Historical Fact vs. Neo-Trad Wonderland…
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The Question of a Heretical Pope considered by the First Vatican Council

[See also our Follow-Up Post here]

While certain self-styled “traditionalists” and “real Catholics” are currently pushing the attractive and convenient but utterly false and disastrous idea that the Catholic Church had Popes in her history who were heretics but were still valid Popes, we at Novus Ordo Watch like to go by actual Church teaching and verifiable facts.

Besides such blowhards as Michael Voris (at 5:54 here) and Eric Gajewski (here), one of the biggest loudmouths out there who is pushing this bewildering error of “heretical but valid Popes” is the anonymous English blogger Mundabor, whom we recently gave a good spanking for his train wreck of a theological analysis on the Novus Ordo Missae. See for yourself the masthead of the Mundabor blog, which prominently features “Heretical Popes” as a menu option, which is a link that takes you to a list of essays that supposedly demonstrate that there have been heretical but valid Popes at some point or other in Church history:

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Click image to enlarge

Of course, the reason why Mundabor is so chipper about alleged “heretical Popes” in Church history is that the head honcho which his religion is currently afflicted with, Mr. Jorge Bergoglio (“Pope Francis”), is as blatant of a heretic as one will probably ever see claiming the Chair of St. Peter. Not being able to deny the obvious, and yet also being stubbornly unwilling to concede that Francis’ “papacy” is a fraud, that is, that Mr. Bergoglio is an impostor and not at all a valid Pope, Mundabor tries to seek refuge in historical precedent — real or imagined — for the idea of a heretic validly holding the papal office. Whether there actually is historical precedent for such an absurdity, is entirely secondary to Mundabor. What matters to him primarily is that a case can be made for it, however sloppily and inaccurately, and this is what the English blogger now advertises on his “Heretical Popes” page.

Unfortunately for Mundabor, Voris, Gajewski and others who believe that a Pope can be a heretic and still remain the head of the Catholic Church, this question actually came up at the First Vatican Council, which defined the dogma of papal infallibility in 1870. In a conference given after his return from the council, Archbishop John Baptist Purcell of Cincinnati related the following (pay close attention, all you who think Sedevacantists are just a bunch of presumptuous nutbags):

The question was also raised by a Cardinal, “What is to be done with the Pope if he becomes a heretic?” It was answered that there has never been such a case; the Council of Bishops could depose him for heresy, for from the moment he becomes a heretic he is not the head or even a member of the Church. The Church would not be, for a moment, obliged to listen to him when he begins to teach a doctrine the Church knows to be a false doctrine, and he would cease to be Pope, being deposed by God Himself.

If the Pope, for instance, were to say that the belief in God is false, you would not be obliged to believe him, or if he were to deny the rest of the creed, “I believe in Christ,” etc. The supposition is injurious to the Holy Father in the very idea, but serves to show you the fullness with which the subject has been considered and the ample thought given to every possibility. If he denies any dogma of the Church held by every true believer, he is no more Pope than either you or I; and so in this respect the dogma of infallibility amounts to nothing as an article of temporal government or cover for heresy.

(Abp. John B. Purcell, quoted in Rev. James J. McGovern, Life and Life Work of Pope Leo XIII [Chicago, IL: Allied Printing, 1903], p. 241; imprimatur by Abp. James Quigley of Chicago; underlining added.)

This answer given jibes 100% with the sedevacantist position. If it surprises you, maybe it’s time to stop reading the resistance propaganda cranked out by The RemnantRorate CaeliCatholic Family NewsThe Angelus, and similar publications. Real history turns out to be refreshingly sedevacantist!

Too often people will nonchalantly disseminate quotes they have not verified, simply copying and pasting what they find on the internet or in some SSPX propaganda tract. (Prime offender: Eric Gajewski, as detailed in TRADCAST 003, who “quoted” from a non-existing letter to a non-existing bishop.) At other times, research is scrapped entirely and replaced by self-made analogies that have nothing to do with Catholic teaching or theology (Mundabor and Louie Verrecchio recently demonstrated their impressive skills in this regard). Our advice: If you want to be discussing theology on the internet in a serious fashion, make sure you don’t consider yourself above actually going to a library to look things up or purchasing a book or two — overcoming any fear that whatever evidence you will find may actually require you to change your position.

The anecdote from Vatican I recounted by Abp. Purcell is but the latest discovery adding to a mountain of evidence for Sedevacantism. We are indebted to the research of our friend Steven Speray of the Catholicism in a Nutshell blog for this marvelous find. We shall outline the salient points from the archbishop’s report, lest they be glossed over, and add some clarifying remarks, below.

According to the response given to an inquiring cardinal at the First Vatican Council, as related by Abp. Purcell:

  • No Pope has ever been a heretic
  • If a Pope were to become a manifest heretic, he would immediately cease to be Pope because he would immediately cease to be a member of the Church
  • He would be deposed not by the Church, which has no authority over the Pope, but by God Himself, who has made membership in the Church dependent upon profession of the true Faith, on which the Church’s unity depends (see Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 22)
  • The Church’s bishops could declare the former Pope to have deposed himself — something that would enable them to remove the non-Pope
  • The very idea of a heretical Pope who nevertheless remains Pope is “injurious” to the papacy and thus to Catholic dogma

Got that, Mundabor? Got that, Mr. Gajewski? Got that, Society of St. Pius X? Sorry if it doesn’t fit in with your current ideas, but the truth just doesn’t care what people think about it.

Now, since we know that there are a lot of skeptics out there, we’re providing an image of the page from which this excerpt of Abp. Purcell’s address is taken (click image to enlarge) — let no one say we just made it up or didn’t check our sources:

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McGovern, Life and Life Work of Pope Leo XIII (1903), p. 241
(click to enlarge)

[UPDATE: The book in question is available online for free, at this link and also here.]

Let us underscore once more that, as this testimony confirms, the Fathers of the First Vatican Council concluded after extensive research, investigation, and debate that no Pope had ever been a heretic — not Liberius, not Honorius I, not Stephen VII, not Nicholas I, not John XII, not John XXII, nor any other name that is typically brought up in association with the accusation of “papal heresy”. This is the Tradition of the Church, and anyone who calls himself a “traditionalist” or “traditional Catholic” may actually want to consider following it.

But then, what did the Fathers of Vatican I know about the papacy or Catholic history, right? You can be assured of one thing: Mundabor will not bend. His first premise in all argumentation is that Sedevacantism is false, and everything else must conform to this dogma of all dogmas, no matter how untrue or unreasonable the outcome. Alas, this is a very common symptom these days: argumentation that is driven by a pre-conceived and desired conclusion. This is not the way to arrive at truth; in fact, in turns the search for truth on its head by being nothing more than a clever way to justify what one wishes the truth were. We at Novus Ordo Watch know what we’re talking about: All of us were Novus Ordo at one point and are converts to the sedevacantist position. All of us. It is not easy to admit one has been wrong, or deceived, but it is necessary.

One highly important consideration that is usually forgotten by those who happily push the idea that a Pope can be a heretic and still be Pope is that such a scenario would spell the end of the unity of the Church, one of the essential marks of her divine constitution, because it would mean that someone can be a member of the Church — in fact, her head — while professing a different religion than that of the Catholic Church. In other words, the Church would not be one in Faith. But this is a heresy: “One body and one Spirit; as you are called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:4); “When the Divine founder decreed that the Church should be one in faith, in government, and in communion, He chose Peter and his successors as the principle and centre, as it were, of this unity” (Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Satis Cognitum, n. 15).

We have an ongoing series of blog posts called The “Heretical” Popes, which examines and refutes various arguments that are typically brought up to substantiate the claim that some Popes in the Church’s history were heretics, that is, denied defined dogma. It is simply not true, and after Vatican I, the only people who still made such a claim — as far as we’ve seen — were condemned:

So, once again real research has backed up the sedevacantist position. Follow the false, non-sedevacantist “Traditionalists” and their propaganda outlets at your own risk.

[See also our Follow-Up Post here]

Image sources: keeo.com; mundabor.wordpress.com (modified)