Old errors in new garb…
Unofficial Attitudes or Official Teachings?
How Eric Sammons Again Distorts the Papacy
The web site of Crisis Magazine informs the visitor that the online publication is “Orthodox. Faithful. Free.”
Free though it may indeed be, who vouches for its purported orthodoxy and faithfulness? Why, the people who operate Crisis Magazine, of course. In other words, it is a self-endorsement, nothing more than an advertisement. (Hans Küng didn’t think of himself as a heretic either, by the way.) If they are indeed as orthodox and faithful as they claim to be, why do they not get an endorsement — a digital imprimatur of sorts — from the local Novus Ordo bishop of the diocese in which they operate, or at least a nihil obstat from the diocesan censor?
These are rhetorical questions. In truth, Crisis Magazine is one of those self-declared “orthodox”/ “traditional” Novus Ordo resistance web sites where what is orthodox is basically decided by the editor-in-chief and the publisher, and perhaps ultimately by those who finance the operation.
Since 2021, the Executive Director of Crisis Publications and the Editor-in-Chief of Crisis Magazine has been Eric Sammons. Raised as a Methodist in Cincinnati, Ohio, Sammons converted to the Vatican II religion (thinking it to be Roman Catholicism) in 1993. He holds an M.A. in [Novus Ordo] Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville (2011) and worked as Director of the Office of Evangelization for the diocese of Venice, Florida, from 2011 to 2016. According to his personal web site, he has published over 150 articles on various web sites, including Catholic Answers and One Peter Five.
In early 2020, Sammons explained in a video interview with Timothy Flanders of One Peter Five why he now considers himself a ‘traditional Catholic’, by which he meant what on this web site we call a ‘recognize-and-resister’ or ‘semi-traditionalist’. In fact, Sammons is so traditional now (wink, wink) that in a video of Oct. 10, 2023, he single-handedly dismissed the magisterial teaching of Pope St. Pius X, included in the official Acta Apostolicae Sedis, as manifestly “not true” — but more on that later.
Although he wields considerable influence on the internet among conservative Novus Ordos and semi-traditionalists, Sammons’ theology is actually quite atrocious. Here are some examples of the hogwash he routinely peddles as ‘traditional Catholicism’:
- Theologian in Crisis: Eric Sammons versus the Papal Keys
- Is Francis the Pope? A Devastating Refutation of Eric Sammons
- New Book by Eric Sammons claims Catholic Church has “lost her Mission”
- No, Catholics Can’t “Recognize and Resist”: Response to One Peter Five
- On those ‘Spiritual Dangers’ of Sedevacantism: A Reply to Eric Sammons
But now he has doubled down.
Developing Theological Sophistry
On Oct. 9, 2023, the Steubenville theologian published an article at Crisis Magazine that concerns what he calls a doctrinal development of the Papacy:
In this new essay, Mr. Sammons argues that ‘Pope’ Francis may unintentionally be developing the doctrine of the Papacy:
…Francis’s apparent push to insert fundamental change into the long-standing meaning of doctrinal development might actually lead to a legitimate development of doctrine; namely, our understanding of the role of the papacy itself.
You read that right: Mr. Editor-in-Chief believes that after 2000 years the Catholic Church still does not fully understand “the role of the papacy”. What — or rather, who — makes him hold such a view is clear: Jorge Mario Bergoglio, otherwise known as ‘Pope Francis’.
Since he steadfastly refuses to consider even so much as the possibility that the apostate Jesuit from Buenos Aires may not in fact be the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Sammons has no other choice but to tinker with the notion of the Papacy instead. In other words, to force the square peg of Bergoglio into the round hole of the Papacy, he has decided to reshape the hole until the peg will fit. So much for “hold[ing] the traditions which you have learned” (2 Thess 2:14).
This is actually a happy, albeit unintended, admission on Sammons’ part that Bergoglio and the Papacy cannot go together without doing violence to reality. On the not-so-happy side, it reflects a false and dangerous approach in which the predetermined conclusion — Francis is the Pope — dictates what the premises will have to be, rather than letting true theological premises determine what conclusion we ought to draw about the man who calls himself ‘Pope Francis’.
If these men, and others like them, continue to be successful in their endeavors, a creeping Neo-Gallicanism will be cemented in the minds and souls of many pious and unsuspecting souls as the ‘true’ Catholic orthodoxy, as the ‘real’ Catholic teaching on the Papacy, when it is nothing of the kind but was in fact repeatedly condemned by the Popes, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries. For this reason, Novus Ordo Watch tries to do a lot of work against these false traditionalists (please help support it if you can). We do not presume to judge souls or personal intentions but concern ourselves simply with what is externally evident and can or must be presumed objectively. Whether they are of good will or not, and no matter their degree of subjective culpability, people like Sammons, Kwasniewski, and Flanders have been causing immense harm to a correct understanding of the Papacy and thus of Catholicism.
But let us now begin with our critical look at Eric Sammons’ recent article on how Francis is supposedly developing the doctrine of the Papacy without meaning to. We will not concern ourselves here with what the apostate from Buenos Aires said to his Jesuit confreres in Portugal, which is what Sammons uses as the basis for his thesis; rather, we will focus solely on what Crisis Magazine‘s Editor-in-Chief thinks the impact this will have on the Catholic understanding of the Papacy.
The Papacy According to Sammons
After correctly laying out the Catholic view of doctrinal development, Sammons explains how (he thinks) the Papacy has developed over the centuries:
Over time the increasing political role of the pope was melded in many minds with his essential and theological spiritual role. The Church eventually became a “top-down” structure in which everything centered on Rome, and most problems, big and small, were referred to the papal office.
It is amazing with what nonchalantness Sammons asserts that the Catholic Church “eventually became a ‘top-down’ structure”, as if the Lord had not founded His Church as intrinsically hierarchical. The Church was hierarchical from the very beginning, for her hierarchy is part of her essential constitution; whereas Sammons makes it appear that her hierarchical structure is merely a historical accident, a kind of unintended by-product that may have had its legitimacy at some point but that we must now rid ourselves of because it has become more harmful than beneficial.
Let’s recall that the Council of Trent decreed: “If anyone says that in the Catholic Church a hierarchy has not been instituted by divine ordinance, which consists of the bishops, priests, and ministers: let him be anathema” (Session XXIII, Canon 6; Denz. 966).
In the Apostolic Letter Ex Quo, Pope St. Pius X pronounced it “erroneous” to say “that in the first centuries the Catholic Church was not ruled by a single head—that is, a monarchy—and that the primacy of the Roman Church was supported by no valid arguments” (English translation from American Catholic Quarterly Review, vol. 36, p. 375; Denz. 2147a).
Moreover, Pope St. Pius X condemned the following propositions in his Syllabus of Modernist Errors of 1907:
54. Dogmas, Sacraments and hierarchy, both their notion and reality, are only interpretations and evolutions of the Christian intelligence which have increased and perfected by an external series of additions the little germ latent in the Gospel.
56. The Roman Church became the head of all the churches, not through the ordinance of Divine Providence, but merely through political conditions.
(Errors condemned by Pope Pius X, Decree Lamentabili Sane, nn. 54, 56.)
Alas, Sammons does not bother to document many of his claims. So “most problems, big and small, were referred to the papal office”? Really? Even those that could easily be resolved at the diocesan level? Wouldn’t that be rather inconvenient to have to appeal to the Holy See for every little thing, especially in ages when communication was relatively slow and cumbersome? As the philosopher says, what is gratuitously asserted can be gratuitously denied. Therefore, insofar as Sammons made an assertion without evidence, we will likewise dismiss it without evidence.
Even so, it is clear that there are matters that can only be resolved properly by the Roman Pontiff, and it is entirely fitting for such to be sent to the Holy See for a papal resolution, just as Pope Pius VI stated in the 18th century:
In their prudence [the German bishops] have not lost sight of the rule constantly and everywhere preserved by the old discipline, in virtue of which consultations always flow out from the Apostolic See to every country to those who ask for them — and it is especially each time that a question of faith is mooted that all Our brothers, the Bishops, must have recourse to Peter, that is to say, to the author of their own title and of their dignity, since he can come to the assistance of all the churches in general throughout the entire world.
As for the “political role of the pope”, since Sammons does not elaborate, it is difficult to know exactly what he is objecting to, but we would like to remind the Steubenville graduate that adherence to the magisterium of Pope Boniface VIII is not optional in the Catholic Church:
We are informed by the texts of the gospels that in this Church [of Christ] and in its power are two swords; namely, the spiritual and the temporal. For when the Apostles say: ‘Behold, here are two swords’ [Lk 22:38] that is to say, in the Church, since the Apostles were speaking, the Lord did not reply that there were too many, but sufficient. Certainly the one who denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter has not listened well to the word of the Lord commanding: ‘Put up thy sword into thy scabbard’ [Mt 26:52]. Therefore, both are in the power of the Church, namely, the spiritual sword and the material. But indeed, the latter is to be exercised on behalf of the Church; and truly, the former is to be exercised by the Church. The former is of the priest; the latter is by the hand of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest.
However, one sword ought to be subordinated to the other and temporal authority, subjected to spiritual power. For since the Apostle said: ‘There is no power except from God and the things that are, are ordained of God’ [Rom 13:1-2], but they would not be ordained if one sword were not subordinated to the other and if the inferior one, as it were, were not led upwards by the other.
For, according to the Blessed Dionysius, it is a law of the divinity that the lowest things reach the highest place by intermediaries. Then, according to the order of the universe, all things are not led back to order equally and immediately, but the lowest by the intermediary, and the inferior by the superior. Hence we must recognize the more clearly that spiritual power surpasses in dignity and in nobility any temporal power whatever, as spiritual things surpass the temporal. This we see very clearly also by the payment, benediction, and consecration of the tithes, but the acceptance of power itself and by the government even of things. For with truth as our witness, it belongs to spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and to pass judgement if it has not been good. Thus is accomplished the prophecy of Jeremias concerning the Church and the ecclesiastical power: ‘Behold to-day I have placed you over nations, and over kingdoms’ and the rest. Therefore, if the terrestrial power err, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a minor spiritual power err, it will be judged by a superior spiritual power; but if the highest power of all err, it can be judged only by God, and not by man, according to the testimony of the Apostle: ‘The spiritual man judgeth of all things and he himself is judged by no man’ [1 Cor 2:15]. This authority, however, (though it has been given to man and is exercised by man), is not human but rather divine, granted to Peter by a divine word and reaffirmed to him (Peter) and his successors by the One Whom Peter confessed, the Lord saying to Peter himself, ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven’ etc. [Mt 16:19]. Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God [Rom 13:2], unless he invent like Manicheus two beginnings, which is false and judged by us heretical, since according to the testimony of Moses, it is not in the beginnings but in the beginning that God created heaven and earth [Gen 1:1]. Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.
(Pope Boniface VIII, Bull Unam Sanctam)
Furthermore, the following idea was rejected by Pope Alexander VIII:
To blessed Peter and his successors the vicars of Christ, and to the Church herself power over spiritual things and over those pertaining to eternal salvation has been given by God, but not power over civil and temporal affairs, since the Lord said: “My Kingdom is not of this world” [John 18:36], and again: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” [Luke 20:25], and hence the statement of the Apostle: “Let every soul be subject to higher powers: for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God. Therefore he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God” [Romans 13:1f.]. Therefore, by the command of God, kings and princes cannot be subject to ecclesiastical power in temporal affairs, nor can they be deposed by the authority of the keys of the Church, either directly or indirectly; nor can their subjects be released from loyalty and obedience and be freed from fulfilling their oath of allegiance; and this opinion, which is necessary for public tranquillity, and vhich is no less useful to the Church than to the Empire, must by every means be retained as being in harmony with the Word of God, the tradition of the Fathers, and the examples of the saints.
(Erroneous Article of the Gallican Clergy, declared void by Pope Alexander VIII, Apostolic Constitution Inter Multiplices Pastoralis Officii; Denz. 1322.)
Lastly, Pope Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors of 1864 condemned the following propositions:
27. The sacred ministers of the Church and the Roman pontiff are to be absolutely excluded from every charge and dominion over temporal affairs.
75. The children of the Christian and Catholic Church are divided amongst themselves about the compatibility of the temporal with the spiritual power.
76. The abolition of the temporal power of which the Apostolic See is possessed would contribute in the greatest degree to the liberty and prosperity of the Church.
(Errors condemned by Pope Pius IX, Syllabus of Errors, nn. 27, 75, 76.)
After confusing his readership with his ambiguous and dangerous ideas about the “role of the Pope”, Sammons doubles down:
This new understanding of the papacy was fundamentally different from the early Church’s understanding. For centuries and even into the Middle Ages, how the Church operated and the faith was lived was more “bottom-up”—one starts with the family, then the parish priest, then the diocesan bishop, and only then moves up the ranks if necessary to resolve issues.
A “new understanding of the papacy”? What is he talking about?
This is a most serious charge for Sammons to make, for he is not merely saying that the Church’s understanding of the Papacy changed accidentally over the centuries, by growing and becoming more explicit, or by emphasizing at one time certain aspects more than others, etc. Rather, he is saying that the Church’s understanding of the Papacy as taught just before the Second Vatican Council “was fundamentally different from the early Church’s understanding” — which suggests that the early Church understood the Papacy to be a different thing.
Implicit in Sammons’ thesis is that the current understanding of the Papacy is wrong, whereas the Early Church and the early Medieval Church had it right — an absurd idea that the Crisis Magazine editor holds in common with various heretics and schismatics, such as the so-called ‘Old Catholics’ and the Eastern Orthodox.
Making Ratzinger Proud
The notorious Modernist Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, the future ‘Pope Benedict XVI’, would also have been delighted to hear of Sammons’ claims, for he himself published a similar idea in the context of ecumenism, in 1982, just as he was beginning his long career as doctrinal watchdog in Rome. We will quote Ratzinger at some length in order to present not just a quote but also the context behind it:
The maximum demands on which the search for [Christian] unity must certainly founder are immediately clear. On the part of the West, the maximum demand would be that the East recognize the primacy of the bishop of Rome in the full scope of the [Vatican I] definition of 1870 and in so doing submit in practice, to a primacy such as been accepted by the Uniate churches. On the part of the East, the maximum demand would be that the West declare the 1870 doctrine of primacy erroneous and in so doing submit, in practice, to a primacy such as been accepted with the removal of the Filioque from the Creed and including the Marian dogmas of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As regards Protestantism, the maximum demand of the Catholic Church would be that the Protestant ecclesiological ministries be regarded as totally invalid and that Protestants be converted to Catholicism; the maximum demand of Protestants, on the other hand, would be that the Catholic Church accept, along with the unconditional acknowledgment of all Protestant ministries, the Protestant concept of ministry and their understanding of the Church and thus, in practice, renounce the apostolic and sacramental structure of the Church, which would mean, in practice, the conversion of Catholics to Protestantism and their acceptance of a multiplicity of distinct community structures as the historical form of the Church. …
…[N]one of the maximum solutions offers any real hope of unity. In any event, church unity is not a political problem that can be solved by means of compromise or the weighing of what is regarded as possible or acceptable. What is at stake here is unity of belief, that is, the question of truth, which cannot be the object of political maneuvering. As long as and to the extent that the maximum solution must be regarded as a requirement of truth itself, just so long and to just that extent will there be no other recourse than simply to strive to convert one’s partner in the debate. In other words, the claim of truth ought not to be raised where there is not a compelling and indisputable reason for doing so. We may not interpret as truth that which is, in reality, a historical development with a more or less close relationship to truth. …
…Certainly, no one who claims allegiance to Catholic theology can simply declare the doctrine of primacy null and void, especially not if he seeks to understand the objections and evaluates with an open mind the relative weight of what can be determined historically. Nor is it possible, on the other hand, for him to regard as the only possible form and, consequently, as binding on all Christians the form this primacy has taken in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The symbolic gestures of Pope Paul VI and, in particular, his kneeling before the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch [the schismatic Patriarch Athenagoras I] were an attempt to express precisely this and, by such signs, to point the way out of the historical impasse. …
…Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium. When the [heretical-schismatic] Patriarch Athenagoras, on July 25, 1967, on the occasion of the Pope’s visit to Phanar, designated him as the successor of St. Peter, as the most esteemed among us, as one who presides in charity, this great Church leader was expressing the essential content of the doctrine of primacy as it was known in the first millennium. Rome need not ask for more. Reunion could take place in this context if, on the one hand, the East would cease to oppose as heretical the developments that took place in the West in the second millennium and would accept the Catholic Church as legitimate and orthodox in the form she had acquired in the course of that development, while, on the other hand, the West would recognize the Church of the East as orthodox and legitimate in the form she has always had.
Patriarch Athenagoras himself spoke … strongly when he greeted the Pope in Phanar: “Against all expectation, the bishop of Rome is among us, the first among us in honor, ‘he who presides in love’ (Ignatius of Antioch, epistola “Ad Romano”, PG 5, col. 801, prologue).” It is clear that, in saying this, the Patriarch did not abandon the claims of the Eastern Churches or acknowledge the primacy of the West. Rather, he stated plainly what the East understood as the order, the rank and title, of the equal bishops in the Church — and it would be worth our while to consider whether this archaic confession, which has nothing to do with the “primacy of jurisdiction” [defined as dogma at Vatican I] but confesses a primacy of “honor” (τιμή) and agape [love], might not be recognized as a formula that adequately reflects the position Rome occupies in the Church — “holy courage” requires that prudence be combined with “audacity”: “The kingdom of God suffers violence” [cf. Mt 11:12].
(Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology, trans. by Sister Mary Frances McCarthy, S.N.D. [San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1987], pp. 197-199, 217; underlining added.)
Ratzinger’s words are nothing short of heretical, inasmuch as they cast into doubt the dogma of papal primacy as defined at the First Vatican Council, namely:
If anyone thus speaks, that the Roman Pontiff has only the office of inspection or direction, but not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which pertain to faith and morals, but also in those which pertain to the discipline and government of the Church spread over the whole world; or, that he possesses only the more important parts, but not the whole plenitude of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate, or over the churches altogether and individually, and over the pastors and the faithful altogether and individually: let him be anathema.
(Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Chapter 3; Denz. 1831.)
For heresy to be committed, it is not necessary to deny a defined dogma; merely doubting its truth suffices, since in both cases assent to the dogma is withheld, whereas the Church by defining it demands precisely that this assent be given, not merely as a matter of obedience but also as a matter of Faith: “If a baptised person deliberately denies or doubts a dogma properly so-called, he is guilty of the sin of heresy (CIC 1325, Par. 2), and automatically becomes subject to the punishment of excommunication (CIC 2314, Par. 1)” (Fr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma [St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Company, 1954], pp. 4-5; underlining added).
Sammons’ thesis is dangerously close to that of Ratzinger. Both assert, in essence, that the “current understanding” of the Papacy is a merely historical accident that deviates considerably from that of the first millennium. But although it is not impossible for a doctrine that was once clear to become obscure on account of historical circumstances — more on that later — there can never be a fundamental difference between the earlier understanding and the later one, for it would mean that at least one of the two is false.
As Fr. Edwin Kaiser (1893-1984) explains in an introductory text on Catholic theology,
…an immutable truth given centuries ago without any objective addition can develop or progress only in its exposition. Revelation ended with the death of St. John; but the proposing of revealed truths continues to the end of the world. The truth of revelation is eternally immutable; but the explanation, the exposition or declaration of revealed truths is necessarily continuous and progressive.
(Rev. Edwin G. Kaiser, Sacred Doctrine: An Introduction to Theology [Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1958], p. 280)
In theory at least, Sammons himself concedes all this in the very same article, in which he (rightly) accuses Francis of holding and promoting a false understanding of doctrinal development:
Development of doctrine is not, however, a doctrine transforming from one belief into a contrary belief. That is not development, but change. While it’s not clear what exactly Pope Francis meant when he used the terms that were translated as “evolve” and “change,” we know as Catholics that doctrine cannot fundamentally change, for the nature of truth is such that what was true yesterday is true today. Jesus Christ, who is the Truth, is “the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8).
(Eric Sammons, “How Pope Francis Is Inadvertently Developing the Doctrine of the Papacy”, Crisis Magazine, Oct. 9, 2023; italics given; underlining added.)
So doctrine cannot fundamentally change, Sammons knows, yet he also maintains that in the Church since the Middle Ages there has been a “new understanding of the papacy [that] was fundamentally different from the early Church’s understanding”. So, which is it?
Official Teachings and Unofficial Attitudes
It is here that Sammons introduces a mysterious but ultimately useless distinction that serves as one of the main pillars on which his overall thesis rests: He distinguishes between official Church teachings on the one hand, and unofficial attitudes on the other:
Here is where we see the important connection between official teachings and unofficial attitudes. An official teaching is, for example, the definition of the pope’s infallibility when speaking ex cathedra. An unofficial attitude, however, is the widespread belief among Catholics of the pope as the definitive source on all manner of issues, both spiritual and political. Vatican I did not declare that the pope should be issuing daily bulls in which Catholics received their marching orders….
Of course it is perfectly legitimate to distinguish a mere attitude a Catholic may have, from an actual teaching of the Church. However, in Sammons’ argumentation this distinction is ultimately of no use because, as we have seen already and will see some more in the remainder of this post, so much of what Sammons tries to relegate to the status of unofficial attitude is in fact official Church teaching. For him to harp on attitudes vs. teachings, therefore, is a gigantic red herring.
In any case, the Pope is certainly not the definitive source on all manner of issues, but he is the definitive judge of them, at least insofar as they pertain to the Church. Therefore, recourse can be had to his judgment, precisely as the First Vatican Council taught dogmatically:
Furthermore We teach and declare that the Roman Church, by the disposition of the Lord, holds the sovereignty of ordinary power over all others, and that this power of jurisdiction on the part of the Roman Pontiff, which is truly episcopal, is immediate; and with respect to this the pastors and the faithful of whatever rite and dignity, both as separate individuals and all together, are bound by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, not only in things which pertain to faith and morals, but also in those which pertain to the discipline and government of the Church [which is] spread over the whole world, so that the Church of Christ, protected not only by the Roman Pontiff, but by the unity of communion as well as of the profession of the same faith is one flock under the one highest shepherd. This is the doctrine of Catholic truth from which no one can deviate and keep his faith and salvation.
…Furthermore, it follows that from that supreme power of the Roman Pontiff of ruling the universal Church, the same has the right in the exercise of this duty of his office of communicating freely with the pastors and flocks of the whole Church, so that the same can be taught and guided by him in the way of salvation. Therefore, We condemn and disapprove the opinions of those who say that this communication of the supreme head with pastors and flocks can lawfully be checked, or who make this so submissive to secular power that they contend that whatever is established by the Apostolic See or its authority for the government of the Church has no force or value unless confirmed by an order of the secular power.
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
(Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, Chapter 3; Denz. 1827, 1829, 1830; underlining added.)
The Roman Pontiff is thus not the source of divine revelation but its guarantor:
For the first and greatest criterion of the faith, the ultimate and unassailable test of orthodoxy is obedience to the teaching authority of the Church, which is ever living and infallible, since she was established by Christ to be the columna et firmamentum veritatis, “the pillar and support of truth” (1 Tim 3:15).
Jesus Christ, who knew our weakness, who came into the world to preach the gospel to the poor above all, chose for the spread of Christianity a very simple means adapted to the capacity of all men and suited to every age: a means which required neither learning, nor research, nor culture, nor rationalization, but only willing ears to hear, and simplicity of heart to obey. This is why St. Paul says: fides ex auditu (Rom 10:17), faith comes not by sight, but by hearing, from the living authority of the Church, a visible society composed of masters and disciples, of rulers and of governed, of shepherds and sheep and lambs. Jesus Christ Himself has laid on his disciples the duty of hearing the instructions of their masters, on subjects of living in submission to the dictates of rulers, on sheep and lambs of following with docility in the footsteps of their shepherds. And to shepherds, to rulers, and to teachers He has said, Docete omnes gentes. Spiritus veritatis docebit vos omnem veritatem. Ecce ego vobiscum sum usque ad consummationem sæculi (Mt 28:19-20): “Going, teach ye all nations. The Spirit of truth will teach you all truth. And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”
(Pope St. Pius X, Allocution Con Vera Soddisfazione, May 10, 1909)
…[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…
(Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Humani Generis, n. 18)
How often or in what manner the Pope wishes to exercise his magisterium, is entirely up to the Pope and to him alone:
…[W]henever legitimate authority has once given a clear command, let no one transgress that command, because it does not happen to commend itself to him; but let each one subject his own opinion to the authority of him who is his superior, and obey him as a matter of conscience. Again, let no private individual, whether in books or in the press, or in public speeches, take upon himself the position of an authoritative teacher in the Church. All know to whom the teaching authority of the Church has been given by God: he, then, possesses a perfect right to speak as he wishes and when he thinks it opportune. The duty of others is to hearken to him reverently when he speaks and to carry out what he says.
(Pope Benedict XV, Encyclical Ad Beatissimi, n. 22; underlining added.)
This is what the Catholic magisterium teaches on the matter, not some unofficial attitude.
Nonetheless, Mr. Editor-in-Chief tells us what he believes the unofficial attitudes are with regard to the role of the Pope:
While the powers and responsibilities of the pope as found in Vatican I are actually limited, the view of the papacy by most Catholics following that council is far more expansive. The pope in many ways has become the center of the Catholic Faith, the lodestar that guides all Catholic life.
One cannot help but get the impression that Sammons has never opened a pre-Vatican II theology book, nor pored over collections of magisterial teaching. He loves to — pardon the pun — pontificate about the limits of the Papacy, yet entirely ignores his own. As Pope Benedict XV, just quoted, said: “Let no private individual, whether in books or in the press, or in public speeches, take upon himself the position of an authoritative teacher in the Church.” Talk about knowing one’s limits!
If the Pope “has become the center of the Catholic Faith, the lodestar that guides all Catholic life”, it’s not because of some unofficial attitudes but because of the doctrine taught by the magisterium:
- The Catholic Teaching on the Papacy (Collection of Quotes from Magisterial Documents)
Apparently St. Pius X himself was infected by all those “unofficial attitudes” rather than the “official teachings” when, as Bishop Giuseppe Sarto of Mantua, he told Pope Leo XIII:
The moment has come to prove to the great Vicar of Christ our unchanging affection and fidelity. For us Leo XIII is the guardian of the Holy Scriptures, the interpreter of the doctrine of Jesus Christ, the supreme dispenser of the treasures of the Church, the head of the Catholic religion, the chief shepherd of souls, the infallible teacher, the secure guide, who directs us on our way through a world wrapped in darkness and the shadow of death. All the strength of the Church is in the Pope; all the foundations of our Faith are based on the successor of Peter. Those who wish her ill assault the papacy in every possible way; they cut themselves adrift from the Church, and try their best to make the Pope an object of hatred and contempt. The more they endeavor to weaken our faith and our attachment to the head of the Church, the more closely let us draw to him through the public testimony of our Faith, our obedience and our veneration.
(Quoted in F.A. Forbes, Pope St. Pius X [Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1987], pp. 34-35; underlining added.)
Clearly, Bp. Sarto had no clue about the ‘real’ Papacy Eric Sammons now invites the Church to rediscover!
The Pope and the Bishops
Sammons must think he makes a powerful argument when he writes:
The modern centrality of the papacy is also seen in how the Church is managed. For more than a millennium, most bishops in the Church were not selected by the pope. In fact, it wasn’t until the 19th century (there’s that century again!) that the pope chose every bishop in the Church. For most of Church history, a bishop was selected locally, and then that selection was sent to Rome for what was usually a rubber-stamp confirmation.
So what? The Pope has every right to reserve the appointment of bishops to himself so that a watchful eye is kept on all who are promoted to episcopal orders throughout the entire world. It stands to reason that as the Church grows and expands over the centuries, it is most wise for the Pope to appoint all bishops himself, who also holds them accountable for the governance of their dioceses. “It is Church dogma that the pope, the successor of St. Peter, possesses not only primacy of honor but also primacy of authority and jurisdiction over the whole Church. Accordingly the bishops are subject to him” (Pope Gregory XVI, Encyclical Commissum Divinitus, n. 10).
Instead of cranking out yet another misleading article telling others how they should understand the Papacy, Sammons should have listened to Pope Pius VI, who actually knew a thing or two about the topic:
He who would wish to take from the Roman Pontiff the sovereign authority which he has to make these assignments would find himself under the necessity of impugning the legitimacy of succession of the multitude of bishops who, all over the world, govern individual churches, and for the government of which these prelates have received their mission from the Sovereign Pontiff. Therefore, it is impossible, without causing very great disturbance in the Church, and without exposing episcopal authority itself to imminent danger, it is impossible to attack this great and marvelous assemblage of power which God has deigned to grant to the Chair of Peter; power in virtue of which, as St. Leo the Great says, “Peter personally governs all those whom Jesus Christ governs principally: in such wise that if Jesus Christ has willed that there should be something in common between Peter and the other Princes of the Church, it is only through (and by) Peter that He has given what He has not refused to the others” (Serm. IV, in anniv. suae assumpt.).
(Pope Pius VI, Apostolic Constitution Super Soliditate)
Why should he to whom all bishops are required to be subject not be the one to decide who becomes a bishop governing a diocese in the first place?
When the Chinese Communists established a pseudo-Catholic parallel hierarchy in place of the real Catholic bishops, Pope Pius XII reminded the Church in China that…
no authority whatsoever, save that which is proper to the Supreme Pastor, can render void the canonical appointment granted to any bishop; that no person or group, whether of priests or of laymen, can claim the right of nominating bishops; that no one can lawfully confer episcopal consecration unless he has received the mandate of the Apostolic See.
(Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Ad Apostolorum Principis, n. 47)
Once again, all this is official teaching, not some unofficial attitude.
The Pope and Socio-Political Matters
Next, Sammons complains:
Popes have been involved in politics for centuries, but today the understanding of many Catholics is that we conform our own political views to the pope’s views on any and all political issues, from immigration to capitalism to environmentalism. To be politically Catholic, to this way of thinking, is to submit to the current pope’s political opinions. Doesn’t work so well these days, does it?
Once again, it would have been helpful had Sammons consulted the Catholic magisterium or at least opened some theological texts before instructing the world about the ‘proper role’ of the Papacy.
Trying to separate the Faith from politics in the way attempted here by the Steubenville graduate is a typically liberal phenomenon, usually advocated by those ‘Catholics’ who don’t want Church doctrine to get in the way of their political positions. Pope Pius XII roundly condemned it:
The power of the Church is not bound by the limits of “matters strictly religious,” as they say, but the whole matter of the natural law, its foundation, its interpretation, its application, so far as their moral aspects extend, are within the Church’s power. For the keeping of the Natural Law, by God’s appointment, has reference to the road by which man has to approach his supernatural end. But, on this road, the Church is man’s guide and guardian in what concerns his supreme end. The Apostles observed this in times past, and afterwards, from the earliest centuries, the Church has kept to this manner of acting, and keeps to it today, not indeed like some private guide or adviser, but by virtue of the Lord’s command and authority.
Therefore, when it is a question of instructions and propositions which the properly constituted shepherds (i.e. the Roman Pontiff for the whole Church, and the Bishops for the faithful entrusted to them) publish on matters within the natural law, the faithful must not invoke that saying (which is wont to be employed with respect to opinions of individuals): “the strength of the authority is no more than the strength of the arguments.” Hence, even though to someone, certain declarations of the Church may not seem proved by the arguments put forward, his obligation to obey still remains. This was the mind, and these are the words of St. Pius X in his Encyclical Letter Singulari Quadam of September 24, 1912 (A.A.S., vol. 4, 1912, p. 658) : “Whatever a Christian man may do, even in affairs of this world, he may not ignore the supernatural, nay, he must direct all to the highest good as to his last end, in accordance with the dictates of Christian wisdom; but all his actions, in so far as they are morally good or evil, that is, agree with, or are in opposition to, divine and natural law, are subject to the judgment and authority of the Church.” And he immediately transfers this principle to the social sphere: “The social question and the controversies underlying that question … are not merely of an economic nature, and consequently such as can be settled while the Church’s authority is ignored, since, on the contrary, it is most certain that it (the social question) is primarily a moral and religious one, and on that account must be settled chiefly in accordance with the moral law and judgment based on religion” (ibid., pp. 658, 659).
Many and serious are the problems in the social field—whether they be merely social or socio-political, they pertain to the moral order, are of concern to conscience and the salvation of men; thus they cannot be declared outside the authority and care of the Church. Indeed, there are problems outside the social field, not strictly “religious,” political problems, of concern either to individual nations, or to all nations, which belong to the moral order, weigh on the conscience and can, and very often do, hinder the attainment of man’s last end. Such are: the purpose and limits of temporal authority; the relations between the individual and society, the so-called “totalitarian state,” whatever be the principle it is based on; the “complete laicization of the State” and of public life; the complete laicization of the schools; war, its morality, liceity or non-liceity when waged as it is today, and whether a conscientious person may give or withhold his cooperation in it; the moral relationships which bind and rule the various nations.
(Pope Pius XII, Allocution Magnificate Dominum, Nov. 2, 1954; underlining added.)
So, yes, even issues such as immigration, capitalism, and environmentalism, insofar as they touch upon matters of Faith or morals or the government of the Church, are very much within the purview of the magisterium of the Roman Pontiff:
…God is never neutral toward human events in the course of history, and so neither can His Church be. If she speaks and judges on the problems of the day, it is with the clear consciousness of anticipating, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the sentence which at the end of time Her Lord and Head, judge of the universe, will confirm and sanction.
Such is the proper and superhuman function of the Church regarding political questions.
(Pope Pius XII, Christmas Message “The Heart of World Peace Lies in Spiritual Order”, Dec. 24, 1951; in Catholic Action, vol. 34, n. 1 [Jan. 1952], p. 4; underlining added.)
Is Sammons not aware that Pope Leo XIII wrote a long encyclical on capital and labor, the great Rerum Novarum of 1891? Is he not aware that Pope Pius XII frequently spoke on all kinds of social and political issues — published in English in The Pope Speaks journals — that pertain to Faith or morals?
Is he not aware that Pope Saint Pius X, of all people, exhorted the Catholic faithful that…
…when we love the Pope, we do not dispute whether he commands or requires a thing, or seek to know where the strict obligation of obedience lies, or in what matter we must obey; when we love the Pope we do not say that he has not yet spoken clearly — as if he were required to speak his will in every man’s ear, and to utter it not only by word of mouth but in letters and other public documents as well. Nor do we cast doubt on his orders, alleging the pretext which comes easily to the man who does not want to obey, that it is not the Pope who is commanding, but someone in his entourage. We do not limit the field in which he can and ought to exercise his authority; we do not oppose to the Pope’s authority that of other persons — no matter how learned — who differ from the Pope. For whatever may be their learning, they are not holy, for where there is holiness there cannot be disagreement with the Pope.
Ah, but of course Sammons is aware of this papal teaching — it’s what he directly addressed and nonchalantly dismissed in his Oct. 10, 2023 video broadcast as “not true”. Interested readers can watch that whole discussion starting at the 16:42 mark here. The fact that the allocution of Pope Pius X in which he said these thing was published in the Acts of the Apostolic See, which makes it unquestionably magisterial, apparently means nothing to Sammons because it doesn’t seem to concern him in the least.
Note well: Sammons could have simply said that he doesn’t know how to make sense of that particular magisterial act, or that further clarification would be needed to know how to reconcile it with other Catholic teaching. Instead, he simply declared it to be false, as if the papal magisterium were subject to his review. Thus is exposed Sammons’ red herring of “unofficial attitudes” — what he rejects is not simply attitudes but teachings as well!
So this is the sort of deference today’s self-styled ‘faithful Catholics’ operating ‘in defense of Tradition’ have with regard to the papal magisterium: They bring up what they think is a counterexample from history — as if the Pope himself did not know about the case of St. Catherine of Siena, for example — and then proceed to pronounce the papal teaching to be false. It’s a matter of a few seconds in front of a web cam — problem solved! So much for their adherence to Vatican I’s dogmatic teaching 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” (Denz. 1830). Oh well!
But then, if you ask them to affirm that Francis cannot possibly be the Pope, considering his manifestly heretical, blasphemous, and sacrilegious magisterium, they suddenly remember they are not allowed to ‘judge the Pope’! Some people cannot understand the very simple and common-sense distinction between judging the Pope and judging whether someone is the Pope.
The real problem at present is not that the Papacy has been misunderstood through ‘unofficial attitudes’ or received exaggerated attention and importance — the problem is that the publicly apostate Jesuit from Buenos Aires is not the Pope and is therefore lacking in the divine assistance God has promised to the Vicar of Christ. But for some reason or another, that is one thesis Sammons refuses to entertain, even if it means having to reduce the Papacy to meaninglessness or accusing the Church of having defected.
The fact that not all papal teachings are proposed infallibly as matters of dogma is entirely irrelevant here, since a Catholic is obliged to assent to all teachings of the magisterium, not only the dogmas, and therefore even non-infallible teaching or guidance from the Roman Pontiff must be intrinsically safe to embrace:
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, n. 20)
Furthermore, Pope Pius XI had already warned the faithful not to prefer their own judgment over that of the Pope when he does not engage the infallible magisterium:
Wherefore, let the faithful also be on their guard against the overrated independence of private judgment and that false autonomy of human reason. For it is quite foreign to everyone bearing the name of a Christian to trust his own mental powers with such pride as to agree only with those things which he can examine from their inner nature, and to imagine that the Church, sent by God to teach and guide all nations, is not conversant with present affairs and circumstances; or even that they must obey only in those matters which she has decreed by solemn definition as though her other decisions might be presumed to be false or putting forward insufficient motive for truth and honesty. Quite to the contrary, a characteristic of all true followers of Christ, lettered or unlettered, is to suffer themselves to be guided and led in all things that touch upon faith or morals by the Holy Church of God through its Supreme Pastor the Roman Pontiff, who is himself guided by Jesus Christ Our Lord.
(Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Casti Connubii, n. 104; underlining added.)
Once again we find that the “unofficial attitudes” Sammons deplores are in fact the official teachings!
More Bad Arguments
Sammons continues his critique:
Only in the modern world can the pope’s thoughts on any and every subject be disseminated far and wide. Without today’s technology, a billion-plus member organization like the Catholic Church simply couldn’t be as centralized as it is.
Here we must ask: So what? The Church cannot lead the faithful astray — not in ancient times, not in the middle ages, not in the modern period, and not in our day either. The Roman Pontiff will always be the reliable guide to salvation, regardless of whether his “thoughts” (teachings!) are disseminated far and wide or are known only to a few. Catholicism is pope-centric in its very essence, for the Church must revolve around Jesus Christ, and the Pope is His visible representative who teaches, governs, and sanctifies the Church with His authority, to the point that the Pope’s decisions are ratified in Heaven (see Mt 16:18-19).
Whether this divine setup of the Church is facilitated with instant communication as in our day, is irrelevant. The problem is not that papal teaching, directives, and personnel decisions can now be easily and quickly spread around the globe; the problem is that the man accepted by most as Pope teaches heresy and other errors. The reach or speed of communication has nothing to do with anything. It simply makes the problem of accepting a false pope more visible and acute, but it is not the problem itself.
Further on, the Steubenville thinker exhorts his readership to emulate the Eastern Catholics, who supposedly have a “healthier” understanding of the role of the Papacy:
Eastern Catholics’ bottom-up ecclesiology places the local bishop at the fore as a true successor to the apostles, and not just as a branch manager for the Vatican. The pope is not the dominant figure in every discussion, every debate, every devotion. Yet at the same time, unlike the Eastern Orthodox, they do not reject the proper role of the pope. They see him as the true successor to St. Peter who is to “confirm his brethren” (Luke 22:32), but not as someone who controls everything down to the announcements in the parish bulletin.
As we said at the beginning, the Catholic Church is monarchical and hierarchical in its very nature, and that is true in the East as much as in the West. While Sammons may prefer a ‘church from below’ (our term), the fact of the matter is that that the Pope has supreme power throughout the entire Church, and that by divine institution. This is only a problem if your ‘Pope’ is not a Catholic.
Mr. Editor-in-Chief opines further:
Today’s crisis might move the needle in the opposite direction. By his abuse of Catholics’ unhealthy attitude toward the papacy, Francis is leading many of them to now look more closely at the underlying official teaching. Should the pope be such a central figure in the day-to-day life of every Catholic? Or should his practical role perhaps be diminished, while keeping the doctrinal authority that Vatican I declared? A change in our attitude toward the papacy might be what it takes for the Church to achieve further precision in her official teachings as to the role of the papacy in Catholic life, from the pope’s relationship with his fellow bishops to the importance of his views on political matters.
First, one must ask just where Sammons thinks all those people are in the Vatican II Church in whose daily life the Pope plays such a central role. It’s probably safe to say that most of the over 1 billion adherents of the Modernist sect that are officially considered baptized Catholics, do not care much about the day-to-day magisterium of the man they verbally acknowledge as the Vicar of Christ. Sammons lives in the world of journalism and YouTube/blogger punditry. Outside of that bubble, most ‘Catholics’ probably wouldn’t be able to name a single document Francis has produced, nor know much about his magisterium aside from what the secular news, accurately or not, proclaims about him. The abysmally low numbers of participation in the diocesan phase of the ongoing synodal process underscore that.
Second, as we’ve seen, much of what Sammons decries as “unofficial attitudes” are in fact magisterial teachings — not necessarily infallible, but authoritative nonetheless.
Third, for Sammons to ask for “further precision in her official teachings” is a red herring. The teachings on submission to the Pope and the authority of the papal magisterium are quite precise already and, at any rate, precise enough. What Sammons really wants is for these teachings to be overturned. Ironically, this would be precisely the sort of ‘doctrinal development’ Sammons himself says earlier in the article would constitute a corruption and not be a genuine development at all: “Development of doctrine is not, however, a doctrine transforming from one belief into a contrary belief” (emphasis his).
Obviously, there would be no ‘development’ but stark contradiction (“contrary belief”!) if the Church were to go from “whatever the Roman Pontiffs have hitherto taught, or shall hereafter teach, must be held with a firm grasp of mind” (Leo XIII, Immortale Dei, n. 41) to “whatever the Roman Pontiffs have hitherto taught, or shall hereafter teach, might contain blasphemy, heresy, and other dangerous errors, which the faithful are bound to identify and weed out, adhering only to that which they understand to be true and holy.” That Eric Sammons would welcome this as a happy development and clarification of Catholic doctrine, speaks volumes.
Lastly, if we assume for a minute that the doctrine on the Papacy could indeed ‘develop’ in this manner, by whom does Sammons think this revision would be proclaimed, taught, imposed, and enforced if not by… the Pope?
John Paul II to the Rescue!
It is difficult to decide whether one should laugh or cry upon seeing the Steubenville master theologian enlist the help of ‘Pope’ John Paul II for his thesis of ‘developing’ the Papacy:
Almost thirty years ago Pope John Paul II recognized that how the pope exercises his ministry of primacy must be “open to a new situation” (Ut Unum Sint 95). He was speaking from the perspective of the pope, suggesting that how popes exercised their office in recent centuries is not the only—or even necessarily best—way it should be practiced today. Likewise, Catholics’ overemphasis on the centrality of the papacy in Catholic life in recent centuries is not the only—or even necessarily best—attitude going forward.
In his 1995 landmark encyclical on ecumenism, trying to find a way to make the Papacy less objectionable to non-Catholics the Polish antipope expressed his intention “to find a way of exercising the [papal] primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation” (Ut Unum Sint, n. 95). By suggesting to reduce the Pope’s role to little more than repeating what everyone already knows to be true, certainly Sammons has added his own contribution to the project.
Clearly Sammons hasn’t been in the game long enough to remember when the recognize-and-resist trads wanted nothing to do with John Paul II’s proposal of a ‘New Papacy’. In fact, prominent semi-trad writers Atila Sinke Guimaraes, Michael J. Matt, Marian Horvat, and John Vennari published a 96-page booklet entitled An Urgent Plea: Do Not Change the Papacy, which was also printed in the Apr. 30, 2001 edition of The Remnant and is available in full online here.
Over 20 years later, we are now at a point where (at least some) semi-traditionalists are virtually begging for the Papacy to be reduced to practical irrelevance, lest someone should actually discover ‘papal’ teaching. Who knew that an old Modernist encyclical on ecumenism could ever come in so handy for ‘traditional Catholics’? How times change!
And all of this, why? Because they don’t want to be Sedevacantists. They would sooner embrace this utter madness than not have all the answers while the Church is in eclipse. But with whom are we aligning ourselves if we prefer reassuring lies over unsettling truths? Is this not the very reason why God allowed this catastrophe to befall us to begin with? Alas, “…they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. Therefore God shall send them the operation of error, to believe lying: that all may be judged who have not believed the truth, but have consented to iniquity” (2 Thess 2:10-11).
Removing the Barnacles
Sammons’ thesis is essentially that by corrupting the notion of doctrinal development and teaching many other errors, ‘Pope’ Francis has unwittingly manifested that the Papacy isn’t all it’s been cracked up to be — thereby exposing as exaggerated and dangerously erroneous the centrality and importance the Church had given to the Papacy in the last few hundred years.
Our task now, so Sammons thinks, is to strip away all the erroneous extraneous accretions to dogma — like barnacles that have collected on a boat — in order to lay bare the ‘true understanding’ of the Papacy which was supposedly taught by the Church in ages past but has long been obscured on account of “unofficial attitudes” that were mistaken for official teachings. This mad exercise is what Peter Kwasniewski, Sammons’ more academic theological twin, calls ‘rethinking the Papacy’.
But Sammons does not leave his readers hanging. He has some concrete suggestions on how we can get Operation Barnacle Removal underway to rid the Barque of St. Peter of the tenacious pests:
Examples of how these attitudes can change could be Catholics becoming more spiritually connected to their local bishop, or no longer following the latest news (or political encyclicals) coming out of the Vatican, or even advocating for bishops to be selected in a more decentralized fashion. When we no longer see the pope as the source of all teaching—and of all problems—in the Church, then we can drop our addiction to the papal drug.
No doubt, getting “more spiritually connected” to your local Novus Ordo bishop promises to be an effective remedy, especially if you live under ‘Bp.’ John Stowe in the diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, or under ‘Bp.’ Peter Kohlgraf in Mainz, Germany, to name but few of the countless Modernists in charge of dioceses and eparchies all over the world.
Things may not be so bad for Sammons in Cincinnati under retiring ‘Abp.’ Dennis Schnurr, relatively speaking, but it’s not like Sammons’ concept of orthodoxy aligns with that of most Novus Ordo bishops, nor would most Novus Ordo shepherds view Sammons as an orthodox Catholic, considering the theological ideas he has espoused since becoming a ‘traditionalist’.
Generally speaking, the ‘Catholic bishops’ in the world are as bad as the ‘Pope’ they follow and/or who has appointed them, if not worse. Just consider such characters as ‘Cardinals’ Blase Cupich in Chicago, Robert McElroy in San Diego, and Reinhard Marx in Munich, for example, or ‘Abp.’ Jorge Cuerva in Buenos Aires and ‘Bp.’ Georg Bätzing in Limburg.
Sammons is writing as if most Novus Ordo bishops were orthodox defenders of the Catholic Faith who are being held back only by ‘Pope’ Francis. What bubble is he living in? Obviously, practically all of the world’s ‘Catholic bishops’ are inebriated with the poison of Vatican II, as they must be if they want to remain in communion with the Argentinian squatter in the Vatican guest house.
Let’s also not forget some big names of the past that are not exactly known for being passionate defenders of traditional Catholicism: Rembert Weakland, Raymond Hunthausen, Thomas Gumbleton, Walter Kasper, Franz König, Roger Mahony, John R. Quinn, and of course Theodore McCarrick, to name just a few.
Since March of 2013, the one man who has been appointing bishops left and right throughout the world is ‘Pope’ Francis, so we can all imagine what the future holds for individual dioceses around the globe.
Earlier we said that it is not impossible for official Catholic doctrine to become obscure over time on account of historical circumstances. This is true but it requires some explanation. Fr. Kaiser makes clear what is and is not possible in that regard:
In concluding this discussion on development of dogma we must explain briefly the doctrine on the obscuring of doctrine. The revealed doctrine can never be corrupted in the Church. She never can teach anything contrary to divine revelation; but certain truths once explicitly taught can cease to be explicit. They must always be present at least implicitly in the Church’s teaching.
The apostles had a full and explicit knowledge of all revelation (per se revealed) but in subsequent ages not all truths were fully known and explicitly taught nor are they today. Moreover, in certain periods of the Church’s history some doctrines were not so clearly and fully known as in previous periods. The Roman primacy was clearly known and defined at the Council of Florence and long before was accepted in practice; but during the period of the Western Schism the minds of many of the most loyal churchmen and earnest Christians were confused: there was obscurity regarding the primacy of the Roman See and the false teaching that the council was above the pope was widely held. In the Modern Age the correct teaching about the requirements for frequent communion was obscured until the clarification by Pius X. The doctrine was much more explicit in the early Church than in the period preceding Pius X. The brilliant century of the great fathers, if compared to the ninth and tenth century in the Church, suggests an obscurity in the latter period.
In this question of an obscurity in dogma, we must avoid the erroneous conception of a corruption of the Christian truth, such as the early Protestants pretended to find in the Church, or even of any obscuring of the most basic and fundamental truths of revelation. At no time does the Church fail to teach clearly and explicitly all the basic truths essential for salvation and for the continuance of her mission. The doctrines which in some way have become less explicit or obscure, or which many may fail to know or even deny, are implicitly contained in the truths explicitly taught. The Church possesses the whole divine revelation in her possession of the Sacred Scripture and the documents of tradition. The constant presence of the Holy Spirit is our assurance that she will never fail to teach explicitly all the divine truths necessary to ward off any error which would turn men away from the path of salvation.
(Kaiser, Sacred Doctrine, pp. 282-283; underlining added.)
Thus there is no room at all for Sammons’ actual thesis, which is not that certain formerly-taught explicit truths have become obscure, but rather that the explicit magisterial teaching on the Papacy of the 19th and early 20th centuries was false and must be rejected in favor of what was supposedly the prior, true teaching.
Don’t hold your breath in expectation of Sammons changing course. He doesn’t have time to listen to real Popes or look at magisterial evidence because he’s too busy instructing the world, most recently, about “the path forward for Catholics” in 2024. Bummer!
Time and again one is amazed at how little those ‘traditional Catholics’ like Mr. Editor-in-Chief actually bother with the traditional Catholic teaching. The recognize-and-resist trads simply do not believe in the Papacy as actually taught by the Catholic Church. And how could they, considering they accept as true Popes public heretics and apostates who teach false doctrines in their official magisterium? This underscores what we said earlier: If you try to force a square peg into a round hole and you insist on leaving the peg intact, you will have no other choice but to alter the hole.
Thus Sammons and his co-religionists like Flanders and Kwasniewski have been busy modifying the Catholic doctrine of the Papacy, although under the pretext of restoring the ‘true’ and ‘traditional’ understanding, of course. However, as the First Vatican Council taught: “…that understanding of its sacred dogmas must be perpetually retained, which Holy Mother Church has once declared; and there must never be recession from that meaning under the specious name of a deeper understanding” (Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, Chapter 4; Denz. 1800).
Likewise, Pope St. Pius X included these lines in the Oath against Modernism, and for good reason:
…I sincerely receive the teaching of faith as transmitted in the same sense and meaning right down to us; and, therefore, I wholly reject the heretical notion of the evolution of dogmas, which pass from one sense to another alien to that the Church held from the start; and I likewise condemn every error whereby is substituted for the divine deposit, entrusted by Christ to His spouse and by her to be faithfully guarded, a philosophic system or a creation of the human conscience, gradually refined by the striving of men and finally to be perfected hereafter by indefinite progress.
…Wherefore most firmly I retain and to my last breath will I retain the faith of the Fathers of the Church concerning the sure endowment of truth, which is, has been and ever will be in the succession of the episcopate from the Apostles (St. Irenaeus IV., c. 26); not in such a way that we may hold what seems best and most fitting according to the refinement of each age, but that we never in any different wise understand the absolute and unchangeable truth preached from the beginning by the Apostles. (Praescript, c. 28.)
(Pope Pius X, Motu Proprio Sacrorum Antistitum; underlining added.)
If these people truly believe that Jorge Bergoglio is the Pope of the Catholic Church, they must then affirm of him what the Church teaches about the Pope, to wit:
Moreover, what the Chief of pastors and the Great Pastor of sheep, the Lord Jesus, established in the blessed Apostle Peter for the perpetual salvation and perennial good of the Church, this by the same Author must endure always in the Church which was founded upon a rock and will endure firm until the end of the ages. Surely “no one has doubt, rather all ages have known that the holy and most blessed Peter, chief and head of the apostles and pillar of faith and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the human race; and he up to this time and always lives and presides and exercises judgment in his successors, the bishops of the holy See of Rome, which was founded by him and consecrated by his blood [cf. Council of Ephesus]. Therefore, whoever succeeds Peter in this chair, he according to the institution of Christ himself, holds the primacy of Peter over the whole Church. “Therefore the disposition of truth remains, and blessed Peter persevering in the accepted fortitude of the rock does not abandon the guidance of the Church which he has received.” For this reason “it has always been necessary because of mightier pre-eminence for every church to come to the Church of Rome, that is those who are the faithful everywhere,” so that in this See, from which the laws of “venerable communion” emanate over all, they as members associated in one head, coalesce into one bodily structure.
(Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, Chapter 2; Denz. 1824; underlining added.)
Crisis Magazine continues to assure its unsuspecting readers that its online content is “Orthodox. Faithful. Free.” With regard to Eric Sammons’ Oct 9 article, however, we have seen that it is neither orthodox nor faithful. And although it is true that they do not charge money for the theological junk Sammons has written, the cost to souls is incalculable.
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