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On the Power to Judge the Validity of a Pontificate

Bishop Athanasius Schneider.
Bishop Athanasius Schneider.
[Source]

Note: This is my critique of an article by Bishop Athanasius Schneider, which he published on 2023-Sept-18, on his website. Please note this is the first time I've disagreed with Bishop Schneider. So far, I had always cheered for him, which is why his article surprized me.

[Yellow] No one in the Church has the authority to consider or declare an elected and generally accepted pope an invalid pope.

If by "elected" we mean really elected, validly elected, I would tend to agree. If by "elected" we mean for example "supposedly elected, after an invalid conclave", then there seems to be a problem, at least according to Pope Saint John Paul II:

Should the election take place in a way other than that prescribed in the present Constitution, or should the conditions laid down here not be observed, the election is for this very reason null and void, without any need for a declaration on the matter; consequently, it confers no right on the one elected.
[Universi Dominici Gregis, #76, my emphasis]

Notice Saint John Paul II says: "without any need for a declaration on the matter", and Schneider talks about "to consider or declare". Interesting.

More importantly, during this whole article, Schneider constantly assumes we are talking about a real Pope, who started out his pontificate as a real honest-to-God Pope, then something went wrong. But the case that interests me the most is the case where an impostor never really became Pope, and was an Anti-Pope right from the start. Maybe Schneider has discussed that case elsewhere, I don't know. But be forewarned that while apparently we sharply disagree, maybe deep down inside we both mostly agree, and we are just talking about two very different things.

[Yellow] It is clear from the constant practice of the Church that even were a papal election invalid, it would de facto be healed through the general acceptance of the newly elected by the overwhelming majority of cardinals and bishops.

"Constant practice"? You mean it often happens that conclaves are invalid? Catholic Bishops have always been like a bunch of drunken clowns with bees in their underpants, unable even to accomplish a simple task like voting on pieces of paper, then counting which dude got the most pieces of paper? How many conclaves have there been in the roughly two-millenia history of the Church, and how many were invalid? (I honestly don't know; I'm curious.)

I also have questions about this "overwhelming majority". These days, the overwhelming majority of bishops is telling Mankind what the Snake said to Eve, heaps praise on baby-killing politicians who claim to be "catholics", attacks the eternal Catholic Mass, actively participates in the establishment of a global communist tyranny, etc.

If the majority of our "catholic" bishops were not constantly causing scandal by openly collaborating with Satan, things would be much simpler. But these days, it seems most bishops have just lost the Catholic Faith and are trying very hard to destroy what is left of the Catholic Church, and to replace it with the Anti-church.

[Red] Even were a pope heretical, he would not automatically lose his office,

To my pious ears, that just sounds weird. If an airline pilot decided to avoid the destination, and instead decided to dive into the ground in order to kill everybody (yes, unfortunately, this has happened in real life), should we continue to consider him the pilot?

Think about it. What is a heretic? Does a heretic say things like: "I reject this eternal teaching of the Catholic Church, but please, don't listen to me! don't follow me! I just want to be left alone, so I can quietly wallow in my heresy". I have never heard of such a chimera. All heretics try to convince everybody to follow them. All heretics condemn as wrong whatever teaching of the Church they are opposed to. All heretics try to enshrine their error so that it will be perpetuated (for example, they write books teaching their error, they attack and often kill those who defend the Church's position, some even invent new religions).

So a Pope who decided to become an Anti-Pope, and drag the whole Church down into Hell, would still be Pope? How is that even possible? Aren't all heretics automatically excommunicated?

an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication
[Canon 1364]

Notice here also that the Code of Canon Law doesn't mention anything about needing a declaration on the matter. You're gone. You're out. Goodbye.

[Green] and there is no one within the Church to declare him deposed on account of heresy. Such actions would approach a kind of a heresy of conciliarism or episcopalism. According to these heresies, there is a body within the Church (ecumenical council, synod, college of cardinals, college of bishops), which can issue a legally binding judgment on the Roman Pontiff.

As I've said above, the case I'm more interested in is the case where a guy never really became the real Roman Pontiff. The case about a real Pope becoming a heretic is more complicated, because the Holy Spirit is supposed to give supernatural negative protection to the Pope. I was always told the Holy Spirit doesn't guarantee that a Pope will say the things he should say, but the Holy Spirit is supposed to prevent the Pope from officially saying things he should NOT say.

So if we are talking about a real Pope, who is not a heretic, then Yes. The Pope is not an employee of some Board of Directors who can fire him. A real Pope cannot be removed by the vote of some subset of Catholics (like the Cardinals), or even all Catholics.

Still, I'm curious. By deciding to become a heretic, wouldn't this guy be removing himself? If he excommunicates himself (see above), isn't he the one throwing himself out of the Catholic Church?

[Green] The theory of the automatic loss of the papacy due to heresy is only an opinion; even St. Robert Bellarmine noted this and did not present it as a teaching of the Magisterium. The perennial papal Magisterium has never taught this as a doctrine.

I would tend to agree with Schneider here also, but I would also tend to be careful with his "only an opinion". For example, currently, it has not yet been dogmatically declared that Judas is in Hell, so you could argue it's just an "opinion" (even though of course Judas is in Hell). As another example, some could have argued the Assumption of the Virgin Mary was just an "opinion" before it was declared ex cathedra.

We do need to look into the History of the Church, and examine what has been said over these roughly two thousand years about the topic of automatic loss of the papacy. Here, I must admit my ignorance. I don't read Latin or Greek, I don't have a fancy university degree, and I have not studied the Fathers of the Church for the past 40 years of my life, unlike any self-respecting scholar.

That being said, apparently the historic majority is in favor of "the automatic loss of the papacy due to heresy". (Personally, the argument I find the strongest is just the common sense noted here above.)

[Green] In 1917, when the Code of Canon Law (Codex Iuris Canonici) came into force, the Church's Magisterium eliminated from the new legislation a remark of the Decretum Gratiani contained in the old Corpus Iuris Canonici, which stated that a pope who deviates from right doctrine can be deposed. Never in the history of the Church has the Magisterium provided canonical procedures for the deposition of a heretical pope. The Church has no power over the pope formally or juridically.

Yes, but what if that guy is not the Pope?

[Red] According to surer Catholic tradition, in the case of a heretical pope the members of the Church can avoid him, resist him, and refuse to obey him.

Uhhmmm, what tradition? I feel here like quoting a bit of truly traditional knowledge:

Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur.
("What is asserted without proof, can be rejected without proof.")
[Source]

I'm not a theologian, but I have read some theology books over the years, and I've never come across anything like: "If you find yourself more Catholic than the Pope, proceed thusly".

[Green] All of this can be done without any need for a theory or opinion that a heretical pope automatically loses his office or can be deposed.

Yes, you can continue, with your lips, to call him "the Pope", while also treating him, with your actions, exactly like he is an anti-Pope. It's mentally illogical, but it can physically be done.

If you asked me for advice on how to behave with a Muslim ayatollah for example, I would start my answer like Schneider: "avoid him, resist him, and refuse to obey him". But then I would add one more thing: "Denounce him; call a spade a spade and the leader of a fake religion the leader of a fake religion. Don't pretend he is a real Leader of a religion founded by God".

[Red] Therefore, we must follow the surer way (via tutior) and abstain from defending the mere opinion of theologians, even those of saints like Robert Bellarmine.

A bit strange. After insisting that the automatic loss of the papal office in case of heresy has never been the subject of an official declaration of the Magisterium, Schneider then carefully avoids quoting ANY source in all of the two thousand years of Catholic teachings that claims the contrary, i.e. that a heretic CAN be Pope. So in other words, the debate is still open. The Church has not closed the debate. So, in that case, shouldn't we follow tradition, which tells us:

In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas
[Source]

Shouldn't Schneider say things like: "This is MY opinion, but the Church says you are currently free to have YOUR opinion, since She has avoided closing the debate"?

I would also repeat that, assuming the debate is still open, nevertheless both sides of the balance don't seem equal. From what I can see, the more frequent opinion ("sententia communior") is that a heretic would automatically lose the papal office.

[Green] The pope cannot commit heresy when he speaks ex cathedra; this is a dogma of faith. In his teaching outside of ex cathedra statements, however, he can make erroneous, ambiguous, or even heretical doctrinal statements.

Of course I agree. But isn't Schneider being a bit disingenuous here? He is writing in September of 2023. He did not just decide to write his article because he had nothing to do that day, since he had watered all the plants in his garden and finished mowing the lawn and finally gotten around to re-sharpening his pruning shears. He is writing this article because many are saying Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) is an Anti-pope, not a real Pope.

More importantly, Anti-pope Francis has long ceased to speak "outside of ex cathedra statements" (hilariously referred to as "ex aeroplano").

[Yellow] And since the pope is not identical with the entire Church,

I'm not sure how to interpret this. Catholicism has always given a lot of authority to the Pope, even the Pope alone (CCC paragraphs 882, 891, etc.)

[Red] the Church is stronger than a singular erring or heretical pope.

As Ann Barnhardt copiously reminds everybody, if you accept an error at the beginning of your thought process, you'll have to accept all kinds of weird consequences of that error. If you insist on calling Bergoglio the "pope", then instead of the Pope being the Rock upon which the Church is built, the "pope" can be our enemy, somebody we have to refuse to obey, somebody we have to separate ourselves from! In other words, agreeing with Schnieder transforms good Catholics into Protestants! That doesn't smell right...

[Green] In such a case one should respectfully correct him (avoiding purely human anger and disrespectful language)

Of course, we must love our enemies, so we always have to be respectful, even with the aforementioned Ayatollah.

[Red] and resist him as one would resist a bad father of a family.

Your father is always your father, because of Biology. A Pope is not biologically a Pope. Papacy is a "office" ("munus" in Latin; yeah, I checked the Latin version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church). You cannot abdicate from your biology. You can abdicate from the Papacy, using a free and conscious act. But, becoming an obstinate heretic, isn't that a free and conscious act also?

[Green] Yet the members of the family could never declare that he has automatically forfeited his fatherhood or been deposed as father. They can correct him, refuse to obey him, separate themselves from him, but they cannot declare him deposed.

Yes, because Biology doesn't obey free and conscious acts of our will (otherwise I'd just lose weight
RIGHT NOW! :-)

The papacy is not something caused by chromosomes.

[Green] Good Catholics know the truth and must proclaim it and offer reparation for the errors of an erring pope.

Yes, when somebody teaches errors, we have to proclaim the truth. Yes, offering reparation for our sins and the sins of others is always a good thing. But I still cringe when I hear expressions like "dehydrated water", or "circular square" or "heretical pope".

[Yellow] Since the case of a heretical pope is humanly irresolvable,

According to Schneider's opinion, which we are free to disagree with, since the Magisterium has not closed that debate.

[Green] we must, with supernatural faith, implore God's intervention. For an individual erring pope is not eternal, and the Church is not in our hands but in the hands of Almighty God.

[Green] We must hold on to supernatural faith, trust, humility, and a love of the Cross in order to endure such a tremendous and extraordinary trial. These situations are relatively brief in comparison to the Church's 2000-year history. Therefore, we must not yield to overly human reactions and seemingly easy solutions by

[Red] declaring the invalidity of a pontificate,

Here again, Schneider starts by assuming Bergoglio was once a real Pope, which I think was never the case. You can't have a pontificate without a Pope. An impostor doesn't have a pontificate.

Also, why always jump to declarations? Why not call for an investigation? There seems to be plenty of material to investigate, both for the bizarre attempted partial abdication of Benedict XVI and the subsequent conclave supposedly riddled with irregularities.

And while we are investigating before declaring, I would guess this whole "heretical pope" contraption also deserves more thought.

[Green] but instead be sober and alert, keep a truly supernatural outlook, and trust in divine intervention and the indestructibility of the Catholic Church.

+ Athanasius Schneider


So, what should we think of this article by Schneider? I find it a bit funny that Schneider asks us to be courageous and to resist and disobey, but he doesn't himself have the courage to even admit there is an elephant in the sacristy, that this elephant is called Bergoglio, and that Bergoglio is a flaming heretic who was automatically excommunicated a long time ago.

This is even funnier because the home page of his web site says: "Encouragement from the Shepherd of Kazakhstan". At least Schneider could have given us poor faithful the encouragement of hearing a Bishop say out loud what most real Catholics already feel: Bergoglio is just a bad old Liberal Protestant with an excellent Public Relations firm.

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