LifeSite News recently published an interview with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former Prefect of the conciliar church’s Congregation for the Denial of the Faith (CDF), wherein he labored to split heretical hairs in defense of Jorge Bergoglio’s claims to the papacy.
Here, we will unravel his web of confusion, ultimately showing that the unintentional result of his efforts is to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that “Francis” isn’t a member of the Church of any rank.
As reported by LifeSite:
[Müller] explained that there is a crucial distinction between material heresy and formal heresy.
Yes, there is a distinction to be made, but not of the sort that Müller is attempting to make. So, let’s get right to it:
What is the distinction between material and formal heresy?
Before we address this question, it will be helpful to recall the definition of heresy: The post-baptismal denial or doubt of that which must be believed with divine and Catholic faith.
For our purposes, we will focus exclusively on heresy that is manifest (that is, known publicly) as opposed to heresy that is occult (held privately or in secret). Furthermore, we will leave out of consideration individuals who may be sincerely confused as to the true doctrine or who perhaps misspeak, e.g., a priest who mistakenly utters what amounts to a heretical proposition in a sermon.
Returning now to the distinction between material heresy and formal heresy:
Insofar as a given heresy itself is concerned, there is no such distinction to be made; the distinction lies in the heretic.
For example: The erroneous belief that the Body and Blood of Christ at Holy Mass are present only spiritually in the Blessed Sacrament, the species of which remains true bread and wine, is a heresy, full stop.
If the person who publicly professes this heresy was, by way of example, born into a Protestant community and is truly ignorant of the Catholic Church’s teaching authority and her doctrine of transubstantiation, then it is proper to suggest that this individual is a material heretic.
As Cardinal Billot states in his Tractatus de Ecclesia Christi, “Material heretics are those who labor under invincible ignorance…”
On the other hand, if the person who publicly manifests this same heresy is well aware of the Church’s teaching authority and her doctrine of transubstantiation, and yet obstinately doubts it, choosing instead to believe and manifest publicly the error stated above, then that individual is properly considered a formal heretic.
Cardinal Müller, however, went on to tell LifeSite News, “Heresy, in the proper sense, includes the will to contradict the truth.”
This is not so. It cannot be said that the material heretic (as in the example above) who “labors under invincible ignorance” wills to contradict the truth, rather, he doesn’t know the truth. And yet, his heresy is still heresy, in the proper sense.
According to LifeSite, “Müller reiterated that a pope who teaches formal heresy could theoretically lose his office.”
Technically, this is correct, but it is important to understand that the theoretical part of the matter – such as it has been debated by the likes of Cajetan, Torquemada, and Bellarmine – largely concerns whether or not it is even possible for a true pope to fall into heresy, and this as a private person (as opposed to teaching heresy in his authoritative papal magisterium).
St. Robert Bellarmine, even as he opined on what would happen in such a case (“a Pope who is a manifest heretic, ceases in himself to be Pope and head”), did not believe that it was possible for a true pope to fall into heresy even as a private person.
As for a formal heretic being pope? No moderately well-formed Catholic thinks that this is even remotely possible and for good reason, but we’ll come back to this momentarily.
Eventually, the interview got around to addressing the heart of the matter, namely, how do you solve a problem like Bergoglio?
While Cardinal Müller said that Pope Francis “has already uttered plenty of material heresies,” he stressed that Francis has not committed formal heresy and, therefore, has not forfeited his papal office.
Recalling that the distinction between formal and material concerns the heretic and not the heresy, Müller is suggesting that Bergoglio “labors under invincible ignorance” (to quote Cardinal Billot’s definition of a material heretic once more), i.e., he apparently wants us to believe that Jorge simply does not know any better!
Müller emphasized that the desired “modern” changes to the Church are always introduced via the “pastoral way” rather than by the outright teaching of formal heresy.
Oddly enough, Müller chose to offer the following example:
Müller noted a statement by Cardinal Victor Fernández, the new head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, on allowing Communion for civilly “remarried” divorcees without living in full continence, calling the declaration a “borderline” case when it comes to formal heresy.
The German cardinal told LifeSiteNews that Fernández said the faithful “must accept this declaration by the Argentinian bishops and their interpretation [of Amoris Laetitia regarding the reception of Communion by divorcees] with religious obedience of mind and will.”
“That was already heretical, but it was not the Pope who said that.”
Evidently, Müller needs to have his memory jogged.
In September 2016, the man he calls “pope” said of the guidelines for the implementation of Amoris Laetitia established by the bishops of Buenos Aries:
The document is very good and completely explains the meaning of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. There are no other interpretations.
Francis also explicitly ordered that those guidelines, along with his letter stating that “there are no other interpretations,” be entered into the AAS, thus making his intention perfectly clear, namely, that the guidelines are to be received by the faithful as an authoritative expression of the papal [sic] magisterium.
As such, Victor “Bring me to Heal with your Mouth” Fernández isn’t speaking for himself, but rather for Jorge who made it clear that the interpretation of Amoris Laetitia authored by the bishops of Buenos Aries demands religious assent.
As for Müller’s suggestion that Bergoglio is merely a material heretic who hasn’t engaged in “the outright teaching of formal heresy,” his memory fails yet again.
Hence it can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation [adultery, e.g., second or third marriages] are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace. More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule. A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding “its inherent values”, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin. (Amoris Laetitia 301)
It can no longer simply be said…even in cases where the doctrine of the faith is known full well.
In other words, I know what the Church has always taught, but I say otherwise!
This is as close to a textbook example of a formal heretic publicly manifesting his heresy as one might ever hope to find, a heresy, incidentally, that the heretic has refused to amend even after numerous appeals to embrace the true faith.
All of that having been said, when it comes to the matter of formal heresy vs material heresy, insofar as a man’s claim to the papacy is concerned, it doesn’t matter.
Because the consequences are the same in that the material heretic is no more a member of the Body of the Church (never mind its visible head on earth) than the formal heretic, and the reason lies in the nature of heresy itself.
Pope Pius XII made this perfectly plain in his Encyclical Mystici Corporis:
For not every sin, however grave it may be, is such as of its own nature to sever a man from the Body of the Church, as does schism or heresy or apostasy.
NB: Heresy is a sin, even if, in the subjective order, the material heretic may not be culpable. The nature of that sin is to sever the heretic from the Body of the Church, ipso facto, as opposed to a severance that results from a sentence of excommunication rendered by a competent authority.
Commenting on the above teaching from Mystici Corporis, the eminent theologian Msgr. Van Noort stated in his Dogmatic Theology Volume II: Christ’s Church:
If public material heretics remained members of the Church, the visibility and unity of Christ’s Church would perish. If these purely material heretics were considered members of the Catholic Church in the strict sense of the term, how would one ever locate the “Catholic Church”? How would the Church be one body? How would it profess one faith?
NB: Material heretics do not remain members of the Church.
So, with this in mind, by suggesting that Francis “has already uttered plenty of material heresies,” Cardinal Müller – evidently even without realizing as much – is confirming a truth that is growing ever more difficult to deny:
Jorge Bergoglio is not a member of the Church at all, much less is he the Holy Roman Pontiff.