Deeper down the theological rabbit hole…

Still Lost in Blunderland: Refuting Peter Kwasniewski’s Latest Specious Attack on Ultramontanism


by Francis del Sarto


A Brief Review

In PART ONE of this article, we explored how Dr. Peter Kwasniewski dared to use a secular, decidedly non-theological source to discuss the singularly Catholic and thoroughly theological subject of Ultramontanism, when he could have utilized a reference at his very fingertips that would have provided an authoritative article about it: The Catholic Encyclopedia.

Compound that with the fact that by using the secular source he was able to conceal important information to his audience that would have shown the fraudulent nature of the title of his own article, “My Journey from Ultramontanism to Catholicism”, with its unscrupulous innuendo that Ultramontanism is a heresy that stands in opposition to Catholic truth.

And compound that further with the fact that by not using the reliable Catholic source just mentioned, he was able to escape informing his audience that the article in said source, written by Msgr. Umberto Benigni, a close confidant of Pope St. Pius X in the fight against Modernism, stated that Ultramontanism was being attacked by a “Rationalist-Protestant-Modernist coalition” and that “[f]or Catholics it would be superfluous to ask whether Ultramontanism and Catholicism are the same thing: assuredly, those who combat Ultramontanism are in fact combating Catholicism, even when they disclaim the desire to oppose it.”

This was not Prof. Kwasniewski’s first eschewal of The Catholic Encyclopedia’s article on Ultramontanism. In point of fact, examining several of his writings where the subject is mentioned on OnePeterFive, Life Site, New Liturgical Movement, Catholic Family News, and on Facebook, there is not one instance in which he alludes to The Catholic Encyclopedia or to any other Catholic reference. The only time he uses any reference source at all to define Ultramontanism is when he cites the secular Encyclopedia Britannica; otherwise, he’s counting on his readers to simply accept his own flawed understanding of what Ultramontanism is — after all, he’s a “Catholic theologian”, so you should trust him, right?

Blindly trusting someone based on his academic credentials — although, as noted in PART ONE, the “theologian” Kwasniewski has no degree in theology — who nevertheless repeatedly “prefers” not to share the credible definition found in an authoritative Catholic source, is to be highly gullible.

On the other hand, to be the perpetrator of such a deception is highly unconscionable, for either Kwasniewski read what The Catholic Encyclopedia has to say on the subject, which would firmly negate his false history; or, sensing the Catholic Encyclopedia article would do him no favors, deliberately refused to read it. This would constitute crass or supine ignorance, meaning he had the means to find the truth but chose not to use it. It is also a form of affected ignorance, that is, it is “deliberately aimed at and fostered … because it is sought for by the agent so that he may not have to relinquish his purpose” (Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Ignorance”) — the purpose in his case being to avoid revealing the true Catholic position on Ultramontanism to his readers, as it renders his thesis untenable. And by never even so much as mentioning the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Ultramontanism in his writings and talks, he avoids planting the thought in anyone’s mind to hunt out the book in the first place.

Kwasniewski’s Historicist View of Papal Authority

Astute readers will have noticed that we are just now getting into Kwasniewski’s article proper, as the greater portion of our critique has been spent castigating the retired professor for his shameful omission of any mention of Msgr. Benigni’s article, while giving due attention to it and its author, whose importance to the defense of the Church against Modernism is woefully — nay, criminally — undervalued (and even vilified) today. That neglect and character assassination are things that must be rectified by traditional Catholics at every opportunity.

We left off PART ONE of our rebuttal with Dr. K.’s first section, “The Growing Strength of the Papacy”, where we showed him to be giving an ahistorical version of the papal office. Rather than conceding the very obvious fact that far from needing to grow, the Papacy obtained its full strength at its very founding, precisely as announced by our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, who declared that St. Peter was the rock upon which He would build His Church (see Mt 16:13-20). That this same power in all its fullness has been extended to all true Popes as successors of St. Peter was plainly taught by the First Vatican Council in 1870:

Therefore, relying on the clear testimonies of Sacred Scripture, and adhering to the eloquent and manifest decisions not only of Our predecessors, the Roman Pontiffs, but also of the general Councils, We renew the definition of the Ecumenical Council of Florence, by which all the faithful of Christ must believe “that the Apostolic See and the Roman Pontiff hold primacy over the whole world, and that the Pontiff of Rome himself is the successor of the blessed Peter, the chief of the apostles, and is the true vicar of Christ and head of the whole Church and faith, and teacher of all Christians; and that to him was handed down in blessed Peter, by our Lord Jesus Christ, full power to feed, rule, and guide the universal Church, just as is also contained in the records of the ecumenical Councils and in the sacred canons.

(Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 3; Denz. 1826; underlining added.)

So, contrary to what is suggested in Kwasniewski’s article, the power of the Pope isn’t something that ebbs and flows through the centuries, but at all times has plenitude, whether there be persecutions, heresies, schisms, or other challenges. This is the magisterial teaching of the Church, to which all who claim to be Catholics (including Peter Kwasniewski) are morally obliged to give their assent (“must be believed by all faithful Christians”) — under pain of heresy!

The next section in Dr. Kwasniewski’s article is entitled “The Pope as Rallying-point for Catholics”. It is largely a continuation of ideas he developed in the previous one, here focusing on political and cultural currents in 19th century England and France that to one extent or another “gave rise to a rationalistic and anti-Roman mentality”. Because of the opposition to the Church by those in power, he writes, “the most devout and zealous Catholics tended almost inevitably towards exalting the office of the Pope, the ‘Father of Christians,’ as a counterbalance to regional or national self-interest” (“My Journey from Ultramontanism to Catholicism”).

Certainly, we can agree with this up to a point: At no time are Catholics as fiercely zealous in defense of the Church as when they see that she is embattled.

However, by no means were these anti-Catholic campaigns uniquely European. They were also witnessed in the United States from the 1830s to 1850s, when, after an influx of Irish Catholics and German Catholics came to her shores, the Know Nothing Party was formed to combat Catholicism every way it could, including the infamous burning and pillaging of a convent in Massachusetts.

The Catholic Encyclopedia article on the subject gives many more examples of this bigotry, reaching from New York and Connecticut to Kentucky and Texas: altars smashed, churches burned or bombed, a priest dragged from his church, robbed, then tarred and feathered. In Cincinnati, Ohio, a 600-man mob marched on the cathedral with weapons, lit torches, and rope intending to set it ablaze and hang the visiting Apostolic Nuncio. Police were able to force the mob to disperse, but not until shots were fired and several people were wounded.

The attacks on the Church didn’t stop after the First Vatican Council either; if anything, they intensified on the heels of it. Great was the suffering in the 1870s of German, Austrian, and Polish Catholics under the Kulturkampf (“culture battle”) initiated by the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck, which was a far more significant persecution than that experienced in England, France, or America. Here is a partial description of the situation in Germany:

The abolition of the Catholic section of the Prussian Ministry of ecclesiastical and educational affairs deprived Catholics of their voice at the highest level. The system of strict government supervision of schools was applied only in Catholic areas; the Protestant schools were left alone. The school politics also alienated Protestant conservatives and churchmen.

The British ambassador Odo Russell reported to London in October 1872 how Bismarck’s plans were backfiring by strengthening the ultramontane (pro-papal) position inside German Catholicism:

The German Bishops who were politically powerless in Germany and theologically in opposition to the Pope in Rome – have now become powerful political leaders in Germany and enthusiastic defenders of the now infallible Faith of Rome, united, disciplined, and thirsting for martyrdom, thanks to Bismarck’s uncalled for antiliberal declaration of War on the freedom they had hitherto peacefully enjoyed.

Nearly all German bishops, clergy and laymen rejected the legality of the new laws and were defiantly facing the increasingly heavy penalties, trials and imprisonments. As of 1878, only three of eight Prussian dioceses still had bishops, some 1,125 of 4,600 parishes were vacant, and nearly 1,800 priests ended up in jail or in exile, nearly half the monks and nuns had left Prussia, a third of the monasteries and convents were closed. Between 1872 and 1878, numerous Catholic newspapers were confiscated, Catholic associations and assemblies were dissolved, and Catholic civil servants were dismissed merely on the pretence of having Ultramontane sympathies. Thousands of laypeople were imprisoned for assisting priests to evade the punitive new laws.

(Wikipedia, s.v. “Kulturkampf”; underlining added.)

The situation elsewhere was just as dire. The same Wikipedia article goes on to note that in Poland “Prussian authorities imprisoned 185 priests and forced hundreds of others into exile. Among the imprisoned was the Primate of Poland Archbishop Mieczysław Ledóchowski. A large part of the remaining Catholic priests had to continue their service in hiding from the authorities.”

And yet for all of this, Kwasniewski’s claim that this led Catholics to “exalting the office of the Pope, the ‘Father of Christians,’ as a counterbalance” must be regarded as grossly overstating a point. There is no question that the persecutions and false propositions of the day, particularly those against the Faith, were being refuted in many an encyclical or other papal document of the era, culminating in Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus Of Errors (1864), and leading to direct negotiations between Pope Leo XIII and Bismarck. Catholics of that era were surely ecstatic in those instances that Rome had spoken, and sang hosannas that the truth refused to be silenced. Indeed, every Pope must be ready to defend the rights of the Church and of her members, even, if necessary, to the shedding of his blood. That is an obligation that comes with the office.

When such threats to Holy Mother Church arise, it’s not just Popes who stand up for her — the loyal faithful are happy to do so as well. This isn’t fanaticism, as Dr. Kwasniewski vainly tries to show, it is the sensible response of normal Catholics who are ready to stand and fight for their Church. To follow his logic, one must ask the professor whether at times when there are existential threats to the Church and to Christian civilization as a whole, being loyal to the Holy See is tantamount to fanaticism.

For example, were the Catholics who gathered with Popes in the Roman catacombs, those who heeded the call of Pope Urban II to form the First Crusade (1096-1099), or those who rallied behind Pope St. Pius V to rout the Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Lepanto (1571), all guilty of what he would call a delusional “hyperpapalism”? No Catholic historian of any stature has ever made such a claim.

Please note that save for Lepanto, all the events cited took place centuries before the supposedly irrational “papolatry” Kwasniewski accuses Catholics of succumbing to during the rise of Ultramontanism. Does he believe the Crusaders or catacomb Catholics were guilty of papal derangement? It is his position that during the 19th century, “[t]he pope could be seen as the general of the Lord’s army, mustering troops from the four corners to engage in battle against the philosophical and political forces of modernity”, but as just demonstrated, Popes have assumed that role in various crises throughout the ages, both spiritual and temporal. Whether Dr. K likes it or not, the Church Militant was, is, and will continue to be how the Church visibly manifests herself here on earth. And yes, that will be with the Pope as “the general of the Lord’s army”! (Whether a particular Pontiff is very good at leading the troops of the faithful — be it literally, as in the distant past, or figuratively — is a different matter, but regardless of the level of his ability, the Sovereign Pontiff is the Commander.)

Curiously enough, the Kulturkampf persecutions didn’t cause a hysterical effect on German Catholics, as Dr. Kwasniewski would likely contend. On the contrary, it was a wake-up call for those who had taken their Faith for granted, and who formerly had regarded their obligation of obedience to the Holy See too lightly or even contemptuously. To repeat the observation of Odo Russell cited above:

The German Bishops who were politically powerless in Germany and theologically in opposition to the Pope in Rome – have now become powerful political leaders in Germany and enthusiastic defenders of the now infallible Faith of Rome, united, disciplined, and thirsting for martyrdom, thanks to Bismarck’s uncalled for antiliberal declaration of War on the freedom they had hitherto peacefully enjoyed.

So, in the end, this revering of the Roman Pontiffs was no modern innovation driven by certain exigencies of the day, as held by Prof. Kwasniewski. Rather, it was a reaffirmation of what the 4th-century Doctor of the Church, St. Ambrose, had so succinctly spoken to Christians throughout all the centuries concerning the central place presided over by St. Peter and his every successor: “Where Peter is, there is the Church” (ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia).

Yes, there were crises in the 19th century that the Holy See was compelled to resist, but by no means does Dr. Kwasniewski even remotely have a case for claiming that they were such as to cause the faithful to glorify the Papacy unduly or overzealously. Again, for the benefit of the professor, the integrally Catholic disposition that motivates Ultramontanism is not in any way tethered to a particular place or time or any given set of historical circumstances. Rather, it is as universal an impulse in the faithful as the Church is universal in the world because it has its origin in divinely-revealed truth.

Kwasniewski ends the section with a brief mention of the great Benedictine liturgist Dom Prosper Guéranger (1805-1875), seen to the left. He even goes so far as to call him a “beloved author” and “one of the greatest of the 19th-century ultramontanists”. Not that the author of The Liturgical Year needs any further kudos to establish his reputation, but it is nice to know that Dr. K does recognize that it is possible for an Ultramontanist to occasionally write something of value. The professor even acknowledges that Guéranger’s book The Papal Monarchy (1870) is “one of the most prominent defenses of the doctrine of papal infallibility”, although it is actually much more than that: It is a defense of papal primacy, which is a much wider field than the relatively narrow one of infallibility. Moreover, it enjoys the explicit approval of Pope Pius IX, who wrote a letter of endorsement (entitled Dolendum Profecto) that is printed at the beginning of the book.

Clearly, there was no way Dr. Kwasniewski was going to get around the great Dom Guéranger, a giant in 19th century theology, specifically as regards liturgy. There was no way to simply dismiss him. Still, the professor’s praise of Abbot Guéranger comes across as inconsistent with the occasional stridency of his remarks against Ultramontanism. If anyone should be able to convince Kwasniewski that Ultramontanism is, at the very least, a viable position to hold and far from the “heresy” that he suggests it to be, it would be Dom Guéranger. Sadly, however, he obviously believes that even this illustrious spiritual son of St. Benedict had allowed himself to be swept away by the tempest of an untenable, fanatical, and dangerous theory.

The next section is entitled “Three Distinctive Marks of the Catholic”. In it, Prof. Kwasniewski claims that

ultramontanism has been the basic mentality of most Catholics in modern times (stretching back several centuries). In the public eye, what makes a man a Catholic is threefold: first, he believes in the Eucharist as the true Body of Christ; second, he venerates the Blessed Virgin Mary; third, he accepts the Pope as head of the Church, and follows the Pope’s teaching.

The notion that Ultramontanism is just a (more or less accidental) modern phenomenon is just rubbish, for the filial piety shown by the faithful to the successors of St. Peter isn’t a historically conditioned reaction dating back several centuries, it is an essential religious impulse of the faithful that traces its origins back to the Church in her infancy over two millennia ago, a fact we just established.

Consequently, whether or not they even know the term, all Catholics worthy of the name are, to some extent or another, “Ultramontanist”. This isn’t a novelty spun by sedevacantists — as we saw in PART ONE of this study, there is no essential difference between the two: “…Ultramontanism and Catholicism are the same thing…” (Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Ultramontanism”). Hence, upon ascending the Chair of St. Peter, Pope Benedict XV reminded the faithful:

Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: “This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved” (Athanas. Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim “Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,” only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.

(Pope Benedict XV, Encyclical Ad Beatissimi, n. 24)

Kwasniewski continues with a three-paragraph quotation from the theologian “Cardinal” Charles Journet (1891-1975), regarding these “three distinctive marks”, and he then follows it with what’s more or less a recapitulation of what Journet wrote. There’s really nothing to complain about doctrinally in any of it, but at the same time it comes across as somewhat gratuitous, almost as though he was using it as filler. No doubt Kwasniewski would protest that it ties into his next section, entitled “Temptations to Exaggerate the Truth”, yet it really does nothing to advance his thesis.

Exaggerating the Truth or Downplaying It?

Speaking of exaggeration, the first two paragraphs of that section qualify perhaps as the author’s most outrageous smear of Ultramontanism, and a textbook example of employing the “straw man” fallacy, which can be defined as: “The fallacy of setting up a phony, weak, extreme or ridiculous parody of an opponent’s argument and then proceeding to knock it down or reduce it to absurdity with a rhetorical wave of the hand” (Master List of Logical Fallacies). Behold Kwasniewski’s masterstroke:

Given these general truths, which have much to be said for them, it is not surprising that Catholics may develop a “hypertrophic” ultramontanism, a sort of excessive adherence to the person and policies of the pope, by which one simplistically takes everything he says as a definitive judgment and everything he does as a praiseworthy example, wrapping the mantle of infallibility around all his teaching and the garment of impeccability around all his behavior.

Generally, those who operate in this manner are suffering from a double handicap: first, a mighty ignorance of the annals of Church history, which often display the papacy in (shall we say) a less-than-favorable light; and second, a mighty ignorance of the precise understanding of papal infallibility officially taught by the Church.

There are so many erroneous claims in these two short paragraphs that one can pick out pretty much anything he states and find something very wrong with it — it is a veritable smorgasbord of errors. Along with the straw man fallacy, he adds a dollop of ad hominem to go with it.

First, he introduces us to a simpleton who lacks even the rudimentary knowledge of a bright school child who is quite conversant with the Baltimore Catechism. This fictional character in Kwasniewski’s farce is so abysmally ignorant of the basics as to take that “everything [the Pope] says as a definitive judgment and everything he does as a praiseworthy example, wrapping the mantle of infallibility around all his teaching and the garment of impeccability around all his behavior.” Maybe he learned about those types when he fell down the rabbit hole and landed in Blunderland, because in the real world they make up such a tiny minority as to be inconsequential to any discussion of the topic.

But it gets worse.

If you aren’t as “enlightened” as Kwasniewski perceives himself to be — in other words, if you’re one of those hapless Ultramontanists –, it’s clearly because, for one thing, you suffer from “a mighty ignorance of the annals of Church history, which often display the papacy in (shall we say) a less-than-favorable light”. Well, so he says; but does he give any examples to back up his contention? No, not even one — that just isn’t how he operates. It seems that if something furthers his position, he’ll use the information; but as soon as he senses something could jeopardize it, he steadfastly avoids it.

If he’s sincere about promoting the truth — which, having read his essays on this and related subjects for several years, we have good reason to doubt — he should start behaving like the serious academician he likes to be known as. That is, he should present the opposing view by quoting his adversaries and then attempt to prove them wrong — and not engage in a “debate” with the sock puppet he has on his hand and whose voice he himself supplies. This is something he ought to do to regain credibility with those who aren’t card-carrying, fawning members of his fan club.

Make no mistake: Novus Ordo Watch is definitely one of his major intended targets, even if he never has the candor to state the obvious. Earlier this year in a Facebook post he expressed his disapproval of “digging up quotes from 100 or 150 years ago from papal maximalists — even those who occupy the seat”, as though such papal teaching were not relevant in our present day. It was clear to whom he was referring.

The claim that Ultramontanists are ignorant of the darker pages of papal reigns is more Kwasniewski inanity. While that may be true for some individuals, speaking for ourselves, not only has Novus Ordo Watch never shied away from acknowledging the reality that there have been bad Popes in Church history, we’ve even published posts on that very subject, such as the following:

Similarly, Prof. Kwasniewski attacks those with “a mighty ignorance of the precise understanding of papal infallibility officially taught by the Church”. Now, surely he knows that even among theologians there are some differences as to precisely how far papal infallibility extends, even when they are guided by the conditions laid out in Pastor Aeternus.

Yes, he absolutely does know, he just chooses to ignore that knowledge in this context, which is disingenuous, to say the least. Kwasniewski is fully aware that there is not an absolute consensus, but rather a range of views as to precisely what is or isn’t covered by the dogma beyond the stated conditions laid out in the conciliar decree. This is shown conclusively in the same Facebook post referred to above, in which he declared:

Everything seems to come back to the Vatican I definition of 1870: what it means, and what it does not (and indeed cannot) mean. It tended to be taken in a maximalist way from the start by its proponents, and this theologoumenon was embraced by the popes such as Leo XIII. Newman, among other great lights, took it in a minimalist way and argued that it ought to be so taken if we would not distort the truth. It should make no difference to us that the theological trend is currently maximalist, because opinion doth not a dogma make.

(Peter Kwasniewski, Facebook post of Mar. 26, 2021 at 10:14 am; underlining added.)

Now, as the words suggest, those holding the maximalist position argued that the broadest application of infallibility is the correct interpretation, while those opting for the minimalist viewpoint maintained that a most restrictive interpretation was the correct one.

At the minimalist end of the spectrum (and there are shades of gradation all across it), some argue that in the past couple of centuries only the definitions promulgated at the First Vatican Council and the Marian dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption would qualify. Others would bring up whether creeds, liturgies, canonizations, etc. should be included, while still others make the well-founded argument that the anti-Modernist documents Pascendi Dominici Gregis and Lamentabili Sane Exitu ought to be included as well. After all, St. Pius X, the pontiff under which they were published, also issued the decree Praestantia Scripturae, which imposed

the penalty of excommunication against their contradictors [i.e. against those who dare to contradict the aforementioned anti-Modernist documents], and this we declare and decree that should anybody, which may God forbid, be so rash as to defend any one of the propositions, opinions or teachings condemned in these documents he falls, ipso facto [=by that very fact], under the censure contained under the chapter “Docentes” of the constitution “Apostolicae Sedis”, which is the first among the excommunications latae sententiae [=imposed automatically], simply reserved to the Roman Pontiff. This excommunication is to be understood as salvis poenis [=without prejudice to other penalties], which may be incurred by those who have violated in any way the said documents, as propagators and defenders of heresies, when their propositions, opinions and teachings are heretical, as has happened more than once in the case of the adversaries of both these documents, especially when they advocate the errors of the modernists that is, the synthesis of all heresies.

(Pope St. Pius X, Apostolic Letter motu proprio Praestantia Scripturae; italics added.)

By invoking such language Pope St. Pius indicates that Pascendi and Lamentabili are to be taken as definitive and irreformable in their condemnation of Modernism, and he underscores it by imposing the penalty of automatic excommunication on those who defend and advocate the condemned heresies. Thus a strong case can be made that this exercise of pontifical authority meets the criteria for infallibility.

All of this utterly flies in the face of Dr. Kwasniewski’s preposterous contention that Ultramontanists generally labor under a “mighty ignorance” of the dogma’s “precise understanding”, especially when one considers that those who knew the understanding as well as anyone were the bishops who drew up Vatican I’s Pastor Aeternus to begin with, and who were overwhelmingly maximalist in that understanding.

Kwasniewski also falls flat in his argumentation by appealing to Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890) as one of the “great lights” of the era who preferred the minimalist view, because he conveniently doesn’t tell his readers is that an equally great light, Cardinal Henry Edward Manning (1808-1892), held to the maximalist position, and even wrote a full-length book account of Vatican I, The True Story of the Vatican Council (1877), which we will be referencing in PART THREE.

Isn’t this one-sided approach to research on Dr. K’s part yet another example of the intellectual dishonesty already on display with his studied avoidance of the Catholic Encyclopedia in favor of an otherwise inexplicable preference for a worldly reference book, as discussed in PART ONE of this article? It’s just not a good sign when a “theologian” allows the selection of his historical and theological sources to be determined by his narrative: Repeating only one side over and over to one’s readers can make them fall into the trap of believing it’s the only side.

Henry Edward Cardinal Manning (1808-1892). Primate of England and Wales, he participated in the First Vatican Council and served on the doctrinal committee which drafted the decree on papal infallibility. Yet, Dr. Kwasniewski would no doubt call him ignorant of its true meaning. (image: Wikimedia Commons / public domain)

Next, Peter Kwasniewski turns to what he feels are embarrassing personal recollections around the time he was an undergraduate at Thomas Aquinas College, because then he did himself espouse “the other side”, i.e. the Catholic side, of the discussion. He less-than-fondly recalls it as a time when

my understanding of the papacy during my years in college was papolatrous to an almost satirical degree. I was a “John Paul II” Catholic who believed that the pope had all the right answers on any and every question, and that the one and only problem we were facing was widespread disobedience to him.

He provides what he refers to as an “over-the-top” passage from a journal he was compiling at the time and as part of a letter to a friend, as proof of his “extreme” position on the Papacy. Since the sum total (four paragraphs) is a bit lengthy, here’s the opening of the journal entry to give a taste of his former viewpoint, which is representative of the rest:

The Pope measures; he is not measured. There is no higher tribunal, no court of appeals; who is to set himself up as judge over the Supreme Pastor, the Vicar of Christ?… He knows more, sees more, hears more, looks towards the future with a higher gauge of utility and worth—charism of his office, grace necessary to fulfill his functions as mother [sic] and teacher. No one can be led to hell by following his teaching, per necessitatem, whereas one risks condemnation for disobeying him, if he speak the words of Christ.

(italics given)

Kwasniewski’s rhetoric takes some odd turns here and there, such as saying “He knows more, sees more…”, etc., and adding to the charism of the Holy Father the untraditional function of “mother”. But eccentricities aside, he’s basically in line with the Church’s doctrine concerning the Papacy. When he writes about “no higher tribunal, no court of appeals; who is to set himself up as judge over the Supreme Pastor, the Vicar of Christ?” he’s stating a dogmatic Catholic truth, whether or not it grieves him now to recall having once believed it. We need but recall what the Church herself says:

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 [note well!] and teacher of all Christians.

(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Nostis et Nobiscum, n. 16)

And since the Roman Pontiff is at the head of the universal Church by the divine right of apostolic primacy, We teach and declare also that he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all cases pertaining to ecclesiastical examination recourse can be had to his judgment; moreover, that the judgment of the Apostolic See, whose authority is not surpassed, is to be disclaimed by no one, nor is anyone permitted to pass judgment on its judgment. Therefore, they stray from the straight path of truth who affirm that it is permitted to appeal from the judgments of the Roman Pontiffs to an ecumenical Council, as to an authority higher than the Roman Pontiff.

(First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Chapter 3; Denz. 1830.)

The Catholic teaching, then, is clear. The question is only whether Dr. Kwasniewski does not know it — and is being irresponsible by pontificating (no pun intended) about the topic nonetheless, misleading countless souls in the process — or whether he does know it but rejects it — which would render him a heretic and thus a non-Catholic. Neither of these alternatives is terribly flattering for “the Kwas”, as some of his devoted students have nicknamed him. Of course the professor is always welcome to settle the issue in the combox below this article.

The one seeming exception to the above teaching would be the that if a Pope were to become a public heretic or apostate, the bishops could convene a so-called “imperfect council” to declare the Holy See vacant. However, this would not be a real exception since the bishops would not in fact be judging a Pope or exercise any kind of authority over him — they would merely be making a legal declaration about a former Pope, one who had manifestly chosen to depose himself by his public and voluntary defection from the Catholic Faith. Such a scenario, although discussed by theologians in theory, was not really believed to be possible in practice, at least not by the most eminent of them, St. Robert Bellarmine, the Doctor of the Papacy:

Although theologians before Vatican I were divided over what would happen if a Pope did become a heretic, the discussion was always confined to the theoretical scenario of a Pope becoming a public heretic in his capacity as a private person, not in the official exercise of the papal magisterium: “The supposition is only possible should the Pope teach heretical doctrine in a private capacity” (Rev. Matthew Ramstein, A Manual of Canon Law [Hoboken, NJ: Terminal Printing & Publishing Co., 1948], p. 193). The idea that a Pope should be able to teach heresy in his magisterium is manifestly incompatible with Catholic doctrine on the Papacy.

That the Pope “knows more, sees more, hears more”, can also readily be granted. After all, he has countless assistants and is keeping a watchful eye over the Universal Church, not just one single diocese. That is why the Roman Curia exists, which is, as it were, an extension of the Pope. (Of course it would be silly to think that somehow the Pope has superhuman abilities that allow him to know, see, and hear more than anyone else, but that’s obviously not what the author meant.)

Finally, the impressionable and “papolatrous” (his self-description, not ours) college kid embarrasses the present graybeard version of Peter Kwasniewski by writing: “No one can be led to hell by following his teaching, per necessitatem, whereas one risks condemnation for disobeying him, if he speak the words of Christ.” Yet with those words he was right in line not only with the teaching of St. Robert Bellarmine (as we shall see later) but, what is much more important, with the papal magisterium itself:

We congratulate you, therefore, on the fact that although you suffer, doubtless, at the defection of your brothers, separated from you by the breath of perfidious teaching, you are not troubled for all that, and are even being stimulated by their error to receive with greater willingness and to follow with more zeal not only the orders, but even all the directives of the Apostolic See; and by so doing you are certain that you cannot be deceived or betrayed.

(Pope Pius IX, Apostolic Letter Didicimus Non Sine; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, n. 439.)

…[A] characteristic of all true followers of Christ, lettered or unlettered, is to suffer themselves to be guided and led in all things that touch upon faith or morals by the Holy Church of God through its Supreme Pastor the Roman Pontiff, who is himself guided by Jesus Christ Our Lord.

(Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Casti Connubii, n. 104)

So, it is pretty clear which of the “two Kwasniewskis” had it right on the Papacy — and it’s not the current one. Just how was the Kwas able to talk himself out of holding the orthodox Catholic position on papal authority, though?

Much of it seems to have its roots in his mistaken ideas about the First Vatican Council and how, according to the narrative he’s latched upon, it supposedly went off the tracks.

Cardinal Newman: Anti-Ultramontanist Superstar?

John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890). The celebrated convert from Anglicanism is Kwasniewski’s “expert witness” against Ultramontanism. Oddly, Newman’s confrère Cardinal Manning, likewise an Anglican convert, isn’t mentioned in Kwasniewski’s article at all –perhaps because he was an outspoken Ultramontanist. (image: Wikimedia Commons / public domain)

Although it is proper when making a theological argument to adduce credentialed experts in the field in support of one’s position, as already noted Dr. Kwasniewski’s selection of theologians is rather limited and tendentious. He thinks he has found a friend in John Henry Cardinal Newman, a man he calls “arguably the greatest theologian of the 19th century” and “one of the most brilliant and saintly theologians of modern times”.

Kwaniewski places tremendous importance on Newman’s harsh critique of how the First Vatican Council came to arrive at its definitions on the Papacy, which the Anglican convert did not accept until their promulgation and then only begrudgingly — by no means “wholeheartedly”, as Dr. K claims, unless a wholehearted acceptance is synonymous in modern parlance with dragged kicking and screaming. This rhetorical hyperbole only slightly overstates Newman’s initial reticence to embrace the conciliar constitution Pastor Aeternus regarding the Papacy, as well as his fault-finding with the conduct of the presiding Pope and most of the bishops in passage of said decree.

In Dr. Kwasniewski’s “Journey from Ultramontanism to Catholicism”, Newman is portrayed almost as a churchy version of Professor Van Helsing, the metaphysician and vampire hunter in Dracula, who will first expose, then drive a stake through the heart of this evil manifestation of “papolatry” known as Ultramontanism. Indeed, he appears to be the linchpin upon which much of Kwasnewski’s thesis either hangs or falls — a phenomenon once aptly labeled “Newmanolatry” by sedevacantist author John Daly in his refutation of SSPX apologist Michael Davies (see Michael Davies: An Evaluation, p. 36).

But before getting to Newman’s place in this discussion, it is worth taking a look at his reputation and certain controversies surrounding it.

First off, his writing on the development of doctrine has been accused of being Modernist or, at least, a certain precursor of Modernism. This also goes for other ideas of his which some have pointed to as paving the way towards Vatican II, such as a supposed “primacy of conscience”; for he once declared, “Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts … I shall drink, — to the Pope, if you please, — still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards” (A Letter addressed to His Grace the Duke of Norfolk [New York, NY: The Catholic Publication Society, 1875], p. 86).

Clearly, it must be acknowledged that at times Newman did himself no favors with his rhetoric. Still, for all that seems problematic at first glance, the celebrated English convert attained to the cardinalate under Pope Leo XIII, and, amidst insinuations that he was a Modernist or favored their teachings, was cleared by Pope St. Pius X himself, who called Newman “an eminently upright and wise man”. How to explain this?

In 1945, Fr. Edmond Benard released A Preface to Newman’s Theology, a detailed study on Newman’s thought in which he demonstrates the famous cardinal’s orthodoxy and shows how Modernists have distorted the true meaning of his ideas. With regard to the awkward quote about conscience, Fr. Benard clarifies:

We must admit that to the Catholic reader even now this sentence is somewhat of a shock. Its real meaning and full controversial force are apparent only to those who consider Newman’s purpose in writing it and the audience for which it was intended.

We must remember first of all that Newman was not writing a theological treatise on infallibility. He was answering Mr. Gladstone’s strictures against the loyalty of the Catholic subjects of the Queen. In his introductory remarks, Newman had made this clear:

The main question which Mr. Gladstone has started I consider to be this:—can Catholics be trustworthy subjects of the State? has not a foreign Power a hold over their consciences such, that it may at any time be used to the serious perplexity and injury of the civil government under which they live? . . . what I propose to do is this . . . to confine myself for the most part to what he principally insists upon, that Catholics, if they act consistently with their principles, cannot be loyal subjects.

In the chapter in which the sentence occurs, Newman is not dealing directly with infallibility at all. He is defending the freedom of a Catholic to serve his country according to his conscience. This freedom of conscience, Newman maintains, can never be in conflict with the infallibility of the pope, because conscience is not a judgment upon any speculative truth or abstract doctrine, but bears immediately on conduct, something to be done or not done, here and now. Since conscience is a practical dictate, he argues: “. . . a collision is possible between it and the Pope’s authority only when the Pope legislates, or gives particular orders, and the like. But a Pope is not infallible in his laws, nor in his commands, nor in his acts of state, nor in his administration, nor in his public policy.” Thus the meaning of this sentence becomes clear when we consider it in the light of Newman’s purpose in writing. We find that it is merely the expression of the truth that a positive and clear dictate of a man’s conscience regarding some act to be performed or omitted must be obeyed rather than an opposing precept of a human superior. This is a conclusion no less orthodox than that of St. Thomas Aquinas himself in the same matter [see De Veritate, q. 17, a. 5].

(Rev. Edmond Darvil Benard, A Preface to Newman’s Theology [St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1945], pp. 59-60)

Although Newman is wrong when he says that a Pope is never infallible in legislating — in 1943, Pope Pius XII taught that the Church “is spotless … in her sacred laws imposed on all” (Encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 66; italics added) — what he says is correct with regard to particular commands (rather than universal laws).

Now, after Vatican II it became fashionable to appeal to one’s “conscience” as an excuse for disagreeing with Church teaching and engaging in practices that are mortal sins. For instance, in confession priests possessed by “the Spirit of the Council” would tell penitents who inquired about the morality or immorality of using contraception to “use your conscience” — as though the Church had not spoken clearly on the subject (for example, in Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Casti Connubii; and even Antipope Paul VI condemned it in Humanae Vitae). Likewise, in the Vatican II Church the appeal to one’s personal conscience is made with impunity even in defense of abortion “rights”. Interestingly enough, when it comes to receiving experimental injections that supposedly guard against a particular virus, the “I’m following my conscience” defense is suddenly anathema.

In any case, it is easy to see how the Modernists can easily “hijack” Cardinal Newman for their own nefarious ends. Perhaps the biggest news of such hijacking came two years ago when he was declared a “saint” by Jorge Bergoglio (“Pope Francis”). At the time, Canadian “Cardinal” Marc Ouellet went so far as to express his hope that the English cardinal would be declared a “Doctor of the Church”.

His admitted theological accomplishments notwithstanding, the thought of adding Newman’s name to the most outstanding group of theologians of all time — minds such as Saints Athanasius, Augustine, Bonaventure, Jerome, Thomas Aquinas, Robert Bellarmine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Gregory the Great, Alphonsus Ligouri, etc. — is simply absurd. Nevertheless, it is in line with what “Cardinal” Joseph Ratzinger was once quoted as saying, namely:

In the idea of “development” Newman had written his own experience of an ever finished conversion and interpreted for us, not only the way of Christian doctrine, but that of the Christian life. The characteristic of the great doctor of the Church, it seems to me, is that he teaches not only through his thought and speech, but also by his life, because within him thought and life are interpenetrated and defined. If this is so, then Newman belongs to the great teachers of the Church, because he both touches our hearts and enlightens our thinking.

(Joseph Ratzinger in L’Osservatore Romano, n. 22, June 1, 2005, p. 9. Quoted in “Thoughts of Cardinal Ratzinger [Pope Benedict XVI] about John Henry Newman”, The International Centre of Newman Friends; underlining added.)

Rev. Ian Ker, a British Novus Ordo cleric who is regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on Newman, also supports the idea. The so-called National Catholic Reporter similarly opines that greater research into the cardinal’s life, a natural consequence of the “canonization”, is certain to “spur calls for him to be declared a doctor of the church, placing him on a level with giants the likes of St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Thomas Aquinas, of which Ker thinks is virtually certain.”

Ker, not so incidentally, has joined others in hailing Newman as the “father of Vatican II”, which is still further evidence of the Modernists engaging in a form of identity theft related to Newman’s reputation. Some years ago, Ker published a book entitled Newman on Vatican II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), in which he purports to demonstrate that the famous convert “anticipated most of the Council’s major documents” and served as “an inspiration to the theologians who were behind them” (back cover).

Thus, in a rather remarkable turn of events, we find that the views of resistance spokesman Dr. Kwasniewski regarding Cardinal Newman (“saintly”/“one of the most brilliant … theologians of modern times”) turn out to be in substantial agreement with the thinking of the very sort of Modernists (“canonized saint”/“doctor of the Church”) Kwasniewski typically opposes. Was the professor not able to find a more suitable character to enlist in his battle against Ultramontanism?

This bit of “diabolical disorientation”, to use a favorite recognize-and-resist term, where we see people ostensibly holding diametrically opposed theologies each claiming Cardinal Newman as one of their own, isn’t as rare as one might think, and neither is it a particularly new phenomenon. Indeed, some of it was already manifesting while he was alive. A few citations will bring this curious dichotomy into sharper focus.

For example, Newman was known to form alliances with men whose orthodoxy was less than stellar. This from his Wikipedia page:

In the conclusion of the Apologia [Pro Vita Sua], Newman expressed sympathy for the Liberal Catholicism of Charles de Montalembert and Jean-Baptiste Henri Lacordaire: “In their general line of thought and conduct I enthusiastically concur, and consider them to be before their age.”

(Wikipedia, s.v. “John Henry Newman”)

In the September 2005 issue of the American Jesuit journal Theological Studies there appeared an article on Newman by Terrence Merrigan. The author, a professor of systematic theology at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, opens by remarking:

One of the most telltale signs of John Henry Newman’s complexity is the fact that he can be appealed to by men and women of nearly every shade of theological opinion. So-called conservative no less than so-called progressive Catholics can find in Newman’s writings remarks that appear to serve their particular theological agendas. This is not a new phenomenon. Already during Newman’s lifetime, there was confusion about precisely where he belonged on the theological spectrum. And this confusion was perhaps, unintentionally, aggravated by Newman himself, particularly in view of his insistence, in 1879, that his whole life had been dedicated to resisting “the spirit of liberalism in religion.”

…If then, Newman was, by his own admission, anti-liberal, how did it come about that he was regarded as “the symbol of the hope of English Liberal Catholics” around the time of Vatican Council I, and as the “the veritable father of the more liberalizing developments of the 20th-century Catholic Church,” particularly as these came to expression in Vatican Council II? Assuming that the word liberal did not indeed undergo a total metamorphosis of meaning, the most likely conclusion is that Newman did in fact display sympathy for at least some aspect(s) of what passes for liberalism. If this is the case, then it might be fair to say, as one commentator has done, that while Newman was “an anti-liberal in his terms [he was] a liberal in ours.”

(Terrence Merrigan, “Newman and Theological Liberalism”, Theological Studies, vol. 66, n. 3 [Sep. 2005], pp. 605-606.)

Similarly, around the time of the 2014 “canonization” of the English cardinal, The Washington Examiner published “A liberal and conservative’s theologian: The unifying brilliance of John Henry Newman”, an article whose very title encapsulates what could be called the “Newman conundrum.”

But far from being a Doctor of the Church, even Dr. Kwasniewski’s claim that Newman was arguably the greatest theologian of the 19th century falls well short of the mark. In fact, he shouldn’t even be in the conversation with the likes of Cardinal Johann Baptist Franzelin, Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, Cardinal Victor Dechamps, Fr. Matthias Scheeben (his works included five learned tracts in defense of the Vatican Council, directed against the so-called “Old Catholics” and their allies), Dom Prosper Guéranger, and Fr. Joseph Kleutgen, whose mastery of St. Thomas Aquinas’ writings led him to be called Thomas redivivus (“Thomas returned to life”). Pope Leo XIII eulogized Kleutgen thusly: “Erat princeps philosophorum” (“he was the prince of philosophers”).

These distinguished theologians were Ultramontanists who made significant contributions in formulating the decrees at the Council. Needless to say, none of them have ever been called anything close to “fathers of Vatican II”. That isn’t to say that Cardinal Newman deserved such an appellation either, but in his case one can see how the Modernists were easily able to latch onto some of his quotes.

Kwasniewski could have picked any of these stalwart thinkers over Newman, or at least acknowledged their insights, but he chose not to do so. Why? Evidently, it was precisely because of their Ultramontanist positions supporting papal primacy, infallibility, and Pope Pius IX that he had no use for them and turned to Newman instead, whose less-than-enthusiastic reception of Vatican I must have endeared him to the professor. Essentially, Dr. K wants his audience to accept his one-sided, negative narrative of the Council, using Cardinal Newman as the sole authority worth listening to. For him, it’s either Newman or no one — a Hobson’s choice sleight of hand, with Kwasniewski offering a take-it-or-leave-it trap.

William George Ward (1812-1882). A distinguished Anglican convert, deacon, editor of The Dublin Review, and defender of papal infallibility. His zeal is mocked by Dr. Kwasniewski as a gross exaggeration. (image: Wikimedia Commons / public domain)

Interestingly enough, there is a token straw man set up by Dr. Kwasniewski for display purposes, to “prove” his point that only Newman was rational, while the Ultramontanists were deranged in their supposed Pope worship. He cites William George Ward (1812-82), a British contemporary of the cardinal, a fellow convert from Anglicanism, and a lay theologian of some note, who in a famous quote that first found print in 1866, but had been uttered before then, declared: “I should like a new Papal Bull every morning with my Times at breakfast.” (It can be found explained in context, for example, in Wilfrid Ward, William George Ward and the Catholic Revival [London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1912], p. 14.)

However enthusiastic (or over-enthusiastic) he may have been for his newfound Faith, to ignore the unmistakable rhetorical hyperbole in this comment, as Kwasniewski does, is yet another example of him stacking the deck, this time to create the illusion that Ward — and so all Ultramontanists by extension — was somehow unhinged. According to Dr. K’s ridiculous interpretation, lacking nuance, if Ward and those of like mind had their way: “The papacy risked being turned into an industrial factory of new pronouncements and new directives on every subject under the sun.”

With interest we note, too, that this one famous “breakfast” quote is the only example of an Ultramontanist view being cited by Dr. K — such as it is — compared to a scathing, anti-conciliar 15-line direct quotation from Newman, along with several indirect references to his thought in the same vein. Once again we ask: Why such a one-sided approach?

Newman, the Council, and Pope Pius IX

Novus Ordo author Russell Shaw, writing last year for The Catholic Thing, related the following about the vote totals for its famous document on the Church, specifically the Papacy:

On July 18, 1870 – 150 years ago – Vatican I adopted the Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus declaring the pope to be preserved from error when teaching a doctrine of faith or morals in virtue of his apostolic authority as universal pastor and teacher. The constitution passed 533-2, but 56 bishops had left Rome before that, to avoid having to vote.

(Russell Shaw, “Infallibility: The Unopened Gift”, The Catholic Thing, Aug. 13, 2020)

It must be said straightaway that John Henry Newman, who was never a bishop and thus had no vote, was firmly in the camp of the distinct minority who opposed the promulgation of the proposed dogmatic definition. While he agreed with the doctrine in principle, he expressed the view that the timing was not opportune for them to be made dogmas, a position which put him in the camp of those referred to as “inopportunists”.

However, as indicated above, it would be a huge mistake to conclude that since Newman naturally accepted the new dogma after its solemn promulgation — something all bishops had to do under pain of heresy –, that he found reason to celebrate, because in reality he had great animus towards the Ultramontanists who had crafted the conciliar documents, and perhaps even greater antipathy towards the Pope who promulgated them. Nevertheless, it is Cardinal Newman’s views on the First Vatican Council and its decrees that Dr. K wants us to hold high above those of the dreaded Ultramontanists — views that were colored by a friction that had developed between the cardinal and Pius IX over time.

Newman’s famous conversion to Catholicism was completed by 1845. A year later, he was in Rome to be ordained a priest, since the Anglican orders he had received were null and void (something that Pope Leo XIII would later confirm definitively in the bull Apostolicae Curae). Pope Pius IX himself conferred upon him a Doctor of Divinity degree.

By 1865, however, the relationship had soured, and in late 1870, just a few months after the Council had concluded, Newman wrote to a British noblewoman: “We have come to a climax of tyranny. It is not good for a Pope to live 20 years. It is [an] anomaly and bears no good fruit; he becomes a god, has no one to contradict him, does not know facts, and does cruel things without meaning it” (in Charles Stephen Dessain and Thomas Gornall, eds., The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, vol. XXV [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973], p. 231).

Of all the Newman quotations from which to choose, Prof. Kwasniewski picks one coming on the heels of the promulgation of Pastor Aeternus, in which the convert from Anglicanism, after first iterating his opinion that the definition regarding infallibility breaks precedent by being issued without “urgent and definite necessity”, gets quite combative (the passage has been shortened slightly from what appears in Dr. K’s article, and also omitted is a brief interjection of his):

…[T]his definition, while it gives the Pope power, creates for him, in the very act of doing so, a precedent and a suggestion to use his power without necessity, when ever he will, when not called on to do so. I am telling people who write to me to have confidence—but I don’t know what I shall say to them, if the Pope did so act. And I am afraid moreover, that the tyrant majority is still aiming at enlarging the province of Infallibility. I can only say if all this takes place, we shall in matter of fact be under a new dispensation. But we must hope, for one is obliged to hope it, that the Pope will be driven from Rome, and will not continue the Council, or that there will be another Pope. It is sad he should force us to such wishes.

(John Henry Newman, in Letters and Diaries, vol. XXV, p. 192; italics given; underlining added.)

Thus far the words of “one of the most brilliant and saintly theologians of modern times”, according to Peter Kwasniewski.

We should note that history has vindicated Pope Pius IX rather than Cardinal Newman. The pontificate of Pius IX was one of the Church’s most glorious, and it produced good fruits in abundance. As for his personal sanctity, at a time when the last Pope to be canonized had been St. Pius V (r. 1566-72; can. 1712), it did not take long for people to request official recognition of Pius IX’s perceived holiness:

Pius IX had not yet been buried when, on February 8, 1878, the members of the Vienna Third Order of Franciscans sent a telegram to the Holy See requesting the introduction of his cause of beatification and canonization.

…In 1904, one year after his election to the pontificate, and on the fiftieth anniversary of the dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception, St. Pius X began the canonical process, ordering an enquiry into Pius IX’s reputation for sanctity, his virtues and the miracles attributed to him.

(Yves Chiron, Pope Pius IX: The Man and the Myth [Kansas City, MO: Angelus Press, 2005], pp. 303-304)

Cardinal Newman ended up on the wrong side of history. We might add that it wasn’t until the illegitimate “Second” Vatican Council (1962-65) — whose “father” he is alleged to have been, and, as we saw, not entirely without justification — that the wheels began to come off. So, if any council should have been stopped dead in its tracks, it was Vatican II, not Vatican I.

Embed from Getty Images

Benedict XVI beneath an oversized portrait of his hero on the day of Newman’s “beatification”.

For this and other reasons, in the view of the present writer, Cardinal Newman is a strange champion for traditional Catholics to revere as some sort of ecclesiastical hero, much less wax about in hagiographic terms. Yes, he was a theologian of note with some great achievements, but his writings were often unclear and sometimes caused controversy. It is evident that the Kwas is touting Newman’s credentials for chiefly one reason: because he can easily appropriate him for his battle against Ultramontanism, a battle he must undertake if he wants to fit Jorge Bergoglio into the role of Catholic Pope — a role the apostate Jesuit from Argentina absolutely does not fit into. Surely Newman himself would have been aghast at seeing to what use his work would be put in our day.

A False Pope, not “Papolatry”, is the Problem

Whereas Kwasniewski had it right on the Papacy when he was a college student — recall that he believed that “[n]o one can be led to hell by following [the Pope’s] teaching, per necessitatem, whereas one risks condemnation for disobeying him, if he speak the words of Christ” — it is no wonder that the mature professor must now reject his previous, perfectly orthodox view of submission to the Pope, for the man he now accepts as the Vicar of Christ is a blaspheming apostate whose official magisterium not only has the potential of leading souls to hell but basically offers them a free first-class ticket for the smoothest possible ride to Gehenna.

Take, for example, Bergoglio’s blasphemous claim in the exhortation Amoris Laetitia that “conscience” (there it is again!)…

can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it [=an adulterous relationship] is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized.

(Antipope Francis, “Apostolic” Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, n. 303)

Yes, for “Pope” Francis, an adulterous relationship is an “imperfect realization” of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. This man is not just a wicked heretic and blasphemer, he also thinks the people who read his stuff are completely stupid!

In any case, with this kind of a “magisterium” it is easy to see why Prof. Kwasniewski had to shed his former “papolatrous” views. If only he had shed his belief that such a man could possibly be a true Pope! But, alas, that is apparently something his “conscience” does not allow for.

Let’s not forget: Francis went out of his way to confirm Amoris Laetitia as an act of the “authentic magisterium”, specifically the interpretation which allows for public and unrepentant adulterers to receive Novus Ordo communion. But a true Roman Pontiff cannot officially promulgate false teachings, so, were Bergoglio a valid Pope, Kwasniewski and his reocognize-and-resist gang would be morally obliged by the Church to heed all of his magisterial pronouncements without exception.

They could not invoke the popular “resistance” argument (which, as we’ll see, he predictably trots out later in his article), because that pertains to personal papal misconduct, not to the exercise of the papal magisterium, as demonstrated by St. Robert Bellarmine, who wrote:

…we do not deny that Popes can offer the occasion of erring through their own bad example, rather, we deny that they can prescribe the whole Church to follow some error ex cathedra. Moreover, the examples and doctrines of the Pontiffs are not equally pernicious to the Church, seeing that the Lord instructed them, saying: “Do what they say, but do not do what they do.”

(St. Robert Bellarmine, De Romano Pontifice, Book IV, Chapter 8; Grant translation.)

Bellarmine here does not distinguish between the extraordinary papal magisterium ex cathedra, which is infallible, and the ordinary or “authentic” magisterium, which is not infallible. However, he does make clear that it is in their personal conduct in which the Popes can fail and be resisted, not in their official teaching to the whole Church:

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.)

It is important to understand the faithful’s obligation to assent to the teaching of the Church is not grounded in the Church’s infallibility but in her divine commission to teach:

“Going therefore teach ye all nations…teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” [Mt 28:19-20]. Herein lies the source of the obligation to believe what the Church teaches. The Church possesses the divine commission to teach, and hence there arises in the faithful a moral obligation to believe, which is founded ultimately, not upon the infallibility of the Church, but upon God’s sovereign right to the submission and intellectual allegiance (rationabile obsequium) of His creatures: “He that believeth…shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be condemned” [Mk 16:16]. It is the God-given right of the Church to teach, and therefore it is the bounden duty of the faithful to believe.

(Canon George Smith, “Must I believe it?”, The Clergy Review, vol. IX, n. 4 [April, 1935], pp. 296-309; italics given.)

The true Catholic position on the authority of the Pope and the Church is simple and clear. Kwasniewski has to distort it in order to “make it work” with the Modernist sect headed by Francis. To that end, he touts an ambiguous Cardinal Newman while distorting, downplaying, or ignoring all the evidence that contradicts his position, including the clear teaching of the magisterium after Vatican I.

In PART THREE of “Still Lost in Blunderland”, we will conclude our critique of Dr. Kwasniewski’s “Journey from Ultramontanism to Catholicism” by refuting more of his blunders. We will also look into Cardinal Manning’s eyewitness account, The True Story of the Vatican Council, in order to get a more accurate assessment of this historic ecclesiastical assembly and understand why it was very opportune for the Church to have convened it when she did.

Stay tuned.


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