Bishop Athanasius Schneider has penned a more than 7,000 word text, published by Rorate Caeli, On the question of a heretical pope.
In spite of its unwieldy length (and the corresponding length of this examination), the entire treatise can be boiled down to the following main points. According to Bishop Schneider:
– A pope guilty of formal heresy is a Cross that we – meaning all the Church – have no choice but to bear with patience.
– Only a future pope or a future ecumenical council can directly address this; e.g., by posthumously anathematizing such a pope, as in the case of Pope Honorius I, and even then, the formal heretic must be understood to have retained his office post-heresy.
– Only God can take the papacy away from a formal heretic pope, and there is absolutely nothing a reigning pope can do in the realms of theological heresy or grave immorality to effectively incur the loss of office; i.e., effectively cause God to remove the office from the man.
– Any attempt on the part of the Church (cardinals, bishops, etc.) to directly address, as an effort to remedy, the situation of a pope who pertinaciously persists in manifest formal heresy would do more damage than good for the Church – damage that would last far longer than the heretic’s reign as pope.
Overall, Bishop Schneider’s essay – in spite of his sincerity, which I am pleased to assume – ultimately amounts to little more than an excuse for his failure, and that of other prelates, to act in defense of the true faith in a manner commensurate with the damage being inflicted upon the Body of Christ, and individual souls, by the formal, manifest, pertinacious heretic Jorge Bergoglio, aka “Francis.”
It is especially noteworthy that Bishop Schneider’s defense contains certain obvious errors and omissions, which suggest that the weakness of his response to the heretic Bergoglio is inspired not only by a lack of courage, but also, perhaps, by a deficit in right belief.
Let’s take a closer look.
Bishop Schneider relies very heavily on the case of Pope Honorius I; treating it as if it provides the closest thing to historical precedent that we have; thus providing indispensable instruction for the Church of today as it struggles under the weight of the heretic Bergoglio. He rightly describes Honorius as having “adopted an ambiguous attitude towards the spreading of the new heresy of Monothelitism.”
This, the seventh century pope did, inasmuch as “he had supported heresy in his letters to Patriarch Sergius,” Schneider states.
At this, it should be immediately obvious to all that very few if any genuine parallels exist between the case of Honorius and that of Francis. The former was guilty, in Schneider’s own words, of “an ambiguous attitude” regarding a heresy as evidenced in “letters” addressed to an individual patriarch. The heretical deeds of the latter, Francis, I trust, need no recounting.
Bishop Schneider writes:
Pope Honorius I was fallible, he was wrong, he was a heretic, precisely because he did not, as he should have done, declare authoritatively the Petrine tradition of the Roman Church. To that tradition he had made no appeal…
Given his reliance on the historical record concerning Honorius, if you are expecting Bishop Schneider to plainly and publicly state, Pope Francis is wrong, he is a heretic, you will be disappointed. Evidently, the case of Honorius provides a blueprint for prelates such as himself only insofar as it can be leveraged as justification for timidity.
Honorius, Bishop Schneider continued:
… [Honorius] had merely approved and enlarged an erroneous doctrine. But once disowned by his successors, the words of Pope Honorius I were harmless against the fact of the inerrancy in Faith of the Apostolic See. They were reduced to their true value, as the expression of his own personal view.
NB: According to Bishop Schneider, Honorius merely approved and enlarged a singular heresy. That this somehow reasonably compares to the actions of Jorge Bergoglio, who has disseminated numerous errors and heresies throughout the Universal Church in the name of Peter via official papal instruments (Apostolic Exhortations, Encyclicals, the AAS) is utterly absurd.
And yet, there are otherwise intelligent men of influence in Catholic media hailing Bishop Schneider as a modern-day St. Athanasius (his namesake).
Bishop Schneider also pointed to the case of Pope John XXII (1316 – 1334), who “taught his theory that the Saints would enjoy the beatific vision only after the Last Judgment in the Second Coming of Christ.”
What the good bishop fails to tell readers is that this error was taught in a sermon – not by way of an official papal instrument – and John XXII immediately vowed himself open to correction, and ultimately did stand corrected.
Even so, he goes on to say:
The Church in the very rare concrete cases of a pope committing serious theological errors or heresies could definitely live with such a pope. The practice of the Church until now was that she left the final judgment about a reigning heretical pope to his successors or to a future Ecumenical Council, such as in the case of Pope Honorius I. The same would probably have happened with Pope John XXII, if he had not retracted his error.
Bishop Schneider’s entire argument to this point hinges entirely on the absurd proposition that Francis is but another Honorius I and John XXII. According to this logic, one may just as reasonably state:
Given that a person can survive a nasty stomach virus until it naturally passes, surely one can also so live with stage four brain cancer.
With no intention of being flippant, I must say that I find the facility of Bishop Schneider’s argument stunning. He had, until now, impressed me as a man who “gets it,” but who only needed to find the courage to act. It seems evident having read his essay that he really does not grasp the gravity of the present situation. Whether this is willful or not is something that Our Lord alone can judge.
Bishop Schneider states:
The pope gets his authority directly from God and not from the Church; therefore, the Church cannot depose him, for any reason whatsoever.
In this, he is entirely correct, provided he means to say that the Church has no jurisdiction over a reigning pope. Unfortunately, however, he takes this notion too far by conflating, in a number of places in the text, “the loss of papal office by deposition” and a “declaration of the ipso facto loss” of said office.
These are two entirely different things. The latter in no way suggests that the Church (or any of her members) has the authority to depose a pope; it merely rests on the reality that any man – including the person of the pope – may, of his own volition, choose to sever himself from the Body of Christ.
If and when it occurs that a pope by his pertinacious attachment to heresy, following admonishment, severs himself from the Body of the Church, and has “in a certain way abdicated the Pontificate,” this can and must be declared by those who exercise ecclesial authority “so that he [the heretic] might not cause damage to the rest.” (cf Eminent 18th century theologian and canonist Fr. Pietro Ballerini)
NB: Bishop Schneider, however, does not believe that a pope can sever himself from the Body of Christ, and thus the Petrine Office (with the understanding that it is the Lord who will remove the office from the man in light of that man’s free choice).
Let me be clear: Bishop Schneider is basing his theory on an erroneous concept of the papacy, which is made known as he goes on to explain:
One can disinherit children of a family. Yet one cannot disinherit the father of a family, however guilty or monstrously he behaves himself. This is the law of the hierarchy which God has established even in creation. The same is applicable to the pope, who during the term of his office is the spiritual father of the entire family of Christ on earth. In the case of a criminal or monstrous father, the children have to withdraw themselves from him or avoid contact with him.
However, they cannot say, “We will elect a new and good father of our family.” It would be against common sense and against nature. The same principle should be applicable therefore to the question of deposing a heretical pope.The pope cannot be deposed by anybody, only God can intervene and He will do this in His time, since God does not fail in His Providence (“Deus in sua dispositione non fallitur”)
Once again, the argument is so facile as to be shocking. First of all, “avoiding” the pope is utterly antithetical to Catholic life. It is necessary for the faithful to do the exact opposite. In fact, it seems quite reasonable to understand that he who must be avoided in order that one’s faith not be corrupted must not be the pope!
More troubling is the fact that the essential nature of fatherhood is not akin to the nature of an individual man’s pontificate; the former is an indissoluble biological reality, whereas the latter can indeed be taken away, as Bishop Schneider himself suggests (“only God can intervene”).
Furthermore, if a man should disavow his fatherhood, he is powerless to dissolve that biological reality. He cannot even effectively invite God to remove fatherhood from him. By contrast, it is perfectly plain that a man can most certainly disavow the papacy and depart from the office; e.g., abdication (again, even if it is God who is moved to take the office away).
As will become more clear later, it seems that Bishop Schneider is in some way confusing the Petrine Office with the sacraments; e.g., marriage, whereby only death can bring it to an end, or perhaps baptism, which imparts an indelible mark upon the soul that cannot be removed.
Bishop Schneider is effectively suggesting that the man who is pope is the only member of the Church who no longer has the free will to sever himself from the Body of Christ (e.g., by willfully embracing heresy over truth); i.e., he seems to believe that there is nothing the man can do in this regard to facilitate his removal from the papacy by the hand of God. The idea is preposterous.
Bishop Schneider states:
The Church has always taught that even a heretical person, who is automatically excommunicated because of formal heresy, can nevertheless validly administer the sacraments and that a heretic or formally excommunicated priest can in an extreme case exercise even an act of jurisdiction by imparting to a penitent sacramental absolution.
Yes, heretics can at times validly administer sacraments; e.g., the Protestants can validly baptize. This, however, has nothing whatsoever to do with the present discussion concerning the Petrine Office.
The case of an excommunicated priest and his ability to minister in a time of grave necessity is likewise irrelevant; a formal, pertinacious heretic’s claim to the Office of Peter is another matter altogether.
The former scenario is based upon the sacramental character of the priesthood, imparted by Holy Orders – thus, “once a priest always a priest.” The papal coronation (or in our day, an inauguration) concerns the taking of an office, it does not impart sacramental character. As we have seen, Bishop Schneider is confusing these points; portraying the papacy as if it is in some way indissoluble.
To bolster his case, Bishop Schneider cites the following:
“No cardinal elector may be excluded from active and passive participation in the election of the Supreme Pontiff because of or on pretext of any excommunication, suspension, interdict or other ecclesiastical impediment. Any such censures are to be regarded as suspended as far as the effect of the election is concerned.” (Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution Romano Pontifice eligendo, n. 35).
Bear in mind, this comes to us from that bastion of orthodoxy Giovanni Battista Montini, the same who shoved the Novus Ordo Missae down our collective throats. Even so, an accurate reading of the above suggests that impediments upon cardinals are suspended only with respect to the act of electing a pope; i.e., casting a ballot. That’s it. This says exactly nothing about a pope who has fallen into formal heresy.
And yet, Bishop Schneider immediately insists:
This theological principle must be applied also to the case of a heretical bishop or a heretical pope, who in spite of their heresies can validly perform acts of ecclesiastical jurisdiction and therefore do not lose ipso facto their office because of heresy.
Theological principle? Excuse me? It is nothing of the kind. Romano Pontifice eligendo merely proposes a procedure, and this from the pen of the Church’s most disastrous pope ever, bar none (although Bergoglio is laboring to take the title for himself.)
At one point, Bishop Schneider favorably quotes the Council of Constance (1414 – 1418), which pronounced:
“Since the Roman Pontiff exercises such great power among mortals, it is right that he be bound all the more by the incontrovertible bonds of the faith…”
How true! And yet, Bishop Schneider labors to convince us that the person of the Roman Pontiff effectively enjoys utter freedom from the bonds of faith inasmuch as there is no heresy or heresies so great that his willful, self-imposed severance from the Body of the Church is made plain.
As for the major errors of omission made plain in Bishop Schneider’s essay, he states in the opening sentence:
The issue of how to handle a heretical pope, in concrete terms, has not yet been treated in a manner which approaches anything like a true general consent in the entire Catholic tradition.
This is true inasmuch as we have no specific procedure for such a scenario, and yet Bishop Schneider fails to call attention to those parts of Sacred Scripture that speak very clearly about how we are to approach the heretic; e.g., Galatians 1:8, Titus 3:10-11, and Matthew 18:15-17. In the interest of space, let’s consider just the latter:
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)
Numerous “rebukes” of Francis and the heresies enshrined in Amoris Laetitia alone have been made; some, even prior to its publication.
In response to these rebukes, Francis will not hear them.
With the dubia, for example, the Church as represented by members of the College of Cardinals has rebuked him.
In response to this rebuke, Francis will not hear the Church.
As such, and according to Our Lord’s own instructions, we are to treat him as a heathen and publican – that is, as one who cannot possibly be the pope! One notes that no exemption exists for bishops in white. Even so, Bishop Schneider is pleased to take refuge in the false notion that Catholic tradition contains next to nothing “concrete” concerning how to solve a problem like Bergoglio.
Bishop Schneider states:
The situation of a heretical pope will always be relatively short in comparison with the two thousand years of the existence of the Church. One has to leave an intervention, in this rare and delicate case, to Divine Providence.
In other words, it is above the bishop’s pay grade to meaningfully address the reality of a pope who – in spite of numerous rebukes, admonitions, and calls to faithfulness – has chosen the lies of Satan over the doctrines of Holy Mother Church. Sorry, but this is a monumental cop out.
What’s more, it reflects a shameful lack of concern for the salvation of souls; one that simply shrugs at the plight of those persons who have the unfortunate bad luck of living under the reign of a formally and pertinaciously heretical pope – a contradiction in terms if ever there was one.
Bishop Schneider ends his essay with a number of suggestions for “binding canonical norms for the case of a heretical or a manifestly heterodox pope;” among them, canonical obligations imposed firstly upon the Dean of the College of Cardinals to publicly correct the heretic pope if private corrections prove unsuccessful. If the Dean should fail in his duty, the obligation then proceeds down the hierarchical chain until it reaches the lay faithful.
And what of the heretic “pope” in this case?
Oh, he is simply be left to spout all the heresy he wishes. That way, the less well-formed among us will be faced with believing either a handful of true Catholics – many of whom are laity – or the guy on television wearing the pope costume and telling persons the world over to do, believe, and worship whatever they damn well please.
In other words, we will be left precisely with the situation of the present day wherein “Francis” is leading souls straight to Hell while the cream of the episcopal crop more or less wrings their hands waiting for God to step in.
Has it never occurred to Bishop Schneider that God stepped in the day he was consecrated a bishop, equipping him with all that he needs to protect the flock?