by law]." (53)
We can see that even in the extreme case of a cleric who publicly joined a false sect, even though a declaration is not required, a warning is necessary before his office is rendered vacant. This shows how necessary the Church considers a warning to be in establishing pertinacity.
Warning a Pope
We have seen that a canonical warning is required for a cleric to lose his office due to the crime of heresy. This aspect of canon law is derived from divine law, which teaches that a heretic should only be avoided, “after one or two warnings” (Titus 3:10). Since this precept of divine law does not permit of an exception, it applies equally to a heretical Pope. If a Pope were to remain hardened in heresy after being duly warning by the proper authorities, he would thereby manifest his pertinacity, and reveal that, of his own will, he had rejected the Faith.
This point was explained at length by the eminent 18th Century Italian theologian, Fr. Pietri Ballerini (who was an adherent of Bellarmine’s famous Fifth Opinion). In the following quotation, Fr. Ballerini begins by responding to the question of who would be responsible for warning a Pope, and then explains the effects that such a warning would produce:
"Is it not true that, confronted with such a danger to the faith [a Pope teaching heresy], any subject can, by fraternal correction, warn their superior, resist him to his face, refute him and, if necessary, summon him and press him to repent? The Cardinals, who are his counselors, can do this; or the Roman Clergy, or the Roman Synod, if, being met, they judge this opportune. For any person, even a private person, the words of Saint Paul to Titus hold: ‘Avoid the heretic, after a first and second correction, knowing that such a man is perverted and sins, since he is condemned by his own judgment’ (Tit. 3, 10-11). For the person, who, admonished once or twice, does not repent, but continues pertinacious in an opinion contrary to a manifest or defined dogma - not being able, on account of this public pertinacity to be excused, by any means, of heresy properly so called, which requires pertinacity - this person declares himself openly a heretic. He reveals that by his own will he has turned away from the Catholic Faith and the Church, in such a way that now no declaration or sentence of anyone whatsoever is necessary to cut him from the body of the Church. Therefore the Pontiff who after such a solemn and public warning by the Cardinals, by the Roman Clergy or even by the Synod, would remain himself hardened in heresy and openly turn himself away from the Church, would have to be avoided, according to the precept of Saint Paul. So that he might not cause damage to the rest, he would have to have his heresy and contumacy publicly proclaimed, so that all might be able to be equally on guard in relation to him. Thus, the sentence which he had pronounced against himself would be made known to all the Church, making clear that by his own will he had turned away and separated himself from the body of the Church, and that in a certain way he had abdicated the Pontificate…" (54)
By remaining hardened in heresy after a public and solemn warning, the pope would pronounce sentence against himself, thereby revealing to all that he had rejected the faith he was duty bound to defend.
At this point, an objection needs to be addressed. Some have claimed that a Pope who professes a heresy cannot be warned. They say that a warning requires a judgment, and since “the first See is judged by no one”, no one is permitted to warn a pope. They further maintain that a warning must come from a superior, and since the Pope has no superior on earth, it follows that he cannot be warned.
Both of these objections fail to consider that a warning can be either an act of justice (which is proper to a superior), or a work of mercy and therefore an act of charity. As an act of charity, an inferior can certainly warn, or fraternally correct, a superior, “provided,” wrote St. Thomas, “there be something in the person that requires correction.” (55)
In the paragraph immediately following the long quotation above, Fr. Ballerini made this very point when he wrote: “whatever would be done against him [a heretical Pope] before the declaration of his contumacy and heresy, in order to call him to reason, would constitute an obligation of charity, not of jurisdiction.”
Scripture itself provides an example of an inferior warning a superior, who, in this case, just happened to be the Pope. In Galatians, Chapter 2, we read that St. Paul withstood St. Peter to his face “because he was to be blamed” (Galatians 2:11). As noted above, we are permitted to fraternally correct a superior, but as St. Thomas explains, “to withstand anyone in public exceeds the mode of a fraternal correction”. Yet God willed that this event be recorded in Scriptures for our instruction. And what can we learn from this? St. Thomas explained that this act of St. Paul, which normally would have exceeded what was permitted, was justified because of an imminent danger to the faith. He wrote:
"It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger and scandal concerning the faith." (56)
He then quotes St. Augustine who said, “Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.” Clearly, if a subject is permitted to fraternally correct a superior (which is what the warning would constitute), and if St. Paul was justified in going further by withstanding St. Peter to his face because of an imminent danger to the faith, a council is certainly able to issue a public warning to one of St. Peter’s successors if he is endangering the faith by his words or actions.
In his Commentary on the Book of Galatians, St. Thomas made a necessary distinction regarding this point, as well as an important observation. He wrote:
"[T]he Apostle opposed Peter in the exercise of authority, not in his authority of ruling. Therefore from the foregoing we have an example: for prelates, an example of humility, that they not disdain corrections from those who are lower and subject to them; while subjects have an example of zeal and freedom, that they fear not to correct their prelates, particularly if their crime is public and verges upon danger to the multitude." (57)
Once the pope’s pertinacity has been sufficiently established, the Church issues a declaratory sentence (declarativam sententiam) of the crime of heresy, which declares that the Pope has openly professed heresy (matter) and has shown himself to be incorrigible (form).
John of St. Thomas explains that this declaration must come from a general council. He wrote: “regarding the deposition of the pope with respect to the declaration of the crime [it] in no way pertains to the cardinals but to a general council.” (58)
It should also be noted, as Fr. Wernz S.J. observed, that the declaratory sentence of the crime “does not have the effect of judging a heretical pope, but of demonstrating that he has already been judged.” (59)
This calls to mind the earlier quotation from Fr. Ballerini, who said that a pope who openly remains hardened in heresy after a public and solemn warning, thereby pronounces sentences against himself, by showing that, of his own will, he has turned away from the Faith. The declaration simply confirms, with a sufficient degree of certitude, what the Pope himself had already demonstrated. Pope Innocent III made a similar point, which highlights a distinction made by the theologians between judging the Pope and declaring him judged. Commenting on the verse “if the salt lose its savor, it is good for nothing,” Pope Innocent wrote:
"[T]he Roman Pontiff … should not mistakenly flatter himself about his power, nor rashly glory in his eminence or honor, for the less he is judged by man, the more he is judged by God. I say ‘less’ because he can be judged by men, or rather shown to be judged, if he clearly loses his savor to heresy, since he ‘who does not believe is already judged’ (John 3:18)…" (60)
The Effect of the Warning and Declaration
A point that is debated by the theologians is exactly when, and precisely how, the Pope falls from the pontificate. Does it take place immediately after the Pope’s pertinacity has been manifest to the authorities who issued the warning, or does it occur when the Church issues the declaratory sentence of the crime? John of St. Thomas’ explanation of this point is the most erudite I have found. This brilliant professor of Scholastic theology and philosophy, who is recognized as one of the foremost Thomists the Church has known - possibly second only to St. Thomas himself - addresses each point with the precision of a true Thomist, while carefully avoiding the error of Conciliarism. What follows is a summary of his teaching on the effects of the warning and public declaration and how these relate to the loss of office.
As we have already noted, the warning establishes whether the Pope is indeed pertinacious. Once pertinacity is manifest, the Church issues a declaratory sentence of the crime and informs the faithful that, according to divine law, he is to be avoided. Now, since a person cannot effectively govern the Church as its head while simultaneously being avoided by those he is to govern, the Pope is effectively rendered impotent by this declaration. John of St. Thomas explains it this way:
"The Church is able to declare the crime of a Pontiff and, according to divine law, propose him to the faithful as a heretic that must be avoided. The Pontiff, however, by the fact of having to be avoided, is necessarily rendered impotent by the force of such a declaration, since a Pope who is to be avoided is unable to influence the Church as its head." (61)
Being incapable of effectively ruling the Church as a result of the declaratory sentence, which necessitates that he be avoided by the Faithful, God himself severs the bond that unites the man to the office, and he falls, ipso facto, from the Pontificate – even before being formally declared deprived of the Pontificate by the Church.
John of St. Thomas goes on to explain that the Church plays a ministerial part in the deposition, rather than an authoritative part, since the Church has no authority over a Pontiff - even in the case of heresy. He employs the Thomistic concepts of form and matter to explain how the union between the man and the pontificate is dissolved. A distinction is made between the man (the matter), the Pontificate (the form), and the bond that unites the two. He explains that the Church plays a ministerial part in the deposition of a Pope, just as she plays a ministerial part in the election. During the election of a Pope, the Church designates the man (the matter), who is to receive the pontificate (the form) immediately from God. Something similar happens when a Pope loses his office due to heresy. Since “the Pope is constituted Pope by the power of jurisdiction alone” (62) (which he is unable to effectively exercise if he must be avoided) when the Church issues the declaratory sentence and presents him to the faithful as one that must be avoided, the Church thereby introduces a disposition into the matter (the man) that renders him incapable of sustaining the form (the Pontificate). God responds to this legitimate act of the Church (which it has a right do to in accord with divine law) by withdrawing the form from the matter, thereby causing the man to fall from the Pontificate.
John of St. Thomas delves deeper into this point by clarifying that the Church acts directly on the matter (the man), but only indirectly on the form (the Pontificate). He describes this point using the analogy of procreation and death. He explains that just as the generative act of man does not produce the form (the soul), neither does that which corrupts and destroys the matter (disease, etc.) directly touch the form (the soul) - nor does the corrupting element directly cause the separation of the form from the matter (but only renders the matter incapable of sustaining the form) – so, too, is it with the election and deposition of a Pope.
During the election, the Church merely designates the man (matter) who is to receive the form (Pontificate). God responds to this legitimate act of the Church by joining the man to the Pontificate. In like manner, when it comes to deposing a heretical Pope, the Church first declares the man a heretic and then commands the faithful, by a juridical act, that he must be avoided. While the Church has no jurisdiction or authority over the Pope, it does possess jurisdiction over the faithful, and therefore can issue commands that they are obliged to obey. Now, since divine law teaches that a heretic must be avoided after one or two warnings, the Church has the divine right to command that a pope, who has remained hardened in heresy after a public warning, must be avoided. Since one who is being avoided cannot effectively rule the Church, God responds to this declaration of the Church by severing the bond that unites the form to the matter, thereby causing the man to fall from the Pontificate.
The ministerial function of the Church, then, is to establish the crime and issue the declaratory sentence, while simultaneously commanding the faithful that the man must be avoided. The Church’s authority, in this respect, is not one of subjection (with the Pope being subject to the Church), but one of separation (63), according to which the Church separates itself from the Pope. Cardinal Cajetan explains:
"In short, nowhere do I find superiority and inferiority from divine law in the case of heresy, but only separation [‘Withdraw yourselves’ – 2 Thess. 3:6, ‘Receive him not’ – 2 John 1:10, ‘Avoid’ - Tit. 3:10]. Now it is obvious that the Church can separate itself from the pope only by the ministerial power whereby it can elect him. Therefore, the fact that it is laid down by divine law that a heretic should be avoided and banished from the Church, does not create a need for a power which is greater than a ministerial one. Such power is sufficient; and it is known to reside in the Church." (64)
Now, since the juridical act commanding the faithful to avoid the man relates essentially to the loss of office (since a Pope who must be avoided cannot effectively rule the Church), it is evident why the declaration must come from the proper authorities. For if such a command came from one with no authority, it would not bind, and consequently none would be obliged to avoid the man. Regarding this point, John of St. Thomas wrote:
"For the pope’s heresy cannot be public to all of the faithful except by an indictment brought by others. But the indictment of an individual does not bind, since it is not juridical, and consequently none would be obliged to accept it and avoid him. Therefore, it is necessary that, just as the Church designates the man and proposes him to the faithful as being elected Pope, thus also the Church declares him a heretic and proposes him as one to be avoided." (65)
Since the warning is necessary to demonstrate pertinacity, which must be established before the declaratory sentence is issued, we can also see why John of St. Thomas would say that, before being warned, the heretical pope remains pope. On this point, he wrote:
T"he pope insofar as he is externally a heretic, if he is prepared to be corrected, cannot be deposed (as we have said above), and the Church, by divine law, cannot declare him deposed, as it cannot yet avoid him, since, according to the Apostle, ‘a man who is a heretic is to be avoided, after the first and second warning’. Therefore, before the first and second warning, he is not to be avoided by the Church... Therefore, it is false to say that a Pontiff is deposed by the very fact that he is externally a heretic: truly, he is able to be so publicly as long as he has not yet been warned by the Church...." (66)
Having fallen from the pontificate due to his heresy being publicly declared to all, the former pope “can then be judged and punished by the Church”, as Bellarmine himself taught. (67) At this point, a second declaration is issued stating that the See is Vacant, so that the Cardinals can proceed to the election of a new Pope.
Declaration of Deprivation
We now reach the final phase in the process: the declaration of deprivation. It must be observed that this final declaration is separate and distinct from the declaratory sentence of the crime. John of St. Thomas is quite clear on this point. He said the deposition “facienda est post declarativam criminis sententiam” - “is to be made after a declaratory sentence of the crime”. (68)
Before the punishment can be handed down, the crime must first be established. The distinction between 1) establishing the crime and issuing the declaratory sentence, and 2) the punitive phase in which the punishment is handed down, is analogous to what we see in our secular legal system, in which the two distinct phases usually require a separate legal proceeding. Even if the manifestly heretical Pope is deprived ipso facto of the Pontificate by God (which is the position of all the authorities we have cited), there is still the human aspect of the punishment that must follow the declaratory sentence of the crime. The following are the three phases:
1) The criminal phase, wherein the crime is established;
2) The divine punishment, by which the pope falls from the pontificate;
3) The human punishment (public excommunication).
We can see all three of these phases in the following quotation from Suarez:
"Therefore on deposing a heretical Pope, the Church would not act as superior to him, but juridically and by the consent of Christ she would declare him a heretic [declaratory sentence] and therefore unworthy of Pontifical honors; he would then ipso facto and immediately be deposed by Christ [divine punishment], and once deposed he would become inferior and would be able to be punished. [human punishment]" (69)
Above, we see: 1) The declaratory sentence, which, according to the explanation of John of St. Thomas, would include a juridical act commanding the faithful that he must be avoided (note: the object of the juridical act is the faithful, not the pope). 2) The divine punishment, which is the ipso facto loss of the Pontificate (severing the bond that unites the form to the matter). 3) Since the former pope has fallen from the Pontificate, the Church can inflict human punishment, which is public excommunication along with a declaration that the See is vacant.
John of St. Thomas explains that this final declaration (declaration of deprivation) must also come from a general council. He wrote:
“[I]t is also commonly agreed that the power of treating the cases of popes, and those things that pertain to their deposition, has not been entrusted to the cardinals; therefore, the deposition belongs to the Church, whose authority is represented by a general council.” (70)
J.M. Herve’s Manuale Theologiae Dogmaticae teaches the same.
“Given that, as a private person, the Pontiff could indeed become a public, notorious, and obstinate heretic… only a Council would have the right to declare his see vacant so that the usual electors could safely proceed to an election.” (71)
There are two opinions regarding this final declaration. One opinion maintains that a heretical Pope is jure divino removable. The other opinion is that the final declaration merely confirms what has already occurred, by declaring that the Pope has deprived himself of the Pontificate. In the first case, the Church causes the deposition; in the second case it merely confirms that the pope has deposed himself.
Regarding the first opinion, it is difficult to see how it does not fall into the error of Conciliarism, since deposition is an act that belongs properly to a superior. (72) Hence, if the Church directly caused the deposition of the Pope, it would be acting as his superior, which it cannot do. For this reason, the more common opinion is that the heretical Pontiff ceases to be Pope ipso facto once his heresy has been manifest and declared to the faithful.
But whether the Church itself deposes the pope (first opinion), or if he is deprived of the pontificate immediately by God (second opinion), is merely an academic question pertaining to the speculative order, since, on the practical level, both opinions agree that the man must at least have been declared guilty by the Church (declaratory sentence), before he can be declare deprived of the pontificate (declaration of deprivation).
This point was explained by Fr. Sebastian B. Smith, professor of Canon Law. In his classic work, Elements of Ecclesiastical Law (1881), which was meticulously reviewed by two canonists in Rome, we read the following:
“Question: Is a Pope who falls into heresy deprived, ipso jure, of the Pontificate?
"Answer: There are two opinions: one holds that he is by virtue of divine appointment, divested ipso facto, of the Pontificate; the other, that he is, jure divino, only removable. Both opinions agree that he must at least be declared guilty of heresy by the Church - i.e., by an ecumenical council or the College of Cardinals.” (73)
The “two opinions” pertain to the declaration of deprivation (the second declaration). But, as Fr. Smith noted above, regardless of which opinion one holds, both opinions agree that the Pope must have been declared guilty by the Church. This is a point that Sedevacantists have missed.
In trying to make sense of the current crisis in the Church, some have read the writings of theologians who teach that a manifestly heretical Pope is ipso facto deposed, and have then drawn the false conclusion that if they themselves personally judge the pope to be a heretic, it must mean he is not the pope. They then write articles instructing other member of the laity how they, too, can judge that the Pope is a heretic, in the hope that they will also conclude that the he is not a true pope. What such people have failed to realize is that the theologians who discuss the ipso facto deposition of a pope for heresy, are only referring to the speculative opinion of how the Pope loses his office (one of the “two opinions” mentioned above), which does not eliminate the necessity of the Church performing the ministerial functions necessary to establish the crime. In other words, the Church must render a judgment before the pope loses his office. Private judgment of the laity in this matter does not suffice. John of St. Thomas addressed this point directly. He explained that a pope who is a manifest heretic according to private judgment remains pope. He wrote:
“So long as it has not been declared to us juridically that he is an infidel or heretic, be he ever so manifestly heretical according to private judgment, he remains, as far as we are concerned, a member of the Church and consequently its head. Judgment is required by the Church. It is only then that he ceases to be Pope as far as we are concerned" (John of St. Thomas). (74)
Prior to the necessary judgment and declaration(s) by the Church, a heretical Pope remains a valid pope. The visibility of the Church (both formally and materially) is too necessary for the contrary to be the case.
Fr. Paul Layman S.J. (d.1635), who is considered one of the greatest canonists of the Counter-Reformation era, as it is sometimes called, explained that even in the case of a pope who was a notorious heretic, as long as he was being tolerated by the Church, would remain a true and valid pope. Writes Fr. Laymann:
“It is more probable that the Supreme Pontiff, as a person, might be able to fall into heresy, and even notorious heresy, by reason of which he would merit to be deposed by the Church, or rather to be declared as separated from her. (…) Observe, however, that, though we affirm that the Supreme Pontiff, as a private person, might be able to become a heretic and therefore cease to be a true member of the Church, (…) still, while he was tolerated by the Church, and publicly recognized as the universal pastor, he would really enjoy the pontifical power, in such a way that all of his decrees would have no less force and authority than they would if he were truly faithful.” (75)
Popes Alexander VI, John XXII, and Honorius I, were all accused of heresy by their contemporaries, yet none was declared deprived of the Pontificate while still living. Consequently, they have always been considered true Popes by the Church, even though Pope Honorius, after his death, was “expelled from the holy Church of God and anathematized” (76) for heresy, by the Third Council of Constantinople. For this reason, the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia said: “It is clear that no Catholic has the right to defend Pope Honorius. He was a heretic…” (77) Yet not even Pope Honorius is considered by the Church to have lost the Pontificate while living.
St. Bellarmine himself explained that a heretical bishop must be deposed by the proper authorities. After explaining how a false prophet (meaning heretical pastor) can be spotted, he wrote:
“…if the pastor is a bishop, they [the faithful] cannot depose him and put another in his place. For Our Lord and the Apostles only lay down that false prophets are not to be listened to by the people, and not that they depose them. And it is certain that the practice of the Church has always been that heretical bishops be deposed by bishop’s councils, or by the Sovereign Pontiff.” (78)
Here we see the true thinking of Bellarmine on this point. He explains that a heretical bishop can be spotted by the faithful (who should not listen to him), but he can only be deposed by the proper authorities. If this is true for ordinary bishops, how much more necessary is it when the bishop is the Supreme Pontiff?
Sedevacantists will likely object by saying, since a pope cannot be judged by a council, Bellarmine could not have meant that a council would depose a heretical Pope. They will then insist that this is why Bellarmine taught that a heretical pope loses his office automatically. But this is clearly not the case, since Bellarmine himself defended the opinion that a heretical Pope can be judged by a council. He wrote:
“Firstly, that a heretical Pope can be judged is expressly held in Can. Si Papa dist. 40, and by Innocent III (Serm. II de Consec. Pontif.) Furthermore, in the 8th Council, (act. 7) the acts of the Roman Council under Pope Hadrian are recited, in which one finds that Pope Honorius appears to be justly anathematized, because he had been convicted of heresy, which is the only case in which inferiors are permitted to judge superiors.” (79)
He goes on to explain that even if Pope Hadrian mistakenly condemned Honorius (which is what Bellarmine personally thought), “nevertheless” wrote Bellarmine, “we cannot deny, in fact, that Hadrian, and with him the Roman Council, nay more the whole 8th General council judged that, in the case of heresy a Roman Pontiff can be judged.” (80)
Without examining the cases mention by Bellarmine, it is quite clear that he held to the opinion that a heretical Pope can be judged by a council. Now, since he explicitly stated that “heretical bishops” must be deposed by a council, the same would obviously apply to a heretical bishop of Rome. Hence, his statement that a manifestly heretical pope loses his office ipso facto does not preclude the Church performing the ministerial functions necessary to establish the crime.
Bellarmine’s thinking regarding this matter is perfectly consistent with the mind of the Church, as we see expressed in Canon 10 of the Fourth Council of Constantinople. In response to the schism of Photius, the Council attached the grave penalty of excommunication to any layman or monk who, in the future, separated himself from his patriarch (the Pope is Patriarch of the West) before a careful inquiry and judgment by a synod.
“As divine scripture clearly proclaims, ‘Do not find fault before you investigate, and understand first and then find fault’. And does our law judge a person without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does? Consequently this holy and universal synod justly and fittingly declares and lays down that no lay person or monk or cleric should separate himself from communion with his own patriarch before a careful inquiry and judgment in synod, even if he alleges that he knows of some crime perpetrated by his patriarch, and he must not refuse to include his patriarch's name during the divine mysteries or offices. (…) If anyone shall be found defying this holy synod, he is to be debarred from all priestly functions and status if he is a bishop or cleric; if a monk or lay person, he must be excluded from all communion and meetings of the church [i.e. excommunicated] until he is converted by repentance and reconciled”.
The errors of Sedevacantism will be thoroughly addressed in an upcoming book, which should be out in the Spring of 2015.
In light of what the theologians and canonists have taught throughout the centuries, it is clear that the Church does possess a remedy by which she can rid herself of an heretical Pope. Therefore, faced with such an incalculably grave threat, the Church is not forced to wait for the “biological solution” to solve the problem.
1) Conc. Vatic., Mansi 52, 110
2) Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913, Vol. IX (Fr. Paul Laymann), p 95
3) Laymann, Theol. Mor., Lib II, tract I, cap, VII, p 153
4) St. Francis de Sales, The Catholic Controversy (TAN Books) p 305-306
5) Quaest. in IV Sent. Quote in: “L'Infaillibilité du pape et le Syllabus", (Besançon: Jacquin; Paris: P. Lethielleux, 1904).
6) Hierarch. Eccles., lib. 4, cap. 8,
7) De Romano Pontifice, lib II, cap. 30
8) The Sifting: The Never-Failing Faith of Peter, by James Larson
9) The Gift of Infallibility (Ignatius Press, San Francisco) p 58 - 59
11) Christ’s Church, Van Noort (Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland, 1961), p 294
12) see Papal Infallibility and Its Limitations, by R. Siscoe, The Remnant, (online)
13) Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913 Vol XIII (Revelation), p 1
14) Christ’s Church, Van Noort, Idem, p 120
15) Lamentabili Sane, #21, 1907, Pius X
16) Christ’s Church, Van Noort, Idem, p 290
17) The Gift of Infallibility, Idem,p 49
18) Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, Chapter IV
19) Christ’s Church, Van Noort, Idem, p 292-293
21) cf. De Silveira, ‘La Nouvelle Messe de Paul VI: Qu'en penser’, p 188-194
22) ‘La Nouvelle Messe de Paul VI: Qu'en penser’
23) The term “deposed” is here being used to express both of the “two opinions’ discussed later in this article - see explanation in Journet, L’Eglise…, vol. 1, p 626
24) Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913 (Francisco Suarez)
25) De Fide, Disp. 10, Sect 6, n. 10, p 317
26) It should be noted that the Cardinal is not referring to public and notorious heresy in point #1, but to the sin of heresy that remains hidden within the internal forum. This is clear from a previous comment in which he said: “We are dealing, however, with a purely internal heretic”.
27) De Comparatione Cuctoritatis Papae et Conciliin, by Cardinal Cajetan, English Translation in Conciliarism & Papalism, by Burns & Izbicki (Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 1997) p 82
28) Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol VIII (John S.T.), 1910, p 479
29) Cursus Theologici II-II De Auctoritate Summi Pontificis, Disp II, Art. III, De Depositione Papae. All quotations used in this article are found on pages 137-140.
32) De Fide, Disp. 10, Sect 6, n. 10, p 317-18
33) Conciliarism & Papalism, Idem, p 67
34) Ibid. p 67
35) Ibid. p 66-67
36) Ibid. p 68
37) Ibid. p 68
38) Ibid. p 70
39) Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913,Vol IV, p 290
40) Roman Breviary, April 5
41) Conciliarism & Papalism, Idem, p 83
42) Ibid pp 73-83
43) See Was Vatican II Infallible, Part I and II, R. Siscoe, Catholic Family News, June and July 2014
44) Sources of Revelation, Van Noort (Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland, 1961), pp 220-221
45) Cf. Council of Florence, Cantata Domino, Denz. 712; and Mystici Corporis Christi, Pius XII, #29 - 30)
46) A Commentary of Canon Law, Rev. Augustine, OSB, DD, Professor of Canon Law, Vol VIII, bk 4, (Herder Book Co, 1922), p 280
47) Ibid. pg 278
48) Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913, Vol V (on Excommunication), p 680
49) A Commentary of Canon Law, Idem, p 278
50) Ibid. p 278
51) Ibid. p 279
52) Ibid. p 279-280
53) Ibid. p 280
54) De Potestate Ecclesiastica, Ballerini (Monasterii Westphalorum, Deiters 1847) ch 6, sec 2, p 124-25
55) II-II Q 33, A 4
56) II-II Q 33 A 4, obj. 2
57) Super Epistulas S. Pauli, Ad Galatas, 2: 11-14 (Taurini/Romae: Marietti, 1953) nn 77.
58) Cursus Theologici, Idem
59) Ius Decretalium (1913) II.615
60) Between God and Man: Sermons of Pope Innocent III (Sermon IV) p 48-49
61) Cursus Theologici, Idem
62) Conciliarism & Papalism, p 76
63) Ibid. p 83
64) Ibid. p 84
65) Cursus Theologici, Idem
67) De Romano Pontifice, lib. II, cap.
68) Cursus Theologici, Idem, p 137
69) De Fide, Disp. 10, Sect 6, n. 10, p 317
70) Cursus Theologici, Idem
71) Manuale Theologiae Dogmaticae, Hervé (1943) I.501.
72) Conciliarism & Papalism, Idem, p 82-82
73) Elements of Ecclesiastical Law, Rev. SB Smith DD (Benzinger Br., New York, 1881), 3 rd ed., p 210)
74) Cursus Theologici, Idem
75) Laymann, Theol. Mor., Lib II, tract I, cap, VII, p 153
76) Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, P. Schaff, Series II, Vol 14, p 343
77) Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. VII, p 455
78) De Membris Ecclesiae, Lib. I De Clerics, cap. 7. (Opera Omnia, Paris: Vives, 1870) p 428-429
79) De Romano Pontifice, Bk II, Chapter 30
Can the Church Depose an Heretical Pope?Written by Robert J. Siscoe
“Indeed the Church has the right to separate herself from an heretical pope according to divine law. Consequently it has the right, by the same divine law, to use all means of themselves necessary for such separation…”
- John of St. Thomas
“The Church must render a judgment before the pope loses his office. Private judgment of the laity in this matter does not suffice.”
- Robert J. Siscoe
A recent article by Fr. James V. Schall S.J., which was re-posted as “the article of the week” on the popular Traditional Catholic website Rorate Caeli, has caused quite stir in some quarters. In the short article, which is titled On Heretical Popes, Fr. Schall briefly discusses the claims of heresy leveled against the post-Conciliar Popes, especially Pope Francis, and raises the question of whether a pope can fall into heresy, and, if so, how the Church would go about deposing him. The article was written in a very moderate tone, but the issues addressed were evidently too much for the extreme Left and their newly discovered Ultramontanism.
A writer at the ultra-liberal National Catholic Reporter reacted with outrage that Fr. Schall would dare mention such issues during the current Pontificate. He declared Fr. Schall’s article to be “irresponsible and inflammatory”, and suggested the only response to this “danger” is “to seek even harder to embrace Pope Francis and his effort to renew the Church.”