In their recent article, The True Meaning of Bellarmine’s Ipso Facto Loss of Papacy, Robert Siscoe and John Salza (S&S for short moving forward) attempted to prove that, according to the Doctor of the Church, in order for a heretical Pope to be deposed, an antecedent judgment of the Church is needed, otherwise, the heretic will retain his jurisdiction.
Here, we will examine their strongest arguments to see how well they succeeded.
[NOTE: The article under review is lengthy and, therefore, presented a challenge to readers. Understanding that, I will not address every aspect of it here. On Tuesday, I will post a highly detailed response from Fr. Paul Kramer for the benefit of those who desire a more in-depth treatment. Inasmuch as Fr. Kramer is named by S&S in their article, he deserves a fair hearing. With that in mind, I encourage readers to make the effort to examine his text carefully.]
First, to be clear about where I stand, it is my opinion that Jorge Bergoglio is not a member of the Church, much less her visible head on earth. Anyone interested in a detailed explanation of my reasoning can find it in many other posts on this site.
As for debate concerning the state of previous post-conciliar claimants to the papacy, I am presently weighing arguments that are founded upon what was dependably taught in the approved, pre-conciliar theology manuals. I would suggest that this is the only safe path to follow in order to gain authentic Catholic clarity.
For reference, let us recall that Bellarmine wrote concerning a heretical pope, “that a manifest heretic would be ipso facto deposed, is proven from authority and reason.”
He went on to explain further:
Now the fifth true opinion, is 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 reference to this rather straightforward teaching, S&S write of sedevacantists:
…they conclude that Bellarmine must have meant that a heretical Pope is secretly deposed by God prior to any intervention or judgment on the part of the Church (e.g., bishops at a council). [Emphasis in original]
Already a need to clarification is in order. Neither I, nor anyone I have ever engaged, holds that the heretic is “secretly deposed.” Perhaps these people exist, but the simple fact is that Bellarmine is at pains to argue against the notion of secrecy with respect to both membership and jurisdiction in the Church. At issue in this discussion is manifest heresy, which is anything but secret; rather, it is public, observable, and knowable.
Does this mean that every, or even most, Catholics (clerics included) living in this undernourished, highly feminized age of ours will have the wherewithal to recognize that a manifestly heretical pope has been ipso facto deposed by God? No, but this is a far cry from saying that he was “secretly deposed.”
So, the actual position against which S&S presumably intend to argue (and the one that I believe to be true) is better stated:
Bellarmine meant that a manifestly heretical Pope is deposed by God ipso facto, by the very fact of his manifest heresy, without any need for an antecedent intervention or judgment on the part of the Church (e.g., bishops at a council).
This made clear, S&S state:
Any ipso facto loss of office theory that does not admit that a sitting Pope can be convicted of heresy by the Church – and does not explain how the Church can do so without violating divine law – necessarily contains [an] inherent contradiction that renders it untenable. [Emphasis in original]
Here, two unrelated opinions are being commingled:
One, I (and others) do indeed maintain that ipso facto loss of papal office can take place apart from any intervention of the Church. (And guess what? So too do Robert Siscoe and John Salza! But we’ll get to that soon enough.)
Secondly, as for the unrelated notion that a sitting Pope can be (NB: not must be) convicted of heresy by the Church, and how, let’s be clear: This has nothing whatsoever to do with Bellarmine’s teaching that “a manifest heretic would be ipso facto deposed.”
The phrase ipso facto isn’t vague; it means that the deposition isn’t contingent upon any other thing. Bear this in mind as S&S offer the following:
In the book Bellarmine referenced at the end of the earlier quote (De Ecclesia Militante), he explains what is required for a Pope who is an external occult heretic to fall from the pontificate:
Moreover it is certain, whatever one or another may think, that an occult heretic, if he be a bishop or even the supreme Pontiff, does not lose his jurisdiction, dignity, or the title of head in the Church, until either he publicly separates himself from the Church, or is convicted of heresy (aut convictus haereseos) and separated against his will. (Bellarmine, De Ecclesia Militante) [Emphasis added by S&S]
Not to be flippant, but an impartial juror could reasonably respond, Yeah, so what?
The citation provided concerns Bellarmine’s teaching about “an occult heretic,” nothing more; i.e., it sheds no additional light whatsoever on his thoughts about a manifest heretic, which are clearly stated. It’s an interesting quote to be sure, but it’s certainly not the smoking gun the authors seem to imagine it is.
Be that as it may, they conclude:
What this quotation proves is that, contrary to what every Sedevacantist apologist has maintained for decades, Bellarmine does not exclude the need of an antecedent judgment for a heretical Pope to be ipso facto deposed.
The quotation given proves nothing of the kind! Bellarmine merely posits as to what can be done with a pope who is an occult heretic – that’s all. It seems obvious that he’s addressing a case of suspected heresy, but he says exactly nothing about the supposed “need of an antecedent judgment” in the case of manifest heresy, which, he plainly states, incurs ipso facto deposition.
Even so, the quote is useful inasmuch as Bellarmine makes a crucial distinction between the occult heretic pope who is subject to conviction, on the one hand, and a pope who has “publicly separate[d] himself from the Church,” on the other.
In this, Bellarmine reaffirms that a pope may, by his very own doing, separate himself from the Church, and most importantly, he may do so in a public way. This tells us that Bellarmine clearly believed that the separation may be observable and knowable apart from any preceding action on the part of the Church, like a conviction.
And how might a pope publicly separate himself from the Church in such a way as to be deposed ipso facto? The Saint told us without ambiguity, via manifest heresy, which we will define momentarily.
S&S go on to say of this quote from Bellarmine:
Notice carefully what he said. If a Roman Pontiff falls into heresy, but has not “publicly separated himself from the Church” (which would suffice for a notoriety of fact) he will retain his jurisdiction, his dignity, and his title as head of the Church, until he is convicted of heresy. The conviction is a condition (but not a cause) for the loss of office. It is not a post factum declaration that a former “Pope” has already fallen from the pontificate. It is a judgment that the currently reigning Pope – who still retains his jurisdiction, dignity and title – is a heretic. Only if the heretical Pope is convicted of heresy is his jurisdiction “removed by God.” If not, he remains Pope. This is the teaching of Bellarmine and it is found all throughout his writings, as we shall see. [Emphasis in original]
I do not wish to suggest ill-will here at all, but if one really does carefully consider what Bellarmine said, how can he possibly fail to underscore the word “occult,” which is a crucial part of the quote? Even so, S&S don’t even mention it in the above evaluation.
Unless I misunderstand, S&S seem to believe, and want others to believe, that Bellarmine is adding conditions to the ipso facto deposition of a “Pope who is a manifest heretic,” as if it is somehow contingent, in which case it would not be ipso facto at all! Needless to say, Bellarmine does no such thing. The only condition that he mentions is manifest heresy. Period.
S&S correctly state that it is necessary, therefore, for us to define the term, “manifest heresy” (aka notorious heresy), about which they claim:
Notorious heresy is an extremely high bar to reach, unless the culprit publicly leaves the Church and joins a sect (which is an act that suffices for notoriety of fact).
Though S&S have narrowed “notoriety of fact” down to but one solitary example, this isn’t Catholic teaching; it is their personal opinion. Interestingly, however, one notes that they have confirmed their own belief that notorious heresy can indeed exist and, importantly, it can be recognized as fact, apart from any judgement of the Church.
In an attempt to support their very narrow definition of notoriety, S&S offer selective quotes from the Catholic Encyclopedia. What they failed to offer, provides a more complete picture of what it means for heresy to be manifest, or notorious:
Ordinarily it [notorious] is equivalent to public, manifest, evident, known; all these terms have something in common, they signify that a thing, far from being secret, may be easily known by many. Notoriety, in addition to this common idea, involves the idea of indisputable proof, so that what is notorious is held as proved and serves as a basis for the conclusions and acts of those in authority, especially judges. To be as precise as is possible, “public” means what any one may easily prove or ascertain, what is done openly; what many persons know and hold as certain, is “manifest”; what a greater or less number of persons have learnt, no matter how, is “known”; what is to be held as certain and may no longer be called in question is “notorious.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Notoriety, Notorious)
NB: Do not be confused by the reference to the “acts of those in authority, especially judges.” These are not necessary in order to establish notoriety. The article is simply saying that what is notorious is so manifest and so widely known as to already be proven. As such, it establishes guilt, and this is what informs those in authority on how to proceed. For example, Francis, in my opinion, has provided all of the proof necessary for those in authority to convene a conclave to elect a true pope.
As for proof, the Catholic Encyclopedia states:
Proof is the establishment of a disputed or controverted matter by lawful means or arguments. [NB: Either will suffice.] Proof is the result of evidence; evidence is the medium of proof. There is no proof without evidence, but there may be evidence without proof. Proof is judicial, if offered in court; otherwise it is extra-judicial.
NB: Extra-judicial proof is still proof; i.e., it is not necessary for evidence to be presented in a judicial proceeding in order to be considered proof. The CE’s treatment of notorious above gives a clear explanation as to how this may be so.
Lastly, in its entry for heresy, the Catholic Encyclopedia states:
The pope himself, if notoriously guilty of heresy, would cease to be pope because he would cease to be a member of the Church.
At this, the basis for Bellarmine’s teaching should be clear to all: When there is indisputable proof of papal heresy, even if only extra-judicial proof, it is considered manifest (notorious), in which case, the man would cease to be pope ipso facto, by that very fact alone.
S&S went on to provide what they call “The Key Distinction Sedevacantists Have Missed: Two Forms of Judgment Discretionary & Coercive.” They write:
In De Concilio, Bellarmine distinguishes between the two powers required for judgment … “First, the [discretionary] power to discuss the case and to discern or judge what must be done. Secondly, the [coercive] power to compel him who fails in the case to obey the judgment imposed against him.”
In the ecclesiastical forum, these two powers (discretionary and coercive) correspond to the two facets of the “keys” (knowledge and power), and are received with jurisdiction.
They go on to explain that the pope is subject to the first, discretionary power, but not the second, coercive power.
Have sedevacantists, or any serious Catholics for that matter, actually missed this distinction? I don’t think so. For example, when four cardinals sent the infamous dubia to Francis (a function of their discretionary power), the only people protesting – as if not even a cardinal dare ask a pope to remove confusion by clarifying his teaching – were the anti-Catholic Bergoglians!
Another key point raised by S&S concerns the way in which a man both receives, and loses, the papacy. They cite Bellarmine as teaching:
For jurisdiction is surely given by God to the Pontiff, but with the cooperation of human activity [i.e., the Cardinals who elect him], as is clear, because that man, who beforehand was not Pope, has acquired from men that he would begin to be Pope; therefore, it is not removed by God unless it is through men. [Emphasis by S&S]
S&S take this as support for their opinion that the Church must render a discretionary judgment before a pope can possibly lose his office due to heresy. What’s more, they insist that Bellarmine himself held as much, in spite of his very clear teaching to the contrary; namely, that “a manifest heretic would be ipso facto deposed.”
So, what are we to make of the notion “unless it is through men,” and how do we reconcile it with ipso facto deposition?
What every commentator I have ever read fails to acknowledge is the simple fact that merely being elected to the papacy does nothing unless and until the man elected exercises his free will to accept the office. It is only then that God grants jurisdiction.
NB: In a papal election, it is the cooperation of the one man who is chosen, by his acceptance, that moves God to bestow the papacy upon him.
Does the pope retain the free will to subsequently reject it? Of course he does, and abdication is not the only way he can lose jurisdiction by exercising it.
It is entirely reasonable, and consistent with Bellarmine’s teaching, to understand that the pope can exercise his free will to reject (and lose) the office by refusing to remain a member of the Church. How? By way of manifest heresy, whereby God deposes him.
In this case, importantly, the man’s will to reject the office is made manifest; that is, in full view of the public.
In this scenario, it is still correct to say that the loss of office is “through men,” in this case, the actions of the one man who was pope. S&S are assuming that the phrase “through men” can only mean some official act on the part of the Church, like a council, or a conviction, but this conclusion does not necessarily follow.
S&S concluded their article with a plea and a prayer for the cardinals and bishops to consider taking action against Francis, “that he might be expelled from the Body of Christ and no longer be a clear and present danger to the faithful.”
I applaud the sentiment, but bearing in mind the pathetic state of these mitred men, one cannot help but recognize the unlikeliness of them ever doing so.
Bishop Athanasius Schneider, for example, is perhaps the very best of this sorry lot. He is on record as rejecting Bellarmine’s opinion altogether – as if he knows better! Instead, he embraces the opinion that even a manifest heretic pope retains his office and cannot be deposed.
The Doctor of the Church called this opinion “extreme,” and if true, he said, “it would create the most miserable condition of the Church, if she should be compelled to recognize a wolf, manifestly prowling, for a shepherd.”
In their article, S&S anointed Schneider and his thoughts on the matter “astute” nonetheless. Perhaps this is because their own position also effectively compels the entire world to recognize Francis, a manifestly prowling wolf if ever there was one, as Holy Roman Pontiff and Vicar of Christ.
All of this having been said, what I found most interesting about the entire article is not those things upon which we disagree, but the critically important point upon which we wholeheartedly agree. S&S write of Bellarmine’s teaching:
…except for the extreme case of a Pope who publicly separates himself from the Church, it [his deposition] requires an antecedent judgment of the Church as a condition for the loss of office to take place. [Emphasis added]
Get that? According to S&S, Bellarmine held that, in order for the loss of office to take place, an antecedent judgment of the Church is not always required!
The authors provide a footnote to this statement that reads:
An antecedent judgment may not be required in the case of one who openly leaves the Church (e.g., one who publicly defects from the Church and/or joins a non-Catholic sect). However, under the current Code of Canon Law, for one who holds office in the Church, even an act of public defection has no juridical effect (he retains his office) until declared by the competent authority. See canon 194.2 of the 1983 Code. [Emphasis added]
Correction: Let’s take a look at what the 1983 Code of Canon Law (a dubious source if ever there was one) actually states:
Can. 194 §1 The following are removed from ecclesiastical office by virtue of the law itself:
1° one who has lost the clerical state;
2° one who has publicly defected from the Catholic faith or from communion with the Church;
3° a cleric who has attempted marriage, even a civil one.
- 2 The removal mentioned in nn. 2 and 3 can be insisted upon only if it is established by a declaration of the competent authority.
Can. 195 If by a decree of the competent authority, and not by the law itself, someone is removed from an office…
NB: The removal from office mentioned here can take place one of two ways; either by the law itself or by decree. In other words, the removal can take place without a decree or declaration.
What is one to make of 194 §2: The removal mentioned in nn. 2 and 3 can be insisted upon only…?
NB: The removal can be insisted upon only does not mean that the loss of office can only happen… Obviously, one cannot insist upon that which isn’t already so; this would be like willing something into being.
Now, far be it for me to defend the coherence of the 1983 Code, but evidently this is referring to physical removal; e.g., it appears to mean that, apart from an authoritative decree, the faithful cannot drag a manifest heretic pastor out of the rectory, nor, sadly, can the Swiss Guard simply march into the papal quarters and demand that Jorge Bergoglio pack up his Pachamama collection and leave.
In conclusion, if you take just one thing away from Robert Siscoe and John Salza’s latest article make it this:
In spite of all of their efforts to prove sedevacantists wrong, they actually agree with one of their most fundamental assertions; namely, that there are cases in which a pope can lose his office, with no antecedent judgment of the Church being required.
To bring this conversation up to date, evidently, neither Robert nor John believe that the defection of Jorge Bergoglio from the Catholic faith, such as it has been made manifest for all to see over the course of the past seven-plus years, suffices to separate him from the Church.
As time goes by, more and more Catholics are finding that proposition difficult to accept, but if S&S wish to defend that opinion, fine. In fact, I would encourage them to focus less on the theoretical and to present their best arguments in favor of the opinion (not against the contrary) that Jorge Bergoglio is joined, as a member in good standing, to the Body of the Holy Catholic Church.
If they write it, I hereby promise to post it!
In the meantime, I wouldn’t dare suggest that they have “departed from the Church” for holding this opinion as John once declared of “Francis rejectors.” Perhaps, in light of our agreement, he might reconsider.