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“On the Question of the True Pope” refuted…

Comedy Hour with Athanasius Schneider: Kazakh Auxiliary torpedoes Traditional Doctrine on the Papacy to bail out Francis

Days after the British Tablet published a story on the retired Kazakh Novus Ordo bishop Jan Pawel Lenga publicly declaring that he does not recognize Jorge Bergoglio (Francis) as a valid Pope because he is a “heretic” and an “Antichrist” (Lenga’s words) — adding that he opts instead for Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) –, his famous compatriot and Astana auxiliary “bishop” Athanasius Schneider has injected himself into the debate.

On Feb. 28, 2020, Schneider released a statement via his usual channels, which means LifeSiteNews.com for his English-speaking audience. In it he argues that (a) Francis is definitely Pope; (b) Benedict XVI is definitely not Pope; and (c) a heretical Pope must be suffered and is the lesser evil compared to the alternatives.

In this post we will challenge Mr. Schneider’s claims with regard to points (a) and (c). We will skip (b) since we agree with him that Benedict XVI is not Pope, although our reasons are different from his.

Before we begin, it is a good idea to call to mind that the popular “bishop” from Astana, despite his pious appearance, dignified mannerisms, and eloquent speech, has been spreading serious errors that contradict the traditional Catholic doctrine on the Papacy. In this sense he is much more dangerous than Francis, for he comes across as traditionally Catholic while at the same time teaching people contrary to what Catholics must believe. This is demonstrated here:

Having said all this, let us now begin our critical examination of what Schneider asserts in his latest document, which can be found here in full:

The Canon Si Papa and “Judging the Pope”

“Bishop” Schneider begins his monograph by pointing to the canon Si Papa, ascribed to St. Boniface, contained in the Decree of Gratian in the 12th century as the beginning of the “heretical Pope” controversy: “According to the opinion expressed in this decree, the pope cannot be judged by any human authority, except if he has fallen into heresy.”

Schneider then points out that the canon is spurious or apocryphal, that is, it is a forgery or at least of doubtful authenticity. In this he has the backing of traditional Catholic theologians such as Cardinal Billot, who, in any case, clarifies the authority of the Decree of Gratian:

Lastly [the objectors] advance a point of canon law, Distinction 40, canon 6 Si papa: “No mortal on earth presumes to prove the (pope) guilty of faults, since he who is to judge all men must not be judged by any man, unless he be discovered to be deviant from the faith.” But, above all else, one must bear in mind that this citation is taken from the Decretum of Gratian, in which there is no authority except the intrinsic authority of the documents that are found collected in it. Moreover, there is no one at all who would deny that those documents, some indeed authentic and others apocryphal, are of unequal value. Finally, it is more than highly likely that the previously cited canon under the name of the martyr Boniface must be considered to be included among the apocryphal documents. However, Bellarmine in this case also replies: “Those canons do not mean to say that the Pontiff as a private person can err (heretically), but only that the Pontiff cannot be judged. Nevertheless since it is not wholly certain whether a Pontiff can or cannot be a heretic, for this reason they add out of an abundance of caution [the following] condition: unless he become a heretic” [Bellarmine, Book IV, De Romano Pontifice, Chapter VII].

(Cardinal Louis Billot, Tractatus De Ecclesia Christi, 5th ed., q. XIV, th. XXIX [Rome: Gregorian Pontifical University, 1927], pp. 633-635; italics given; underlining added; our translation.)

The question whether Si Papa be authentic or not, however, is not particularly important. What matters is whether what it states is true or not. The thesis that a Pope cannot be judged except in the case of heresy can certainly be accepted — not as an exception to the principle that “the First See is judged by no one” (found in Canon 1556 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law) but simply in the sense that a Pope who were to become a heretic would by that fact automatically cease to be Pope and therefore could be judged, namely, as a non-Pope.

That is precisely the position of St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church, which has prevailed in the Church since the First Vatican Council (1870) and the Code of Canon Law (1917):

After the Council of Trent, Robert Bellarmine (+1621) and others took up the theory of John of Torquemada: a pope who falls into heresy forfeits his office. No formal deposition is required since divine law already put the pope outside the Church. A kind of direct divine deposition took place, stripping the pope of his primacy. Whatever juridical body “judged” the pope would simply declare the fact of the pope’s heresy, making public that he was no longer in communion with the Church. Theologians frequently compared such a declaration to a death certificate, which publicly makes the death known but does not cause it. With regard to heresy, this judgment would, however, have legal consequences. The Church would be free to elect a new pope. Because these theologians did not give an ecumenical council the right to depose a pope, their theory avoids the pitfalls of [the heresy of] conciliarism.

(J. Michael Miller, The Shepherd and the Rock [Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 1995], p. 292)

This quote is from a mainstream Novus Ordo theologian, which demonstrates that this understanding of Bellarmine is not something invented by sedevacantists but corresponds to fact and is retained even in Novus Ordo theology today.

The Kazakh auxiliary then argues:

Even if — according to the opinion of the automatic loss of the papacy for heresy —  the judgment of the loss of the papal office is pronounced by the heretical pope upon himself, and he automatically falls from office without any judgment by the Church, such an opinion contains a contradiction and reveals a hint of crypto-conciliarism. For according to this opinion, the College of Cardinals or a group of bishops would have to issue an official declaration about the fact of the automatic loss of the papal office.

There is no contradiction in this “opinion” — the position of a canonized Doctor of the Church, we might add –, nor is there any “crypto-conciliarism” afoot. The simple fact is just that Schneider doesn’t get it: The cardinals or bishops would “have to” issue a declaration of the Pope-who-ceased-to-be-Pope only for the good of the Church so that there is an official record and the Church is free to proceed to a new conclave. Hence Miller, as quoted above, says: “With regard to heresy, this judgment would, however, have legal consequences. The Church would be free to elect a new pope.” The declaration by cardinals or bishops is not necessary for the Pope-who-became-a-heretic to cease to be Pope, any more than a death certificate is necessary for a person to die. Thus there is not a trace of Conciliarism here either, the heresy that a council is above the Pope.

Does Schneider really think that someone as brilliant and orthodox St. Robert Bellarmine would not have noticed such a contradiction in his thinking or would have subscribed to “crypto-conciliarism”?

Automatic Loss of Office and Authoritative Declarations

The invalidly-ordained bishop continues:

According to another opinion, the automatic loss of the papal office for heresy would be tantamount to a renunciation of the papal office. However, one has to bear in mind the inevitable possibility of disagreement among members of the College of Cardinals or the episcopacy regarding whether or not a pope is guilty of heresy. Hence, there will always be doubts regarding the automatic loss of the papal office.

That is not merely “another opinion”, it is in fact the established law of the Church, in Canon 188 4º, which states that all offices fall vacant automatically by the very fact of publicly defecting from the Catholic Faith. Church law includes this canon under a chapter on the loss of ecclesiastical offices, not under the criminal section at the very end of the Code, where crimes and their corresponding penalties are legislated. Indeed, the law terms the loss of office through public defection from the Faith a “tacit resignation” — but more on this later, when the Astana prelate himself brings up Canon 188 4º.

Schneider mentions that there could always be disagreement about “whether or not a pope is guilty of heresy” and therefore there would always be doubt about whether or not he has lost his office. That shouldn’t be the case because the office would only be lost for objectively manifest heresy, and what’s manifest is not doubtful. We can see this confirmed in the analogous case of a diocesan bishop losing his office for manifest heresy:

This crime [public heresy or apostasy] 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…. 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 [by that very fact] becomes vacant.

[W]hen a bishop tacitly resigns, as in the case of apostacy, heresy, etc., the see becomes fully vacant the moment the crime becomes public. According to a strict interpretation of the law, the jurisdiction of the bishop passes at that moment to the Board [of Diocesan Consultors], who may validly and licitly begin to exercise its power, as long as there is certainty that the crime has become public. In practice, however, it would probably be more prudent on the part of the Board, instead of assuming the governance of the see immediately, to notify the Holy See without delay, and await for such provisions which the Supreme Authority might choose to make.

(Rev. Leo Arnold Jaeger, The Administration of Vacant and Quasi-Vacant Dioceses in the United States [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1932], pp. 82, 98; underlining added.)

Here we can see that the Church does not care much for Schneider’s argumentation about any possible doubt or difficulties in the question of loss of office. Certainly in the practical order it is “more prudent” to wait for an official judgment, but it is not necessary, especially not if it is unclear who would be authorized to render the judgment in the first place or if the judgment might be delayed indefinitely. It is by the automatic loss of office of the public heretic that the Church protects herself from his influence.

But even if one were to concede that great practical difficulties would result from automatic loss of office, these do not mean Schneider can simply nullify the truth of the matter: He who is publicly a heretic cannot be the Pope of the Catholic Church. Hence Fr. Matthew Ramstein notes in his Manual of Canon Law: “If the Pope should happen to fall into heresy, he is no longer a member of the Church, much less its head” ([Hoboken, NJ: Terminal Printing & Publishing Co., 1948], p. 193), and he didn’t allow practical considerations to keep him from affirming this rather obvious truth: “How the fact of heresy and of consequent vacancy of the papal chair would be determined is difficult to understand” (ibid.).

In the case of Francis, of course, this is really a non-issue, for he never validly received the Supreme Pontificate, hence it is not a question of determining whether or how he lost it.

Can the Pope’s non-infallible Magisterium contain Heresy?

Schneider continues:

The pope as pope cannot fall into formal heresy in the sense that he would pronounce a heresy ex cathedra. But according to renowned traditional theologians he can favor heresy or fall into heresy as a private doctor or also as pope, but only in his non-defining and non-definitive Magisterium, which is not infallible.

It is most unfortunate that the author does not name or quote any of those “renowned traditional theologians” who supposedly say that a Pope can promulgate heresy in his non-infallible Magisterium. Such an idea is an utter absurdity that would create chaos in the Church because the faithful have an obligation to assent even to non-infallible teaching, and it is not for them to sift papal writings for heresy but to accept what the Pope teaches precisely because he is the safe guide in matters of Faith and morals with the divinely-given mandate to teach them:

In defining the limits of the obedience owed to the pastors of souls, but most of all to the authority of the Roman Pontiff, it must not be supposed that it is only to be yielded in relation to dogmas of which the obstinate denial cannot be disjoined from the crime of heresy. Nay, further, it is not enough sincerely and firmly to assent to doctrines which, though not defined by any solemn pronouncement of the Church, are by her proposed to belief, as divinely revealed, in her common and universal teaching, and which the Vatican Council declared are to be believed “with Catholic and divine faith.” But this likewise must be reckoned amongst the duties of Christians, that they allow themselves to be ruled and directed by the authority and leadership of bishops, and, above all, of the apostolic see. And how fitting it is that this should be so any one can easily perceive. For the things contained in the divine oracles have reference to God in part, and in part to man, and to whatever is necessary for the attainment of his eternal salvation. Now, both these, that is to say, what we are bound to believe and what we are obliged to do, are laid down, as we have stated, by the Church using her divine right, and in the Church by the supreme Pontiff. Wherefore it belongs to the Pope to judge authoritatively what things the sacred oracles contain, as well as what doctrines are in harmony, and what in disagreement, with them; and also, for the same reason, to show forth what things are to be accepted as right, and what to be rejected as worthless; what it is necessary to do and what to avoid doing, in order to attain eternal salvation. For, otherwise, there would be no sure interpreter of the commands of God, nor would there be any safe guide showing man the way he should live.

(Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Sapientiae Christianae, n. 24; underlining added.)

If Schneider cannot apply this rule laid out by Pope Leo XIII to Jorge Bergoglio without arriving at either heresy or contradiction, then there is one clear reason for it: Bergoglio is not in fact the Pope. That would solve the puzzle, but of course Schneider is excluding that answer as impermissible from the outset.

Bellarmine and Si Papa: Schneider’s Red Herring

The Kazakh pseudo-bishop continues:

St. Robert Bellarmine’s opinion is that “a pope who is a manifest heretic, ceases in himself to be Pope and head, just as he ceases in himself to be a Christian and member of the body of the Church: whereby, he can be judged and punished by the Church” (De Romano Pontifice, II, 30). The opinion of St. Robert Bellarmine and other similar opinions on the loss of the papal office for heresy are based on the spurious decree of Gratian in the Corpus Iuris Canonici.

What outrageous nonsense!

Although we have already granted that the Si Papa canon in the Decree of Gratian is probably spurious, it is highly misleading to suggest that the teaching of St. Bellarmine stands and falls with the authenticity of that canon. In fact, Bellarmine himself did not even believe that a Pope could become a heretic at all, for he wrote in Chapter VI of Book IV of his De Romano Pontifice: “It is probable and may piously be believed that not only as ‘Pope’ can the Supreme Pontiff not err, but he cannot be a heretic even as a particular person by pertinaciously believing something false against the faith”. He then proceeded to give the reasons for his thesis, concluding that “to this point no [Pope] has been a heretic, or certainly it cannot be proven that any of them were heretics; therefore it is a sign that such a thing cannot be”.

With regard to Si Papa in particular, Bellarmine did not at all rely on the so-called “heresy clause” (which says the Pope cannot be judged “except in the case of heresy”) for his argumentation. On the contrary, he downplayed its significance: “…I say those canons do not mean the Pope can err as a private person but only that the Pope cannot be judged; it is still not altogether certain whether the Pontiff could be a heretic or not. Thus, they add the condition ‘if he might become a heretic’ for greater caution” (De Romano Pontifice, Book IV, Chapter VII).

The Magisterium and Loss of Office: Schneider’s Obfuscations

Schneider further:

Such an opinion has never been approved explicitly by the Magisterium or supported by an explicit teaching about its doctrinal validity by the Roman Pontiffs during a considerable period of time. In fact, this matter has not been decided by the Church’s Magisterium and does not constitute a definitive doctrine pertaining to the Universal and Ordinary Magisterium. This opinion is supported only by theologians, and not even by all the Fathers of the Church from antiquity.

Schneider acts as though a teaching is not certain or does not have to be assented to if it isn’t part of the Universal Ordinary Magisterium. Once again we let true Popes refute him:

Be vigilant in act and word, so that the faithful may grow in love for this Holy See, venerate it, and accept it with complete obedience; they should execute whatever the See itself teaches, determines, and decrees.

(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Inter Multiplices, n. 7)

If in the difficult times in which Our lot is cast, Catholics will give ear to Us, as it behooves them to do, they will readily see what are the duties of each one in matters of opinion as well as action. As regards opinion, whatever the Roman Pontiffs have hitherto taught, or shall hereafter teach, must be held with a firm grasp of mind, and, so often as occasion requires, must be openly professed.

(Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Immortale Dei, n. 41; underlining added.)

[T]his sacred Office of Teacher in matters of faith and morals must be the proximate and universal criterion of truth for all theologians, since to it has been entrusted by Christ Our Lord the whole deposit of faith — Sacred Scripture and divine Tradition — to be preserved, guarded and interpreted…. Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: “He who heareth you, heareth me” [Lk 10:16]; and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine.

(Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Humani Generis, nn. 18, 20; underlining added.)

It is clear that Schneider has succumbed to the popular but false idea that a Catholic can reject Catholic teaching if he determines it wasn’t believed “always, everywhere, and by all”. The truth is that a Catholic must assent to what any true Pope teaches if for no other reason than that he teaches it; for it is the Pope who has “the assurance, guaranteed by the divine promises, of keeping and transmitting inviolate and in all its integrity through centuries and millennia to the very end of time, the entire sum of truth and grace contained in the redemptive mission of Christ” (Pius XII, Allocution to the Consistory, June 2, 1944).

Is this master theologian from Kazakhstan really not aware that the fact that public heresy makes one a non-Catholic and a non-Catholic cannot be Pope, is the teaching of the Catholic Church? “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”, Pius XII teaches in his encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 23. And Pope Leo XIII underscored the rather obvious truth that “it is absurd to imagine that he who is outside [of the Church] can command in the Church” (Encyclical Satis Cognitum, n. 15).

“Bp.” Schneider’s assertion that the automatic loss of the papal office for heresy is “not even [supported] by all the Fathers of the Church from antiquity” — as if this were even relevant — is flatly contradicted by the Doctor of the Church himself. St. Robert wrote that the position that “a Pope who is a manifest heretic, ceases in himself to be Pope and head, just as he ceases in himself to be a Christian and member of the body of the Church: whereby, he can be judged and punished by the Church” is “the opinion of all the ancient Fathers, who teach that manifest heretics soon [immediately] lose all jurisdiction” (St. Robert Bellarmine, De Romano Pontifice, Book II, Chapter XXX; the Latin word mox is translated by Ryan Grant as “soon” but by Fr. Kenneth Baker as “immediately”).

The prelate from Astana further:

Even some interventions of individual Fathers of the First Vatican Council, which seem to support the opinion of the automatic loss of the papacy for heresy, remain their personal opinion, but not a formal teaching of the First Vatican Council.

Schneider is referring to this anecdote about the Council here. That the response given by the Deputation of the Faith is not a formal teaching of the Council can readily be admitted, but it misses the point. The point is that the Council Fathers who had been assigned the task of dealing with theological questions simply enunciated the common teaching at the time. They did not say the question was disputed, or that their answer was just one opinion among several possibilities. Rather, they simply stated what is commonly found in the theology books published after Vatican I, such as this one by Fr. Matthew Conte a Coronata:

…it cannot be proved that the Roman Pontiff, as a private teacher, cannot become a heretic, for example, if he contumaciously denies a dogma previously defined; this impeccability was nowhere promised to him by God. On the contrary, [Pope] Innocent III expressly admits that the case can be conceded. But if the case should take place, he falls from office by divine law, without any sentence, not even a declaratory one. For he who openly professes heresy places his very self outside the Church, and it is not probable that Christ preserves the Primacy of His Church with such an unworthy individual. Consequently, if the Roman Pontiff professes heresy, he is deprived of his authority before any whatsoever sentence, which [sentence] is impossible.

(Rev. Matthaeus Conte a Coronata, Institutiones Iuris Canonici, vol. I, 4th ed. [Rome: Marietti, 1950], n. 316c; our translation.)

There is no mention in Coronata’s work that this is a controversial issue or a disputed question. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia, a popular rather than academic work, reflects this same understanding: “The pope himself, if notoriously guilty of heresy, would cease to be pope because he would cease to be a member of the Church” (s.v. “Heresy”). Many more unquestionably Catholic sources echoing the same thing can be found in Appendix 1 of Fr. Anthony Cekada’s handy little booklet, Traditionalists, Infallibility, and the Pope, available for free download here and for purchase here.

Returning to the theological brain surgeon from Kazakhstan:

And even if some few popes seemed to support such an opinion (as e.g. Innocent III or Paul IV), this does not constitute a proof for the constant teaching of the Universal and Ordinary Magisterium.

That is irrelevant. As we saw above, a teaching need not be “the constant teaching of the Universal and Ordinary Magisterium” for it to be binding on all Catholics — it suffices that it be taught by the Pope, by any true Pope. Schneider is really demonstrating a lack of belief in the Papacy, and this is no wonder, considering that he accepts even an apostate as notorious as Bergoglio as a true Pope.

More from the Astana auxiliary:

The automatic loss of the papal office by a heretical pope touches not only on the practical or juridical aspects of the life of the Church, but also on the Church’s doctrine — in this case, on ecclesiology. In such a delicate matter, one cannot follow an opinion, even if it has been supported by renowned theologians (such as St. Robert Bellarmine or St. Alphonsus) for a considerable period of time. Instead, one must wait for an explicit and formal decision by the Magisterium of the Church — a decision which the Magisterium has not yet issued.

But the Church’s Magisterium has taught binding doctrine concerning this matter, as we saw above — Mr. Schneider has simply chosen to ignore it. He couldn’t be more right concerning the fact that this issue impacts Catholic ecclesiology, and it does so in a most profound manner, as we have seen. If a public heretic could teach and govern the Church from her highest office, Catholicism would be finished, and the divine promises regarding the gates of hell not prevailing would be vitiated. The result of such an absurd position is very visible in the Vatican II Sect, incidentally. If that is what the Catholic Church can look like when the gates of hell do not prevail, one is hard-pressed to fathom what she would look like if they did prevail. What would be left for the gates of hell to do?

Schneider conjures up Phantom Magisterium to dismiss Bellarmine

It is evident from his argumentation that Schneider believes his position wins by default. Accepting Francis as the Pope and then rejecting his heresies, blasphemies, and other errors — that, he apparently thinks, is the “safe” position, the status quo, and everything else is just a more or less dangerous “opinion.”

The truth is, however, that he is the one following an opinion, and it’s an unsound and most dangerous one at that. It’s the so-called “Third Opinion” refuted by Bellarmine, which no one in Church history held except for the 19th century canonist Marie Dominique Bouix and, in our day, Eric Sammons. This opinion puts Schneider squarely at odds with the magisterial doctrine of the Roman Pontiffs, as we have seen.

As far as the safety in following St. Robert Bellarmine goes, we need but remember the words of Pope Pius XI, who in his decree declaring him a Doctor of the Church pointed out that the saint “appeared even up to our times as a defender of the Roman Pontiff of such authority that the Fathers of the [First] Vatican Council employed his writings and opinions to the greatest possible extent” (Decree Providentissimus Deus, Sep. 17, 1931; underlining added).

The fact that Bellarmine was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church after the First Vatican Council underscores the fact that his teaching is wholly congruent with what the Church teaches about the Papacy and thus sufficiently safe, for “[o]nly men whom she has placed in her catalog of saints, men of singular eminence and correctness of doctrine, may receive the title, ‘Doctor of the Church'” (Fr. Edwin Kaiser, Sacred Doctrine [Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1958], p. 176; underlining added).

But Schneider is just getting started. In fact, he proceeds to make it worse:

On the contrary, the Magisterium of the Church, since Popes Pius X and Benedict XV, has seemed to reject such an opinion, as the formulation of the spurious decree of Gratian was eliminated in the Code of Canon Law 1917. The canons that address the automatic loss of an ecclesiastical office for heresy in the 1917 Code of Canon Law (canon 188 §4) and in the 1983 Code of Canon Law (canon 194 §2) are not applicable to the pope, because the Church deliberately eliminated from the Code of Canon Law the following formulation taken from the previous Corpus Iuris Canonici: “unless the pope is caught deviating from the faith (nisi deprehendatur a fide devius).” By this act, the Church manifested her understanding, the mens ecclesiae, regarding this crucial issue.

He can’t be serious!

True, the “heresy clause” is not found in the 1917 Code of Canon Law — but Schneider’s explanation for this omission is fanciful. He claims, based on no evidence whatsoever, that the Code is signaling thereby that a publicly heretical Roman Pontiff remains Pope and hence remains injudicable (“unjudgeable”) even as a heretic. But there is a much more natural explanation: The Pope who becomes a public heretic is by that very fact no longer the Pope, hence it is not an issue of judging the Pope, strictly speaking — so why should canon law say anything about it under the improper topic of judging the Pope?

On the other hand, the Code does say plenty about any ecclesiastical office becoming vacant in the case of public defection from the Faith:

Any office becomes vacant upon the fact and without any declaration by tacit resignation recognized by the law itself if a cleric…

4.° Publicly defects from the Catholic faith

(Canon 188 n.4; translation by Ed Peters.)

Schneider makes reference to this canon but claims that it is “not applicable to the pope, because the Church deliberately eliminated from the Code of Canon Law the following formulation taken from the previous Corpus Iuris Canonici: ‘unless the pope is caught deviating from the faith (nisi deprehendatur a fide devius).'”

So the Kazakh auxiliary seriously claims that something that is not stated in Canon 1556 in Book IV of the Code is evidence that what is stated in Canon 188 in Book II of the Code does not apply to the Church’s highest office. This is simply theological shysterism!

Canon 188 speaks of “any ecclesiastical office”, and the Papacy is obviously one such ecclesiastical office. Had the Church meant to make an exception for the Supreme Pontificate, this would have been the perfect place and time to say so. Instead, Canon 188 4º assures us that any office becomes vacant “upon the fact” of public defection from the Faith and “without any declaration” through what is called tacit resignation. And, as canon law professor Fr. Henry Ayrinhac affirms, resignation from office is “not excepting the Supreme Pontificate” (General Legislation in the New Code of Canon Law [New York, NY: Blase Benzinger & Co., 1923], n. 341, p. 346).

Apples vs. Oranges

In addition to all this, it must be pointed out that “Bp.” Schneider is really misrepresenting the whole issue to begin with. The question whether someone is Pope is completely different from the question whether the Pope can be judged. Was Anacletus II a true Pope? By Schneider’s logic, to say no would be judging the Pope. But the fact is that he was an antipope, though considered a true Pope by a number of Catholics for some time.

Besides, if merely discerning that someone cannot be a true Pope constitutes the crime of “judging the Pope”, then there is no reason why affirming that the claimant in question is a true Pope should not incur the same charge — the only difference would be that it is an affirmative, rather than a negative, judgment; but it would be an impermissible judgment either way.

In Catholicism it is beyond discussion that the Pope cannot be judged, for that is settled doctrine (see Denz. 1830). But whether some particular claimant is such a Pope-wh0-cannot-be-judged, is a different matter altogether. So Schneider is not even presenting the issue correctly. He is utilizing apples-versus-oranges argumentation.

A Question of Authority? Factual Recognition vs. Legal Judgment

More from the Kazakh prelate:

According to the opinion of St. Robert Bellarmine, a single bishop, priest, or lay faithful cannot state the fact of the loss of papal office for heresy. Consequently, even if a single bishop or priest is convinced that Pope Francis has committed the crime of heresy, he has no authority to eliminate his name from the Canon of the Mass.

It’s interesting how, as soon as it suits him, suddenly the pseudo-bishop from Astana seeks refuge in an “opinion of St. Robert Bellarmine.” Of course the position of Bellarmine is authoritative in the matter, but Schneider does not see the need to provide any evidence for his assertion. Bummer!

That no single person, even a high-ranking cleric, can make a legally binding declaration that a Pope has fallen from the pontificate may very well be true but it is also quite irrelevant. The question is one of discerning the facts, not one of issuing legal judgments.

In any case, the question Schneider should be considering is whether anyone has the authority to retain Francis’ name in the Canon of the Mass, considering how blatant his defection from the Catholic Faith has become. If Bergoglio’s heresies are obvious enough to warrant public opposition to him, then they are obvious enough to eliminate his name from the canon. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, after all.

For heaven’s sake, we are not talking about theological minutiae here, we are talking about whoppers like these:

Freedom is a right of every person: each individual enjoys the freedom of belief, thought, expression and action. The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings. This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives.

(Antipope Francis and Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyib, “A Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together”, Vatican.va, Feb. 4, 2019; underlining added.)

I thank the members of different religious confessions who have joined us, and those who do not belong to any particular religious tradition. Thank you for encouraging one another to live and celebrate today the challenge of peace as the family that we are. You are experiencing that all of us are necessary: with our differences, we are all necessary. Our differences are necessary.

(Antipope Francis, Address at Interreligious Meeting with Youth in Maputo, Vatican.va, Sep. 5, 2019; underlining added.)

There is nothing to discuss. If this is not apostasy, nothing is. Game over.

A Miscellany of Poor Arguments

Unfortunately, Schneider is not giving up and digs himself in more deeply still:

Faithful Catholics can morally (but not canonically) distance themselves from erroneous or evil teachings and acts of a pope. This has occurred several times in the course of the Church’s history.

One struggles to understand what this is even supposed to mean. What is a moral (but not canonical!) distancing “from erroneous or evil teachings and acts of a pope”? Schneider conveniently claims this has happened “several times” in Church history and then no less conveniently refuses to give a single example. Too bad!

He continues:

However, given the principle that one ought to give the benefit of the doubt regarding the position of one’s superior (in dubio pro superiore semper sit præsumendum), Catholics should also consider the correct teachings of the pope as part of the Magisterium of the Church, his correct decisions as part of the Church’s legislation, and his appointments of bishops and cardinals as valid.

Yes, in cases of doubt, the benefit must be given to the superior. It’s just too bad that there isn’t any doubt about Francis!

With regard to the hilarious claim that Catholics should at least consider the correct teachings of Francis as magisterial, we turn once more to St. Bellarmine, who addresses this very position taken by the Kazakh auxiliary:

The Pope is the Teacher and Shepherd of the whole Church, thus, the whole Church is so bound to hear and follow him that if he would err, the whole Church would err.

Now our adversaries respond that the Church ought to hear him so long as he teaches correctly, for God must be heard more than men.

On the other hand, who will judge whether the Pope has taught rightly or not? For it is not for the sheep to judge whether the shepherd wanders off, not even and especially in those matters which are truly doubtful. Nor do Christian sheep have any greater judge or teacher to whom they might have recourse. As we showed above, from the whole Church one can appeal to the Pope yet, from him no one is able to appeal; therefore necessarily the whole Church will err if the Pontiff would err.

(St. Robert Bellarmine, De Romano Pontifice, Book IV, Chapter III; translated by Ryan Grant as On the Roman Pontiff [Mediatrix Press, 2016], vol. 2, p. 160; underlining added.)

Of course Schneider will be quick to dismiss Bellarmine once again as merely providing his “opinion”, though attentive readers have figured out by now just who is the one giving non-binding and quite dangerous-to-follow opinions here.

Returning to the master theologian from Astana:

For even if one subscribes to the opinion of St. Robert Bellarmine, the necessary declaration of the automatic loss of the papal office has still not been issued.

It’s a good thing, then, that Bellarmine doesn’t require a declaration, and neither does Canon 188 4º, which explicitly states that tacit resignation occurs “without any declaration”.

Next, Schneider regurgitates that popular but constantly-misrepresented quote of St. Robert Bellarmine about it being lawful to resist a Pope who becomes a danger to souls:

A moral and intellectual “distancing” of oneself from erroneous teachings of a pope also includes resisting his errors. However, this should always be done with due respect for the papal office and the person of the Pope. St. Bridged of Sweden and St. Catherine of Siena, both of whom admonished the popes of their times, are fine examples of such respect. St. Robert Bellarmine wrote: “Just as it is licit to resist the Pontiff who attacks the body, so also is it licit to resist him who attacks souls or destroys the civil order or above all, tries to destroy the Church. I say that it is licit to resist him by not doing what he orders and by impeding the execution of his will” (De Romano Pontifice, II, 29).

We notice how, once again, Schneider suddenly finds Bellarmine’s teaching to be authoritative, simply because — so he thinks — it helps his case. But it really doesn’t. Everything that needs to be said about this has already been said, so we will simply provide a link to our article on this issue:

When the Pope defects, the Faithful to the Rescue!

As though all of this weren’t enough yet, Schneider’s theological comedy hour continues:

The Church is strong enough and possesses sufficient means to protect the faithful from the spiritual damage of a heretical pope. In the first place, there is the sensus fidelium, the supernatural sense of the faith (sensus fidei). It is the gift of the Holy Spirit, by which the members of the Church possess the true sense of the faith. This is a kind of spiritual and supernatural instinct that makes the faithful sentire cum Ecclesia (think with the mind of the Church) and discern what is in conformity with the Catholic and Apostolic faith handed on by all bishops and popes, through the Universal Ordinary Magisterium.

At this point, one can only laugh at the silliness Schneider comes up with. The faithful protect themselves from the spiritual damage of a heretical Pope — basically by instinctively and heroically holding on to the true Faith contrary to what the Pope teaches? It is by their rejection of papal teaching that the faithful are kept from heresy and other spiritual harm? Has this man lost his mind? Who needs a Pope if the faithful can simply “discern what is in conformity with the Catholic and Apostolic faith” without, nay, even contrary to his judgment?

Once again we turn to the true Popes for a capable refutation of “Bp.” Schneider’s theological delusions:

By certain indications it is not difficult to conclude that among Catholics – doubtless as a result of current evils – there are some who, far from satisfied with the condition of “subject” which is theirs in the Church, think themselves able to take some part in her government, or at least, think they are allowed to examine and judge after their own fashion the acts of authority. A misplaced opinion, certainly. If it were to prevail, it would do very grave harm to the Church of God, in which, by the manifest will of her Divine Founder, there are to be distinguished in the most absolute fashion two parties: the teaching and the taught, the Shepherd and the flock, among whom there is one who is the head and the Supreme Shepherd of all.

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.

…[I]t is to give proof of a submission which is far from sincere to set up some kind of opposition between one Pontiff and another. Those who, faced with two differing directives, reject the present one to hold to the past, are not giving proof of obedience to the authority which has the right and duty to guide them; and in some ways they resemble those who, on receiving a condemnation, would wish to appeal to a future council, or to a Pope who is better informed.

(Pope Leo XIII, Apostolic Letter Epistola Tua; underlining added.)

This is Our last lesson to you: receive it, engrave it in your minds, all of you: by God’s commandment salvation is to be found nowhere but in the Church; the strong and effective instrument of salvation is none other than the Roman Pontificate.

(Pope Leo XIII, Allocution for the 25th Anniversary of his Election, Feb. 20, 1903; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, n. 653; underlining added.)

For both the juridical mission of the Church, and the power to teach, govern and administer the Sacraments, derive their supernatural efficacy and force of the building up of the body of Christ from the fact that Jesus Christ, hanging on the Cross, opened up to His Church the fountain of those divine gifts, which prevent her from ever teaching false doctrine and enable her to rule them for the salvation of their souls through divinely enlightened pastors and to bestow on them an abundance of heavenly graces.

… They, therefore, walk in the path of dangerous error who believe that they can accept Christ as the Head of the Church, while not adhering loyally to His Vicar on earth. They have taken away the visible head, broken the visible bonds of unity and left the Mystical Body of the Redeemer so obscured and so maimed, that those who are seeking the haven of eternal salvation can neither see it nor find it.

… It is [Christ] who imparts the light of faith to believers; it is He who enriches pastors and teachers and above all His Vicar on earth with the supernatural gifts of knowledge, understanding and wisdom, so that they may loyally preserve the treasury of faith, defend it vigorously, and explain and confirm it with reverence and devotion. Finally it is He who, though unseen, presides at the Councils of the Church and guides them.

(Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, nn. 31,41,50; underlining added.)

Of course it is true that there exists the sensus fidelium, but it can obviously never be used in opposition to the Roman Pontiff, as the Church’s doctrine on papal authority makes clear. It is the teaching of the Pope that informs the faithful of sound doctrine — it is not the faithful who with their “collective instincts” teach the Pope.

Besides, has this man checked lately what the “supernatural instincts” of Novus Ordo believers look like? We are talking about people who in large numbers and habitually…

  • treat “Holy Communion” like popcorn
  • cohabit before marriage
  • “remarry” after divorce
  • dress immodestly, even in church
  • believe religious Faith is essentially an opinion
  • hold that there is salvation in other religions
  • believe most people, if not all, go to Heaven
  • do not intercede for the holy souls in purgatory
  • think that the existence of God cannot be proved by reason
  • believe the death penalty is immoral
  • practice ecumenism
  • do not in any way separate themselves from the world
  • do not believe in the Holy Mass as a Propitiatory Sacrifice

…to mention just a few things.

Of course that isn’t true for all Novus Ordos, but in general these heresies, vices, and immoral practices are so prevalent among “Catholics” today that one can in justice ascribe them to mainstream adherents of the Vatican II Sect collectively, without of course meaning that every single one of them is guilty of all or even any of them, and without meaning to judge to what extent each soul is culpable.

Occasional polls here in the United States demonstrate this further:

Kenneth C. Jones’ 2003 book Index of Leading Catholic Indicators tells the story about that Novus Ordo “sense of the faithful” that is supposedly keeping the Vatican II Church from going to hell. Are we to believe Schneider doesn’t know this? True, the United States isn’t Kazakhstan, but then Schneider referred to everyone collectively and not merely to the (presumably not quite so bad) Novus Ordos in his home country.

So, we take note that according to Schneider, the Catholic Magisterium is a hodgepodge of truth and error, salutary nourishment and dangerous poison, and the faithful’s job is to strain this stream of sewage “and discern what [in it] is in conformity with the Catholic and Apostolic faith handed on by all bishops and popes….” Great! The only problem is: That is the very opposite of what the Church actually teaches, as we have seen.

Schneider is turning the truth on its head, something he must do if he wants to continue to accept Bergoglio as Pope. But this should tell us something: The only way Francis’ legitimacy can be upheld is by inverting Catholic doctrine. How’s that for a hint as to the man’s real status!

Putting Words into a Cardinal’s Mouth

The Kazakh auxiliary’s comedy act continues:

One should also remember the wise words that Cardinal Consalvi spoke to a furious Emperor Napoleon, when the latter threatened to destroy the Church: “What we, i.e. the clergy, tried to do and we did not succeed, you for sure, will not succeed.” Paraphrasing these words one could say: “Even a heretical pope cannot destroy the Church.” The Pope and the Church are indeed not totally identical. The Pope is the visible head of the Militant Church on earth, but at the same time he is also a member of the Mystical Body of Christ.

Here we must ask, first of all, why one cardinal’s clearly non-infallible words to an anti-Catholic emperor 200 years ago should have any value or binding force for us today when at the same time we’re being asked to ignore, reject, and resist the teachings and laws of the currently-reigning “Roman Pontiff” as well as the teaching of a Doctor of the Church and even unquestionably true Popes of the past (Innocent III and Paul IV). To ask the question is to answer it.

Even so, Schneider’s “paraphrase” is audacious and entirely gratuitous. It is not a paraphrase at all: There is no reason whatsoever why anyone should understand the cardinal’s words to mean that a heretical Pope is possible. That the Church cannot be destroyed is very true and obvious enough, but not because of what a cardinal once said to an emperor but because the Church teaches her own immortality:

In the Catholic Church Christianity is incarnate. It identifies itself with that perfect, spiritual, and, in its own order, sovereign society, which is the mystical body of Jesus Christ and which has for its visible head the Roman Pontiff, successor of the Prince of the Apostles. It is the continuation of the mission of the Saviour, the daughter and the heiress of His redemption. It has preached the Gospel, and has defended it at the price of its blood, and strong in the Divine assistance, and of that immortality which have been promised it, it makes no terms with error, but remains faithful to the commands which it has received to carry the doctrine of Jesus Christ to the uttermost limits of the world and to the end of time and to protect it in its inviolable integrity.

(Pope Leo XIII, Apostolic Letter Annum Ingressi; underlining added.)

The only reason why Schneider can downplay the spiritual harm that would result from a heretical Pope is that he distorts the Catholic teaching on the Papacy and the Magisterium — and the faithful’s obligation to submit to everything the Church teaches. Is this intellectually honest? Is this defensible? Is this Catholic?

Fr. Gerald McDevitt, who also knew a little bit about Sacred Theology, had a take not quite so carefree as Schneider’s regarding public heretics occupying ecclesiastical offices:

Since it is not only incongruous that one who has publicly defected from the faith should remain in an ecclesiastical office, but since such a condition might also be the source of serious spiritual harm when the care of souls in concerned, the Code [of Canon Law] prescribes [in Canon 188 4º] that a cleric tacitly renounces his office by public defection from the faith.

(Rev. Gerald V. McDevitt, The Renunciation of an Ecclesiastical Office [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1946], p. 136)

Why is anyone listening to Schneider again?

The master scholar from Kazakhstan is right, of course, in saying that the Pope “is not totally identical” with the Church. But that’s beside the point, because, as Pope Pius IX noted in an allocution to pilgrims of Nov. 27, 1871, “the Pope cannot be separated from the Church” (found in Papal Teachings: The Church, n. 389; full discourse available in French here, pp. 262-270).

The Pope, the Bishops, and Kudos from the Faithful

It is not entirely clear just what “Bp.” Schneider is trying to convey when he says that the Pope is not identical with the Church. Is he suggesting that the Church is above the Pope? That would be heresy (see Denz. 1830-1831). With the First Vatican Council we must remember that the Papal Primacy was conferred on St. Peter directly and not through the medium of the Church, as though the Church had received the Primacy and then passed it on to St. Peter or his successors:

To this teaching of Sacred Scriptures, so manifest as it has been always understood by the Catholic Church, are opposed openly the vicious opinions of those who perversely deny that the form of government in His Church was established by Christ the Lord; that to Peter alone, before the other apostles, whether individually or all together, was confided the true and proper primacy of jurisdiction by Christ; or, of those who affirm that the same primacy was not immediately and directly bestowed upon the blessed Peter himself, but upon the Church, and through this Church upon him as the minister of the Church herself.

(Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Chapter 1; Denz. 1822)

In fact, all the bishops of the Church “have received their mission from the Sovereign Pontiff”, as Pope Pius VI teaches in his decree Super Soliditate, and as is also taught by his predecessor, Pope Clement XIII:

Therefore We beseech you that if some scandal or disagreement arises which you are unable to put down, to refer it to this See of the blessed Prince of the apostles. As from the head and apex of the episcopacy, that very episcopacy and every authority which bears the same name comes from here. All waters flow from here as if from their very source, and they flow uncorrupted from a pure head through the various regions of the whole world.

(Pope Clement XIII, Encyclical A Quo Die Nobis, n. 19; underlining added.)

Returning now to Schneider’s text, the author informs us:

The sentire cum Ecclesia requires from a true son or daughter of the Church that he or she also praise the pope when he does right things, while asking him to do still more and praying that God enlightens him so that he may become a valiant herald and defender of the Catholic Faith.

How generous of the faithful, after sifting the Pope’s writings for orthodoxy, to then give him a really good attaboy! for those things he got right. In Schneider’s world, that would be the case whenever the Pope basically restates what everyone already knows to be true anyway — how incredibly useful such a Papacy is! (If this doesn’t sound like Roman Catholicism to you, it’s because it isn’t. Mr. Schneider made it up because he somehow needs to justify his idea that a public heretic can be the Pope of the Catholic Church.)

It should go without saying that the faithful are not permitted to examine the writings of the Pope to see what they will accept and what they will reject. Speaking to Jesuits a year before his death, the last known true Pope told them:

Let no one take from you the glory of that rectitude in doctrine and fidelity in obedience due to the Vicar of Christ; among your ranks let there be no room for that “free examination” more fitting to the heterodox mentality than to the pride of the Christian, and according to which no one hesitates to summon before the tribunal of his own judgment even those things which have their origin in the Apostolic See.

(Pope Pius XII, Allocution to the General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, Sept. 10, 1957; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, n. 1483)

The Grand Finale: A Slew of misguided Accusations

Before closing, “Bp.” Schneider attempts to justify his convoluted theology one last time:

Declaring Pope Francis to be an invalid pope, either because of his heresies or because of an invalid election … are desperate and subjectively taken actions aimed at remedying the current unprecedented crisis of the papacy. They are purely human and betray a spiritual myopia. All such endeavors are ultimately a dead end, a cul-de-sac. Such solutions reveal an implicit Pelagian approach to resolving a problem with human means; a problem, indeed, which cannot be resolved by human efforts, but which requires a divine intervention.

Having totally trashed the Catholic understanding of the Papacy and the Magisterium, the master scholar from Astana now has the gall to accuse those who don’t buy it of “spiritual myopia”, “Pelagianism”, human solutions, and desperation. Yet, all of the foregoing evidence we have presented shows the world just who is proposing truly human ideas here.

As we have seen, rejecting Francis’ claim to the Papacy has to do with one thing only and that is being faithful to Catholic doctrine by drawing the necessary conclusion that follows from it. It is Schneider who is proposing a dead end, because his position leads to contradiction with the traditional teaching.

The Kazakh auxiliary elaborates a little:

One need only examine similar cases of the deposition of a pope or declaration of the invalidity of his election in Church history to see that they provoked rivaling and combatting claimants to the papal office.

Such situations caused more confusion for the Church than did tolerating a heretical or doubtfully elected pope with the supernatural vision of the Church and trust in Divine Providence.

Even if his position were the lesser evil, it simply would not matter because it is false, for it contradicts the traditional doctrine all Catholics must adhere to. He cannot argue for the correctness of his view on the grounds that it supposedly leads to less undesirable consequences. That is a rather pragmatic notion of truth!

A brief look at Vatican I’s teaching on the Papacy illustrates that tolerating a heretical Pope is an impossibility and a lot more damaging to the Church than rival claimants to the papal office:

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 I, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Chapter 4; Denz. 1837)

With all this, we can now come to an end and draw a sobering conclusion: With his essay “On the question of the true pope in the light of the opinion of the automatic loss of the papal office for heresy and the speculations about the resignation of Benedict XVI”, Athanasius Schneider has demonstrated that, far from being some kind of heroic fighter for traditional Catholicism, he is a theological comedian (at best) who distorts traditional Catholic doctrine for only one shameful end: to keep people believing that Jorge Bergoglio is the Pope of the Catholic Church.

Never mind that he’s destroying the Papacy in the process.

Image source: own composite with elements from youtube.com (screenshot) and shutterstock.com
License: fair use and paid

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