On the “heretical Pope” question…
White Smoke, Anti-Pope:
A Response to “Fr.” Brian Harrison
The Rev. Brian Harrison, O.S., is a former professor of theology of the so-called Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico. Australian by birth, he is a convert to the Vatican II Sect from Presbyterianism (1972). Harrison belongs to the conservative/semi-traditionalist wing of the Novus Ordo Sect and has contributed to publications such as The Remnant, The Latin Mass, This Rock (now Catholic Answers Magazine), and Living Tradition, whose associate editor he is. One of the few clerics of the Modernist Sect who is willing to deal with traditionalist issues, Harrison is often tapped when the Novus Ordo Church needs someone to weigh in on traditionalist controversy, especially Sedevacantism.
In March of 2001, “Fr.” Harrison published a brief article in This Rock magazine that was meant to be a refutation of Sedevacantism. Entitled “White Smoke, Valid Pope”, the piece argues that a heretical Pope would govern the Church illicitly but validly. In other words, according to Harrison’s thesis, a Pope who is a heretic would indeed be a true and valid Pope, but his papacy would not be “authorized” by God or the Church and therefore gravely sinful and contrary to canon law. (An earlier version of Harrison’s article had appeared in the May 2000 issue of Living Tradition.)
This particular position is rather original, and it seems that it never found many adherents over the years that followed. Still, since Harrison’s essay is occasionally brought up by people arguing about Sedevacantism on the internet, we decided to offer this response.
The full text of Harrison’s piece can be found on the Catholic Answers web site:
The first indication that Harrison’s thesis is indeed unique only to himself is the fact that he does not cite a single pre-Vatican II Catholic theologian or canonist to back up his central claims. If it were the teaching of the Catholic Church that a heretical Pope would govern the Church illicity but validly, Harrison should not have any difficulty finding some authority from before the council that affirms just that; yet he argues his entire case only on his own putative authority, on his own reading of certain canonical texts. This makes his case only as strong as the weakest of his arguments, and these we will now examine.
In what follows, we will assume that the reader has already read “White Smoke, Valid Pope” in its entirety. We will quote only the most crucial portions directly and then offer our critical commentary:
I am well aware that St. Robert Bellarmine and some other noted theologians have held that a pope may cease to be pope if he falls into heresy. But that is not doctrine, to which all Catholics are obliged to give their assent—it is debatable theological opinion with which we are free either to agree or disagree.
(Rev. Brian W. Harrison, “White Smoke, Valid Pope”, This Rock, vol. 12, n. 3 [Mar. 2001])
This is a common misconception. Actually, St. Robert Bellarmine did not hold that a pope “may” cease to be Pope if he were to become a public heretic. Rather, St. Robert taught that
…a manifestly heretical Pope per se ceases to be Pope and Head, just as per se he ceases to be a Christian and member of the body of the Church. Therefore he can be judged by the Church and punished. This is the opinion of all the old Fathers, who teach that manifest heretics immediately lose all jurisdiction.
Notice that this is not merely St. Robert Bellarmine’s personal “opinion”, as the Rev. Harrison makes it sound, but is in fact “the opinion of all the [Church] Fathers”. By dismissing St. Robert, Harrison is setting aside not merely a celebrated Doctor of the Church but also all of the Church Fathers, for it is they who support Bellarmine’s position. What weighty justification does Harrison give for making such an audacious move? None. What does he offer as a solid theological alternative? As we will see, nothing but his own, flimsily-argued and easily-refuted opinion.
What Harrison conveniently ignores entirely in his article is that the idea that a public heretic cannot be Pope is not so much a canonical matter as it is a doctrinal one. The reason why a public heretic cannot be Pope is not that there is some Church law that legislates against this; rather, the reason is that public heresy precludes one from membership in the Church altogether: “Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith… 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).
This is also the reasoning given by St. Robert Bellarmine himself, who does not appeal to ecclesiastical legislation but to the fact that a manifest (=public) heretic “per se … ceases to be a Christian and member of the body of the Church.” But if someone is not even capable of being a member of the Church on account of public heresy, then much less could he be the head of the Church! This stands to reason, for “it is absurd to imagine that he who is outside can command in the Church” (Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Satis Cognitum, n. 15).
Moreover, it is a dogma of the Holy Catholic Faith that the Church is one: “I believe … in one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church” (Nicene Creed). The Church is united in Faith and government. But if the head of the Church could profess a faith that is different from the rest of the Church, then this unity would be destroyed, and far from being the foundation and linchpin of ecclesiastical unity, the Papacy would be its undoing. Furthermore, if the Pope has one faith and the rest of the Church another, which faith is a member of the Church then supposed to have? The Pope’s or the Church’s? The following teaching of Pope Pius IX underscores this conundrum:
Indeed one simple way to keep men professing Catholic truth is to maintain their communion with and obedience to the Roman Pontiff. For it is impossible for a man ever to reject any portion of the Catholic faith without abandoning the authority of the Roman Church. In this authority, the unalterable teaching office of this faith lives on. It was set up by the divine Redeemer and, consequently, the tradition from the Apostles has always been preserved.
(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Nostis et Nobiscum, n. 17)
A “heretical Pope” simply does not fit into this equation.
We could produce dozens more quotations like this showing the incongruity between Catholic teaching on the papacy and the idea of a heretical Pope, but we will simply refer the interested reader to some prior material on our blog that pertains to this issue:
- Sedevacantism and the Papacy: Have the Gates of Hell prevailed?
- The Question of a “Heretical Pope” answered by the Fathers of Vatican I
- Vatican I and the “Heretical Pope”: A Follow-Up
“Fr.” Harrison continues:
On the basis of twentieth-century canon law (found in both the 1917 and 1983 Codes), a pope who fulfilled the canonical requirements for heresy—that is, who pertinaciously doubted or denied one or more truths to be believed with divine and Catholic faith (cf. 1983 Code 751; 1917 Code 1325 §2)—would not have the moral right before God to be pope. Therefore, his remaining in office would be illicit. Still, if he refused to resign, he would truly be the pope in the sense that his acts of papal governance would still be valid before God and the Church.
This is Harrison’s central thesis in a nutshell, which he seeks to prove in the remainder of his article. It is a mystifying argument, to be sure, because the Australian theologian begins by considering the matter only in terms of canon law but then immediately makes a moral claim (“would not have the moral right before God”) before drawing the canonical conclusion that it would be “illicit” for a Pope-turned-heretic to remain in office.
Let’s have a close look at Harrison’s argumentation to see whether it can withstand critical scrutiny:
Some sedevacantists claim that Cardinal Angelo Roncalli’s 1958 election as Pope John XXIII was invalid because of his having fallen previously into heresy and/or having secretly become a Freemason while acting as papal nuncio in Paris, thereby putting himself outside the Church. (At that time, membership in the Freemasons carried it with automatic, or latae sententiae, excommunication.)
Anything Angelo Roncalli (or any other Novus Ordo papal pretender) may have done secretly is irrelevant to the debate because in order to cause loss of membership in the Catholic Church, any defection from the Faith must be public, since the Church is a visible organization and membership — or lack thereof — is a public matter. Whoever argues that John XXIII was not a valid Pope on account of secret heresy or secret Masonic membership, argues unsoundly, and Harrison is correct in finding fault with it.
The central thesis of “White Smoke, Valid Pope”, however, sidesteps the whole issue about who was or wasn’t a public or private heretic before his election as Pope, and argues instead that even a public heretic would ascend to the Papacy validly:
I will not attempt here to investigate and evaluate such charges, because, even if they were true, the resulting excommunications—surprising as this may sound—would not have disqualified Cardinal Roncalli from being validly elected as Pope. This is made clear by the special Church law governing conclaves. At that time the relevant legislation was that laid down in Pope Pius XII’s Apostolic Constitution Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis (December 8, 1945).
This document includes a special provision—startling at first glance—that in fact has been included substantially in all other papal legislation for conclaves from the fourteenth century on. (The most recent legislative act on this topic is John Paul II’s apostolic constitution Universo [sic] Dominici Gregis, issued February 22, 1996.) The relevant law laid down by Pius XII reads as follows:
“None of the cardinals may in any way, or by pretext or reason of any excommunication, suspension, or interdict whatsoever, or of any other ecclesiastical impediment, be excluded from the active and passive election of the supreme pontiff. We hereby suspend such censures solely for the purposes of the said election; at other times they are to remain in vigor” (VAS 34). Active in this context means that such a cardinal may vote in the election, while passive means he himself can be elected.
No doubt Mr. Harrison thinks he has scored a slam dunk against sedevacantism here, but in fact he has only revealed his own incompetence on the matter about which he presumes to pontificate, as we will now demonstrate.
Pope Pius XII’s legislation does indeed lift all excommunications from the cardinals while they are in conclave, but — and this is Harrison’s big blunder — the ecclesiastical impediment of excommunication has nothing to do with why a public heretic cannot be Pope. What keeps a public heretic from being validly elected to the Papacy is precisely his public heresy, not some excommunication that the Church imposes as a result of the public heresy (and which she has the power to lift at any time).
Public heresy is a divine obstacle to attaining the papacy, whereas excommunication is only an ecclesiastical (human) obstacle. Pius XII being only the Pope and not God, was obviously only able to remove ecclesiastical impediments from the cardinals participating in conclave, which is exactly what he said he was doing: “None of the cardinals may in any way, or by pretext or reason of any excommunication, suspension, or interdict whatsoever, or of any other ecclesiastical impediment, be excluded from the active and passive election of the supreme pontiff” (Apostolic Constitution Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis, n. 34; italics & underlining added).
Harrison has committed the fallacy of accident, confusing the accidental (excommunication) with the essential (public heresy):
The fallacy of accident consists in mistaking the accidental (or nonessential) for the essential. Some things are affirmed or denied of a subject in virtue of something essential to it. Other things are affirmed or denied of a subject in virtue of something nonessential to it. To confuse these two is to commit the fallacy of accident.
(Edward P. Simmons, The Scientific Art of Logic [Milwaukee, WI: Bruce Publishing, 1961], p. 300)
Public heresy does incur an automatic excommunication (see Canon 2314 §1), but it is not the automatic excommunication that makes one inherently unable to attain or retain office in the Church — it is the public heresy which does.
This becomes more clear when we consider just what an excommunication is and does. To cease to be a member of the Church, it is not necessary that one be excommunicated. And in fact, some excommunicates remain members of the Church (more on that in a moment). In other words, loss of Church membership and excommunication, although related, are two essentially different things — one can suffer one without the other. Because Harrison misses this crucial distinction, he conflates both concepts and treats them as equivalent and interchangeable. No wonder the result is bad theology!
Have a look again at how Pope Pius XII defines membership in the Church: “Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized [baptism] and profess the true faith [no heresy], and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body [no schism], or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed [no excommunication]” (Encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 22). The Pope here enumerates four conditions that must be verified to be a member of the Catholic Church: One must be baptized, not be a heretic, not be a schismatic, and not be excommunicated.
Notice how excommunication is in a separate category altogether from heresy or schism. That’s because although the Church certainly imposes an automatic excommunication on all heretics and schismatics, this is merely an ecclesiastical punishment and is not what ultimately causes the loss of membership in the Church:
In the early ages the word excommunication was a generic term used to designate all ecclesiastical punishments and remedies. Consequently, the history of the censure of excommunication is very closely connected with that of ecclesiastical punishments in general; at times they are so closely allied that it is impossible to discriminate between them.
…[E]xcommunication is a censure, that is, a penalty by which a baptized person, delinquent and contumacious, is deprived of some spiritual goods, or goods annexed to spiritual things, until he ceases to be contumacious and is absolved. A censure is a penalty, that is, a privation of some good, inflicted by legitimate authority for the correction of the delinquent and punishment of the offence. It is a spiritual penalty, not only because it proceeds from a spiritual power and is inflicted for a spiritual purpose, but especially because it deprives one of spiritual goods, although secondarily it deprives one of temporal goods also. Moreover, it is a medicinal penalty, for its primary and immediate purpose is the emendation of the delinquent.
…Does the Church intend hy excommunication to deprive one entirely of membership in the Church, or does she intend only to deprive the delinquent of the blessings and rights which accompany membership? In answer to this question, most of the recent dogmatic theologians distinguish between the tolerati [“those to be tolerated”] and the vitandi [“those to be avoided”]. According to the more common opinion, the tolerati do not cease to be members of the Church, for the Church, in so far as she tolerates them, does not totally exclude them from her pale. With regard to the vitandi, the more commonly accepted opinion maintains that they cease to be members of the Church, since, at least temporarily, they are cut off from all external communion with the Church. [Fr. Adolphe] Tanquerey remarks that the question has little practical bearing, since the Church is wont to declare as vitandi only notorious heretics and schismatics who have already ceased to be members of the Church by reason of notorious heresy or schism.
(Rev. Francis Edward Hyland, Excommunication: Its Nature, Historical Development and Effects [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1928], pp. vii, 1-2, 9; italics given; underlining added.)
Note well, then: Although an excommunication can put someone outside the Church, it is not necessary that someone be excommunicated in order to lose Church membership. Notorious heretics and schismatics, as noted above, cease to be members of the Church not on account of an excommunication inflicted upon them by the law of the Church, but on account of being public non-Catholics, a status that is inherently incompatible with being a member of the Church. It is thus divine law, not ecclesiastical law, that puts them outside the Church.
This is why Pope Pius XII teaches expressly that “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” (Encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 23; italics added). To say otherwise would involve one in an intolerable contradiction, for one would have to maintain that someone can be both a public Catholic and a public non-Catholic at the same time.
Unfortunately, Mr. Harrison ignores all this and so misrepresents the issue entirely. For him, what expels a public heretic or apostate from the bosom of the Church is not the nature of the sin itself but only the ecclesiastical punishment which the Church has legislated is inflicted on such people. Since Pius XII has legislated that this punishment — excommunication — is lifted from cardinals during a conclave, Harrison triumphantly concludes that sedevacantists do not have a case. Alas, here the former theology professor of that “pontifical” university has only revealed that he does not know what he is talking about.
Continuing with Harrison’s essay, we now move from flawed argumentation to downright absurdity:
It may seem incredible that the Church’s traditional law goes out of its way to make it possible for heretics, apostates, and Freemasons, among others, to be elected to the see of Peter. Shouldn’t such enemies of the Church be the first to be excluded from participation in something so sacred?
At first sight it would certainly seem so. But a moment’s reflection shows that such legislation is necessary precisely in order to protect the papacy from the calamity that sedevacantists claim has now in fact befallen it: a Church with no visible head and therefore no visible unity, a Church whose structures lie in utter chaos.
So, according to Harrison, it is supposedly a matter of God protecting His Church that a heretic, apostate, or Freemason can ascend to the Papacy validly! By contrast, we are told, for a heretic or apostate to occupy the papal office invalidly would constitute some great “calamity” for the Church! This is not just comical, it is also offensive to pious ears, utterly nonsensical, and an insult to God and Holy Mother Church. But what is more, a visible head who is manifestly not a Catholic does not save anything for Mr. Harrison, for such a man cannot be the principle of unity in the Church, as he himself is not part of this unity of Faith.
To further illustrate how absurd Harrison’s claim is, consider the state of the “Catholic Church” since Vatican II. Look at all that has been done by and under the watch of the Novus Ordo popes. Precisely how does saying that all this destruction, blasphemy, sacrilege, heresy, and impiety was unleashed by genuine Vicars of Jesus Christ (rather than anti-Catholic usurpers and charlatans) protect the Church? It does not make the least bit of sense. But then, apparently the Catholic Encyclopedia too is unaware of this tremendous barrier against ecclesial calamity: “Of course, the election of a heretic, schismatic, or female would be null and void” (s.v. “Papal Elections”). Harrison might as well expand his thesis to include female “popes” as well, for by the same logic that too should prevent the greater calamity.
Let us continue with the Australian theologian:
We need to remember that some offences carrying a penalty of latae sententiae excommunication, such as heresy, can be committed in great secrecy without any public knowledge of the fact. Thus, if the Church’s law required that a cardinal be free from all ecclesiastical censure in order to be eligible for the papacy, the voters in general would have no guarantee that any given candidate was not in fact ineligible because of some secret crime by which he had incurred excommunication. The voters might unwittingly carry out an invalid election, in which case the “pope” they elected would not be true pope. The invalidity of his acts would then be a kind of spiritual cancer quietly destroying the Church’s vital structures from within. The bishops appointed by him would have no true right to govern their respective dioceses. No laws he passed would be binding on the Church. In particular, the cardinals named by him would not be valid electors of a future pope. How then, if at all, could a true pope be restored? Who would be competent to decide?
This is true as far as it goes, but it is again beside the point. What may or may not have happened in secret is irrelevant because it is only when the sins of heresy, schism, and apostasy are public that they cause loss of membership in the Church (cf. Mgr. Gerardus van Noort, Dogmatic Theology II: Christ’s Church [Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1957], pp. 241-242), as we already explained. The Modernist Revolution of the Vatican II Sect has been so successful not because of secret heretics running the show but because of public ones!
That’s the whole problem: The heresy is out in the open, and it has been affecting and infecting the Novus Ordo faithful throughout the world for decades, because the heretical pseudo-authorities are diffusing this heretical poison throughout the entire church. That’s why there is such widespread loss of Faith. It’s because it’s all public, not secret.
Thus, Harrison’s argument about how a secret heretic’s election to the papacy must be valid is correct as far as it goes, but it is a red herring. No sedevacantist argument is based on secret heresy.
The Rev. Harrison continues:
In any case, canon law makes it clear that such a pope [who becomes a heretic during his papacy] will not lose his power to govern the Church validly, not even by public expressions of heretical doctrine. In the 1917 Code [of Canon Law], we find that apostates and heretics incur latae sententiae (ipso facto) excommunication (canon 2314 §1), but we need to consider other canons in order to see how excommunication relates to loss of ecclesiastical office.
Once again, Harrison confuses public heresy and the immediate loss of office that occurs automatically on its account (regardless of ecclesiastical law) with the penalty of excommunication the Church imposes. Because he conflates these two essentially distinct things, the conclusions he draws are not applicable, namely:
Canon 2263 states that an excommunicated person, as we would expect, “is forbidden to exercise ecclesiastical offices or duties”—the first among which is, of course, the papacy. However, the next canon (2264) affirms the following: “An act of jurisdiction carried out by an excommunicated person, whether in the internal or the external forum, is illicit; and if a condemnatory or declaratory sentence has been pronounced, it is also invalid, without prejudice to canon 2261 §3; otherwise it is valid.” (The other canon cited here, 2261 §3, makes an exception to this invalidity when it is a case of an officially excommunicated priest giving absolution to someone in danger of death.)
These last four words—”otherwise it is valid”—are highly significant. Let us assume that this pope, the validity of whose election no one disputes, refused to admit he had fallen into heresy. Since no other earthly person or authority—not even all the rest of the bishops gathered in an ecumenical council—would be competent to pass a condemnatory sentence against this pope or to declare that he has incurred excommunication, it follows from the Church’s law that, if he refuses to resign, all his acts of jurisdiction would remain valid, even though they would be illicit. So while this pope would offend God gravely by exercising his office while under an (undeclared) excommunication, all his official acts still would be juridically valid and binding on the Church’s members.
The canons in question speak of the excommunicated per se, not of public heretics or apostates per se, hence what the canons say is irrelevant to the topic at hand. The fact that heretics and apostates incur automatic excommunication by Church law is merely accidental to the whole matter. One can be excommunicated without being a heretic or apostate (for example, one can be excommunicated for profaning the Blessed Sacrament, for attacking the Pope, or for procuring an abortion). By treating the excommunication as that which essentially causes the loss of office, however, Harrison is guilty of the fallacy of accident, as we already noted before, and thus his conclusions are bound to be flawed.
Harrison’s stumble over the fallacy of accident becomes even more evident in what he says next:
There is one other canon in the 1917 Code that might at first glance seem to provide a legal basis for the sedevacantists’ thesis that a pope could lose his office by falling into heresy after his election to the chair of Peter. Canon 188 §4 states that among the actions which automatically (ipso facto) cause any cleric to lose his office, even without any declaration on the part of a superior, is that of “defect[ing] publicly from the Catholic faith” (“A fide catholica publice defecerit“). However, to “defect publicly” from the faith clearly means something more drastic than making heretical (or allegedly heretical) statements in the course of public speeches or documents.
This particular cause of losing an ecclesiastical office is found in that section of the Code dealing with the resignation of such an office (canons 184–191) and is part of a canon which lists eight sorts of actions which the law treats as “tacit resignations.” In other words, they are the sorts of actions that can be safely taken as evidence that the cleric in question does not even to want to continue in the office he held up till that time, even though he may never have bothered to put his resignation or abdication in writing.
The beautiful thing about living 100 years after the 1917 Code of Canon Law was first released is that we really do not have to guess as to what its legislation means. We can simply look it up. And while Harrison curiously decided not to do that, we are only too happy to oblige.
Canon 188 n. 4 is the only canon that deals with automatic loss of office for heresy. It is no accident that this canon (found in Book II of the Code) is far removed from the canons that speak about penalties for ecclesiastical crimes (Canons 2314ff., found in Book V), and this is because automatic loss of office due to public defection from the Faith is not a penalty per se, it is simply the inherently necessary consequence of ceasing to be a member of the Church. Hence this canon is listed under “loss of ecclesiastical offices” (“de amissione officiorum ecclesiasticorum“) as part of Book II, “On Persons” (“De Personis“), in the Code of Canon Law.
If Harrison had actually consulted some pre-Vatican II literature on the issue, instead of simply offering his flawed, semi-educated guesses, he would have quickly seen his mistake:
It is plainly evident that a distinction is being made between the threatened or enacted penalty [of Canon 2314] on the one hand, and the tacit renunciation [of Canon 188] on the other. Nowhere in the Code is the tacit renunciation called a penalty.
(Rev. Gerald V. McDevitt, The Renunciation of an Ecclesiastical Office [Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1946], p. 116)
The Code of Canon Law is careful to call this automatic loss of office a tacit resignation, not a penalty or a privation.
Harrison tries to muddy the waters a bit concerning Canon 188 n. 4, making it seem as though it had no real bearing on the matter under discussion, when in fact it could not be more relevant to the issue. He says:
In such a context, therefore, canon 188 §4, in speaking of “public defection from” (or “abandonment of”) the Catholic faith, can mean only that kind of defection that is obvious and indisputable before all the world, even to doctrinally illiterate Catholics and non-Catholics. In this kind of defection, the cleric in question ceases even to profess the Catholic faith and clearly has not the slightest desire to continue in his previous clerical office.
What the Code is contemplating here would be, for instance, a priest who openly joins a Protestant sect or a Masonic lodge or who declares himself an atheist and joins the Communist Party. In such sad cases as these, it is common that the priest in question simply packs up and leaves without ever bothering to submit a formal letter of resignation to his bishop.
We need not reinvent the wheel here. While Harrison seeks to raise the bar to an artificially high level that makes public defection much more difficult to attain than “mere” heresy, the truth is that neither Church law nor Church doctrine require any additional conditions to be verified above and beyond those for public heresy or apostasy, as we will now see (the question of schism is a bit more tricky, as pure schism is technically not a defection from the Faith but from Christian charity, but the matter need not concern us here since we are not dealing with pure schism in the case of the Novus Ordo popes anyway).
On what grounds does Harrison insist that “public defection” must mean that the abandonment of the Faith is evident even to “doctrinally illiterate Catholics and non-Catholics”? He offers nothing but his own assurance. Even so, this argument will not be of any help to the Australian theologian, because when one does ask “doctrinally illiterate Catholics and non-Catholics”, they all know that the Catholicism since Vatican II is not the Catholicism from before Vatican II. Everyone knows it, except for a handful of souls that stubbornly deny it, and those are the ones in the “conservative” Novus Ordo camp like Harrison.
In any case, we need not speculate about any of these canonical things Harrison brings up. We can simply do what he didn’t do, and that is, turn to pre-Vatican II sources and “look it up”. Here is what we find:
Tacit resignation, or as it is sometimes called, equivalent resignation, is the result of certain explicitly determined facts, which, by a special disposition of law and of themselves, without the formalities of presentation, acceptance or declaration, produce the same effect as express [=explicit] resignation. Canon 188 enumerates taxatively the facts which produce tacit resignation. The only probable fact which might affect the episcopal office is that of public defection from the faith [Canon 188 n. 4]. This crime presupposes not an internal, or even external but occult act, but a public defection from the faith through formal heresy, or apostasy, with or without affiliation with another religious society. Simple schism without heresy would not suffice to constitute tacit resignation. The public character of this crime must be understood in the light of canon 2197 n. 1. Hence, if a bishop were guilty of this violation and the fact were divulged to the greater part of the town or community, the crime would be public and the see ipso facto becomes vacant.
(Rev. Leo Arnold Jaeger, The Administration of Vacant and Quasi-Vacant Dioceses in the United States [Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1932], pp. 81-82; underlining added.)
Note well: The author, Fr. Leo Jaeger, calls public defection from the Faith a fact which of itself produces a tacit resignation from office. What constitutes defection from the Faith? Quite simply, “formal heresy, or apostasy, with or without affiliation with another religious society”. How public is “public”? We are referred to the definition given in Canon 2197 n. 1: “A delict is: 1.º Public, if it is already known or is in such circumstances that it can be and must be prudently judged that it will easily become known.”
There is no great mystery here, and Harrison’s attempt to turn it into something “more drastic than making heretical … statements in the course of public speeches or documents”, is gratuitous: Every genuine act of public heresy, be it ever so slight, is ceasing to profess the Catholic Faith. As far as the offender in question having “not the slightest desire to continue in his previous clerical office”, this is another made-up requirement on Harrison’s part. The offender’s desire is completely irrelevant. He may very well seek to remain in office so he can do even greater damage to the Church, but the voluntary external public act of defecting from the Faith constitutes a genuine resignation from office. The resignation is not merely presumed, as Harrison seems to suggest; it is actual, albeit tacit.
Once again, there is no need to take our word for this. Look it up:
All that is necessary is that the cleric perform one of the acts or be accountable for one of the omissions to which the law attaches the effect of a tacit renunciation of office. In reality a tacit renunciation resembles a privation, but it can not be considered a privation since the law terms it a tacit renunciation.
The vacancy of the office is effected by the placing of these acts, even if the person should manifest his intention of retaining the office at the time he places the act. The tacit renunciation occurs in spite of any contrary intention on the part of the incumbent.
Thus the defection from the faith may be public by reason of the fact that it is already known to a notable part of the community. The law does not prescribe any special number as being necessary to constitute a notable part of the community. Determination of this point is left to man’s prudent judgment. Besides being public by reason of actual divulgation, the defection from the faith may be public also because of the fact that the circumstances force one to conclude that it will be easily divulged in the future. Thus if even only a few loquacious persons witnessed the defection from the faith, or if the sole and only witness was a taciturn person who later threatened to divulge the crime because of an enmity that has arisen between him and the delinquent, the delict would be public in the sense of canon 2197, n. 1.
(McDevitt, Renunciation, p. 113, 114, 139; underlining added.)
Harrison could have found all of this out himself if he had bothered to look it up. Why didn’t he?
Toward the end of “White Smoke, Valid Pope”, the author wraps things up by stating what back in 2001 may have seemed like a safe thing to say, but which now, in 2017, blows up in his face, thanks to the tireless efforts of “Pope” Francis:
It is quite obvious that none of the post-conciliar popes has ever acted in any way that is even remotely comparable with these sorts of “public defections” from the faith. Sedevacantists must admit that these occupants of the Apostolic Palace, recognized by the world as popes, have all at least publicly professed to be Catholics throughout their respective pontificates and have shown every public sign of intending to continue exercising the papal office until their dying day.
Although we do not concede for a minute Harrison’s own contrived version of “public defection”, which, as we have seen, is backed by nothing, nevertheless at this point the man he believes to be the Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth — the apostate Jesuit Jorge Bergoglio, “Pope” Francis — has pretty much fulfilled any standard of public defection from the Faith, as can be verified on our special topical page here:
Harrison ends his article by summing up:
1. The traditional and continuing law of the Church, expressed repeatedly in papal constitutions ever since the Middle Ages, allows for a heretical or apostate cardinal to participate fully in a papal conclave and even to be elected pope. If he could validly attain the papacy as a heretic or apostate, he could certainly retain it validly, even while remaining in that unhappy spiritual state.
Because he confuses the accidental (excommunication) with the essential (public heresy/apostasy) in his argumentation, Harrison’s foundational argument collapses. Applying to public heretics and apostates what papal legislation on conclave participation ascribes only to excommunicates, Harrison wrongly concludes that public heretics and apostates can lawfully and validly be elected Pope. In support of his absurd thesis, Harrison cites no interpretative authority; he argues his entire case from his own opinion about the meaning of canon law texts that, for the most part, do not even apply to the question at hand. The result is accordingly slipshod.
Harrison’s overconfident assertion that the “traditional and continuing law of the Church, expressed repeatedly in papal constitutions ever since the Middle Ages, allows for a heretical or apostate cardinal to participate fully in a papal conclave and even to be elected pope” leaves out of account another piece of evidence that contradicts him: Pope Paul IV’s 1559 Apostolic Constitution Cum Ex Apostolatus. This magisterial document is extremely relevant, not only because it very much constitutes part of the “traditional … law of the Church, expressed repeatedly in papal constitutions ever since the Middle Ages”, but also because it is one of the source documents the Code of Canon Law lists as pertaining to Canon 188. On the matter of how public defection from the Faith impacts the attainment of an ecclesiastical office, Pope Paul IV’s apostolic constitution states:
…if ever at any time it shall appear that any Bishop, even if he be acting as an Archbishop, Patriarch or Primate; or any Cardinal of the aforesaid Roman Church, or, as has already been mentioned, any legate, or even the Roman Pontiff, prior to his promotion or his elevation as Cardinal or Roman Pontiff, has deviated from the Catholic Faith or fallen into some heresy:
(i) the promotion or elevation, even if it shall have been uncontested and by the unanimous assent of all the Cardinals, shall be null, void and worthless;
(ii) it shall not be possible for it to acquire validity (nor for it to be said that it has thus acquired validity) through the acceptance of the office, of consecration, of subsequent authority, nor through possession of administration, nor through the putative enthronement of a Roman Pontiff, or Veneration, or obedience accorded to such by all, nor through the lapse of any period of time in the foregoing situation;
(iii) it shall not be held as partially legitimate in any way;
(iv) to any so promoted to be Bishops, or Archbishops, or Patriarchs, or Primates or elevated as Cardinals, or as Roman Pontiff, no authority shall have been granted, nor shall it be considered to have been so granted either in the spiritual or the temporal domain;
(v) each and all of their words, deeds, actions and enactments, howsoever made, and anything whatsoever to which these may give rise, shall be without force and shall grant no stability whatsoever nor any right to anyone;
(vi) those thus promoted or elevated shall be deprived automatically, and without need for any further declaration, of all dignity, position, honour, title, authority, office and power.
(Pope Paul IV, Apostolic Constitution Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio, n. 6; underlining added.)
So much for that.
The point here is not to claim that every aspect of this apostolic constitution is somehow implied in Canon 188. Rather, we hold it up as a mirror to Harrison’s rash and flawed claims about how God protects His Church. As is evident from Pope Paul’s legislation, the sedevacantist position is by no means at odds with God’s solicitude for Holy Mother Church — on the contrary, it is entirely in harmony with it. It was precisely to prevent the calamity of a “heretical Pope” that Paul IV spelled out in this legislation that the election of a heretic, even if he should be chosen unanimously, has no validity whatsoever and cannot acquire validity later on. Yet Harrison wants you to believe that having a heretical pretend-Pope is worse than having a heretical Pope. That would certainly have been news to Pope Paul IV.
Harrison continues with his summary and finishes his article:
2. A pope who began his pontificate as an orthodox Catholic but became a formal heretic or apostate during his pontificate would thereby legally incur excommunication. However, even if his heresy or apostasy should become publicly discernible, the absence of any competent authority on earth who could lawfully declare his excommunication would mean that, if he refused to resign and continued to insist on carrying out acts of papal authority, those acts, though illicitly exercised, would still be valid. In other words, he would still be juridically the true pope whom we would have to recognize and obey in all things but sin, even though at the inner level at which grace operates he might well be totally separated from the mystical body of Christ.
So when the white smoke rises from the Vatican signifying that the college of cardinals has elected a new pope, we are assured that that pope’s authority is valid. Thus God guards his Church from the possibility of being cast into chaos by being left without an earthly governing authority.
And thus Harrison’s followers rest assured every night, knowing that although the wrecking of Catholicism by the Vatican II popes has been valid, it was most certainly never licit — and somehow this is a great testimony to how God guards His Church lest she be thrown into chaos! What does one say to such buffoonery?
What protection does it add to Holy Mother Church to say that although the Novus Ordo Missae of Paul VI was imposed validly, it was not imposed licitly? Are the faithful protected from spiritual harm in any way by knowing that “Saint” John Paul II is a valid saint but not a licit one? What difference, in the end, does it make to say that a certain pontificate was valid but not licit? And would the “illicit” Pope not be able to declare his own acts, his own entire reign in fact, to be perfectly licit?
Nearly six decades of the existence of the Novus Ordo Sect have proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that what casts Holy Mother Church into the greater chaos is not being left without a governing authority for a time — as terrifying as that is — but precisely the very thing that Harrison offers as the remedy, namely, recognition of a public heretic or apostate as the valid Vicar of Christ. That is what has given the Modernist Revolution all its firepower:
The entire force of the Conciliar revolt comes from the fact that it has apparently been imposed by the authority of the [Catholic] Church. How many bishops, priests, religious, and laymen, would have swallowed the lies of the heretics if they had not believed themselves bound to do so by the voice of Christ’s Vicar on earth? Questioning the authority of these men renders their revolution of doubtful authenticity.
(John Lane, “Concerning an SSPX Dossier on Sedevacantism”, p. 65)
If “Fr.” Harrison wishes to look for God guarding His Church “from the possibility of being cast into chaos”, He ought to find it in the consoling fact that not a single act of the Vatican II “popes” has been valid, and the entire destruction we have witnessed — from Vatican II to the “New Mass” to the false saints and countless evil disciplines and practices — never came from the legitimate authority established by Christ but only from charlatans “who say they are apostles, and are not” (Apoc 2:2), who have tried to “deceive (if possible) even the elect” (Mt 24:24) as part of the “operation of error, to believe lying: that all may be judged who have not believed the truth, but have consented to iniquity” (2 Thess 2:10-11).
It is much less dangerous for the flock to roam around aimlessly without a shepherd (cf. Mt 26:31), than to follow a wolf-in-shepherd’s-clothes into perdition.
So… white smoke, valid Pope? Far from it! For as long as they elect Modernists, it’s going to be… white smoke, anti-pope!
Next time, don’t be so quick to cheer…
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