A number of readers have asked me to comment on a recent article written for the Remnant by John Salza concerning the status of the man known as Francis.
More than one person has even suggested that Mr. Salza is referring directly to me when he writes:
Unfortunately, those who are looking for a simple, quick and easy explanation for the current crisis are often deceived by these tactics, including even former traditional Catholics who have recently departed from the Church by becoming Pope Francis rejecters.
I’m not so sure this refers to me; after all, John should know that I’ve been consistent in pointing out that there are no “quick and easy” answers to the present situation.
Readers may recall what I wrote in the first installment of my exchange with Robert Siscoe on this topic:
I do not claim to have a definitive answer; much less do I propose to have the authority to enforce my observations.
As Robert himself wrote:
The Church has never taught how or when Christ would sever the bond uniting the man to the office. All we have are theologian opinions, which vary greatly.
Robert even provided (on his own website) the following footnote:
No canonical provisions exist regulating the authority of the College of Cardinals sede Romana impedita, ie., in case the pope became insane, or personally a heretic; in such cases it would be necessary to consult the dictates of right reason and the teachings of history. (Original Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol III, p. 339)
In reading Mr. Salza’s article, one might get the impression, decidedly false, that the matter under discussion is perfectly cut-and-dry. It is not.
The tenor of his commentary even seems to imply that one must either agree with his conclusions or else render oneself a “former traditional Catholic who has departed from the Church.”
In reality, Mr. Salza’s conclusions have no more weight; indeed far less weight, than the aforementioned “theologian opinions, which vary greatly.”
With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the article.
Before we get into the article itself, I must address a statement made in the introduction provided by Michael Matt as it is truly astonishing:
Even in Amoris: Which dogma has Francis officially and unequivocally denied? Name one! You see the problem? One cannot be a public and pertinacious heretic by default, weakness, innuendo or ambiguity.
Name one? Mr. Matt’s longtime collaborator, Christopher Ferrara, can name at least seven! So, yeah, Mike, I see the problem!
It seems that Mr. Matt would do well to read the Filial Correction that was signed by Mr. Ferrara; a document that outlines “seven heretical propositions” in the text, while stating:
These propositions [in Amoris Laetitia] all contradict truths that are divinely revealed, and that Catholics must believe with the assent of divine faith.
Those “truths” are otherwise known as dogmas, folks.
Little surprises me these days, but I must admit that I find it truly amazing that anyone – much less a leading voice in the so-called “traditional movement” – is willing to say no more of Amoris Laetitia than it is weak and ambiguous.
Now, on to the article itself…
Mr. Salza sets the stage as follows:
Who is the latest authority that the Sedevacantists are quoting to support their position? Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke. You read that correctly. The Cardinal of the Conciliar Church who recognizes that Francis is the true Pope. The Cardinal who says Pope Francis did not cross the line into heresy with Amoris Laetitia. The Cardinal who the Sedevacantists accuse of being a traitorous Modernist. That Cardinal Burke. You can’t make this stuff up.
Point well taken: Cardinal Burke is hardly the most reliable commentator on this topic (much less is he a friend of Fatima, but I digress). That does not mean, however, that he is unable to offer anything of value.
If we’re going parse his words in search of any nuggets of truth therein (in this case, as found in his December 2016 interview with Catholic World Report), at the very least we must do so accurately and completely.
Unfortunately, as we will see, Mr. Salza’s treatment misses that mark on a number points.
Mr. Salza is referring to a number of specific exchanges between Cardinal Burke and the CWR interviewer; first and foremost, the following:
CWR: Some people are saying that the pope could separate himself from communion with the Church. Can the pope legitimately be declared in schism or heresy?
Cardinal Burke: If a Pope would formally profess heresy he would cease, by that act, to be the Pope. It’s automatic. And so, that could happen.”
Mr. Salza observes:
They [certain Sedevacantists and Francis-rejecters ] don’t seem to be embarrassed by the fact that Cardinal Burke went on to say in the same interview that it is the College of Cardinals, and not vigilante Sedevacantists, that judges whether the Pope “formally professed heresy.”
At this, a couple of very important clarifications are in order. Pay close attention.
First, Cardinal Burke did not say that the College of Cardinals “judges whether the Pope formally professed heresy.”
Indeed, no one, not even the entire episcopate as a whole, has the authority to judge the pope. The CWR question very specifically concerns whether or not a pope can “legitimately be declared in schism or heresy.”
“Judging” vs. “declaring” – two very different things.
Secondly, even as he accuses those whom he believes have conveniently overlooked certain parts of Cardinal Burke’s answer, Mr. Salza doesn’t directly address one of his most critically important statements:
Given that Cardinal Burke believes that “it’s automatic” that a pope who formally professes heresy “would cease, by that act, to be the Pope,” it is obvious that he understands (and correctly so) that the role played by the College of Cardinals is secondary, or comes after the fact of his ceasing to be pope.
We’ll return to this important point momentarily.
Mr. Salza went on to write:
The Cardinal states that the Pope would have to “formally profess heresy” before he would lose his office. With this statement, the Cardinal is properly noting the distinction between the material element of heresy (the proposition itself which directly contradicts a truth infallibly proposed for belief by the Church) and the formal element (which is pertinacity – the willful and conscious rejection of such a truth) – both of which must be proven before the Pope would be found guilty of “formally professing heresy.”
In this, there is nothing objectionable other than the fact that the words, “found guilty” come dangerously close to suggesting that the pope himself is judged.
The legitimate questions it invites concern what is involved in the process of “proving.”
On this note, I ask you:
Does anyone really believe that Jorge Bergoglio – after numerous public challenges to confirm the true faith, some of which have come from members of the College of Cardinals – is somehow unconscious of his heresy; i.e., he is simply confused or mistaken with regard to Catholic doctrine?
Unlike Mr. Salza, I will not take it upon myself to state that those who disagree with my conclusion (namely, that he is not unconscious) have “departed from the Church,” but I will say that one must abandon reason in order to imagine that Francis has not separated himself from the Body of Christ by his heresy.
Recall the words of St. Paul, stated so emphatically and with repetition:
There are some that trouble you and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 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. As we said before, so now I say again: If any one preach to you a gospel, besides that which you have received, let him be anathema. (Galatians 1:7-9)
Notice that St. Paul does not suggest that the faithful must pretend not to believe their ears when they hear a false gospel, as if it is above their pay grade to recognize the perversion as such; rather, he tells us let those who would pervert the gospel of Christ be anathema!
Does Jorge Bergoglio pervert the gospel of Christ and publicly so?
Is there every reason to conclude that he does so willfully and consciously, and not simply by ignorance of Church teaching? [NOTE: This question is discussed in great detail in my exchanges with Robert Siscoe on these pages. I will not repeat those arguments here, but rather invite those interested to search for those posts.]
If St. Paul’s words – divinely inspired words, mind you – mean anything, they mean that Francis is anathema.
And 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)
Can one who is excluded from the society of the faithful be the head of said society?
Not only does Catholic common sense provide the answer; sense of the most common variety tells us.
Does this mean that nothing remains to be done about the scourge on the Church known as Francis by those in authority?
One of the arguments offered by Mr. Salza in particular, I believe, is of great value in helping us come to grips with the crucial role played in this case by those in authority. He writes:
Note that when theologians say it is “the act” of the Pope himself that causes the loss of office (as Cardinal Burke does), they are referring to the act being the dispositive cause, not the efficient cause. 
The footnote reads:
The formally heretical act of the Pope causes him to lose the Pontificate dispositively, but it is Christ Himself who deposes the Pope authoritatively and formally. Hence, the act of the Pope is the dispositive cause, while the act of Christ removing his jurisdiction is the efficient cause that results in the loss of the pontificate formally. This is another distinction that the Sedevacantists and Francis-rejecters have failed to make.
Mr. Salza clarifies his position further, stating:
Only upon the declaration of the Church does Christ – the Efficient Cause – act by formally disjoining the man from the Pontificate.
First, note very well that this latter statement (“only upon the declaration…”) is irreconcilable with the statement made by Cardinal Burke: “It’s automatic.”
In my exchanges with Robert Siscoe, he suggested that the relationship between the dispositive cause and the efficient cause concerning a pope’s loss of office can be clarified by examining the same with regard to the way in which a man receives the office.
I agree wholeheartedly.
The “dispositive cause” refers to that which disposes the man to either become pope, or by contrast, to lose the office of pope; with the efficient cause (i.e., that which actually makes it happen) being an action of Christ.
With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at how a man is made pope:
In the conclave, a man receives the required votes. Christ does not, however, immediately join him to the pontificate (efficient); rather, He awaits an act of the man himself (dispositive) – that act being the man’s acceptance of the office.
Should he decline to accept the Office of Peter, he remains as he was. If he does accept, Christ makes him the pope at that very moment.
Now pay very close attention:
All that has been done so far is done in secret. There is no doubt whatsoever, however, that the Church has a pope at this point; even before the white smoke arises from the Sistine Chapel, the cardinals pledge their fidelity to the new pope.
Next comes the formal declaration, Habemus Papam; informing both the faithful and the world at large that “we have a pope.”
NB: Habemus Papam is simply a declaration; it is neither the dispositive nor the efficient cause, and even before it takes place, the man is most certainly the pope.
Now, let’s consider how this process may be applied to a pope who loses his office due to formal heresy; in this case using the example of Francis. (I am setting aside the entirely valid questions that remain concerning the resignation of Benedict XVI as asked by men far holier and far more intelligent than I.)
It is my view that Francis has been sufficiently and publicly admonished and warned about his heresies by men in authority, and in a way that exceeds what is envisioned by the most praiseworthy of theologians; most notably by way of the Dubia issued by four members of the College of Cardinals.
- This process is comparable to that which takes place in a conclave up to the point when a man receives the required votes; an action carried out by men in authority.
Francis has been given more than ample opportunity to reject his heresies in favor of certain “truths that are divinely revealed, and that Catholics must believe with the assent of divine faith,” to quote the Filial Correction once more.
- This is comparable to asking the man elected in conclave “do you accept the Office of Peter?” In this case, Francis is being asked, “Do you accept what Catholics must believe?”
As the Filial Correction documents very well, Francis has answered; not only by his failure to formally and directly respond to the numerous public challenges he has faced (the Dubia first and foremost), but by manifold words and deeds.
In other words, to the question, will you accept this invitation to reject your heresies and thus retain your membership in the society of the faithful, and likewise your office, Francis has responded in the negative.
If the process of being made pope applies as well to the loss of office, it seems clear to me that we have reached the point where Francis, in light of the Church’s actions and his responses to them (note, plural in both cases), has disposed himself for Christ, the Efficient Cause, to remove from him the Office of Peter.
If so, as Cardinal Burke said, “It’s automatic.”
What remains to be done is comparable to the Habemus Papam; a declaration by those in authority in the Church making it known to all, after the fact, that Francis is not the pope.
In spite of so many of these steps being comparable, there is one very important difference; all that has taken place thus far with respect to the dispositive cause of Francis losing the pontificate has happened in full view of the faithful.
Apparently, Mr. Salza believes that we, the faithful, must pretend not to have noticed; as if we mustn’t believe “our lying eyes” until such time as a declaration is made.
St. Paul, if his Epistle to the Ephesians is worth the paper it is written on, would seem to disagree.
I will conclude by addressing just a handful of other troubling portions of Mr. Salza’s article.
In reference to the following from the CWR interview:
CWR: Who is competent to declare him to be in heresy?
Cardinal Burke: It would have to be members of the College of Cardinals.
Mr. Salza states:
There you have it. According to Cardinal burke himself, whether the Pope formally professed heresy must be determined and declared by the College of Cardinals…
Note well that Mr. Salza added the word “determine” here, but neither the question nor the Cardinal’s answer touch on anything other than the declaration.
From here, Mr. Salza once again turns to the CWR interview:
CWR: Just to clarify again, are you saying that Pope Francis is in heresy or is close to it?
Cardinal Burke: No, I am not saying that Pope Francis is in heresy. I have never said that. Neither have I stated that he is close to being in heresy.”
Mr. Salza observes:
As we can see, the Cardinal who explains that only the College of Cardinals can judge the Pope a heretic, also maintains that Pope Francis is not even close to being in heresy. [Emphasis in original]
First, note well that Cardinal Burke simply stated that he has never said (publicly) that Francis is in heresy or close to it. That’s it; nothing more.
He did not say that he does not “believe” that Amoris Laetitia contains heresy. In charity, one should assume that he does believe as much. In any event, Mr. Salza is reading into his statement.
Much more importantly, Mr. Salza’s choice of words is once again most unfortunate:
“…only the College of Cardinals can judge the Pope a heretic…”
I am fairly certain that this is just a moment of sloppiness as Mr. Salza will likely be the first to confirm the fact that no one actually “judges” the pope.
If he means to say, as it appears he does, that only the College of Cardinals can judge what constitutes heresy in a given papal pronouncement, and furthermore, whether or not it is formal; I must disagree.
The Church has professed the true faith with great clarity over the course of many centuries; even pronouncing numerous times “let him be anathema,” for example, in the great General Councils, like Trent.
The Church, our Mother and Teacher, has done so in order that the faithful may be well-equipped to determine what is, and what is not, a perversion of the gospel.
In other words, those in authority have already spoken loudly and clearly with respect to the truths that are rejected in Amoris Laetitia.
As for whether or not the heresies of Francis are “formal,” Mr. Salza is free to argue, if he so wishes, that Francis has yet to reveal himself as pertinacious, and therefore must be viewed, in spite of so many indications to the contrary, as a man who is simply mistaken, ignorant, or somehow unconscious of his heresy.
What he does not have license to do is to convict those who don’t find his arguments compelling as “former traditional Catholics;” much less is he qualified to declare that such persons “have departed from the Church.”
Perhaps he will feel compelled, in charity, to circle back with some clarifications of his own in a future article.
Better still, let’s pray that God will rectify this terrible situation soon, bringing all of good will together once more under the one banner of Christ of the King.