A lawyer and a journalist walk into a bar…
More Catholic than the Pope?
The Remnant versus Francis
Granted, we are a bit late in covering this, but this should not detract from its importance, which is not at all tied to the time it was first published.
On March 30, 2014, the Semi-Traditionalist biweekly publication The Remnant released another video of a chit-chat between its editor, Minneapolis-based Michael J. Matt, and Virginia-based contributor Christopher A. Ferrara. In this episode of the so-called “Remnant Forum”, the two discuss the latest (at the time) theological chaos in the institution they still believe to be the Immaculate Bride of Christ.
You can watch the full video in the embed below, but keep in mind that it was produced about a year and a half ago:
The title of this episode of the “Remnant Forum” is curious: “Neo-Catholic Bishop Bashing: De Facto Sedevacantism?” This video was produced on the heels of Michael Voris’ official admission and attempted justification for why he will bash Novus Ordo bishops and cardinals all day long, but never “Pope” Francis. The Matt-Ferrara thesis is that such behavior indicates a de facto sedevacantism, inasmuch as it pretends that the Pope does not exist, thus effectively treating the Holy See as being vacant (sede vacante).
While this idea makes for a great presentation in terms of its rhetorical effect — always useful for a publication like The Remnant, for it attracts attention — it is quite flawed philosophically and has no genuine merit. In fact, if there is any de facto but not de jure sedevacantism going on, it is clearly with the recognize-and-resisters at The Remnant and similar outlets. Let us explain.
First, let’s be clear that the kind of double standard we see especially from Michael Voris at Church Militant, where heresies, errors, and impiety is firmly denounced as long as it is not perpetrated by Francis (in which case there is utter silence, deflection, or outright denial), is totally unacceptable. In this Matt and Ferrara are entirely right. However, the Neo-Catholics’ silence on Francis’ scandals and heresies can hardly be called de facto sedevacantism, because they, unlike the Neo-Traditionalists such as Matt and Ferrara, generally accept and adhere to the magisterial documents of the Vatican II Church. They may downplay or ignore Francis’ behavior, but they generally consider themselves bound by the teaching documents the Vatican produces, which is definitely not the case for Messrs. Matt and Ferrara.
Secondly, The Remnant actually acted quite similarly to the way the Neo-Catholics do now, back in the “good old days” of Benedict XVI (2005-2013). Christopher Ferrara, in particular, was at the forefront of promoting Benedict as the great “Restorer of Tradition”, and he did so by spinning Ratzinger into as orthodox, traditional, and pious of a man as he could, while ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing the Modernism of Benedict likewise to the best of his ability (he tried the same with Francis in the very beginning, but eventually gave up). Don’t believe it? Here are some select pieces of evidence showing that Ferrara mocked and bashed Ratzinger before his election as “Pope” on April 19, 2005, yet afterwards became one of his chief defenders, so much so that the blatant Modernism and other dangers in Benedict’s official documents were swept under the rug by Ferrara, that is, ignored, minimized, excused, or spun so as to make Benedict look as good as possible:
- “Ratzinger Personally Consecrates Neo-Modernist Bishop” (Ferrara, Feb. 2005, pre-Benedict)
- “A Papal Masterstroke”: The New Good Friday Prayer for the Jews (Ferrara, 2008)
- “Pope Stands with Traditionalists” (Ferrara, 2009)
- No Friend of Fatima: Unspinning Christopher Ferrara’s Defense of Benedict XVI (Novus Ordo Watch)
- Benedict XVI and the “Prophetic Mission of Fatima” (Novus Ordo Watch)
- Refinishing the Great Facade: The Vatican, the SSPX, and the “Restoration of Tradition” (Novus Ordo Watch)
This shameless spinning on Ferrara’s part was by no means a necessary consequence of his acceptance of Benedict as a true Pope. Other Semi-Traditionalists, too, accepted Ratzinger’s claim to the papacy and yet remained entirely cool-headed with regard to Benedict’s obvious Modernism — for example:
- “The True Colors of Benedict XVI” (Marian Horvat, 2005)
- “Common Mission and ‘Significant Silence’” (John Vennari, 2011)
So, for Ferrara to now harp on how ridiculous the Neo-Catholics’ spinning of Francis is, is certainly quite hypocritical.
Let’s have a look at some of the arguments being made by Matt and Ferrara in the video. This will be long and detailed and loaded with dynamite — so fasten your seatbelts.
The Pope-Heretic Question
Matt starts out by criticizing the Neo-Catholics for acknowledging that there is a tremendous crisis of Faith in the [Novus Ordo] church but nevertheless maintaining that “the forces of hell have utterly failed to have any impact whatsoever on Peter”. While we do not wish to give the impression of being on the side of the Neo-Cats — people like Michael Voris, Tim Haines, Dave Armstrong, Jimmy Akin, Patrick Madrid, and others — we must nevertheless point out that perhaps, unlike Mr. Matt, these people actually adhere to the teaching of Pope Pius IX that “religion itself can never totter and fall while this Chair remains intact, the Chair which rests on the rock which the proud gates of hell cannot overthrow and in which there is the whole and perfect solidity of the Christian religion” (Encyclical Inter Multiplices, n. 7). Hey, just an idea.
Matt then brings up the case of Pope Liberius and casually claims that most historians agree that Liberius succumbed to the Arian heresy. But did he? Matt is, of course, trying to establish in his viewers’ minds the idea that a Pope need not be a Catholic, and that when this is so, he can or must be ignored and resisted by his subjects, who then try to convert the Pope back to Catholicism. Needless to say, Matt has never attempted to quote a pre-Vatican II theological manual in defense of this silly thesis.
The very fact that as late as the 17th century, the question of whether or not a Pope can become a heretic was disputed, and the fact that Cardinal St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church and an expert on the papacy, was convinced that this was not possible, indicates that obviously the Church had never conceded that even one of her Popes had ever been a heretic! For if this had happened already, then obviously there would be no dispute among theologians as to whether such a thing was even possible.
But even should we concede that it would be possible for a true Pope to become a heretic at some point, then it would simply follow that he would immediately and by that fact alone cease to be Pope; and this is exactly the position taken by St. Robert Bellarmine and by the Fathers of the First Vatican Council:
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.)
The idea that Pope Liberius was a heretic is a very popular falsehood among semi-traditionalists, who like to rely on the questionable research of the Lefebvrist lay apologist Michael Davies (1936-2004). The myth of the “heretical” Liberius and his alleged excommunication of St. Athanasius was exhaustively refuted by John S. Daly, who has graciously given us permission to publish his essay on the Pope Liberius case in full:
- “The Alleged Fall of Pope Liberius, His Alleged Excommunication of St. Athanasius, and other Anti-Papal Libels” by John Daly
We see, then, that when we examine the idea of a heretical Pope which Matt injected into the consciousness of his viewers, in light of history and Church teaching, a different picture emerges. Even less, then, could we assent to the idea that a Pope could be a heretic and still remain Pope — for heresy is wholly incompatible with the office of the papacy and membership in the Church. Moreover, heretics are excluded from a valid papal election by divine law, as even the basic Catholic Encyclopedia notes on the subject: “Of course, the election of a heretic, schismatic, or female would be null and void” (s.v. “Papal Elections”). Apparently this obvious truth, printed over 100 years ago, has not yet made its way to Minneapolis.
Enter Spinmeister Ferrara
Ferrara then joins in the discussion, at the explicit request of Matt. What the viewer is not told is just what credentials Ferrara might have to be an authoritative voice in any of this — a voice, we might add, that is wholly at odds with the Bergoglian “Holy See” and the post-conciliar magisterium. Why should those who recognize Francis as Pope prefer Ferrara’s opinions over the “Pope”? This may have to remain one of the eternal mysteries of the pseudo-traditionalist recognize-and-resist position.
Perhaps cognizant of the fact that it’s laughable that a lay attorney and a lay journalist should sit in judgment of the teachings, disciplines, laws, and directives of the “Holy See”, Ferrara starts out by directing his viewers to an authority who agrees with him and Matt that “great is the darkness that surrounds us today” and that “the Modernist heresy has penetrated even into the mysteries of the Sacred Liturgy” (at 2:49-3:03 in the video). This is a paraphrase of the liturgist Mgr. Klaus Gamber (1919-89), from his 1981 book The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, trans. into English by Klaus D. Grimm (Harrison, NY: Una Voce International, 1993), p. 113.
While Gamber’s words, echoed by Ferrara, are undoubtedly true, as the Novus Ordo worship service (Paul VI’s “New Mass”) is simply the liturgical expression of the New Modernist Religion, nevertheless Ferrara — like Gamber — believes this to be the liturgy of the Catholic Church promulgated by a true Pope. But that a universal liturgical rite approved by the Supreme Pontiff should be tainted with heresy or be a danger to the Faith or to piety, is impossible, because the Catholic Church is divinely protected from promulgating an impious, heretical, or otherwise harmful liturgical rite (we will broach this topic again later on). Have a look:
“If anyone says that the ceremonies, vestments, and outward signs, which the Catholic Church uses in the celebration of Masses, are incentives to impiety rather than the services of piety: let him be anathema.”
“Certainly the loving Mother [the Church] is spotless in the Sacraments, by which she gives birth to and nourishes her children; in the faith which she has always preserved inviolate; in her sacred laws imposed on all; in the evangelical counsels which she recommends; in those heavenly gifts and extraordinary graces through which, with inexhaustible fecundity, she generates hosts of martyrs, virgins and confessors.”
(Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 66)
“[T]he discipline sanctioned by the Church must never be rejected or be branded as contrary to certain principles of natural law. It must never be called crippled, or imperfect or subject to civil authority. In this discipline the administration of sacred rites, standards of morality, and the reckoning of the rights of the Church and her ministers are embraced.”
(Pope Gregory XVI, Encyclical Mirari Vos, n. 9; underlining added.)
“The Church’s infallibility extends to the general discipline of the Church… By the term ‘general discipline of the Church’ are meant those ecclesiastical laws passed for the universal Church for the direction of Christian worship and Christian living… The imposing of commands belongs not directly to the teaching office but to the ruling office; disciplinary laws are only indirectly an object of infallibility, i.e., only by reason of the doctrinal decision implicit in them. When the Church’s rulers sanction a law, they implicitly make a twofold judgment: 1. ‘This law squares with the Church’s doctrine of faith and morals’; that is, it imposes nothing that is at odds with sound belief and good morals. This amounts to a doctrinal decree. 2. ‘This law, considering all the circumstances, is most opportune.’ This is a decree of practical judgment.”
(Mgr. Gerard van Noort, Dogmatic Theology, vol. 2, Christ’s Church, 1957; underlining added.)
“The Church is infallible in her general discipline. By the term general discipline is understood the laws and practices which belong to the external ordering of the whole Church. Such things would be those which concern either external worship, such as liturgy and rubrics, or the administration of the sacraments…. If she [the Church] were able to prescribe or command or tolerate in her discipline something against faith and morals, or something which tended to the detriment of the Church or to the harm of the faithful, she would turn away from her divine mission, which would be impossible.”
(Jean Herrmann, Institutiones Theologiae Dogmaticae, Vol. 1, 1908, p. 258; underlining added.)
Given the above quotes, Mr. Ferrara has a choice to make: Either the Novus Ordo liturgy is not Modernist, or the authority that imposed or even permitted it is not a valid Catholic authority. Having it both ways is simply not an option (see our blog post The Poison of the Novus Ordo “Mass” for more on this subject).
Aside from his outrageous claim that a Catholic liturgical rite approved for the universal church can be tainted with heresy, what’s striking here also is Ferrara’s typical tactic of spinning the facts. Notice how he points out that this book was written by a “renowned liturgist” and received an endorsement from then-“Cardinal” Joseph Ratzinger, “not long before he would ultimately become Pope [Benedict XVI].” Ferrara is trying to underscore the credibility of his thesis by pointing out that the book he’s quoting from was penned by a man of great prestige and endorsed by the individual they have all come to love as “Pope Benedict XVI.”
Nevertheless, Ferrara’s tactic here essentially amounts to spin and is even somewhat dishonest, because the only reason why he is harping on Mgr. Gamber’s credentials is that Gamber agrees with him. (Let’s face it: There is also another “renowned liturgist” in the Novus Ordo Sect, whose name is Annibale Bugnini, and we know why Ferrara didn’t quote him.) The same goes for Ferrara’s citing of Ratzinger. Had Ratzinger and Gamber taken a position contrary to that of Ferrara, the Virginia-based attorney would have simply dismissed them both on the grounds that… well, on the grounds that they’re wrong, that it’s the result of “diabolical disorientation”, and we can ignore what they say anyway because it is not infallible and “utterly non-binding.”
Right? That’s what he would have said. So all this harping on the “renowned” Mgr. Gamber and the great future “Pope” Ratzinger, is just smoke and mirrors. Ferrara uses these polemical gimmicks because they help his case, and we will see more examples of this further on. You have to remember, he’s a lawyer by profession, and so it is second nature for him to think like one. It is not wrong, of course, to be a lawyer, but remember that by nature a lawyer’s job is to defend his client. So he will be extremely one-sided as he tries to persuade the judge or the jury to agree with his position. He is not so much interested in the objective truth as in achieving a desired result: the persuasion of the hearer. So, whatever is conducive to that end will be emphasized; and whatever is an obstacle to that end will be ignored, minimized, ridiculed, or dismissed in some other fashion. (For a perfect example of this, see our essay No Friend of Fatima: Unspinning Christopher Ferrara’s Defense of Benedict XVI.)
That Ferrara should make Ratzinger’s praise of Mgr. Gamber’s book (found in the preface to the 1992 French edition) into an “almost-Pope” endorsement by pointing out that it was given “not long before he would ultimately become Pope”, is absolutely comical, and for two reasons. First, because Ratzinger’s endorsement came in 1992, and of course he didn’t become “Pope” until 13 years later; and secondly, because in the February 15, 2005 edition of The Remnant — a mere two months before the actual election of Benedict XVI as “Pope” — Ferrara was still blasting Ratzinger as “perhaps the most industrious ecclesial termite of the post-conciliar epoch, tearing down even as he makes busy with the appearance of building up” (Ferrara, “Ratzinger Personally Consecrates Neo-Modernist Bishop”, The Remnant, Feb. 15, 2005). What happened to the great Joseph Ratzinger who had endorsed Mgr. Gamber’s book? Well, there is your lawyer for you: Quite simply, in February 2005 Ferrara had a different need — then he wanted to expose the Modernists and their evil scheming, and Ratzinger perfectly fit the bill; but in the current situation (the 2014 video), he needed an authority to lend greater weight to the words of Mgr. Gamber, and since Ratzinger was the one who had written an approving foreword, he got the job. Consistent? No. Intellectually honest? Hardly. But does it “work”? You bet it does!
Ferrara, like any lawyer, argues backwards: First there comes the desired conclusion, and then “evidence” is adduced to lend weight to that conclusion. Unfortunately, the first victim of his argumentation is the truth, and we take no pleasure in pointing it out. Ferrara is first and foremost a rhetorician, and it shows. All this would be quite humorous if it weren’t so tragic. The Catholic Church is currently suffering through her darkest hour, and the last thing we need is this sort of lawyerly shysterism to advance a comfortable position at the expense of the facts.
Which is it: New Religion or True Religion?
Next, Michael Matt returns to the microphone. He brings up the fact that no matter what one thinks of Francis, everyone must agree that since his election as “Pope”, the world is now hearing things it has never heard before. Ferrara responds by saying that Bergoglio’s candidness is simply adding more novelties to the ones we’ve endured for decades since Vatican II. The lawyer from Virginia verbatim:
We’re seeing one thing after another that we have never seen before. Now there are two ways to approach this: Just go with the flow, accept it all, and say, well, our religion is not what it was before. It’s simply a new religion: the religion of openness, inclusiveness, dialogue, tolerance, etc., etc. In other words, Catholicism has conformed itself to the Enlightenment.
Now the other way is to say, as the Popes before Vatican II said, one after the other, in complete unity: This modern world is a threat to the integrity of the Faith, and the Church must be exactly what the Neo-Catholics ridicule, a fortress against the errors of the modern world.
Those are the two camps into which the Church has been divided: the camp of accepting modernity and going along with what the world expects of the Church today. And the camp of Tradition, which says the Church can never conform itself to the world; the world must conform itself to the Revelation brought to the world by the Church.
(Christopher Ferrara in “Neo-Catholic Bishop Bashing: De Facto Sedevacantism?”, 5:13-6:14)
Ferrara’s analysis here is great, but pause for a moment and consider what he’s actually saying: He’s admitting that the Vatican II religion is a new religion, therefore a false religion, and not the Roman Catholic religion — it is, rather, “Catholicism conformed to the Enlightenment”, as he says. Then he also acknowledges that this is impossible, that the Church “can never conform itself to the world” — but the Vatican II Church has done precisely that, and that is exactly what he is criticizing! Yet, at other times he also insists that we must be in communion with this New Church, currently headed by Francis, and that he himself and all other “traditionalists” of his stripe are in fact in communion with it! Clearly, Ferrara is promoting, in essence, the defectibility and actual defection of the Catholic Church. This is in itself a heresy!
It is ironic that it is us Sedevacantists who are constantly accused of denying the indefectibility of the Church, when Sedevacantism alone upholds it, given what has transpired since the death of Pope Pius XII. Clearly, it is time we reviewed Catholic teaching on the indefectibility of the Church and the nature of Catholicism:
Now, whoever will carefully examine and reflect upon the condition of the various religious societies, divided among themselves, and separated from the Catholic Church, which, from the days of our Lord Jesus Christ and his Apostles has never ceased to exercise, by its lawful pastors, and still continues to exercise, the divine power committed to it by this same Lord; cannot fail to satisfy himself that neither any one of these societies by itself, nor all of them together, can in any manner constitute and be that One Catholic Church which Christ our Lord built, and established, and willed should continue; and that they cannot in any way be said to be branches or parts of that Church, since they are visibly cut off from Catholic unity.
For, whereas such societies are destitute of that living authority established by God, which especially teaches men what is of Faith, and what the rule of morals, and directs and guides them in all those things which pertain to eternal salvation, so they have continually varied in their doctrines, and this change and variation is ceaselessly going on among them. Every one must perfectly understand, and clearly and evidently see, that such a state of things is directly opposed to the nature of the Church instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ; for in that Church truth must always continue firm and ever inaccessible to all change, as a deposit given to that Church to be guarded in its integrity, for the guardianship of which the presence and aid of the Holy Ghost have been promised to the Church for ever. No one, moreover, can be ignorant that from these discordant doctrines and opinions social schisms have arisen, and that these again have given birth to sects and communions without number, which spread themselves continually, to the increasing injury of Christian and civil society.
(Pope Pius IX, Apostolic Letter Iam Vos Omnes ; underlining added.)
Not least among the blessings which have resulted from the public and legitimate honor paid to the Blessed Virgin and the saints is the perfect and perpetual immunity of the Church from error and heresy.
(Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Quas Primas, n. 22; underlining added.)
History, the light of truth, and the witness of the ages, if only it be rightly discerned and diligently examined, teaches us that the divine promise of Jesus Christ: “I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Matthew xxviii, 20), has never failed the Church His Bride, and therefore that it will never fail her in time to come.
(Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Lux Veritatis, n. 1)
The Catholic Church, whose Head “will never fail her”, is unchangeable and firm in her doctrine, “perpetually immune from error and heresy”, whereas it is a sign of the false Protestant and Naturalist sects that they are “divided among themselves” and “have continually varied in their doctrines”, for they are “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the wickedness of men, by cunning craftiness, by which they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph 4:14). Which of these two descriptions given by the Popes and Scripture — that of the Catholic Church and that of the non-Catholic sects — applies to the Vatican II Church? Hello? …Mr. Ferrara? …We can’t hear you!
But wait, there’s more! From the glorious First Vatican Council:
To satisfy this pastoral duty, our predecessors always gave tireless attention that the saving doctrine of Christ be spread among all the peoples of the earth, and with equal care they watched that, wherever it was received, it was preserved sound and pure. Therefore, the bishops of the whole world, now individually, now gathered in Synods, following a long custom of the churches and the formula of the ancient rule, referred to this Holy See those dangers particularly which emerged in the affairs of faith, that there especially the damages to faith might be repaired where faith cannot experience a failure. The Roman Pontiffs, moreover, according as the condition of the times and affairs advised, sometimes by calling ecumenical Councils or by examining the opinion of the Church spread throughout the world; sometimes by particular synods, sometimes by employing other helps which divine Providence supplied, have defined that those matters must be held which with God’s help they have recognized as in agreement with Sacred Scripture and apostolic tradition. For, the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might disclose new doctrine, but that by His help they might guard sacredly the revelation transmitted through the apostles and the deposit of faith, and might faithfully set it forth. Indeed, all the venerable fathers have embraced their apostolic doctrine, and the holy orthodox Doctors have venerated and followed it, knowing full well that the See of St. Peter always remains unimpaired by any error, according to the divine promise of our Lord the Savior made to the chief of His disciples: “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren” [Luke 22:32].
(Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 4; Denz. 1836; underlining added.)
The Holy See is the only diocese in the world “where faith cannot experience a failure”, and that comes with a divine guarantee. Do the Society of St. Pius X and The Remnant believe this about the Modernist Vatican? Fat chance! Do they believe that “the See of St. Peter always remains unimpaired by any error”? That’s always, please note — not simply, “unless Bp. Fellay says otherwise” or “as long as Chris Ferrara agrees” or “until diabolical disorientation kicks in”. Minor detail.
Next, let’s look a bit more closely at this sentence already quoted: “For, the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might disclose new doctrine, but that by His help they might guard sacredly the revelation transmitted through the apostles and the deposit of faith, and might faithfully set it forth.” This part of the council’s teaching is often quoted by Semi-Traditionalists as a vindication of their rejection of doctrinal errors and novelties from the “Holy See” while acknowledging the legitimacy of the “papal” occupant. “See”, they say, “it says right here that the papacy was not established to teach new doctrines, so we have to reject them.” But this is clearly a spinning of the text. Of course we cannot accept doctrinal novelties, but in no wise does the Vatican Council here grant the possibility that the Holy See might actually teach any, even in theory.
The key to the correct interpretation of this particular sentence lies in recognizing that it is to be understood as descriptive and explanatory, not as normative or restrictive, i.e. imposing a condition. This is clear especially from the context as gleaned by the immediately preceding and succeeding text: The council is teaching that by God’s special protection, “Faith cannot experience a failure” in the Roman Pontiff, that his See “always remains unimpaired by any error”, and that this is so because the Holy Ghost was promised to the successors of St. Peter for that very purposeand not for the purpose of allowing them to make up heresies, errors, or novelties. So the council is simply explaining what God’s special protection does in fact accomplish — not what it ought to accomplish, nor what it accomplishes under the condition that the doctrine is not in fact novel or false, in which case it would be no protection at all, for it would be like saying that one is protected from cancer on the condition that one does not actually get it. Well, whoop dee doo!
Lastly, the same Pope Pius IX who ratified the decrees of the First Vatican Council had some more to say on this. We’ve already quoted it but it bears repeating:
Now you know well that the most deadly foes of the Catholic religion have always waged a fierce war, but without success, against this Chair [of St. Peter]; they are by no means ignorant of the fact that religion itself can never totter and fall while this Chair remains intact, the Chair which rests on the rock which the proud gates of hell cannot overthrow and in which there is the whole and perfect solidity of the Christian religion.
(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Inter Multiplices, n. 7; underlining added.)
Let’s see if we can apply this Catholic truth to the idea that Francis is the Pope of the Catholic Church — it would then read like this:
Now you know well that the most deadly foes of the Catholic religion have always waged a fierce war, but without success, against this Chair [of St. Peter]; they are by no means ignorant of the fact that Catholicism itself can never totter and fall while Francis remains Pope, for Francis’ pontificate rests on the rock which the proud gates of hell cannot overthrow and in which there is the whole and perfect solidity of the Christian religion.
Anyone at The Remnant, in the SSPX, and throughout the semi-trad Resistance camp will laugh himself silly upon hearing this. John Vennari is already on record saying he would never allow Francis to teach religion to his children. Very good — but neither should one allow Vennari to teach one’s children, for he would teach them that the very Jorge Bergoglio who isn’t Catholic enough to teach his own children is at the same time somehow the bulwark of orthodoxy for the entire Church, the divinely-promised guarantee that keeps the gates of hell from prevailing — even though he is not even fit to teach simple catechism to little ones. Who would want his children exposed to this kind of religious hazmat?
On Being “More Catholic than the Pope”
Speaking of theological toxins, we now return to Chris Ferrara, who addresses what he calls a “desperate” and “slick cliché”, namely, the Neo-Catholics’ objection that he is being “more Catholic than the Pope”. Says Ferrara:
Anyone who has any understanding of the long history of the Church will know, as shocking as this may seem, that in many epochs of the Church, it was really quite easy to be more Catholic than the Pope. And that’s the miracle of the Church, that certain Popes whose lives were disgraceful — the Borgia Popes, for example — Popes who fathered children out of wedlock before they became Pope, Popes who bought their office, for heaven’s sake… These Popes were hardly exemplary Catholics, and many ordinary Catholics were more Catholic than the Pope.
(Christopher Ferrara in “Neo-Catholic Bishop Bashing: De Facto Sedevacantism?”, 8:14-8:45)
Perhaps it never occurred to Mr. Ferrara why the question, “Is the Pope Catholic?” is rhetorical and tautological, and why, by extension, it is impossible for one to be “more Catholic than the Pope”. The reason is quite simply that the Pope is Catholic by definition, for the Pope is the head of the Church, and the head of the Church is necessarily a member of the Church, and as a member of the Church, one must be a Catholic. Come on, this isn’t rocket science.
Let’s review the definitive requirements for being a member of the Church, as given by Pope Pius XII in 1943:
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” [1 Cor 12:13]. 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 [cf. Eph 4:5].
(Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, n. 22; underlining added.)
The requirements for being a member of the Catholic Church, then, are simply four: baptism, profession of the true Faith, being united to the Sovereign Pontiff and the other members of the Church (refusing to be either would constitute schism), and not being excommunicated. That’s it. If you fulfill all of those four conditions, you are a Catholic — not necessarily a good Catholic, but a Catholic.
Notice the utter absence of any requirement for holiness. The papal failings mentioned by Ferrara, although they are horrible indeed and, if unrepented, would lead any Pope to eternal damnation, are all on the moral level: fornication, simony, and unspecificed “disgraceful” living. The presence or absence of such things determine whether one is a good or a bad Catholic, but they have no bearing whatsoever on one’s being a Catholic. From this it follows that one does not become “more Catholic” or “less Catholic” on account of one’s sins against morals (the exception being the sin of schism, which is technically not a sin against Faith but against charity, but this is covered in Popqe Pius XII’s conditions above). Think about it: If you are in the state of grace and the man in the confessional line next to you is in mortal sin, that doesn’t make you “more Catholic” than him. You are both equally Catholic, although one of you is reconciled to God, whereas the other is not.
As always, there is no need to take our word for it. One Pope in particular once clarified very directly that there is no such thing as being “more” or “less” Catholic, because the very nature of Catholicism admits of no such distinction (if you are interested in understanding why this is so, please listen to our TRADCAST 007):
Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: “This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved” (Athanas. Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim “Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,” only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.
(Pope Benedict XV, Encyclical Ad Beatissimi, n. 24)
Of course Ferrara didn’t tell you that, because that would undercut his thesis. It was much more advantageous for him to confuse you by throwing all sorts of horrible sins into the mix that true Popes committed in the past, hoping you would be swayed by emotion and not want to think any further. But notice Pope Benedict is entirely silent on the question of grace or holiness, because these have nothing per se to do with being Catholic.
So, no, Mr. Ferrara, never in history was it “quite easy to be more Catholic than the Pope.” The very idea is an absurdity, which is why the question, “Are you more Catholic than the Pope?”, is rhetorical. You can’t be more Catholic than the Pope! If there is one man on earth guaranteed to be a Catholic, it’s the Pope. The First Vatican Council was quite clear on this very point:
So, this gift of truth and a never failing faith was divinely conferred upon Peter and his successors in this chair, that they might administer their high duty for the salvation of all; that the entire flock of Christ, turned away by them from the poisonous food of error, might be nourished on the sustenance of heavenly doctrine, that with the occasion of schism removed the whole Church might be saved as one, and relying on her foundation might stay firm against the gates of hell.
(Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 4; Denz. 1837; underlining added.)
Still don’t believe it? Have a look at what Fr. Fernand Mourret wrote with regard to the bad Popes of the past, specifically John XII, and how this differs from what Ferrara has led you to believe:
Nothing in his life marked him for this office, and everything should have kept him from it. He was rarely seen in church. His days and nights were spent in the company of young men and of disreputable women, in the pleasures of the table and of amusements and of the hunt, or in even more sinful sensual enjoyments. It is related that sometimes, in the midst of dissolute revelry, the prince had been seen to drink to the health of the devil. Raised to the papal office, Octavian changed his name and took the name of John XII. He was the first pope thus to assume a new name. But his new dignity brought about no change in his morals, and merely added the guilt of sacrilege.
Divine providence, watching over the Church, miraculously preserved the deposit of faith, of which this young voluptuary was the guardian. This Pope’s life was a monstrous scandal, but his bullarium is faultless. We cannot sufficiently admire this prodigy. There is not a heretic or a schismatic who has not endeavored to legitimate his own conduct dogmatically: Photius tried to justify his pride, Luther his sensual passions, Calvin his cold cruelty. Neither Sergius III nor John XII nor Benedict IX nor Alexander VI, supreme pontiffs, definers of the faith, certain of being heard and obeyed by the whole Church, uttered, from the height of their apostolic pulpit, a single word that could be an approval of their disorders.
At times John XII even became the defender of the threatened social order, of offended canon law, and of the religious life exposed to danger.
(Rev. Fernand Mourret, A History of the Catholic Church, Vol. 3 [St. Louis, MO: Herder Book Co., 1946], pp. 510-511; underlining added.)
While Michael Matt actually concedes this very point just a few seconds after Ferrara is done with his misleading lecturing on “being more Catholic than the Pope” (9:06-9:11), Matt does so only in passing and quickly redirects his audience’s attention to another emotional argument, namely, that it “couldn’t have been easy” to live at the time of the scandalous Borgia Popes, to see all the moral filth in the Vatican and be scandalized by it. Yes, yes, we’re sure it wasn’t easy, but what does that have to do with anything? Well, nothing, of course, but let’s not let the facts get in the way; right, Mr. Matt?
A “Ridiculous Syllogism”
Unfortunately, the clouding of ideas and facts doesn’t end there. Next, it is Ferrara’s turn to speak again, and he immediately reaches deeply into his lawyerly bag of tricks again:
Now we’re seeing Popes who are morally above reproach, doing things in the pastoral realm with various remarks and gestures that certainly have caused confusion and have undermined the Faith, and I have to say it, to be perfectly frank, given rise to this entire sedevacantist movement.
Because Catholics who become embittered by what they see, because of the scandals of the post-conciliar Popes, go the wrong way, and they follow this ridiculous syllogism… in fact, in this they share something with the Neo-Catholics: Popes must be Catholic at all times; this Pope is not Catholic in what he says and does at all times; therefore he’s not the Pope.
(Christopher Ferrara in “Neo-Catholic Bishop Bashing: De Facto Sedevacantism?”, 9:46-10:30)
Leaving aside the obviously laughable contention that the Vatican II “popes” have been “morally above reproach” (really now?), let’s just focus on Ferrara’s accusation that we sedevacantists follow a “ridiculous syllogism”, which is, according to him: “Popes must be Catholic at all times; this Pope is not Catholic in what he says and does at all times; therefore he’s not the Pope.” Notice that Ferrara is not quoting anyone, he’s merely making a claim without any backup. The syllogism he uses is definitely not one used by informed Sedevacantists, for the simple reason that it is not theologically precise enough, lending itself to equivocation. The trouble is with the term “Catholic”, believe it or not. It is used ambiguously in Ferrara’s convenient strawman argumentation. Let’s dissect it:
Major premise: “Popes must be Catholic at all times.”
—True enough. But this must be understood in the sense that the Pope, in order to be Pope, must be a [!] Catholic at all times, a member of the Church, i.e. the word “Catholic” here must be a noun. And what it takes to be a member of the Church, we saw earlier in the definition of Pope Pius XII.
Minor premise: “This Pope is not Catholic in what he says and does at all times.”
—If we use “not Catholic” in the same sense as in the major premise, i.e. as a noun (“not a Catholic”), then it would be acceptable, and then the entire syllogism would be valid and sound, but then it also would no longer be “ridiculous”, as Ferrara accuses it of being. But of course Ferrara is not using the phrase “not Catholic” in that sense; instead, he uses it as an adjective and applies it to both doctrine (“in what he says”) and actions (“in what he does”). This is where the ambiguity comes in: Spoken and written words can be “Catholic” or not, but what do we mean when we say, “This is Catholic?” Do we mean it is Catholic dogma? Do we mean it is doctrine? Do we mean it is simply in harmony with doctrine or dogma? Do we mean it is a permitted theological opinion, even if not held by the majority of theologians? Do we mean it is erroneous but does not rise to the level of heresy? Etc. — Likewise for actions: To say an action is “not Catholic”, what does this mean? That it is an act signifying heresy? That it is an act condemned by the Church? That it is a sin or moral imperfection? That it is unprecedented in Church history, albeit morally acceptable? Etc. These questions are not trifles — in logic, philosophy, and theology, they must be resolved and all terms defined with precision to be able to evaluate the validity and soundness of an argument.
Conclusion: “Therefore he’s not the Pope.”
—The validity and soundness of the conclusion depend upon how Ferrara intends his two premises to be understood. Too bad he didn’t have the time to explain!
What’s ridiculous about this “syllogism” is that Ferrara has essentially misrepresented it by not defining the term “Catholic” and using it equivocally in both premises. For a real sedevacantist syllogism — one we are still waiting on Ferrara & Co. to refute — please see Bishop Donald Sanborn’s excellent presentation of The Syllogism of Sedevacantism.
Now that we’ve dismantled yet another Ferrarian falsehood, let’s not look past the other trick our legal eagle from Virginia quickly introduced while you weren’t looking: guilt by association — a lawyer’s favorite! We sedevacantists, you see, “share something with the Neo-Catholics”! Why, that is just horrible! How dare we! Since the Neo-Catholics are wrong, so the obvious implication, then sedevacantist are likewise wrong if they have something in common with them. How silly is this? Does not The Remnant, the Society of St. Pius X, and the whole “resistance” gang also share something — lots, in fact — with the Neo-Catholics? For example, the belief that Francis is the Pope?
Don’t let yourself be swayed by such fallacious reasoning. What matters is not whether one group has a belief that overlaps with that of another group, but whether what is shared in common is true or false. And in the case of the question whether the Pope must be a Catholic, the Neo-Catholics have actually got it right! That is why we share this position with them, just as we share many other true beliefs with the resisters. But by Ferrara’s logic, we might as well accuse him of being like Barack Obama, in that both of them believe Francis is the Pope of the Catholic Church. So what? What does that contribute to the truth or falsity of the claim? Nothing, of course — it is mere rhetoric to create persuasion.
Was the Vatican II Revolution introduced as just an “Optional Suggestion”?
We now move on to one of Ferrara’s pet ideas, one not shared by a great many of his colleagues, and certainly not by the Society of St. Pius X or John Vennari:
The problem we have here is also really not one of obedience. It isn’t as if people who make critical remarks about what’s been happening at the Holy See recently are disobeying some command of the Pope. The pernicious aspect of this whole crisis is that none of it has arisen from anything that has actually been commanded of the faithful. These are all things in the realm of the pastoral; these are all observations the Popes have made; and these are all novelties which in no sense have been imposed on the faithful.
We’ve never been commanded, for example, to attend the New Mass; we’ve never been commanded to engage in ecumenism. There’s no papal edict saying Catholics must dialogue. All of these things have been conducted in the realm of optional, pastoral novelties, and the damage that they’ve caused is fair game for comment on the part of the faithful.
(Christopher Ferrara in “Neo-Catholic Bishop Bashing: De Facto Sedevacantism?”, 10:52-11:44)
Now this is just plain disingenuous. Let us explore this a bit.
First, Ferrara’s argumentation implies that he’s only resisting the Vatican II revolution because it is “optional” — you know, as though he would have submitted (wink, wink) if there had been an edict to impose the things he says weren’t imposed. Second, to say that the Vatican II revolution is optional is to say that it can very well be accepted by the faithful, since they have been granted the option to do so — in other words, Ferrara is arguing that Holy Mother Church can offer cyanide to her children instead of the milk of salutary doctrine (cf. 1 Pet 2:2; 1 Cor 3:2; Mt 7:9-10), as long as she merely allows them to poison themselves and does not make them. Apparently Pope Pius XI wasn’t aware of that when he taught:
…[I]t is clear that the Apostolic See cannot on any terms take part in [the Protestants’ ecumenical] assemblies, nor is it anyway lawful for Catholics either to support or to work for such enterprises; for if they do so they will be giving countenance to a false Christianity, quite alien to the one Church of Christ. Shall We suffer, what would indeed be iniquitous, the truth, and a truth divinely revealed, to be made a subject for compromise? For here there is question of defending revealed truth. Jesus Christ sent His Apostles into the whole world in order that they might permeate all nations with the Gospel faith, and, lest they should err, He willed beforehand that they should be taught by the Holy Ghost [Jn 16:13]: has then this doctrine of the Apostles completely vanished away, or sometimes been obscured, in the Church, whose ruler and defense is God Himself? If our Redeemer plainly said that His Gospel was to continue not only during the times of the Apostles, but also till future ages, is it possible that the object of faith should in the process of time become so obscure and uncertain, that it would be necessary to-day to tolerate opinions which are even incompatible one with another? If this were true, we should have to confess that the coming of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles, and the perpetual indwelling of the same Spirit in the Church, and the very preaching of Jesus Christ, have several centuries ago, lost all their efficacy and use, to affirm which would be blasphemy.
(Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Mortalium Animos, n. 8; underlining added.)
Contrast the teaching of Pius XI with the lawyerly argumentation of Ferrara: The Pope is adamant that the Holy See cannot take part in ecumenism, nor are any other Catholics allowed to do so, for this would mean “giving countenance to a false Christianity”. Ferrara, on the other hand, claims that the Holy See can very much do so, and Catholics are very much allowed to do so, as long as the Vatican does not command the faithful to do so. What rubbish! Pius XI did not say Catholics cannot be compelled to participate in ecumenical activities, he said they are not allowed to, lest they give countenance to a false Christianity. He then proceeded to make clear that to say otherwise would be “blasphemy”, the blasphemy that the true doctrine has “completely vanished away, or sometimes been obscured, in the Church, whose ruler and defense is God Himself”.
Why does Ferrara contradict Pius XI? Because, by hook or by crook, he insists on holding to the absurdity that the Vatican II Sect is the Catholic Church and Francis and his five immediate predecessors are legitimate Roman Pontiffs. But no one can uphold the traditional doctrine of the Church by contradicting it, no matter the motive. And here the contradiction is obvious: The Catholic Church would be abandoning her divine mission if she could, not merely compel, but even permit, her children to wander astray and participate in heretical assemblies in which the Catholic Church is put on the same level as Protestant sects and indifferentism is propagated. This makes perfect sense, because the Church is our Mother, given by God to guide us and lead us to salvation. What mother would tell her children, “Of course you can walk off the cliff — you don’t have to, but you can”?! Is this the kind of Mother God gave us in the Holy Catholic Church? Blasphemy!
Second, to say that the entire Vatican II revolution was a matter of “observations the Popes have made” and things that “in no sense have been imposed on the faithful” is definitely news to all who lived through the aftermath of the council. When the anti-Modernist Mgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton (1906-69) had to face the squared circle after Vatican II, he didn’t triumphantly declare to the world that a whole bunch of optional, non-binding “observations” had just been promulgated — no, he fell silent, resigning his editorship at the American Ecclesiastical Review, unable and unwilling to defend what he knew to be false, yet which he also knew he couldn’t just “resist”. See the following two posts of ours containing explosive information on Vatican II and Mgr. Fenton’s battle against Modernism:
- Mgr. Fenton on the Failure of Vatican II: What John Vennari didn’t tell you
- The Personal Diaries of Mgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton
It is quite simply not true that the revolution of Vatican II has not been imposed on the faithful. Of course it has been. For one thing, look at what happened to the people who refused to implement it, such as Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer in Brazil and Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in France. Look at how the Holy See forced Spain and Colombia to rewrite its Catholic constitutions to get them in line with the new doctrine of religious liberty.
Likewise, consider how the documents of Vatican II were actually promulgated. Each of the 16 decrees ends with the following words of Paul VI:
Each and all these items which are set forth in this decree [Dogmatic Constitution, etc.] have met with the approval of the Council Fathers. And We by the apostolic power given Us by Christ together with the Venerable Fathers in the Holy Spirit, approve, decree and establish it and command that what has thus been decided in the Council be promulgated for the glory of God.
This can be verified at the Vatican web site (for example, at the end of this document) and also in Fr. Walter Abbot’s The Documents of Vatican II (America Press, 1966), passim. Does this sound to you like the council was just issuing a bunch of optional suggestions to the church that inexplicably were nevertheless implemented rigorously throughout the globe, touching every aspect of Catholic life? No, if Paul VI was really the Vicar of Christ, then this text means exactly what it says, and all must agree that “each and all these items which are set forth” in the council have the divine stamp of approval on them, in virtue of the Apostolic authority possessed by the Pope, whose faith cannot fail and to whom alone were given the keys of the kingdom of heaven for binding and loosing (cf. Lk 22:32; Mt 16:18-19). Paul VI, if he was a true Pope, has bound the church to the decrees of the Second Vatican Council — Ferrara’s and Matt’s disagreement notwithstanding.
But here another curious phenomenon pops up: It seems that the argument keeps changing. When it is to their advantage, The Remnant will argue that nothing has been imposed since Vatican II, nothing is binding. They are technically not “disobeying” anything because no command has been given, right? That’s what Ferrara is telling us here. Yet, whenever they argue against Sedevacantism and have to justify their Resistance position, one of the first arguments used is, “We can disobey the Pope when he commands something against the Faith! We have to obey God rather than men!”
Remember how Michael Matt, John Vennari, Marian Horvat, and Atila Sinke Guimaraes teamed up fifteen years ago to issue their “declaration of resistance” against John Paul II in the book, We Resist You to the Face (Los Angeles, CA: Tradition in Action, 2000)? It was followed up with a Remnant article written by “Fr.” Brian Harrison, O.S., with the interesting title, How Much Disobedience Constitutes Schism? Note the word “disobedience” — apparently one can now “disobey” a set of optional recommendations.
Well, if everything is optional and no command was given, what is there to resist or disobey? Now granted, Christopher Ferrara was not one of the co-authors or co-signers of this declaration and in fact has explicitly said he does not “subscribe to every formulation” contained in it (see The Great Facade, p. 3 [1st ed., 2002], or p. 14 [2nd ed., 2015]), but The Remnant’s editor-in-chief was, so perhaps Mr. Matt would care to clarify just what position his newspaper actually holds — was the Vatican II revolution imposed or wasn’t it? Are there any commands which one can or must disobey or not? And if there is such a grave or essential difference between Ferrara and his colleagues on this question, one that touches on the very nature of Catholic authority and submission, why will Ferrara not disassociate himself from all the people who hold a different view from his own?
Getting back to the video we are examining, one can only laugh at Ferrara’s absurd claim that “we’ve never been commanded… to attend the New Mass”. The precept of the Sunday obligation, together with the fact that no other liturgical rite was permitted in most dioceses for much of the time after Vatican II, necessitates the conclusion that you had to go to the “New Mass” to be considered a practicing “Catholic.” On October 28, 1974, “Pope” Paul VI’s Congregation for Divine Worship issued a decree clarifying that the use of the Novus Ordo missal of 1969 was obligatory for all in the Roman rite:
Throughout the world the conferences have been in the process of carrying out these responsibilites, with the result that as sufficient time has passed the word is all but complete. When a conference of bishops decrees that the translation of the Roman Missal, or any part of it, for example, the Order of Mass, is obligatory in a region, Mass, whether in Latin or the vernacular, may be celebrated lawfully only according to the rite of the Roman Missal promulgated 3 April 1969 by authority of Pope Paul VI.
…Both local and religious Ordinaries must … see to it — without prejudice to non-Roman liturgical rites lawfully recognized by the Church but with no exception based on the claim of any, even immemorial custom — that all priests and people of the Roman Rite duly accept the Order of Mass in the Roman Missal; that through greater study and reverence they come to appreciate it for the treasures of both the word of God and of liturgical and pastoral teaching that it contains.
(Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, Notification Conferentiarum Episcopalium, Oct. 28, 1974; in International Commission on English in the Liturgy, Documents on the Liturgy 1963-1979 [Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1982], n. 1784; DOL 219; underlining added.)
So there we have it: The Novus Ordo Missae was commanded (!) to be used by all priests and people of the Roman rite — per Vatican decree. Sorry, Mr. Ferrara, but you lied in your claim that attendance at the Modernist worship service was never imposed. It really doesn’t matter that Michael Davies and Count Neri Capponi think the decree contradicst Pope St. Pius V’s bull Quo Primum (cf. Michael Davies, Pope Paul’s New Mass, pp. 569n., 582). The “Magisterium” — for such you believe it to be — trumps everyone else. If Paul VI was a true Pope, then Pius V’s bull Quo Primum was abrogated by him (on this point, see also: Quo Primum — could a true Pope change it?). So let’s stop spreading the lie that the faithful or the priests were “never commanded” to go to the “New Mass”, that the Modernist liturgy was “in no sense … imposed on the faithful”.
Although we have already proved our point, let us also take a brief look at the claim, advanced by Ferrara, that we have never been commanded to participate in ecumenical anything. Is that really so? Although we have already seen that the true Church cannot even permit us to participate in ecumenical-interreligious activities, it is a fact that the Novus Ordo Sect has indeed commanded its hierarchs and adherents to engage in common prayer with not just Protestants, but even the non-baptized (Jews, Muslims, polytheists).
Writing in his inaugural encyclical in 1979, “Pope Saint” John Paul II declared that the ecumenical activity hitherto engaged in with Protestants “must also be applied — although in another way and with the due differences — to activity for coming closer together with the representatives of the non-Christian religions”, and then immediately went on to clarify that he was specifically talking about “activity expressed through dialogue, contacts, prayer in common, investigation of the treasures of human spirituality…” (John Paul II, Encyclical Redemptor Hominis, n. 6; emphasis added). Did you get that? “Prayer in common”, with Hindus, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Jews, Jainists, etc., “must” be done. The encyclical, by the way, is addressed not only to bishops, but to “all men and women of good will”.
Now if one is convinced that John Paul II was the Vicar of Christ, the visible head of the Catholic Church, which is the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15), he will certainly not delay in putting into practice what the “Holy Father” recommends, advises, enjoins, and even commands. Right?
We remember here the admonitions of Popes Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Pius XI concerning submission to the Roman Pontiff, not merely in theory but especially in practice:
To the shepherds alone was given all power to teach, to judge, to direct; on the faithful was imposed the duty of following their teaching, of submitting with docility to their judgment, and of allowing themselves to be governed, corrected, and guided by them in the way of salvation. Thus, it is an absolute necessity for the simple faithful to submit in mind and heart to their own pastors, and for the latter to submit with them to the Head and Supreme Pastor.
(Pope Leo XIII, Apostolic Letter Epistola Tua, 1885; underlining added.)
When one loves the pope one does not stop to debate about what he advises or demands, to ask how far the rigorous duty of obedience extends and to mark the limit of this obligation. When one loves the pope, one does not object that he has not spoken clearly enough, as if he were obliged to repeat into the ear of each individual his will, so often clearly expressed, not only viva voce, but also by letters and other public documents; one does not call his orders into doubt on the pretext – easily advanced by whoever does not wish to obey – that they emanate not directly from him, but from his entourage; one does not limit the field in which he can and should exercise his will; one does not oppose to the authority of the pope that of other persons, however learned, who differ in opinion from the pope. Besides, however great their knowledge, their holiness is wanting, for there can be no holiness where there is disagreement with the pope.
(Pope St. Pius X, Address to the Priests of the Apostolic Union, Nov. 18, 1912; in Acta Apostolicae Sedis 4 , p. 695; underlining added.)
Wherefore, let the faithful also be on their guard against the overrated independence of private judgment and that false autonomy of human reason. For it is quite foreign to everyone bearing the name of a Christian to trust his own mental powers with such pride as to agree only with those things which he can examine from their inner nature, and to imagine that the Church, sent by God to teach and guide all nations, is not conversant with present affairs and circumstances; or even that they must obey only in those matters which she has decreed by solemn definition as though her other decisions might be presumed to be false or putting forward insufficient motive for truth and honesty. Quite to the contrary, a characteristic of all true followers of Christ, lettered or unlettered, is to suffer themselves to be guided and led in all things that touch upon faith or morals by the Holy Church of God through its Supreme Pastor the Roman Pontiff, who is himself guided by Jesus Christ Our Lord.
(Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Casti Connubii, nn. 103-104; underlining added.)
Got that, Counselor?
Papal Authority, Novelty, and “Loyal Opposition”
Moving on, Ferrara then (11:44-12:09) refers to Canon 212 of the 1983 Novus Ordo Code of Canon Law in defense of his stance of “loyal opposition” against the Vatican II Church. Canon 212 states:
§1. Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church.
§2. The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.
§3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.
(John Paul II, 1983 Code of Canon Law, Canon 212)
Of course Ferrara didn’t mention §1 or §2 but only referred to the content of §3, but even in this he is being somewhat disingenuous. Why? Because, although Canon 212 §3 backs up his idea of resistance to an extent, this part of Novus Ordo church law is itself a novelty, based on Vatican II’s “Dogmatic Constitution” Lumen Gentium (n. 37), and utterly absent from the traditional Catholic Code of Canon Law published by Pope Benedict XV in 1917.
So, again, here we have Ferrara the Lawyer at work: Accepting Vatican II teaching and Canon Law is perfectly fine, even when it is novel and not rooted in the Tradition of the Church, as long as it is beneficial to his argument. What is the standard here? The Catholic Church? The Pope? Catholic Tradition? No — the ultimate standard here is, quite clearly, Chris Ferrara. He will simply argue, not what is true, but whatever works. He does not seek to convince but to persuade. He cites authorities only insofar as they agree with him, rather than adopting that position which follows necessarily from all the evidence. This is a contemptible way of arguing, and intellectually dishonest. He is a rhetorician more than a thinker.
Ferrara then declares: “The Pope is not an absolute dictator” — of course, without even attempting to back up his claim. And while this sounds wonderful, and indeed the Pope is not a dictator, he is nevertheless very much an absolute monarch. Let’s review some basic Catholic dogma:
But, that the episcopacy itself might be one and undivided, and that the entire multitude of the faithful through priests closely connected with one another might be preserved in the unity of faith and communion, placing the blessed Peter over the other apostles He established in him the perpetual principle and visible foundation of both unities, upon whose strength the eternal temple might be erected, and the sublimity of the Church to be raised to heaven might rise in the firmness of this faith. And, since the gates of hell, to overthrow the Church, if this were possible, arise from all sides with ever greater hatred against its divinely established foundation, We judge it to be necessary for the protection, safety, and increase of the Catholic flock, with the approbation of the Council, to set forth the doctrine on the institution, perpetuity, and nature of the Sacred Apostolic Primacy, in which the strength and solidarity of the whole Church consist, to be believed and held by all the faithful, according to the ancient and continual faith of the universal Church, and to proscribe and condemn the contrary errors, so pernicious to the Lord’s flock.
(First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Denz. 1821; underlining added.)
CONDEMNED: “…the Catholic Church was not in the earliest days a sovereignty of one person, that is a monarchy.”
(Pope St. Pius X, Apostolic Letter Ex Quo, Dec. 26, 1910; Denz. 2147a)
What’s interesting here also, once one begins to read actual Catholic magisterial sources instead of Michael Davies or Remnant propaganda, is that the First Vatican Council makes very clear that it is precisely in clinging to the successor of St. Peter, the Pope, that one can be assured to be kept safe from the gates of hell (cf. Cardinal Manning on Pope and Antichrist). But if one were to posit the absurd idea that Francis is in fact the Vicar of Christ and his Modernist Sect the Catholic Church, one would have to turn Vatican I’s teaching on its head, because one can be certain of being led to hell, that is, into apostasy, heresy, blasphemy, impiety, and lax morals, by clinging to “Pope” Francis. The Catholic Church is the divinely-instituted means of salvation to which every person must belong to be able to enter Heaven; the Novus Ordo Sect, by contrast, is a means of damnation which is guaranteed to lead to hell every one of its adherents, and you can guess who instituted that.
It is clear, once again, that Ferrara’s position does not flow naturally from Catholic principles, but backwards: He begins with the desired conclusion that Francis is the Pope and then cobbles together whatever he thinks he can use from Catholic and Novus Ordo doctrine (bits and pieces, carefully selected, often resulting in half-truths or outright errors) that then lead him to this conclusion.
When it comes to the authority of the Pope, our lawyer from Virginia seems to believe in a mere primacy of inspection and direction rather than of jurisdiction, at least to an extent:
If anyone thus speaks, that the Roman Pontiff has only the office of inspection or direction, but not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which pertain to faith and morals, but also in those which pertain to the discipline and government of the Church spread over the whole world; or, that he possesses only the more important parts, but not the whole plenitude of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate, or over the churches altogether and individually, and over the pastors and the faithful altogether and individually: let him be anathema.
(First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 3; Denz. 1831; underlining added.)
The theologian Mgr. Gerard van Noort explains:
…[T]he primacy of the supreme pontiff is not merely a primacy of inspection. A person who enjoys prime authority merely by right of inspection, does not himself by his own power directly rule a society; he simply watches over it. He watches to see that laws laid down for ruling that society are correctly observed and so forth.
(G. van Noort, Dogmatic Theology, Vol. 2: Christ’s Church [Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1957], n. 170, p. 281)
In his book The Great Facade, Ferrara would not call the doctrines of the Novus Ordo magisterium even so much as erroneous (see p. 65 [p. 59 in 2015 ed.]), but instead craftily chose to sidestep the elephant in the living-room by using the conveniently neutral-sounding term “novelties” (cf. p. 63 [p. 58]). By doing this, he of coursed ignored the fact that this still did not answer the question whether these novelties constitute truth or error. In the same work, the lawyer from Virginia also opted to employ the no-less-convenient label “neologism” (p. 81 [p. 71]), which he applied to the concept of ecumenism — as though we were simply talking about a novel term whose meaning no one really knows and which does not really denote any concept which is either true or false, or which at the very least necessarily implies certain underlying doctrines that are either true or false and from which it is derived. How convenient for someone who is looking for as many loopholes as possible in order to justify his rejection of the Vatican II revolution while still seeking to acknowledge as legitimate the bogus hierarchy that produced this revolution!
“Ecumenism”, of course, is a term embracing a collection of ideas and activities — much like “Modernism” and “Gallicanism” — ideas which are either true or false, and activities which are either in accordance with or contrary to Catholic doctrine. Perhaps our legal eagle from Virginia should have consulted Fr. Edward Hahanoe’s book Catholic Ecumenism (Catholic University of America Press, 1953), pp. 45-47, for how the term “ecumenism” was understood by Catholics on the one hand and non-Catholics on the other, before Vatican II, to see which definition corresponds to the one used by the Novus Ordo Sect. Hint: It’s not the Catholic definition!
In 2009, while defending his client Joseph Ratzinger, the same Ferrara echoed his lawyerly tricks from The Great Facade. Commenting on Benedict XVI’s Letter to the “Bishops of the Catholic Church” concerning the lifting of the “excommunication” of the four bishops consecrated by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988, Ferrara wrote:
I do not want to dwell on the letter’s de rigueur nods to “ecumenism” and “interreligious dialogue,” ill-defined pastoral initiatives which have gone nowhere and produced nothing but confusion and inertia in the Church. Catholics remain free to express their objections to these novel concepts, whatever they mean, and the novel practices adopted in pursuit of them.
Priceless! Look at how clever Ferrara is: His goal is to make “Pope” Benedict XVI look as Catholic and pro-traditionalist as possible, and so instead of coming up with a cool and reasonable analysis of the text based on the objective evidence, he immediately switches into spin mode: Benedict’s scandalous remarks in the letter about ecumenism and interreligious dialogue are quickly brushed aside as merely a matter of required etiquette (that’s what de rigueurmeans), as though Ratzinger himself were not a firm believer in these revolutionary concepts, in theory as well as in practice. Ferrara then reinforces his dismissal of Ratzinger’s praise of ecumenism and dialogue by adding “whatever they mean”, as though he couldn’t just look this up in a dictionary of Vatican II theology, in the endless texts of the Novus Ordo magisterium, or, if all else fails, simply by submitting a dubium to the “Holy See” and asking them to define the terms. He betrays the disingenuity in his argument by adding that “Catholics remain free to express their objections to these novel concepts” — hey, at least “neologisms” got upgraded to “concepts” now! — but apparently it did not occur to him that one can hardly object to them if one does not know what they mean. Bummer!
And thus we see how Ferrara operates: all rhetoric, all persuasion — and no real theology or Catholic principles. Yet this is the man Michael Matt extols (at 15:43) as “one of the eldest statesmen of the traditional Catholic movement” and frequently uses as his star commentator on all things “Catholic”, as though he were a reliable authority on any of these matters he pontificates about. He is simply a gifted speaker, a highly opinionated rhetorician, a very capable lawyer. That may all be very nice, but this does not give him any credentials to be dabbling in Catholic theology, especially considering that he is doing so not simply without authority (as Sedevacantists do) but in opposition to the (putatively) legitimate ecclesiastical authority! It’s not Ferrara without the Vatican, it’s Ferrara against the Vatican!
Don’t worry, we’re almost done.
At 25:47 in the video, Ferrara states that “the principle of unity in the Church [=the Pope] is wavering, in areas where the Pope is subject to that kind of wavering — we’re not talking about dogmatic definitions….” This is another one of those clever half-truths that doesn’t give the whole story. Really, Mr. Ferrara, the Pope is subject to the kind of wavering we’ve seen since the death of Pius XII? Is that so? Let’s review once more what we are dealing with:
- Teachings in encyclicals to which every Catholic is bound to adhere under pain of sin (see Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Humani Generis, n. 20)
- Teachings and disciplinary decisions issued by a supposed Ecumenical Council
- Canonizations of Saints
- Laws pertaining directly and indirectly to Divine Worship, especially the Holy Mass
- Disciplinary laws made for the entire Church regarding her governance (such as the 1983 Code of Canon Law and the 1990 Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches) and especially regarding the implementation of ecumenism (such as the 1993 Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism)
All of these things are imposed with the full authority of the putative Pope, whose will they express. In the Catholic Church this makes them either infallible or, in any case, binding under pain of mortal sin.
Let’s have a look at what the Church teaches about her own infallibility, which is not restricted merely to dogmatic definitions, as Ferrara would have you believe, or even the teachings of the universal ordinary Magisterium, which are likewise immune from error. Although both of these constitute the primary object of infallibility, there is also a secondaryobject, and the Church is no less infallible with regard to it, and it is easy to understand why. The theologian van Noort explains:
The secondary object of infallibility comprises all those matters which are so closely connected with the revealed deposit that revelation itself would be imperiled unless an absolutely certain decision could he made about them.
The charism of infallibility was bestowed upon the Church so that the latter could piously safeguard and confidently explain the deposit of Christian revelation, and thus could be in all ages the teacher of Christian truth and of the Christian way of life. But if the Church is to fulfill this purpose, it must be infallible in its judgment of doctrines and facts which, even though not revealed, are so intimately connected with revelation that any error or doubt about them would constitute a peril to the faith. Furthermore, the Church must be infallible not only when it issues a formal decree, but also when it performs some action which, for all practical purposes, is the equivalent of a doctrinal definition.
One can easily see why matters connected with revelation are called the secondary object of infallibility. Doctrinal authority and infallibility were given to the Church’s rulers that they might safeguard and confidently explain the deposit of Christian revelation. That is why the chief object of infallibility, that, namely, which by its very nature falls within the scope of infallibility, includes only the truths contained in the actual deposit of revelation. Allied matters, on the other hand, which are not in the actual deposit, but contribute to its safeguarding and security, come within the purview of infallibility not by their very nature, but rather by reason of the revealed truth to which they are annexed. As a result, infallibility embraces them only secondarily. It follows that when the Church passes judgment on matters of this sort, it is infallible only insofar as they are connected with revelation.
When theologians go on to break up the general statement of this thesis into its component parts, they teach that the following individual matters belong to the secondary object of infallibility: 1. theological conclusions; 2. dogmatic facts; 3. the general discipline of the Church; 4. approval of religious orders; 5. canonization of saints.
(Van Noort, Dogmatic Theology, vol. 2: Christ’s Church [Newman Press, 1957], see transcript here; italics given; underlining added.)
While we cannot now delve deeply into the subject matter in this lengthy post, suffice it to say that the Novus Ordo Church has heretical/impious/harmful laws in its Code of Canon Law (such as the permission for Protestants to receive the sacraments under certain conditions), as the Society of St. Pius X explicitly acknowledges, it has a Modernist liturgical rite of “Mass”, and it has declared as saints people who were public sinners. In short: GAME OVER. The goose is cooked. The Vatican II Sect may be a lot of things, but it’s not the immaculate Bride of Christ.
As regards the Church’s infalliblity in the canonization of saints, it was none other than Chris Ferrara who, in 2011 after the “beatification” of John Paul II, declared that the (Novus Ordo) Church would never be able to canonize John Paul II precisely because that is an infallible act, and God would prevent it:
In considering the beatification of John Paul II we must never lose sight of what the Church teaches about beatifications: that they are permissions, not commands, to venerate, and thus are not infallible acts of the Magisterium. As the Catholic Encyclopedia explains, canonization involves “a precept, and is universal in the sense that it binds the whole Church,” whereas beatification only “permits such worship…”
What is done is done. But in reality, no matter what anyone says, we remain free to pray for John Paul II instead of to him—even in the Diocese of Rome itself. And we remain free as well to pray that the Holy Ghost will never allow the calamity of the last pontificate (or the one before it) to receive, per impossible, the perpetual and infallible imprimatur of a formal canonization. May Our Lady intercede for us, for Holy Church, and for the late Pope John Paul II.
(Ferrara, “The Beatification of John Paul II: Another Extension of the Great Façade?”, The Remnant Online, May 9, 2011)
Ah well, that was then. But notice what interesting term Ferrara uses here, adopted from the Catholic Encyclopedia, with regard to the nature of a canonization: It is “a precept” that “binds the whole Church”… So much for “nothing has been imposed”!
Ladies and gentlemen, listen to this lawyer from Virginia at your own risk. It’s time to throw away the propaganda and hit real Catholic books from before Vatican II. The Catholic Archive is a great place to start.
If, as the Semi-Traditionalists at The Remnant and elsewhere believe, the Novus Ordo Sect is truly the Catholic Church and so has a hierarchy with Pope and bishops throughout the world and a Holy See that can be consulted to resolve theological, moral, and disciplinary questions, then it is difficult to see why anyone should care what Mr. Matt or Mr. Ferrara think. As we said earlier, this is one thing that essentially distinguishes the recognize-and-resist predicament from that of the Sedevacantists: The former act against putatively legitimate authority, whereas we act simply in the absence of such.
De facto, of course, we know exactly what is going on: According to The Remnant, anyone seeking to be a faithful and genuine Catholic is supposed to tune out the Novus Ordo hierarchy and listen to traditionalist voices instead. You are not to follow the decrees and teachings of the “Pope” but instead cling to the teachings prior to Vatican II. But if the “Catholic Church” today is not reliable, one has to ask why, if it is no different in essence from the Church before the council, one should consider it reliable or authoritative at any point in history. If it is the same church, equally protected by the Holy Ghost, at all times, and if Francis is truly the successor of St. Peter to whom submission is owed by all the faithful, and if he possesses all the same protections and privileges as any other Pope in history, then why should we now have to turn to The Remnant to get “real” Catholic teaching? Is this Matt’s idea of indefectibility — that when the hierarchy fails, his newspaper will kick in to keep the Church from failing? Seriously?
In 1888, Pope Leo XIII rebuked Catholic lay journalists who presume to denounce and criticize Catholic bishops:
[I]t cannot be permitted that laymen who profess to be Catholic should go so far as openly to arrogate to themselves in the columns of a newspaper, the right to denounce, and to find fault, with the greatest license and according to their own good pleasure, with every sort of person, not excepting bishops, and think that with the single exception of matters of faith they are allowed to entertain any opinion which may please them and exercise the right to judge everyone after their own fashion.
(Pope Leo XIII, Apostolic Letter Est Sane Molestum to Archbishop Meignan )
What would Pope Leo XIII say to Matt and Ferrara, and others like them, who do not only openly criticize the people they recognize as the rightful Catholic shepherds who legitimately rule over them, but even the (supposed) Vicar of Christ himself? And not just on everything excepting matters of faith, but even on matters of faith?!
Absurd. It is simply absurd.
Deplorably, “The Remnant Forum” has degenerated into the theological equivalent of a Laurel and Hardy show.
“Is the Pope Catholic?”, Newsweek magazine wondered in September 2015. A lot of people must be asking themselves this question these days. The answer, of course, is, “Yes, he is, by definition,” as we have seen. But since Francis clearly isn’t a Catholic (if Catholicism has any objective meaning), then it follows necessarily that he isn’t the Pope. Why he is not the Pope is a separate question — and it need not be resolved merely to know that he isn’t the Pope.
No doubt, this is much too “simple” for the oh-so-complex Michael Matt, or perhaps still “ridiculous” to Chris Ferrara. It may be simple, or it may be complex, and Ferrara may sneer at it. In any case, it is the truth, and that is all that matters.
Dear readers, you can see why some of our articles take so long to produce. See how much effort went into this post, which dissected and refuted merely a few minutes of the propaganda spewed by Matt and Ferrara. It is very easy to confuse people with a few half-truths, a good presentation, and an affable personality. But disentangling the mess takes considerable time and effort, and unfortunately we do not have the same kind of resources (either in time, staff, prestige, influence, or funding) as these Semi-Traditionalists do. This is where you come in: Please spread the word about Novus Ordo Watch and the truth about Holy Mother Church, the vacancy of the Apostolic See since the death of Pope Pius XII, and what must do now to expose the charlatans in Rome and their enablers. There are as many as twelve ways you can help in this regard:
There is no need to despair on account of the frightening exile into which, through God’s Providence, each of us has been placed. We have put up a compassionate guide to help you navigate these uncharted waters:
We will end with the beautiful and consoling words of Pope Pius X:
You know very well, Venerable Brethren, that even when surrounded by tribulation the Church still enjoys some consolation from God. “Christ also loved the Church, and delivered himself up for her, that he might sanctify her…in order that he might present to himself the Church in all her glory, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she might be holy and without blemish” [Eph. 5:25ff.]. When vice runs wild, when persecution hangs heavy, when error is so cunning that it threatens her destruction by snatching many children from her bosom (and plunges them into the whirlpool of sin and impiety) — then, more than ever, the Church is strengthened from above. Whether the wicked will it or not, God makes even error aid in the triumph of Truth whose guardian and defender is the Church. He puts corruption in the service of sanctity, whose mother and nurse is the Church. Out of persecution He brings a more wondrous “freedom from our enemies.” For these reasons, when worldly men think they see the Church buffeted and almost capsized in the raging storm, then she really comes forth fairer, stronger, purer, and brighter with the luster of distinguished virtues.
(Pope St. Pius X, Encyclical Editae Saepe, n. 6)
Saint Pius X, vanquisher of Modernists, pray for us!