Two Pope Johns: Both wrong, only one mistaken

Two Pope JohnsLast week, I posted commentary on Taylor Marshall’s interview of Christopher Ferrara, wherein the latter stated:

If a pope teaches something that’s wrong, well, all that proves is that we have a pope who made a mistake. Whoever said the popes don’t make mistakes when they teach on a matter of faith and morals? They do make mistakes.

I would be very interested in seeing a list of what Mr. Ferrara considers examples whereby popes – make that pre-conciliar popes – have erred when disseminating a teaching to the Universal Church on matters of faith and morals.

At this, one may be reminded of Our Lord’s prayer for Peter and his successors:

But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren. (Luke 22:32)

One wonders, does Mr. Ferrara believe that this prayer went unanswered? I suppose that would depend on what constitutes a “mistake,” something we will address in some detail momentarily.

Specifically in reference to “Francis” ordering a change to the Catechism of the Conciliar Church’s treatment of the death penalty, Mr. Ferrara said:

The only solution to the problem, short of sedevacantism, which I certainly don’t espouse … the other way to resolve the problem otherwise is to say yes, the Pope can make a mistake.

Here, we’ll take a closer look at Mr. Ferrara’s proposed solution, but first, we must be very clear about the true nature of the problem.

In the matter of capital punishment (and others; e.g., marriage, adultery, false religions, etc.), Mr. Ferrara plainly acknowledges that Francis is setting himself in opposition to both Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

That’s the problem, but is it intellectually honest to call it a mere mistake?

The 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia’s treatment of heresy – even if one wishes to stop short of applying that label in the present case – is useful inasmuch as it offers a distinction between those who willfully oppose doctrine and those who are merely mistaken. In reference to the latter, we find:

Towards material heretics her [the Church’s] conduct is ruled by the saying of St. Augustine: “Those are by no means to be accounted heretics who do not defend their false and perverse opinions with pertinacious zeal (animositas), especially when their error is not the fruit of audacious presumption but has been communicated to them by seduced and lapsed parents, and when they are seeking the truth with cautious solicitude and ready to be corrected.” 

The article goes on to say of those who fall into the latter category:

Innate prejudices, educational bias, historical distortions stand in the way and frequently make approach impossible. The state of conscience technically termed bona fides, good faith, is thus produced. It implies inculpable belief in error, a mistake morally unavoidable and therefore always excusable, sometimes even laudable.

Applying the above to what is plainly observable concerning Francis, we are able to draw just one of but two conclusions. [NOTE: While we are considering his approach to capital punishment in particular, we may apply the following to other acts of his so-called pontificate; e.g., Amoris Laetitia.]


1) Francis is defending a false and perverse opinion with pertinacious zeal, even going so far as to have it enshrined in the CCC, an act that may rightly be considered a prime example of audacious presumption. Furthermore, he gives no indication whatsoever of seeking the truth with cautious solicitude, much less has he demonstrated even the slightest willingness to be corrected.


2) Francis is making a mistake in good faith.

As the above treatment suggests, “making a mistake” in doctrinal matters necessarily includes “good faith,” the two simply go hand-in-hand.

When, however, audacious presumption, pertinacious zeal and an unwillingness to be corrected are present, any claims to “good faith” are baseless. As such, it would be absurd to insist that the individual in question is merely “mistaken.”

Surely, Mr. Ferrara would not deny that Francis’ behavior is the epitome of audaciousness, presumptuousness and pertinacious zeal for his erroneous opinions. Furthermore, I have no doubt whatsoever that he would plainly assert, along with me, that Francis has proven himself utterly unwilling to be corrected.

And yet, in spite of these uncontested observations, Mr. Ferrara still chooses to conclude that the pope merely made a mistake. One wonders why?

Only he can explain. Even so, one cannot help but recognize the degree to which he appears to be motivated, perhaps above all else, to avoid lending credence to any arguments that might favor (God forbid!) the view that Francis is an anti-pope – a view, I might add, that was firmly held by Fr. Nicholas Gruner, the man he credits with teaching him more theology at his kitchen table than any university master’s program ever could.

At this, in order to bring greater clarity to the present situation, it may be helpful to consider the example of two Pope Johns, both of whom were wrong, but only one of whom was mistaken.

On December 4, Rorate Caeli published an article written by historian Roberto de Mattei under the title, Who was the worst Pope in the history of the Church?

His answer, Pope John XII, who, having been elevated to the papacy in the year 955 at the age of eighteen, and who, he tells us, “didn’t interrupt his life of reckless abandon in unbridled pleasures, even with his election to the Papal Throne.”

Largely citing the Liber Pontificalis, as well as a recent reproduction of an historical account authored by Liutprando, Bishop of Cremona, a contemporary of John XII, de Mattei relates that during his pontificate a number of clerics and laity alike, under solemn oath, accused Pope John XII of the following:

He had turned the Holy Palace into an actual bordello … he had blinded Benedict, his spiritual father, who died shortly afterwards; he had killed John, Cardinal Subdeacon, by cutting off his genitals; he had set fires; he girded himself with a sword and armed himself with helmet and shield … He would toast to the health of the devil; they said that in games of dice he would invoke the help of Jupiter and Venus and other demons; that he would not celebrate Matins and the Canonical Hours, and wouldn’t make the sign of the cross.

Having received these accusations, Otto I, who the previous year had been crowned by the pope as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, sent a letter to the pope, in the name of a Synod he had convoked, asking him to come to Rome to exonerate himself in person.

Professor de Mattei continues:

John, nonetheless, refused to appear before the assembly. The Romans asked the Emperor then to depose him and replace him with a new Pope of high moral standing ….  On December 4, 963, John was condemned and deposed and Otto requested that the Synod elect a successor.

The man elected to succeed John chose the name Leo VIII. Professor de Mattei writes:

Despite John XII’s protests against the canonical illegitimacy [sic] of his deposition, the Church ranks Leo VIII in its official chronology as his legitimate successor.

Before we consider the lessons contained in this account, let us consider the story of the other Pope John – John XXII to be precise – who reigned from 1316-1334.

According to an article in the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia:

After becoming pope, he [John XXII] advanced the same teaching [that the souls of the blessed departed do not see God until after the Last Judgment] in his sermons.  

This, the article informs us, went against “the usual opinion of many theologians.”

In a letter to King Philip IV addressing the issue, Pope John XXII “emphasized the fact that, as long as the Holy See had not given a decision, the theologians enjoyed perfect freedom in this matter.”

In other words, at the time of John XXII’s reign, the matter under discussion had yet to be settled. As such, the Holy Father took steps to bring clarity to the matter. The Catholic Encyclopedia goes on:

John appointed a commission at Avignon to study the writings of the Fathers, and to discuss further the disputed question. In a consistory held on 3 January 1334, the pope explicitly declared that he had never meant to teach aught contrary to Holy Scripture or the rule of faith and in fact had not intended to give any decision whatever. Before his death he withdrew his former opinion, and declared his belief that souls separated from their bodies enjoyed in heaven the Beatific Vision.

In an attempt to argue against those who have gone on record with the conviction that Jorge Bergoglio is most certainly a non-Catholic and thus an anti-pope, conservatives and traditionalists alike often point to Pope John XXII as an example of how other pope’s have also erred in the past.

And yet, if one wishes to be intellectually honest, it must be admitted that Francis and John XXII have precious little in common. There are many reasons why comparing the two men is, as the saying goes, like comparing apples and oranges.

[NOTE: The same can be said of comparisons, also frequently drawn by the same persons, between Francis and Pope Liberius, who is alleged to have signed a semi-Arian profession under duress, and Pope Honorius, who failed to safeguard the doctrine of the faith against the Monothelites in letters addressed to the Patriarch of Constantinople.]

For one, unlike John XXII, Bergoglio presumes to insist upon teaching, with pertinacious zeal, false and perverse opinions on doctrinal matters that have long since been settled by Holy Mother Church. He demonstrates precious little regard for Holy Scripture and the rule of faith, and he has resisted every invitation to accept correction.

In other words, the above related history of John XXII paints the portrait of a man genuinely mistaken, whereas Francis is the antithesis of just such a man, his utter lack of good faith being notoriously well known by all, including Mr. Ferrara.

A far more fitting comparison would be between Francis and Pope John XII, with one noteworthy difference:

For all of his notoriety, John XII did not, as Francis has, issue decrees to the Universal Church containing blasphemies and heresies; he was mainly guilty of scandalous personal behavior and scandalous administration. In other words, Jorge Bergoglio poses a far graver danger to souls.

That having been said, many parallels do exist between the two men. For instance, like John XII, Francis has been accused by numerous clerics and laity alike of an assortment of impious acts,  heresies and blasphemies, very often in writing. He has even been accused of apostasy.

He, like John XII, has been entreated to “defend” himself; i.e., he has been invited (nay, challenged!) to affirm the true faith and to confirm his brethren in said faith, but he has steadfastly refused any and all attempts at filial correction; including the one made by Christopher Ferrara as a signatory to just such a written plea.

The lessons we can learn from the two Pope Johns (if we are willing) are rather plain. Unfortunately, both Mr. Ferrara and Professor de Mattei seem unable, or unwilling, to see them, much less apply them to the present situation.

With regard to John XXII, the lesson is simple; in the exceedingly rare instance when a pope may be mistaken on a matter of faith and morals, good faith will be always evident as well, and for one very good reason: Our Lord prayed for Peter and his successors, that their faith may not fail, and indeed it will not.

Popes do, however, possess free will, and should one choose to reject the true faith, departing from the Mystical Body of Christ and thus from Office, the Church is not rendered paralyzed until a holy pope comes along – far from it – as the details concerning the pontificate of John XII clearly attest.

Professor de Mattei shared his own takeaway from those details as follows:

Those who think that the Holy Spirit elects and guides infallibly every Pontiff are proven wrong by facts and risk rendering a great disservice to the Church. The Holy Spirit never abandons the Church but in that dark century, the laity responded with greater piety to His influence more than the Popes did.

While the above is factually correct, it is profoundly important to make note of what Professor de Mattei is missing, or more to the point, what he wrongly interpreted and conveyed to his readers. He wrote, as noted above:

On December 4, 963, John was condemned and deposed and Otto requested that the Synod elect a successor. 

I am no longer shocked when otherwise intelligent men, who should know better, make absurd comments on matters of faith; even so, the above borders on stunning.

The undeniable fact of the matter is that no one – not even a Holy Roman Emperor – has the authority to condemn and depose a reigning pope. The only correct way (that is, the only Catholic way) to understand the history of Pope John XII is as follows:

Based on his very own behavior and public acts of self-judgment, it had become plain to all that John XII had severed himself from the Body of the Church. In so doing, he had made it known that he had, in a sense, removed himself from office. What Professor de Mattei is reporting as John XII’s “deposition” was truly nothing of the kind; it was simply a declaration, for the good of souls, concerning what had already occurred.

Professor de Mattei concluded, as if to quell the anxiety of his readers, “The Church, as She always does, forged ahead victorious in the storm.”

Indeed, She always will, but we must us be very clear about how She did so in the case of John XII; namely, by addressing directly and plainly, for the good of souls, the matter of a faithless anti-pope, who of his own volition, notoriously departed from the Body of the Church.

Today, we look not to emperors to make such a declaration about the man known by many as “Francis,” nor do we look to any civil authority to convene a papal conclave; it is incumbent upon those relatively few Successors to the Apostles – the ones that have not followed Bergoglio and his conciliar confreres out of the Church – to do so.

Until then, it is my steadfast conviction that those of us who are blessed with a public platform in Catholic media have a grave duty toward our readers and viewers, many of whom are innocent persons in pursuit of the truth. We must seek said truth, on their behalf as much as our own, and proclaim it boldly and plainly once it is found, without any regard whatsoever for what doing so may cost us in this life.

May it please the Good Lord to raise up men of influence who are willing to do just that!

With this in mind, I cannot but conclude that to look at the blatantly anti-Catholic behavior of a man like Francis and to shrug it off as little more than a series of unfortunate mistakes, or to gloss over the danger that he poses to souls with platitudes about the Church’s indefectibility, is a grave dereliction of Christian duty.

AKA No Voice 2

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