Bishop Athanasius Schneider, one of Trad, Inc.’s most prolific content providers, recently penned an editorial (available at Lifesite News) wherein he urges faithful Catholics to dismiss the opinion of St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church, in favor of his own.
Here, I will highlight certain of his most noteworthy points.
Bishop Schneider begins:
The hypothesis of the possibility of a heretical pope derives from the Decree of Gratian (dist. XL, cap. 6, col. 146) from the 12th century. According to the opinion expressed in this decree, the pope cannot be judged by any human authority, except if he has fallen into heresy (a nemine est iudicandus, nisi deprehendatur a fide devius).
Basing themselves on this spurious decree erroneously attributed to St. Boniface (+754) and accepted by Gratian, the Medieval theologians and theologians of the subsequent centuries maintained as possible the hypothesis – but not the certitude – of a heretical pope.
In this, Bishop Schneider appears to be casting doubt on whether or not a pope can ever fall into heresy. The purpose of his editorial, however, is ordered more properly toward what takes place, and how Catholics are to behave, when a pope falls into heresy.
He went on to suggest that St. Robert Bellarmine’s opinion concerning a heretical pope should be dismissed since the poor Doctor was duped:
St. Robert Bellarmine’s opinion is that “a pope who is a manifest heretic, ceases in himself to be Pope and head, just as he ceases in himself to be a Christian and member of the body of the Church: whereby, he can be judged and punished by the Church” (De Romano Pontifice, II, 30). [Emphasis added]
The opinion of St. Robert Bellarmine and other similar opinions on the loss of the papal office for heresy are based on the spurious decree of Gratian in the Corpus Iuris Canonici.
NB: It is one thing to find support for a theological opinion in a “decree erroneously attributed to St. Boniface” (as Bishop Schneider writes of Gratian); the Catholicity of that theological opinion is another matter altogether.
This being so, it is misleading in the extreme to imply, as Bishop Schneider does, that Bellarmine’s opinion is “based” on a false claim; as if to imply that the erroneous attribution mentioned somehow renders his theological opinion suspect.
In reality, as we will see, Bellarmine’s opinion is founded upon nothing less reliable than Sacred Scripture itself. We’ll return to this point momentarily.
It is clear that, in Bellarmine’s mind, the reason a pope who is a manifest heretic can be judged is due to the man’s state; namely, he has ceased to be pope! Note that he is not saying that the manifest heretic is subject to judgment because he is a non-member of the Church, rather, he is saying that the man is subject to judgment because he is no longer pope.
There is nothing whatsoever doubtful in this statement. Suggest, however, that this very same principle applies to a man who claims to be pope, and heads explode!
Not content with besmirching the credibility of St. Robert Bellarmine, Bishop Schneider set his sights on popes who held a similar view:
And even if some few popes seemed to support such an opinion (as e.g. Innocent III or Paul IV), this does not constitute a proof for the constant teaching of the Universal and Ordinary Magisterium.
Readers may interested in knowing that among the statements credited to Pope Innocent III, who the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia calls “One of the greatest popes of the Middle Ages,” are:
Faith is so necessary to me that, being so, only God may judge me of all other sins, but if I commit a sin against faith, I could be judged by the Church … The heretical Pope would not be judged, but would rather be shown to have been judged. – Pope Innocent III
In other words, the heretical pope has judged himself by virtue of his manifest heresy (as opposed to occult or secret heresy).
Q: Where did St. Robert Bellarmine and Pope Innocent III ever get that idea?
A: From Almighty God Himself!
A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, avoid: Knowing that such a one is subverted and sinneth, being condemned by his own judgment. (Titus 3:10-11)
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema. (Galatians 1:8)
Note that there are no exceptions given for would-be popes in either exhortation.
Let him be anathema…
Not only are St. Paul’s words clearly applicable to Francis, the subject of Bishop Schneider’s treatment, so too are the solemn decrees issued by the Council of Trent that also serve to anathematize him as noted HERE.
So, what does it mean for one to be “anathema”?
In the New Testament anathema no longer entails death, but the loss of goods or exclusion from the society of the faithful. St. Paul frequently uses this word in the latter sense. (1917 Catholic Encyclopedia)
It is reasonable and eminently Catholic to consider Francis as one “excluded from the society of the faithful” by virtue of his well-known (i.e., manifest, notorious) blasphemies and heresies. As such, how are we to consider him, as Bishop Schneider insists we must, as head of said society? Indeed, we cannot.
If St. Paul’s exhortations do not suffice to convince the reader of the necessity of recognizing Jorge Bergoglio as one outside the Church (for one’s own good, as a means of preserving one’s own faith) perhaps the words of Our Lord will help:
But if thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother. And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican. (Mt. 18:15-17)
Francis’ heresies and blasphemies are an offense first and foremost against Christ. They are also an offense against infallible Catholic doctrine and against every member of Our Lord’s Mystical Body.
In light of these offenses, numerous “rebukes” of Francis have been made; in particular as it concerns the heresies enshrined in Amoris Laetitia, some even prior to its publication. [NOTE: A “rebuke” in the case of an offending pope will not resemble the whip of cords that Our Lord took to the money changers in the Temple; rather, it should more properly appear as a fraternal correction.]
In response to these rebukes, Francis will not hear them.
Most notably in the case of the dubia, the Church (albeit the conciliar church) as represented by members of the College of Cardinals has also rebuked him.
In response to this and similar rebukes, Francis will not hear the Church.
As such, according to Our Lord’s own instructions, we are to treat him as a heathen and publican; that is, as one outside the Church. (Once again, there are no exemptions.)
Bishop Schneider seems to think he has a better idea:
Faithful Catholics can morally (but not canonically) distance themselves from erroneous or evil teachings and acts of a pope.
The great general councils of the Church, by contrast, often state, “Let him be anathema.” In other words, while the evil teaching is plainly condemned, it is the heretic himself who is to be avoided; that is, treated according to his actual condition, as one excluded from the society of the faithful.
Furthermore, the exhortations of Our Lord and St. Paul (as noted) concern the way in which the faithful are to treat the heretic, not simply his false doctrines.
Even so, Bishop Schneider doubles-down on counseling the faithful to do otherwise:
Catholics should also consider the correct teachings of the pope as part of the Magisterium of the Church, his correct decisions as part of the Church’s legislation…
Bishop Schneider may just as well instruct the faithful to become protestant! After all, isn’t this precisely what the protestants do; namely, sift through the various teachings offered by the pope, only to decide for themselves which ones are correct and which ones are not?
I would challenge Bishop Schneider, who in many circles enjoys a reputation for being grounded in Catholic tradition, to provide evidence of the Magisterium ever encouraging the faithful to take such an approach to the Holy Roman Pontiff.
Bishop Schneider continues:
Even if — according to the opinion of the automatic loss of the papacy for heresy — the judgment of the loss of the papal office is pronounced by the heretical pope upon himself, and he automatically falls from office without any judgment by the Church, such an opinion contains a contradiction and reveals a hint of crypto-conciliarism.
Elsewhere in the text, Schneider defines conciliarism for readers, stating:
The heretical thesis of Conciliarism holds that a Council is superior to the pope.
In no way can it be said that Bellarmine favored this thesis. So why does Schneider suggest as much? He tells us:
For according to this opinion [the one held by Bellarmine and others], the College of Cardinals or a group of bishops would have to issue an official declaration about the fact of the automatic loss of the papal office.
Evidently, Bishop Schneider is either unable or unwilling to comprehend a simple distinction; namely, between the act of declaring that the pope (former pope, in this case) has pronounced judgment upon himself and has thus incurred automatic loss of office, and an act of superiority over a reigning pope that separates him from the office. The latter cannot happen.
The declaration in such a case is merely an announcement of what has already taken place – the man has ceased in himself to be pope. To the extent that such a declaration may also include (or not) any condemnatory statements, the latter must be understood as pertaining to the man who was formerly pope; that is, to the man who is, of his own volition, a fallen away Catholic.
Adding to the confusion of his readers, Schneider states:
Even if one supports the opinion of the automatic loss of the papal office for heresy, in the case of Pope Francis, the College of Cardinals or of a representative group of bishops has not issued a declaration regarding the automatic loss of papal office, specifying the concrete heretical pronouncements and the date when they happened …
For even if one subscribes to the opinion of St. Robert Bellarmine, the necessary declaration of the automatic loss of the papal office has still not be issued.
Let’s examine these statements beginning with the latter.
To be clear, the opinion of St. Robert Bellarmine as cited by Bishop Schneider does not state that a declaration is “necessary,” as if apart from this the loss of office has yet to occur. This is Schneider’s opinion.
In reality, Bellarmine’s opinion is that “a Pope who is a manifest heretic ceases in himself to be pope,” with no declaration being necessary.
That is not to say that an official declaration is unnecessary in every respect. On this note, Fr. Pietro Ballerini, the eminent 18th century theologian often cited by those who insist that Francis is a true pope, stated:
So that he [the pope who has lost his office due to heresy] might not cause damage to the rest, he would have to have his heresy and contumacy publicly proclaimed, so that all might be able to be equally on guard in relation to him.
It is in this sense that a declaration is necessary. It is obvious that, in speaking of the rest, and so that all might be on guard, Ballerini imagines that some among the faithful will already be well aware that the manifest heretic has ceased to be pope, even before a declaration is made.
This directly refutes Bishop Schneider’s suggestion that the College of Cardinals or a group of bishops must specify the concrete heretical pronouncements and the date when they happened in order for the loss of office to take place.
That said, with regard to Amoris Laetitia, cardinals and bishops (as well as priests, theologians and others) have indeed specified numerous heretical pronouncements, these being sufficient for Bergoglio to sever himself from the Body of the Church and thus the papacy.
Bishop Schneider goes on:
According to another opinion, the automatic loss of the papal office for heresy would be tantamount to a renunciation of the papal office. However, one has to bear in mind the inevitable possibility of disagreement among members of the College of Cardinals or the episcopacy regarding whether or not a pope is guilty of heresy. Hence, there will always be doubts regarding the automatic loss of the papal office.
This is totally irrelevant. That doubt and disagreement are likely to be present in such a case in no way alters the objective truth concerning the heretic’s condition – a condition, it bears repeating, well described by both Our Lord and St. Paul as cited above.
Heaping confusion upon confusion, Schneider states:
St. Robert Bellarmine wrote: “Just as it is licit to resist the Pontiff who attacks the body, so also is it licit to resist him who attacks souls or destroys the civil order or above all, tries to destroy the Church. I say that it is licit to resist him by not doing what he orders and by impeding the execution of his will” (De Romano Pontifice, II, 29).
For the sake of brevity, suffice it to say that Bellarmine is being quoted out of context. He is not speaking of a pope who teaches grave doctrinal error. His opinion concerning a pope who shows himself to be a manifest heretic is very clear – he ceases in himself to be pope. Period.
Bishop Schneider goes on:
Warning people about the danger of a pope’s wrong teachings and actions does not require convincing people that he is not the true pope.
Again, I challenge Bishop Schnieder to provide evidence of the Magisterium encouraging the faithful to sift through papal teachings for error and to warn others about a pope’s “wrong teachings.”
The reality is that warning others of the plainly observable fact that Jorge Bergoglio is a manifest heretic, by virtue of the nature of manifest heresy itself, is simply another way of saying that he is not the true pope. These two realities simply go together.
Bishop Schneider then resorts to one of his favorite ploys in discussing the present situation in Rome; namely, pretending that there is precedent in Church history for a pope mired in manifest heresy.
St. Bridged of Sweden and St. Catherine of Siena, both of whom admonished the popes of their times, are fine examples of such respect.
In reality, neither St. Bridged nor St Catherine were faced with anything even remotely resembling the manifest heretic and anti-pope Bergoglio!
Believing that he is scoring points against those who favor the opinion concerning the automatic loss of office, Bishop Schneider actually does the opposite, stating:
The Pope and the Church are indeed not totally identical. The Pope is the visible head of the Militant Church on earth, but at the same time he is also a member of the Mystical Body of Christ.
No kidding! As a member of the Church, the pope, as much as anyone else, is bound by the doctrine of the Church, and when he enters into manifest heresy, he ceases in himself to be a member.
The word “opinion” appears in Bishop Schneider’s editorial more than two-dozen times, and for good reason. Given that the Magisterium of the Church has not prescribed a canonical procedure that definitively addresses the possibility of a so-called heretical pope, it is true that we are largely left to weigh disparate theological opinions.
And yet, Bishop Schneider has no problem putting forth his own opinion as if it is the only one worthy of consideration; even more so than that of St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church! He even goes so far as to accuse those who place more weight in the latter of dabbling in Pelagianism.
Bishop Schneider then moves on to addressing those who doubt the validity of Benedict XVI’s resignation. I will leave it to others to address this portion of his editorial in more detail. Even so, the following merits mention.
Bishop Schneider, in an attempt to confirm that BXVI acted freely, quotes his Last General Audience, given on February 27, 2013. Benedict stated:
I have taken this step with full awareness of its gravity and even its novelty, but with profound interior serenity.
Two things stand out here:
One, if (as I believe there is good reason to suspect) the resignation was forced, certainly Benedict wasn’t going to announce as much publicly. On the contrary, he would publicly affirm the exact opposite.
Secondly, one notes that Benedict mentions the novelty of his resignation. This should raise a red flag.
There is nothing novel about a pope resigning; it is rare, but certainly not unprecedented. Therefore, it is reasonable to recognize that Benedict was affirming, for those with ears to hear, that his act of resignation is not to be understood like the others.
And yet, the majority of self-assured commentators who cannot even bear to admit that there is more to this story than meets the eye, look down their noses at those who believe the resignation is questionable, as if to assert – Hey, popes resign, get over it!
Drawing toward the end of his editorial, Bishop Schneider states:
Such situations [publicly identifying an anti-pope] caused more confusion for the Church than did tolerating a heretical or doubtfully elected pope with the supernatural vision of the Church and trust in Divine Providence.
I challenge Bishop Schneider, or anyone for that matter, to point to a moment in Church history when a doubtful resignation resulted in a doubtful conclave, and more so a time when the Church suffered and tolerated a claimant to the papacy that even remotely resembled the blasphemous heretic Bergoglio.
Furthermore, Bishop Schneider writes as if Almighty God was having an off day when He inspired St. Paul to exhort the faithful against tolerating a heretic in their midst.
It seems to me that, in evaluating the present situation, far too little attention is paid to the exhortations provided in Sacred Scripture as noted above; these alone tell us that Jorge Bergoglio isn’t Catholic, much less is he the pope.
Ending this examination on the bright note:
It looks as though Bishop Schneider is conceding the fact that Jorge Bergoglio is indeed a manifest heretic; i.e., he no longer seems intent upon pointing out “ambiguities” in his teaching, rather, he is moving on to discussing how we should treat the heretic.
Make no mistake, in urging tolerance, Bishop Schneider is taking a stand against no less than the inspired word of God, but at least he seems to be moving in the right direction.