Point / Counterpoint 1: Verrecchio responds

francis-hereticalFirst, allow me to express my sincere gratitude to Robert Siscoe for his very well written and extensively referenced article. He’s given all of us much to consider.

In the article, Robert proposed a syllogism. The presumption on which it is based needs clarification in that it may (even if only inadvertently) lead readers to believe that “the Church” and/or “proper authorities” actually have the right to “judge [the pope] a formal heretic.”

In reality, only the pope can so judge himself.

Before we continue, it is extremely important to define “private judgment” as stated in Robert’s article.

NB:  We are not discussing it in the Sedevacantist sense wherein one may presume to have the personal authority to act as judge and jury; finding a pope (or popes) guilty of formal heresy and thus no pope at all. Rather, “private judgment” in the present context is nothing more than discerning objective realities through the lens of our Holy Catholic faith; something all of us must do in order to remain faithful.

With this understanding in mind, it is indeed my opinion (or “private judgment” if you prefer) that Francis has judged himself a formal heretic; the implications of this self-judgment being plain. In addressing my opinion, Robert has kindly provided us with what amounts to his own private judgment.

Like Robert, I do not claim to have a definitive answer; much less do I propose to have the authority to enforce my observations. (More on enforcement momentarily.)

One of the links Robert provided goes to a web page where he addresses “how or when a heretical Pope loses his office.” There, he set the tone for our efforts here very well:

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 … The various opinions of the theologians and canonists regarding this issue fall into the category of speculative theology, or “questions of law”.  Only the Magisterium has the authority to settle such questions, and it has never done so. [1]

Consider very carefully what Robert stated:  All we have are theologian opinions, which vary greatly.

So, faced with Francis – a man that all well-formed Catholics recognize as causing tremendous unprecedented damage and division in the Church – what are we to do?

It is my sincere belief that Our Lord wills that we should use reason, logic and intelligence – applied with sensus Catholicus – to discern the objective reality of the present situation as best we are able. This, in fact, seems rather necessary if we wish to preserve our faith amid today’s unprecedented ecclesial tempest.

The footnote that Robert provided (above) seems to concur. It reads:

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)

With Francis, we find ourselves in uncharted territory. What “the teachings of history” and the insights of theologians past actually do provide must be carefully evaluated in the light of present day circumstances.

As Robert and I go about sharing our opinions with you, our readers, you will discover that some of the available theological opinions make logical sense; while others seem downright incompatible with the dictates of right reason alone (to borrow a phrase from the Catholic Encyclopedia).

In his article, Robert provided an excellent example of the latter when he quoted John of St. Thomas (JST) as follows:

It cannot be held that the pope, by the very fact of being a heretic, would cease to be pope antecedently [prior] to a declaration of the Church.”

For the record, JST firmly rejected the notion that the Church has any authority over a pope. So, if we understand, as we must, “heretic” to mean a pope who has judged himself a formal heretic, the above statement is seriously problematic.

A formal heretic is cut from the body of the Church and no longer among its members. In order for a man to be pope (head of the body), however, he must be a member of the body. On this all agree.

And yet, JST is suggesting that an undefined period of time can pass (as the “declaration of the Church” is awaited) when such a man can at once be a formal heretic in “very fact” (a man cut from the body of the Church) and the pope (head of the body).

Clearly, this is an offense against right reason since a thing cannot be and not be at one and the same time. No amount of explanation can possibly overcome such an obvious contradiction. Keep this well in mind as we proceed as the “law of non-contradiction” is going to factor heavily in this discussion.

Citing “A New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law” by Beal, Coriden, and Green, Robert suggested that a remedy to the contradiction may be found in Canon 194 which reads:

Can. 194 §1. The following are removed from an ecclesiastical office by the law itself:

1º a person who has lost the clerical state;

2º a person who has publicly defected from the Catholic faith or from the communion of the Church;

3º a cleric who has attempted marriage even if only civilly.

§2. The removal mentioned in nn. 2 and 3 can be enforced only if it is established by the declaration of a competent authority.

The Commentary claims (and Robert apparently agrees):

The officeholder remains in office, and the actions which require the office are valid, until the declaration or removal is communicated to the officeholder in writing.”

Once again, we are presented with a glaring offense against right reason; either officeholders are removed (as Canon 194 plainly states) or officeholders remain in office until (as the Commentary claims). It cannot be both.

The Canon itself makes no distinction whatsoever between the loss of office/removal therefrom and its “effectiveness” – a word found only in the Commentary; i.e., nowhere in the text of the Canon.

Beal, Coriden, and Green (and Robert) would have us believe that violating officeholders are removed by a written declaration. 

Canon 194, however, states nothing of the kind; it is very plain: “The following are removedby the law itself.

The Commentary errs in presuming to equate enforcement (addressed in Canon 194 §2) with “effectiveness” (introduced in the Commentary), but they are not one and the same.

The Canon simply says that the law “can be enforced” (NB: can be, not must be) only on condition of an authoritative “declaration,” but only after having made clear that the effect (“are removed”; i.e., are rendered removed) has already been accomplished (“by the law itself”).

Perhaps an analogy from civil law will prove helpful.

ANALOGY: A man lawfully executes the sale of his home. By his own action, the seller’s loss of ownership is immediately effective. The lawful owner (proper authorities) can henceforth “enforce” the seller’s loss of ownership (already made effective) but only on the basis of an authoritative declaration establishing the loss (e.g., a deed duly executed). Clearly, “enforcement” and “effectiveness” are rather distinct.

Thus, Canon 194 in no way remedies JST’s violation of the “law of non-contradiction.” In fact, the Canon tends to favor my opinion; not challenge it.

In the interest of space, some bullet point comments on other portions of Robert’s article:

– Asserting that a formal heretic would remain Pope “as long as the Church continues to recognize the man as Pope,” also represents an offense against right reason as explained above.

– Arguments concerning ordinary bishops are not entirely relevant as they are under the authority of the Church unlike the Bishop of Rome who is entirely unique. Such arguments must be scrutinized with caution.

– The Bull of Martin V as cited is addressing the degree to which “one will be obliged” (i.e., juridically bound) to “avoid communion” with a manifest heretic. This is not directly applicable to the matters under discussion here, at least, at the present stage.

– Billuart as cited is addressing the specific matter of sacramental validity; arguing, “the Church is granting permission to the faithful to receive the sacraments from heretics” (as opposed to obliging them to avoid the heretic). Again, this is not directly applicable to the matter at hand.

– The premise stated: “If it were the responsibility of each Catholic in the street to determine for himself if the Pope is a formal heretic…” does not accurately reflect my position; namely, that a private person can discern the objective reality of a pope who has judged himself a formal heretic apart from a declaration of the Church.

– As for the possibility that “Mr. X” and “Mr. Y” may end up with opposing ideas, I would urge our readers to prepare for the very real possibility that Cardinal X may declare that Francis is an antipope, while Cardinal Y may insist that he is the pope.

If and when this happens, do you know what we will be left with?

You guessed it – we will have no choice but to use right reason, logic and intelligence applied with sensus Catholicus in order to discern the objective reality with which we are faced.

At this, in defense of the Minor Premise that Robert proposed I will provide answers to the following questions:

– Has Francis judged himself a formal heretic?

– How might one know if he has or he hasn’t?

– Is it for the “proper authorities” alone to discern whether or not Francis has judged himself a formal heretic, or can a private person do so?

For insight, we will turn to the 18th century theologian Fr. Pietro Ballerini as quoted on Robert’s website. In so doing, we will find that Ballerini’s treatment not only supports my position; it is also entirely harmonious with right reason.

But alas, in an effort to keep these articles manageable in length, I must save this exercise for my next contribution to “Point / Counterpoint.”

aka focus

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