Return of an old straw man…
On Disobeying the Pope:
Comments on a recent One Peter Five Article
“Can a Catholic Ever Disobey a Pope?” That is the question currently being asked at One Peter Five. An article by that title was posted on July 17, 2020, written by Paul Casey.
The author begins by claiming:
“No one is ever allowed to disobey the pope. Period.”
The statement is made repeatedly on social media, usually in an attempt to end a debate. It’s taken as a given. No sources cited, no documentation provided. It’s merely assumed. It is, after all, obvious.
(Paul J. Casey, “Can a Catholic Ever Disobey a Pope?”, One Peter Five, July 17, 2020; italics given.)
Ironically, Casey himself does not provide any source documentation for his claim either, perhaps because he too thought it was obvious enough. That is quite unfortunate, however, because for a statement that is allegedly being bandied about on social media, we have certainly never come across it before from a sedevacantist writer; and a quick Google search on the phrase yields no results except for Mr. Casey’s own article. (It is possible, however, that the author was referring to hardcore Novus Ordos making this claim and not sedevacantists.)
That a Pope not only can but must be disobeyed when he commands someone to commit a sin, is so obvious as to hardly need mention. After all, divine law trumps any human command, and “we ought to obey God, rather than men” (Acts 5:29). An example of a Pope commanding someone to sin would be if a Pope — God forbid — were to tell someone to steal, lie, or commit murder. A Pope could do that — not, of course, by teaching the Universal Church that it was permissible to commit those sins, or by instituting laws requiring or permitting such actions — but by commanding an individual to steal, lie, or murder. Popes are not incapable of sinning, by any stretch, and Church history certainly confirms that.
Likewise, a Pope can and must be rebuked — in public, if necessary — if his personal conduct is scandalous, meaning if it is sinful (or has at least the appearance of being sinful) and occasions spiritual harm for others. So, for instance, if a Pope were to publicly engage in unnecessary servile work on Sundays and holydays for long periods of time, not only would he be sinning, he would also be leading other people into sin by his bad example. This is so because people would naturally infer that such unnecessary servile work does not (seriously) break the divine law of keeping the Lord’s Day holy and therefore be disposed to engaging in it themselves.
Thus we see in Sacred Scripture the example of St. Paul rebuking St. Peter for scandalizing the Gentile converts:
But when Cephas [St. Peter; see Jn 1:42] was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that some came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them who were of the circumcision. And to his dissimulation the rest of the Jews consented, so that Barnabas also was led by them into that dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly unto the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all: If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as the Jews do, how dost thou compel the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?
Indeed, Mr. Casey brings up this very incident in his article. We have addressed it at some length in a prior post and will therefore simply refer to it here:
That even a Pope can be rebuked by his subjects under certain circumstances is confirmed by Catholic theology, exemplified by the Universial Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, whom Casey quotes as well:
It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Galatians 2:11, “Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.”
(St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 33, a. 4, ad 2)
Casey then asks: “But what if this ‘resistance’ is not simply rebuking a pope in an improper exercise of authority? Is disobedience ever allowed? Do theologians ever discuss ‘disobedience’ to the ‘pope’ specifically?” He answers in the affirmative and proceeds to give some of the typical resistance quotes the semi-traditionalists have at the ready.
The most weighty of them is the familiar “it is licit to resist a Pope” quote of St. Robert Bellarmine, who is not only a saint but also a Doctor of the Church. As we have dealt with this particular argument before as well, we are content again to merely provide a link to that discussion:
What Casey’s resistance quotes have in common is that they are all from theologians who wrote before the First Vatican Council of 1870 (Cajetan, Suarez, Prieras, de Vitoria, Bellarmine, Torquemada), with the exception of “Cardinal” Raymond Burke, who is, of course, Novus Ordo. This is significant because Vatican I issued an entire dogmatic constitution on the institution, power, nature, and authority of the Papacy. Vatican I and a number of subsequent magisterial acts settled several issues which theologians hundreds of years prior to the council had been free to dispute about. Therefore, when it comes to this topic it is best to quote from theologians who wrote after Vatican I, as their teachings and opinions will incorporate the doctrines and clarifications given by Vatican I.
Casey also brings up the case of the 13th-century English bishop Robert Grosseteste, another favorite example the semi-trad community likes to use. Casey unfortunately relies on the notorious Michael Davies (1936-2004) for his argument. Davies was a lay apologist for the Lefebvrists (SSPX) who was definitively discredited in the masterful work Michael Davies – An Evaluation by John Daly, which had first been released in 1989 and was revised and reissued in 2015.
As Daly answers Davies’ argument most competently, we will simply refer to our post excerpting Daly’s response regarding the historical incident of Bp. Grosseteste’s refusal to comply with Pope Innocent IV’s command to appoint unworthy candidates to ecclesiastical offices:
The facts regarding the duty to disobey papal commands to sin being clear, one cannot help but wonder: Why does One Peter Five bring up the issue of disobeying a Pope at all? Has Francis issued any sinful commands lately to individuals who frequent that web site? Hardly.
We all know the reason, of course: For over seven years now, “Pope” Francis has been teaching heresy and other errors, instituted evil universal laws, solemnly ordered the whole church to venerate certain notorious sinners as Catholic saints, and so forth. Beyond that, for decades the Vatican II Church has been teaching, well, Vatican II doctrine, and the readers of One Peter Five are such that they look upon that council with suspicion and uneasiness at the very least — and many condemn it outright.
In fact, less than two weeks ago Steve Skojec, the web site’s editor, happily published the scathing letter penned by “Abp.” Carlo Maria Viganò condemning Vatican II. In Vigano’s missive “we see the calmest, most succinct, most direct acknowledgment of what the Second Vatican Council has wrought that I have ever read from a member of the episcopacy”, Skojec commented, adding: “We all know … that the pre- and post-conciliar variants of Catholicism are not the same religion” (italics given). He then approvingly quotes Viganò saying that “from Vatican II onwards a parallel church was built, superimposed over and diametrically opposed to the true Church of Christ” (italics given).
Clearly, we are not talking merely about disobeying a (supposed) Pope. We are talking about a wholescale refusal of submission to the Vatican II “Popes” by rejecting their religion and their false, parallel church. To frame this issue as being essentially a question of disobeying a Pope’s sinful commands is simply misleading — it is a straw man. What we are actually dealing with here is a question of schism, for these semi-trads are deliberately separating themselves from the man they claim is the Roman Pontiff, to such an extent that they will not allow him to bind or even inform their consciences on Faith or morals unless they first agree that what he teaches or decrees is actually correct.
Interestingly enough, there is a little-known quote from St. Robert Bellarmine that is quite apropos but which recognize-and-resist traditionalists never bring up, namely:
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 3; Grant translation.)
As we have pointed out many times in the past, it is the semi-trads’ persistent refusal to give up the idea that the Novus Ordo “Popes” are real Popes that throws a monkey wrench into the Catholic dogmas and doctrines concerning the Papacy:
- Anything but Sedevacantism! Analysis of curious Phenomenon
- The Trouble with Jorge: Semi-Trads at the Breaking Point
- The Stumbling Block of the Papacy: Why Bergoglio doesn’t fit
- Does this apply to Francis? Just asking…
- Take the Francis Papacy Test: Is Jorge Bergoglio what he claims to be?
In their absurd attempts to hold the Novus Ordo papal pretenders for legitimate Popes while refusing their religion, the semi-traditionalists continually confuse evil commands that a morally corrupt but true Pope could conceivably give to an individual, from ecclesiastical laws that are made for the Universal Church and that, coming from a true Pope, are divinely guaranteed not to be evil or harmful. In his Evaluation of Michael Davies, John Daly explains this quite well:
The Popes themselves have been quite explicit on this topic in recent centuries in their magisterium:
Certainly the loving Mother [the Church] is spotless in the Sacraments, by which she gives birth to and nourishes her children; in the faith which she has always preserved inviolate; in her sacred laws imposed on all; in the evangelical counsels which she recommends; in those heavenly gifts and extraordinary graces through which, with inexhaustible fecundity, she generates hosts of martyrs, virgins and confessors.
(Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 66)
…as if the Church which is ruled by the Spirit of God could have established discipline which is not only useless and burdensome for Christian liberty to endure, but which is even dangerous and harmful and leading to superstition and materialism.
(Pope Pius VI, Bull Auctorem Fidei, n. 78; Denz. 1578)
…[T]he discipline sanctioned by the Church must never be rejected or be branded as contrary to certain principles of natural law. It must never be called crippled, or imperfect or subject to civil authority. In this discipline the administration of sacred rites, standards of morality, and the reckoning of the rights of the Church and her ministers are embraced.
(Pope Gregory XVI, Encyclical Mirari Vos, n. 9)
The same holds true, of course, also for the doctrines that the Holy See issues in the exercise of the papal magisterium. Although not all doctrine comes with the guarantee of infallibility, nevertheless the teaching of the Pope is always guaranteed to be safe to adhere to, and always authoritative, for which reason the Church can demand complete submission of intellect and will to the Holy See in matters of Faith and morals:
All who defend the faith should aim to implant deeply in your faithful people the virtues of piety, veneration, and respect for this supreme See of Peter. Let the faithful recall the fact that Peter, Prince of Apostles is alive here and rules in his successors, and that his office does not fail even in an unworthy heir. Let them recall that Christ the Lord placed the impregnable foundation of his Church on this See of Peter [Mt 16:18] and gave to Peter himself the keys of the kingdom of Heaven [Mt 16:19]. Christ then prayed that his faith would not fail, and commanded Peter to strengthen his brothers in the faith [Lk 22:32]. Consequently the successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff, holds a primacy over the whole world and is the true Vicar of Christ, head of the whole Church and father and teacher of all Christians.
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. So it has been a common characteristic both of the ancient heretics and of the more recent Protestants — whose disunity in all their other tenets is so great — to attack the authority of the Apostolic See. But never at any time were they able by any artifice or exertion to make this See tolerate even a single one of their errors.
(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Nostis et Nobiscum, nn. 16-17)
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)
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)
Wherefore, as appears from what has been said, Christ instituted in the Church a living, authoritative and permanent Magisterium, which by His own power He strengthened, by the Spirit of truth He taught, and by miracles confirmed. He willed and ordered, under the gravest penalties, that its teachings should be received as if they were His own.
(Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Satis Cognitum, n. 9)
They [the Modernists] will learn many excellent things from such a great teacher [as Cardinal John Henry Newman]: in the first place, to regard the Magisterium of the Church as sacred, to defend the doctrine handed down inviolately by the Fathers and, what is of highest importance to the safeguarding of Catholic truth, to follow and obey the Successor of St. Peter with the greatest faith.
(Pope St. Pius X, Apostolic Letter Tuum Illud)
All these Popes were quite aware of the teachings of Aquinas, Bellarmine, Torquemada, and other theologians regarding disobedience to the unlawful commands of a Pope, were they not?
The question that never seems to occur to the recognize-and-resist traditionalists is: Why should the teaching of this or that theologian from hundreds of years ago be binding on the individual Catholic conscience, all the while the magisterial teachings, universal laws, canonizations, legal decrees, and sacramental/liturgical rites of the supposed current Roman Pontiff can or even must be dismissed by individual Catholics deeming it so?
If Paul VI was a true Pope, then why would a Catholic be permitted or even obliged to reject what the Roman Pontiff “by the Apostolic power conferred on us by Christ … together with the Venerable Fathers, in the Holy Spirit, approve[d], decree[d] and enact[ed] … in Council [and] promulgated, to the glory of God”? If that can and must be rejected, why should any Catholic care about, say, what Cardinal Torquemada said in the 15th century? How is it that the words of Cardinal Torquemada or Fr. Francisco Suárez carry more weight than the solemn words of the Vicar of Christ promulgating a document in an ecumenical council in union with all the world’s bishops?
Of course we know the answer to that: The reason why Mr. Casey thinks the words of Cardinal Torquemada carry more weight than those of Paul VI is that he agrees with what the 15th-century cardinal said and doesn’t agree with what his putative Pope said in 1965. That, and that alone, is what’s ultimately driving Casey’s position.
That is not to say, of couse, that the author doesn’t have every reason to disagree with Paul VI. We are not faulting him for rejecting the apostate junk promulgated at Vatican II. We are merely pointing out that if he wishes to go by traditional Catholic doctrine, then the only way he can reject Paul VI’s false teaching is by holding him to be a false pope. Anything else does great violence to the true Catholic doctrine on the Papacy.
Alas, by resisting the Vatican II religion while nevertheless recognizing the men who have imposed and perpetuated it as true Vicars of Christ, the semi-trads have maneuvered themselves into rejecting the Pope as the proximate rule of Faith. They have no other choice because their “Pope” does not have the Faith. Yet, the First Vatican Council declared:
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, Ch. 4; Denz. 1837)
We invite Paul Casey, Steve Skojec, and all other recognizing-and-resisting traditionalists to finally dump Francis and his five inglorious predecessors so that, rid of this loathsume burden, they are finally free to embrace traditional Catholic doctrine instead.
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