Can the Roman Pontiff be judged?


Is the pope Catholic? As any number of commentators have acknowledged in light of the antics of Jorge Bergoglio (stage name, Francis), this is no longer a rhetorical, much less an amusing, question.

As I write, more and more sincere Catholics are finding it nearly impossible to deny the presence of positive doubt as to whether or not “Francis” is truly a member of the Holy Catholic Church, and this necessarily leads to other serious questions, like who gets to decide, how is that decision made, and what are the consequences?

Many Catholics would find it difficult enough to answer those questions concerning a mere layman of dubious faith, but when the person in question is current claimant to the Chair of St. Peter, making sense of the situation is all the more daunting for the simple reason that “the first See is judged by no one,” and this as a matter of Divine Law.

That no one other than Christ has the authority to rule over the pope is one of the principles upon which so-called conservatives, traditionalists and sedevacantists all agree. And yet, to the question, Can the Roman Pontiff be judged?, Robert Siscoe and John Salza answer yes, he most certainly can be judged!

According to the authors of the anti-sedevacantist book, True or False Pope?, St. Robert Bellarmine taught as much, and what’s more, he held that a heretical pope must be convicted of heresy by the Church before God will remove the papacy from him.

At this, readers may recall that Bellarmine ascribed to the so-called Fifth Opinion on a pope who had fallen into heresy, which states 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.”

In an article that I will post in this space tomorrow, Siscoe and Salza claim to have discovered evidence, in volumes of Bellarmine’s writings that have recently been translated into English, suggesting that the Doctor of the Church held that the “conviction” of the pope as a heretic is a necessary condition for the loss of office.

“It is not a post factum declaration that a former ‘Pope’ has already fallen from the pontificate,” they write. “It is a judgment that the currently reigning Pope – who still retains his jurisdiction, dignity and title – is a heretic.”

Having read through the text very carefully, I am certain that it will spark no small amount of debate, in particular among the persons against whom Siscoe and Salza argue by name and whose rebuttals I will be pleased to publish. For my part, their text raises some serious questions and invites counter-arguments that I look forward to sharing with the authors and, of course, with our readers in the days ahead.

It is my hope that, God willing, this exercise will prove useful to all concerned, bringing clarity where confusion presently reigns.

aka focus