As many readers are likely aware, a brief essay from Bishop Athanasius Schneider, titled, About the Validity of the Pontificate of Pope Francis, is making its rounds on Catholic social media.
In it, Bishop Schneider makes numerous questionable, ambiguous, and flat-out unsupportable assertions that merit closer examination. Here, I will focus mainly on just one, namely, his allusion to the matter of “peaceful adherence,” otherwise referred to as “peaceful universal acceptance.”
In the opening sentence of his essay, Schneider states:
There is no authority to declare or consider an elected and generally accepted Pope as an invalid Pope.
First, to the extent that Bishop Schneider means to state that there is no authority on earth capable of deposing a legitimate pope, one must agree.
It appears rather certain based on the sentence immediately following, however, that he (like many others) is also suggesting that once a man is “generally accepted” as pope, he is, in fact, a valid pope, regardless of any obstacle or impediment that might otherwise preclude his possession of the papal office. He states:
The constant practice of the Church makes it evident that even in the case of an invalid election this invalid election will be de facto healed through the general acceptance of the new elected by the overwhelming majority of the cardinals and bishops.
The sentence above, in and of itself, isn’t objectionable, but only insofar as it is understood to address – and exclusively so – questions of validity surrounding a given papal election that may have been marred by canonical or procedural irregularities that, by the letter of the law, might render the act invalid.
For example, if a validly assembled conclave elects, and presents to the Church, a man as pope – even if there were certain, even serious, procedural irregularities, e.g., ballots were somehow double-counted, other ballots that went missing, more votes being held in a given day than allowed by rule, etc. – “the general acceptance” of that man as pope “by the overwhelming majority of the cardinals and bishops” would, as Bishop Schneider states, serve to “heal” those defects.
NB: This “healing” concerns defects in the election. Period.
To illustrate the point, imagine a future conclave so infected with ecumenical fervor that it elects a non-member of the Catholic Church (e.g., a schismatic Orthodox bishop). In this case, no amount of so-called peaceful universal acceptance on the part of anyone will be capable of “healing” this impediment, thus making the electee a true pope.
As the Catholic Encyclopedia succinctly states the obvious: “Of course, the election of a heretic, schismatic, or female would be null and void.”
Even so, Bishop Schneider seems to imagine – or at the very least appears to suggest – that the peaceful universal acceptance of a man as pope is capable of healing practically every conceivable impediment, making that man’s claim to the papacy a “dogmatic fact.”
In support of this flawed argument, commentary from Cardinal Louis Billot is most frequently, and selectively, cited. (Presumably, Bishop Schneider also has Billot in mind as well.)
When read in context, however, one finds that Billot’s treatment actually undermines any attempt to declare the Bergoglian papacy a dogmatic fact based upon so-called peaceful universal acceptance.
The citation most often quoted from Billot’s writing by those who insist that Bergoglio’s claim to the papacy is a proven dogmatic fact by virtue of “peaceful adherence” alone is taken from the Preamble to his Tractatus De Ecclesia Christi wherein he states:
…the peaceful adherence of the universal Church will always be an infallible sign of the legitimacy of the person of the Pontiff, and what is more, even of the existence of all conditions that are requisite for legitimacy itself.
What inevitably is ignored when Billot is cited in support of Bergoglio’s claim to the papacy, however, is exactly what this “peaceful adherence” concerns. Billot explains:
Therefore, from the time he has been accepted and joined to the Church as the head to the body, we cannot further consider the question of a possible mistake in the election or of a [possible] deficiency of any condition whatsoever necessary for legitimacy, because the aforementioned adherence of the Church radically heals the mistake in the election and infallibly indicates the existence of all requisite conditions.
Cardinal Billot is making it clear that he is addressing questions that may arise concerning the election process itself. Full stop. He is saying that “peaceful adherence” puts those questions to rest. He most certainly is not suggesting that so-called peaceful universal acceptance heals every conceivable impediment to the papacy.
Elsewhere in the same Tractus, Billot confirms “the fact that faith establishes the wayfarer in the state of being a member of the Church of Christ.”
He then goes on:
Being a member and being the head are so essentially ordered that being a member is anterior to being the head, as is evident because the head must be a member, but not conversely. Therefore, that which is not a member is not the head.
Most noteworthily with respect to Bergoglio, Cardinal Billot states:
And so a man lacking faith, as in the case of a heretic, is not a member of the Church, therefore he is not head of the same.
Cardinal Billot even goes so far as to state his opinion that a true pope who falls into heresy (personally, as opposed to a pope promulgating heresy in his authoritative teaching, something the Church has never envisioned even as a remote possibility), “by the very fact he becomes faithless, he becomes non-pope.”
I’ve yet to see any commentators in the tradservisphere highlight that particular quote from Billot’s Tractus!
Now that we are clear as to the sorts of questions “peaceful adherence” – or as Bishop Schneider puts it, “general acceptance” of a man as pope – puts to rest, let’s now consider what peaceful adherence actually entails.
According to Cardinal Billot, “peaceful adherence” is much more than simply saying that a certain man is pope. Rather, it entails, and is made manifest by, one’s participation in the superior-subject relationship that defines the papacy.
It is not necessary to look far for the proof of this [that the adhesion of the universal Church is an infallible sign of the legitimacy of a determined Pontiff] … we find it immediately in the promise and the infallible providence of Christ: ‘The gates of hell shall not prevail against it,’ and ‘Behold I shall be with you all days.’ For the adhesion of the Church to a false Pontiff would be the same as its adhesion to a false rule of faith, seeing that the Pope is the living rule of faith which the Church must follow and which in fact she always follows.
The attentive reader will recognize that His Eminence is defining two very important things in this paragraph, namely, the true nature of “peaceful adherence,” as well as the true nature of the papacy.
First, he is making it plain that the “adhesion of the Church” is to be understood as “adhesion to a true rule of faith.”
Secondly, he states that “the pope is the living rule of faith,” and, moreover, he says that the Church “must follow and in fact always does follow” the pope as such.
This, my friends, is what genuine “peaceful adherence” entails.
Does Athanasius Schneider follow, and adhere to, Francis as his rule of faith? In other words, does he measure and conform his own understanding of the faith according to the papal magisterium [sic] of Francis?
No, of course not. Bishop Schneider is well known precisely because he does not adhere to Francis as his rule of faith! The same can be said of every tradservative celebrity cleric and media figure of note.
At this we might ask: Peaceful adherence on the part of whom establishes a papal claim as a dogmatic fact?
Billot tells us, “Adhesion of the Church…” In other words, adhesion on the part of those who hold, and externally manifest, the true faith.
And what shall we say about those who do adhere to Francis as their rule of faith – e.g., those who dutifully give religious assent to Jorge’s daily teaching and preaching, his authoritative decrees, such as Amoris Laetitia, Fratelli Tutti, Laudato Si’, Traditionis Cojones, etc.?
Despite any presumed sincerity on their part, these persons do not have the Catholic faith themselves. As such, their “peaceful adherence” to Francis does nothing to verify his papal claim at all.
That said, I would argue that peaceful adherence to Bergoglio as pope has never actually existed, even among the avowed members of the conciliar church.
In his treatment of the matter, Fr. E. Sylvester Berry alludes to “the practically unanimous consent of the bishops and faithful in accepting … a Roman Pontiff as legitimately elected.”
From 13 March 2013 onward, Bergoglio’s reception has fallen far short of practical unanimity. Steadily over the last decade, theologians; priests; bishops, and cardinals have grown more and more vocal in their unwillingness to peacefully adhere to Francis as their rule of faith.
Lastly, consider the following from eminent pre-conciliar theologian, Msgr. Gerard Van Noort:
When someone has been constantly acting as Pope and has theoretically and practically been recognized as such by the bishops and by the universal Church, it is clear that the ordinary and universal magisterium is giving an utterly clear-cut witness to the legitimacy of his succession. (Sources of Revelation, p. 265)
The word “constantly” tells us that something far more than walking onto the loggia at St. Peter’s dressed as a pope is involved. At the very least, constantly acting as pope involves manifesting the true faith – one of the requirements for membership of any rank in the Church. Acting as pope also necessarily means teaching and defending the same.
It is no exaggeration whatsoever to say that from day one, the man known as Francis has constantly manifested an aversion to the true faith, even to the point of withholding the Sign of the Cross!
Far from a practical unanimity of the Church recognizing Bergoglio “acting as pope,” a considerable (and growing) number of commentators has, from day one, publicly recognized and commented upon the degree to which he has failed to so act.
Bottom line: Peaceful universal adherence to Bergoglio’s papacy has never actually existed; in fact, quite the opposite.
Strictly speaking, this may not suffice to establish, as a dogmatic fact, that Francis is an anti-pope, but it certainly comes close.