Heresy has Consequences…
Public Heretics and Loss of Office in the Catholic Church
Sitting in the chair physically is not enough…
What follows below is an edited version of a post we originally published on June 22, 2013. The semi-traditionalist web site Tradition In Action (TIA) had published the erroneous opinion that a cleric who becomes a public heretic does not incur an automatic excommunication from the Church, and that therefore — so their reasoning — he also does not lose any office he may hold in the Church. A few days later, TIA apologized and acknowledged that their opinion was mistaken, and they conceded that a public heretic is indeed automatically excommunicated. The question of loss of office they deferred to another time, which, however, has still not occurred (to our knowledge). The whole matter came up for discussion after it had come to light that the Vatican’s “chief of orthodoxy”, “Cardinal” Gerhard Ludwig Muller, denies the dogmas of the Resurrection, Transubstantiation, and the Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Can such a blatant heretic possibly validly hold office in the Catholic Church? Obviously not.
We are reproducing the post below not because we want to beat up on TIA some more, but because the topic is as relevant as ever, and because it involves a number of concepts that some people are still quite confused about.
One of the best web sites exposing the horrors of the bogus Vatican II religion is the site Tradition In Action. Unfortunately, there is a fly in the ointment: Against all Catholic theology and right reason, the people at TIA still somehow insist that this false religion is nevertheless the Roman Catholic Church, and its heretical or apostate clergy are somehow legitimate Roman Catholic shepherds or authorities.
On June 20, 2013, TIA responded to an email inquiry sent by a reader who was puzzled that TIA was exposing Muller’s denial of dogma but without admitting the obvious repercussions of his heresies. Here is the response given by TIA:
We believe that a man who denies these two dogmas of the Catholic Faith – the perpetual virginity of Our Lady and transubstantiation – is a heretic. Otherwise, the word heretic would lose its meaning. Therefore, Archbishop Müller fits this definition perfectly.
We do not believe that he is automatically excommunicated. The excommunication latae sentenciae [sic], or automatic, is reserved for a few cases regarding secret crimes which do not include public heresy.
However, for a person to be declared a heretic, some official procedures are needed.
Before the Council, the normal procedure for a person to be declared a heretic was to have the Holy Office, today’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), warn the person who defended a heretical thesis to retract. If the person did not do so after two admonishments, then he was declared a heretic by the Holy Office.
(Tradition In Action, “What People Are Commenting”, Jun 20, 2013)
If this were an accurate presentation of the Catholic position on the matter, then the Modernists would have a very easy task: Since they’re the ones “in charge” in the Vatican, anyone can preach whatever heresy he likes and he would still retain his putative office until they declare him to have lost it — which, of course, being Modernists themselves, they will never do. They could thus unleash the most damnable errors and heresies on the unsuspecting faithful and would in this manner transform the Catholic Church from being the Ark of Salvation to being an ark of damnation. In this way, heretics could hijack the Bride of Christ and turn her into a harlot, and the Church’s infallibility and indefectibility would be denied.
Nothing but doctrinal and pastoral chaos would ensue if a public heretic could validly hold office or claim the title ‘Catholic’ until he is removed or declared a heretic by the proper authority. But don’t take our word for it.
Let’s review some basic Catholic teaching and law on the matter:
Any office becomes vacant upon the fact and without any declaration by tacit resignation recognized by the law itself if a cleric: …
4.° Publicly defects from the Catholic faith
(Canon 188 n.4; The 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law)
Note that the canon clearly states that the clerical office (for example, that of archbishop) becomes vacant upon the fact (not upon a legal recognition thereof) and without any declaration (!) if the cleric in question defects from the Catholic faith in a public manner (as opposed to a hidden or secret defection). That Muller’s defection is a real defection from the Faith is clear by what he’s said, for he denies dogmas, and, as an expert of dogmatic theology, knows exactly what he’s saying. That his defection is public is clear by the fact that we’re all talking about it. He’s committed his heresies in books he’s published and statements he’s made. It’s all out in the open. So according to Canon 188 n. 4, Muller has lost his office (not that he ever validly held it to begin with, but for the sake of argument), and to recognize this fact there is no declaration necessary. (A scan of the Latin original of this canon can be found here.)
The text is really clear. What’s even more important is that this canon is not merely a church law, created by human beings, but actually a restatement of the divine law that those who profess a false faith cannot be members of the Catholic Church, and therefore they cannot hold office in the Church:
The practice of the Church has always been the same, as is shown by the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, who were wont to hold as outside Catholic communion, and alien to the Church, whoever would recede in the least degree from any point of doctrine proposed by her authoritative Magisterium. Epiphanius, Augustine, Theodore drew up a long list of the heresies of their times. St. Augustine notes that other heresies may spring up, to a single one of which, should any one give his assent, he is by the very fact cut off from Catholic unity. “No one who merely disbelieves in all (these heresies) can for that reason regard himself as a Catholic or call himself one. For there may be or may arise some other heresies, which are not set out in this work of ours, and, if any one holds to one single one of these he is not a Catholic” (S. Augustinus, De Haeresibus, n. 88).
(Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Satis Cognitum, n. 9; underline added)
Muller is a heretic and not a Catholic, and therefore he is not a member of the Catholic Church and cannot hold any position in the Church. He is entirely separated from the Body of Christ, from Catholic communion. This separation is not primarily a punishment imposed against him by the Church (i.e. excommunication), but, above all, it is simply the natural consequence of his commission of public sins against the Faith (not against morals), sins which in and of themselves are incompatible with being a member of the Church, as we will now explain.
An excommunication is a Church punishment imposed upon an offender with the purpose that the offender would amend (see H.A. Ayrinhac, Penal Legislation in the New Code of Canon Law [NY: Benziger, 1920], pp. 54-57; free e-copy available at Google Books). But loss of office, and loss of Church membership, are not a punishment; they are, rather, the necessary consequences of publicly committing the sins of either heresy, apostasy, or schism, three sins that are in and of themselves incompatible with Church membership:
Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith [=Catholics], and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body [such as heretics, schismatics, or apostates], or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed [the excommunicated]…. 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…. For not every sin, however grave it may be, is such as of its own nature to sever a man from the Body of the Church, as does schism or heresy or apostasy.
(Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, nn. 22-23; underlining added.)
A heretic is someone who obstinately doubts or denies a dogma of the Faith; heretics are not Catholics and cannot be members of the Church. They have no part in the Body of Christ. Pope Leo XIII actually calls this immediate self-expulsion from Church communion a “divinely instituted means for the preservation of unity” (Satis Cognitum, n. 9). And this only makes sense, else the Church could have in her fold false teachers who corrupt the Faith of the people, and these heretics would then actually be the valid and legitimate shepherds and teachers to whom the people owe submission! It would be absurd.
When genuine theological studies are consulted on these matters (which, interestingly enough, is rarely ever done by those of the “recognize-and-resist” persuasion, except perhaps centuries-old texts proposing theories subsequently abandoned by the Church), the sedevacantist position is always found to be vindicated. Commenting on Canon 188 n.4 and the divine law of cessation of Church membership in the case of sins against the Faith, Fr. Gerald McDevitt writes:
Since it is not only incongruous that one who has publicly defected from the faith should remain in an ecclesiastical office, but since such a condition might also be the source of serious spiritual harm when the care of souls in concerned, the Code [of Canon Law] prescribes that a cleric tacitly renounces his office by public defection from the faith.
(Gerald V. McDevitt, The Renunciation of an Ecclesiastical Office [Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1946], p. 136)
Notice that Fr. McDevitt says that there would be “serious spiritual harm” towards souls if the heretic remained in an ecclesiastical office validly, i.e. remained a member of the Church and a Catholic authority! In this, he echoes Pope Leo XIII. So, contrary to what the “recognize-and-resisters” have been telling us for decades, the true Catholic position is not that spiritual harm would ensue if we all recognize that the heretic has no office in the Church, but rather, grave spiritual damage would result if we all believe he does hold office in the Church!
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the clear Catholic teaching. Sedevacantism is true!
Curiously, TIA does not go into the question of Church membership at all. Instead, they only talk about excommunication, which, although related, is a different thing, as shown above. TIA seems to believe that only an excommunication could sever a man from the Body of Christ, but this is not at all so, as we have seen, especially in the words of Pope Pius XII, who differentiated clearly between those who “separate[d] themselves from the unity of the Body” and those who have “been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed” (Mystici Corporis).
So, loss of Church membership (implying then, also, loss of office in the case of a cleric) is one thing; excommunication is another. By no means is an excommunication needed for someone to cease being a member of the Church, as Popes Leo XIII and Pius XII have stated clearly. In fact, there is no agreement among theologians regarding whether an excommunicated Catholic is still a member of the Church, but in light of Pius XII’s teaching in Mystici Corporis and without going into too much unnecessary detail, suffice it to say that the more probable opinion is that so-called vitandi excommunicates are not members of the Church, whereas so-called tolerati excommunicates retain Church membership (for details, see Mgr. Gerardus van Noort, Dogmatic Theology II: Christ’s Church [Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1957], pp. 244-245).
However, TIA even gets what it says about excommunication wrong: “We do not believe that [Muller] is automatically excommunicated. The excommunication latae sentenciae, or automatic, is reserved for a few cases regarding secret crimes which do not include public heresy.” Why not simply look it up in the Code of Canon Law and consult a few commentaries on it? A simple check of the Code would have revealed that the Church very much imposes an automatic excommunication upon all heretics, apostates and schismatics, whether public or secret, so even in TIA’s own world of “only an excommunication severs you from the Church”, the heretic Muller is cut off from the Body of Christ:
All apostates from the Christian faith and each and every heretic or schismatic:
1.° Incur by that fact excommunication
(Canon 2314 n.1; The 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law)
How could TIA miss this? It even says “by that fact”, so the excommunication is incurred automatically and immediately upon the commission of the crime, i.e. upon the willful denial of the Faith. It is very disheartening to see TIA do such a terrible and sloppy job in presenting this most important subject matter. It is not, however, surprising, because in our experience, even the most gifted and astute “recognize-and-resisters” somehow seem to lose all sense of orthodox Catholic theology and right reason when the subject turns to Sedevacantism.
For a lengthy, in-depth treatment of the issues pertaining to heresy, excommunication, loss of office, etc., with copious documentation, please see the essay The Chair Is Still Empty, which is a response to two of John Salza’s pieces on Sedevacantism.
In sum: All heretics, apostates, and schismatics automatically incur an excommunication (Canon 2314 n.1). However, we must distinguish the church punishment of excommunication — a matter of human church law that could be changed — from the cessation of Church membership, which is a matter of fact based on the unchangeable divine law that heresy, apostasy, and schism are sins of such a nature that they exclude one from membership in the Church because they are in and of themselves incompatible with what it means to be a Catholic.
Because Tradition in Action does not approach this matter correctly, does not draw the necessary distinctions, and did not do sufficient research, they end up in error and mislead their readers on this point. Let us hope for a correction and retraction.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
License: public domain