Why a Bishop Should Ignore His Unjust Deposition by a Pope: A Dialogue

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The following dialogue is based on a real interview that took place between John-Henry Westen and Peter Kwasniewski, the video of which can be seen at LifeSiteNews (link). The transcript has been edited for brevity, clarity, and literary effect (hence the change in names of the speakers, etc.).

Servideus: Paulinus, it seems like the pope is going to go after Bishop Strickland. He went after Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres in Puerto Rico, too, when he removed him from office. That bishop allowed for conscientious objection for the COVID vaccines, and he was summarily dismissed from his diocese by Pope Francis at only 57 years old. The same thing happened with the less-well-known case of the bishop of San Luis in Argentina, Pedro Daniel Martínez Perea, who was removed by the Vatican at the age of 64, not long after he prohibited altar girls in the diocese. Similarly, the seminary of San Rafael was shut down after its bishop refused to allow communion only in the hand. What do we do in situations like this? Is a bishop just supposed to pack up his bags and leave? Should such a seminary be shut down? I remember Bishop Schneider talking about what bishops and priests should do in light of the severe restrictions on the Latin Mass: he said it’s wrong to follow these directions, and it’s right to disobey them because they’re unjust.

Paulinus: The most important principle to begin with—it’s a principle of natural law, something that belongs to the structure of reality as God created it—is that all authority exists for a certain purpose. It doesn’t exist as a free-floating, arbitrary imposition that can coerce people to do whatever it wants them to do. No; authority’s purpose is to promote and foster the common good of the society over which a wielder of authority is placed. That common good is also something definite. For example, in a country it might be the peace of the country, good laws, good morality. These are the things that the ruler is supposed to see to. And if the ruler acts against the good of the people in an extreme way, they can either refuse to consent to what he’s doing or even rise up against him. Now, in the Catholic Church, we don’t rise up against popes and bishops—we don’t take out pitchforks and run after them. Although in the Middle Ages some people might have done that…

Servideus: They probably did!

Paulinus: But it’s still true that, as with any authority, the pope is placed by Christ in the Church to serve a given function, which is to promote the common good of the Church. He does that in a couple of ways: by teaching the true faith, by teaching the deposit of faith revealed by Christ through the Apostles, by promoting good morals and good discipline, by appointing worthy bishops or at least bishops that he thinks are worthy. He might be mistaken, everyone can be mistaken at times. But what a pope wouldn’t have the authority to do, even though he has supreme authority in the Church, is thwart Catholic doctrine, undermine Catholic morality, or appoint wicked men as bishops, as occurred with nepotism or simony—when popes in the Renaissance were appointing their 14-year-old nephews as cardinals and so forth. When they do this kind of thing, they are acting ultra vires, outside their powers, outside their authority, contrary to the nature of what their authority was given for.

Servideus: That raises the really interesting ecclesiological question: Is it possible for a pope to act so contrary to the common good and to justice in a given situation that his act is invalid, that it has no force—not that it’s merely an imperfect law or command, but not a command at all, not a law at all? Is that possible?

Paulinus: The answer of the tradition of the Church is yes, that is possible. St Thomas says an unjust law is no law at all. It doesn’t have the rationale of a law. I would argue that if a pope removed a bishop arbitrarily, that is, for no good cause, without a due canonical process, with no reason given and no reason discoverable—and especially if there was evidence that the reason he removed such a person is because he was conservative or traditional, teaching the faith, upholding good discipline in morals—then that act would be null and void, an act that should be ignored. The bishop in question should assume that he is still a bishop, because he is still a bishop. The pope can only remove somebody for just cause, he can’t arbitrarily remove people. The papacy is not a tyranny, it’s a monarchy. And we have to remember that.

Servideus: Let’s not beat around the bush: we’re all thinking of Bishop Strickland. A hero for American Catholics, for Catholics around the world. Even though there are a good number of bishops who are faithful and who every once in a while will make their voices heard, no one is doing that like Bishop Strickland. He is ruffling feathers. He feels in conscience that he should be proclaiming the faith as he does, and a lot of the faithful would agree with him. So, let’s say it’s for that reason—for his being outspoken, for his going to L.A. to do the procession of reparation, his bold pro-life and pro-family stance, his taking to task Father James Martin for his heresy—all those things. It’s for that reason that Bishop Strickland is being targeted.

Paulinus: I want to address this point, because I think it’s important. Why is it legitimate for Bishop Strickland or for Bishop Schneider, an auxiliary bishop in Kazakhstan, to speak about issues all over the world, to address issues outside of their dioceses, to be teaching the Catholic faith to a very large audience, you might say a global audience? Is that legitimate? There are some people out there who want to say, no, every bishop should restrict himself to his own diocese and only concern himself with local affairs. I want to point out—and you know, I’m not the biggest fan of Vatican II who’s ever lived—but I want to point out that that objection is completely contrary to what Vatican II says in Lumen Gentium section 20:

Just as the office granted individually to Peter, the first among the apostles, is permanent and is to be transmitted to his successors, so also the apostles’ office of nurturing the Church is permanent, and is to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops.

Then it goes on to say in section 23:

The individual bishops, who are placed in charge of particular churches, exercise their pastoral government over the portion of the People of God committed to their care, and not over other churches nor over the universal Church. But each of them, as a member of the episcopal college and legitimate successor of the apostles, is obliged by Christ’s institution and command to be solicitous for the whole Church, and this solicitude, though it is not exercised by an act of jurisdiction, contributes greatly to the advantage of the universal Church. For it is the duty of all bishops to promote and to safeguard the unity of faith and the discipline common to the whole Church, to instruct the faithful to love for the whole mystical body of Christ, especially for its poor and sorrowing members and for those who are suffering persecution for justice’s sake, and finally to promote every activity that is of interest to the whole Church, especially that the faith may take increase and the light of full truth appear to all men.

I mean, it’s as if the council fathers are trying to double-underline this point: even though the bishop’s proper territory over which he has immediate jurisdiction is his own diocese, he’s still concerned with and should be promoting actively the good discipline and the faith of the entire church in whatever ways are suitable for him.

Servideus: A good example of that would be the way Bishop Fulton Sheen preached over the radio and television to millions of people. Although I’m sure he ruffled some Modernist feathers back then, most people were happy to have Bishop Sheen on prime-time television preaching the gospel.

Paulinus: Well, this is what Bishop Schneider is doing, this is what Bishop Strickland is doing using methods like YouTube or Twitter or whatever it might be. They look outrageous, not because of what they’re saying, but because of how few are saying the things that they’re saying. But if you rewound the clock by 50 or 100 years, what they’re saying would be perfectly obvious—“Yeah, of course, that’s what the Baltimore Catechism says.” So we’re not talking about outlandish opinions, as if these bishops are saying things from Mars. They’re saying just what’s in the catechism, the traditional catechism.

Servideus: To get back to my main question, what if one day the bishop’s just told: “That’s enough. You’re gone. As with Bishop Fernández Torres, we’re going to replace you with someone else. Pack your bags.” If we assume that this is an unjust act, what do you think should happen next?

Paulinus: Unquestionably it would be an unjust act. I find it noteworthy that Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres published a statement saying: “I have done nothing wrong. They’ve never told me I’ve done anything wrong. And in fact, they offered me another position if I would resign my diocese.” That shows that he hadn’t done anything wrong, because if you’re guilty of some wrongdoing, they’re not going to say, okay, here’s another plum position over here that we’ll give you. Basically they were trying to bribe him to leave his diocese because the other bishops didn’t like him. And it wasn’t just about vaccinations. It was about him not wanting to send his seminarians to the common seminary. He didn’t want to suppress the traditional Latin Mass. None of these things could could be called faults, let alone delicts or any kind of serious cause for removal.

Servideus: How, then, should he have responded?

Paulinus: He could have said: “You know, with all due respect, Holy Father, I pray for you, I want to be in communion with you. But although it was a pope who appointed me bishop, when I was consecrated a bishop it was Jesus Christ Himself who established me as a bishop. And that’s also the teaching of the Church: it’s not the pope who makes a bishop, it is Jesus Christ. Once someone is a bishop, he’s a bishop forever, just like a priest is a priest forever.” If there are no suitable grounds for removing a bishop, then he remains the bishop of the place.

Servideus: But the pope is the one who named him the bishop of that place…

Paulinus: Yes, but since the pope is not the source of his episcopacy, the pope doesn’t have complete arbitrary authority over whether he gets to serve his flock as a bishop or not, once he has been placed there. His power to rule and care for the flock comes from Christ, not from the pope. The pope says, “you go to this diocese, I’m appointing you to this diocese”; but it’s Christ who gives him the episcopacy. This is very important to grasp.

Servideus: Of course, these two spheres sort of collide, or better, overlap, don’t they?

Paulinus: The pope has immediate and supreme universal jurisdiction in the Church, which means, in practice, he can do whatever it is within his ambit of authority to do, and nobody can stop him and nobody’s over him. But again, within the ambit of his authority, within the sphere of it.

Servideus: So, if a bishop dug in his heels, what would happen next?

Paulinus: Imagine Bishop Torres saying: “With all due respect, I’m staying here, I’m the bishop and you can’t remove me arbitrarily.” Maybe the pope would excommunicate him and assign another bishop to the place. Then there would be, so to speak, two bishops in this area. But there would be only one true bishop, because there’s already a bishop there—he’s going to be there as long as he lives unless he’s removed for just cause, retires, or dies. That means the new bishop will be a usurper or an imposter.

Servideus: What a mess!

Paulinus: Absolutely. Has Church history seen these kinds of messes before? Yes. If you read about the history of the Church of Constantinople, for example, patriarchs were deposed and reinstated, they went back and forth and there were conflicting patriarchs. We don’t desire that situation. But we should be willing to tolerate such a messy situation rather than compromise on this point, namely, that the bishops are not the vicars of the pope. Recall the strong words of Lumen Gentium, section 27:

The pastoral office or the habitual and daily care of their sheep is entrusted to them [the bishops] completely; nor are they to be regarded as vicars of the Roman Pontiffs, for they exercise an authority that is proper to them, and are quite correctly called “prelates,” heads of the people whom they govern. Their power, therefore, is not destroyed by the supreme and universal power, but on the contrary it is affirmed, strengthened and vindicated by it, since the Holy Spirit unfailingly preserves the form of government established by Christ the Lord in His Church.

How much more clearly could the Council have emphasized that the power of the pope is for edification, not for destruction; that the Holy Spirit wants to preserve the dignity of the episcopacy rather than allowing it to be effectively absorbed into a singular autocracy; that the bishops are not delegates of the pope, as if they were all nuncios, but are proper authorities in their own right and, as the medievals saw it, wedded to their local church? Arbitrary removal would be an ecclesiastical “no-fault divorce,” which is incoherent.

Servideus: So many think of bishops as vicars of the pope. We have to recover the truth that their authority to govern comes from Christ. It helps to remember this when you have a dictator pope.

Paulinus: I think what happens is that, as long as a pope is exercising his monarchy in a reasonable way—a way that doesn’t give cause for scandal or for alarm—most people are content to assume that he is completely in charge of everything. And if he doesn’t do anything to make you question your understanding, maybe you will never find out that you have a false understanding. But Pope Francis is so extreme in his actions and in his teachings—his teachings on marriage and family, LGBTQ, the death penalty, sacraments, liturgy, I mean, there are so many alarm bells ringing, you almost become deaf with the alarm bells—that he makes us start to look at these issues more closely until we realize, oh, wait a minute, the papacy actually has limits!

Servideus: It’s obvious once you say it, because it’s a created authority and the only authority that is absolute is God’s.

Paulinus: And, needless to say, any created authority can be resisted if he abuses his authority. This is something you can find in the whole canonical and theological tradition. Torquemada says this, Aquinas says it, Bellarmine, Suárez… They all say that any time an authority, even in the Church, abuses his office, he can be fraternally corrected and even resisted and disobeyed. I’ve documented these things. These views were part of our tradition, but they tended to be forgotten in the wake of Vatican I and the ultramontanist spirit that swept through the Church.

Servideus: Tell me what you mean by ultramontanist here?

Paulinus: After the French Revolution, the Church was on the run in Europe—anticlericalism, Freemasonry, rising socialism, eventually communism… All of these ideologies were forcibly acting against the Church, trying to suppress it, trying to destroy Catholic schools, trying to obliterate the clergy. And in the face of that kind of pressure against Catholicism, Catholics had a very natural instinct to rally around the pope. The pope is our head, our father. He’s our universal leader. He’s our general, in a sense—the general of the Catholic armies. And we have to rally around him. A strong pope can lead us in this modern battle against all of these ideologies. That’s legitimate. People needed the pope to be that way for them.

But the problem is, this attitude can quickly turn into making the pope “the Great Leader,” around whom a cult of personality develops: the faith is the pope; the faith is all about the pope. It’s not. That’s a caricature that Protestants play upon quite a bit, because they would love to be able to say, “oh, you Catholics don’t follow Scripture, you just follow whatever the pope says.” We know that that’s false, but the ultramontanism that’s looking over the mountains to the pope for everything all the time suggests this error—suggests that our faith is wrapped up in the person of the pope and in what he’s teaching right now, as opposed to something that’s been handed down by all of the popes and all of the bishops from the beginning until now.

Servideus: How does the issue of ultramontanism relate to the reduction of bishops to “vicars of the pope”?

Paulinus: As we saw earlier, Lumen Gentium 27 tells you that the church is not like a multinational corporation in which the bishops are like branch managers and the pope is the CEO. In a corporation, if the pope were the CEO, he could just ring up a bishop like Daniel Fernández Torres and say, “You know what, Bishop, it’s been good having you on the team, but you’re fired. Fired without cause because I’m the CEO of Vatican, Inc.,” and he just puts another manager in there. No, it’s not like that. The managers, the prelates of this Mystical Body, this Mystical Corporation (so to speak) are put in place by Christ and are permanently in place unless they actually do something to forfeit being in their place. They’re like the professors who have tenure, whom you can’t get rid of unless they burn down a building or murder a colleague.

Servideus: Well said!

Paulinus: I’ll tell you a story that shows how seriously this used to be taken. It has to do with Pius XII. Now, there was almost nobody who was more fiercely anti-Nazi than Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli. Although he was engaged in diplomacy with the Third Reich, he quickly realized that he was dealing with a liar and a psychopath. And that’s why he drafted the text of one of the most passionate encyclicals ever, Mit Brennender Sorge, published by the pope at the time, Pius XI. So if you know your history, you can’t justly accuse Pius XII of being sympathetic to Hitler or the Nazis, although some people have maliciously said that. Anyway, after World War II, a bunch of people in the French government—people who had been fighting for the Free French and had been against the Vichy regime—asked the pope to remove not only the papal nuncio, who had been sympathetic to Vichy, but also dozens of bishops who had all been in cahoots with the National Socialists in France. They wanted the pope to remove all of them from office. Well, how did the pope reply? Did he say, “Oh, I understand, it’s just terrible. I’ll remove them all.” No! He sent word of his displeasure with the attitude of the French government, which he regards as offensive, discourteous, and injurious. He agreed to change the nuncio, but not without misgivings. And as for purging the episcopacy, he declared that there can be no question of changing the bishops: That has never been done. That will not be done. That would be an injustice without precedent. Inadmissible. What his reaction shows is that for him, it was unthinkable to remove bishops, even if they had been in cahoots with the Nazis. But we have Daniel Fernández Torres removed for not going along with highly debatable COVID protocols, choosing to send his seminarians elsewhere than an interdiocesan seminary, and allowing the TLM to continue. Pius XII would be sickened.

Servideus: So far, we’ve been discussing a situation where a good bishop is removed unjustly from his flock. But it’s even worse if the reason the pope removes a good bishop is to install a bad bishop, that is, a wolf, who will prey on the flock. Can a good shepherd abandon his sheep to the wolves? Could the sitting bishop, knowing or suspecting his replacement will be like, say, Cardinal McElroy or Cardinal Cupich, could he leave his flock without sinning? Or must he remain at his post no matter what?

Paulinus: I don’t think that’s a difficult question. It seems to us to be a difficult question because our ultramontanist or, to use a better term, hyperpapalist, instincts or habits of thought make us never want to think about somebody disagreeing with the pope in such a major way, on such a major issue as the episcopacy. But I also think that we tend to downplay or underestimate the obligation that a bishop has to his own flock, because we have gotten used to thinking of them as branch managers who can be moved around. Eric Sammons made this point in a talk he gave in June 2023: ever since it’s become customary to move bishops around, to advance them from a so-to-speak lesser diocese to a greater diocese, we’ve had a terrible plague of ambition, of career climbing. It’s like going up the corporate ladder, from lower management to higher management, with increasing perks and power. That mentality has crept into everybody’s minds to such an extent that we don’t think of a bishop anymore as a father. The medievals talked about the bishop as the bridegroom of the local church, just as Christ is the Bridegroom of the whole Church. Bishop Strickland is the husband of the Church of Tyler. What does it say when the bishop is then “promoted” to another local church? This is almost like ecclesiological polygamy or, you know, like divorce and remarriage.

Servideus: But it’s not impossible to move a bishop…

Paulinus: I’m not saying that it’s impossible; only that it’s weird and unhealthy. Against the backdrop of church history, where that was never done before, and for very sound reasons, theoretical and practical reasons. The bishop is the husband of the local church, and therefore the father of his faithful. They’re like his children, right? And isn’t it beautiful to think about how, in pre-modern times, the image of a father was something that people thought of in a warm sort of way. Now, everybody attacks patriarchy and fatherhood is dismissed or seen as an arbitrary social construct. But in reality, the fatherhood of God is the source of all authority: “For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named” (Eph 3:14-15). So the highest title of a bishop, in a way, would be “father of his spiritual children” and then “shepherd of his flock,” to use another metaphor. So, yes, it’s not difficult in itself to say that a bishop should be prepared rather to die than not to continue to care for his children and his flock, especially if he thought they were in danger of having sacraments, or the traditional liturgy they know and love, or sound doctrine and moral guidance, removed from them.

Servideus: For me, that says all the hassle, all the awkwardness, is worth it. Like the possible removal of buildings. A canceled bishop is going to have his residence and his chancery taken over by the usurpers. He will have to get a new place and have a new office.

Paulinus: That’s right.

Servideus: It seems to me that your position rests on recognizing a crisis in the Church. Would you say that’s true? I mean, if things were peaceful and stable, none of this would be happening anyhow…

Paulinus: Correct. We are living in times when a different gospel, a false gospel, is being preached. As St. Paul sternly taught us: “If I or an angel from heaven should come and preach another gospel than the one I first preached to you, let him be anathema,” that is, accursed, condemned.

Servideus: But Pope Francis and his supporters tell us that there isn’t a new gospel, just a better, more developed understanding of the gospel, and so the bishops need to get behind this “fuller” gospel and not be stuck in the past. It’s serious enough that apparently some bishops ought to be removed if they are not “on board” with the program!

Paulinus: That’s their approach.

Servideus: What’s wrong with it?

Paulinus: We can let one of the Fathers of the Church answer that question. Saint Vincent of Lérins was the first to articulate the idea that the deposit of faith can never essentially change. Even if the way that we grasp it and formulate it progresses over time, the essence of the faith, the substance of it, never changes. This Church Father is often misquoted by the pope as if he’s some kind of an evolutionist, so that, doctrinally speaking, you can start with a mollusk and end with a mammoth. But that’s not what Vincent teaches; he says there is an unfolding (profectus), not a radical change (mutatio).

The verse I mentioned from St. Paul is quoted again and again by Vincent, to drive home that the deposit of faith given by Christ our Lord to the Apostles is so rock-solid, so definite and definitive, that neither the Apostles nor even the angels who are above the Apostles—the angels in heaven, who see God face to face!—not even they have the authority to change it! Paul’s assertion is a counterfactual: even if an angel from heaven were to come down (not that any of them would) and say something other, you shouldn’t, you mustn’t follow that angel. Follow the original, hold fast to the faith once delivered to the saints.

What I find most pertinent to our situation is that Paul emphasizes: if we—that is, the Apostles: himself, Peter, Andrew, James, John—if we should preach a gospel other than the one we originally preached, let us be accursed, and whatever you do, don’t follow us. There’s no verse in Scripture that more beautifully highlights the fact that the pope and the bishops are subordinate to the truth handed down, not superior to it. They’re not in control of it, they can’t mold it however they wish to fit the Humanist, Modernist, globalist, or whatever agenda. They have no authority to do that. Let them be accursed who try to do it.

Servideus: Unfortunately, it does seem that that’s where we’re at. So many teachings of this pope and his supporters contradict Scripture, Tradition, and the preceding Magisterium. This can’t be from the Apostles; it’s surely not from God.

Paulinus: Right. One of the themes I insist on over and over in my writing is that God gave us two powerful and precious gifts—John Paul II called them two wings with which we rise up to the contemplation of truth: reason and faith. We can see with our reason that certain acts are contrary to the natural law. Even pagan philosophers like Plato and Aristotle saw that homosexuality was contrary to the good of human nature. Aristotle unquestionably rejects it, saying it is a form of bestiality or subhuman vice. And these men lived without any benefit of divine revelation!

We have the gift of reason, we have the gift of faith. The gift of faith gives us access to the teaching of Christ and the teaching of the whole Church for all the ages. There’s no question whatsoever about the uninterrupted, constant, universal ordinary magisterium on issues of sexual morality. If a Catholic thinks it’s up for debate, he hasn’t put two and two together. Or maybe, as with Father Spadaro, he put two and two together and got five, and needs to figure out how to do math.

Modernity is characterized, in general, by irrationality, irrationalism, the exaltation of the ego, the exaltation of the will or voluntarism: I want what I want. Reality is what I want to make it. That kind of thinking has been around in philosophy for centuries now, and it’s permeated a vast number of minds. So reason is having a terribly hard time right now. And as for faith, how many people really take pains to learn their faith? When you read the good old catechisms—hundreds of catechisms going back hundreds of years—they all taught the same thing about matters of importance. When we study them side by side, we can see very clearly what the Church teaches. We can see how Pope Francis is departing from the Faith, how somebody like Victor Emmanuel Fernández, the new head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, departs from it.

Servideus: His being put in charge is like Pope Francis rubbing salt into the wounds that all of us have suffered for the past decade.

Paulinus: Absolutely. That appointment in and of itself—if that isn’t a supreme wake-up call for all of the conservatives or all of the moderates who are still sitting on the fence, I’m afraid they’re just going to die on the fence. They must be glued to it, because if you can’t see that this man is totally unsuitable for the office he has, with his questionable morality and his ideas that are contrary to Faith, can you see anything at all?

Servideus: So we are in a state of crisis. In a crisis or an emergency, certain steps are more defensible or more necessary than they would be in times of peace. This is an accepted moral principle.

Paulinus: There are things we can do when a house is burning down—like break down a door, enter in uninvited, shoot water all over the place, remove people without consent—that we can’t do when a house is not burning down.

Servideus: So, granting all the chaos that would ensue from a bishop not stepping down when told to do so, it is still better that he remain than for him to further enable the abuse of papal authority, lend support to the heretical faction in charge, and abandon the flock to the wolves.

Paulinus: Exactly.

Servideus: I’m curious: would you say this scenario could play out at the parish level as well? Let’s say you have a dictatorial bishop who removes a priest in charge of a parish for doing good things, and that priest has reason to believe his successor will be a wolf. Could the priest refuse to leave his position?

Paulinus: To give a detailed answer we would have to make some canonical distinctions between a pastor and a parish administrator, but we can answer the question generally. It seems to me that it’s much more grave when you’re talking about the pope unjustly removing a bishop than when you’re talking about a bishop moving a priest around. Because the priests are not equipped by Christ with a “pastorship” when they are ordained. They are simply given assignments by the bishop. Essentially, the way to think about the presbytery of the dioceses is that all of the priests are an extension of the bishop because he can’t be everywhere at the same time. That’s certainly the way it developed in the ancient church. Early on, when the flock was small, it was the bishops who celebrated Mass and the other sacraments. As the Church grew and grew during the early centuries, and especially after the fourth century when Christianity was legalized and it took off like wildfire, the bishops became overwhelmed. They couldn’t possibly be everywhere they needed to be.

Servideus: So you are saying the priests are like an extension of the bishop, so he can move them around as he pleases.

Paulinus: Yes. That doesn’t mean, however, that they shouldn’t fight back canonically or resist when they are unjustly attacked or removed or disciplined. There’s a lot of that kind of injustice going on, and it is injustice that should be identified publicly so that bishops can be at least shamed into acting better, or undoing some of the damage they’ve done.

Servideus: That’s why something like the Coalition for Canceled Priests exists.

Paulinus: Quite so. Still, you couldn’t ever say “I’m a pastor by Christ’s divine institution.” You can’t say that. You are a pastor solely because your bishop made you one. The bishops, on the other hand, are not, as it were, an extension of the pope simply because the pope can’t be everywhere in the world. For that to be true, Christ would had to have appointed only one apostle, Peter, who, after being bishop for a while, said, “I’m way too busy. I can’t go to every city in Asia Minor, so I’m going to appoint other people who represent me.” That would be the “vicars of the pope” model of the episcopacy that we just rejected and that Lumen Gentium rejected. From the beginning, Christ said: I want there to be many bishops. That is by divine institution.

Servideus: It’s amazing to think that there is a way forward. It might be messy, but there’s a way forward amidst all the confusion. We just need to find those bishops who are willing to stand up. We really need to pray hard for God to raise them up.

Paulinus: Let me add one final point about the message. In church history, the fourth century is extremely valuable to study. What a lot of people don’t realize about the Arian crisis is that it spread so widely that in some dioceses there were two men claiming to be bishop: an Arian one and a Catholic one. Sometimes there was a Catholic bishop and an attempt was made to bump him out by appointing an Arian bishop; or a Catholic bishop died and an Arian bishop replaced him. Meanwhile, a Catholic bishop like Saint Athanasius might pass through to minister to the orthodox (i.e., Catholic) faithful. There were wildly different scenarios in different places. The point is, it was extraordinarily messy. But St. Athanasius didn’t ever say “It’s just too messy. Let’s not do this. We’d better wait for better times.” No, he just dealt with the mess and he had to, because he could never abandon the Catholic flock. Even if it’s a flock outside your proper diocese, you don’t abandon the sheep of Christ. He also didn’t say, “Well, you know, the pope is letting it happen this way, so who are we to judge? The pope excommunicated me, so I’ll stop saying divine liturgy and stop acting like a bishop.” No! Even when he was excommunicated, he continued to act like a bishop and he continued to do the liturgy. God gave us St. Athanasius for a reason. He wants him to be a permanent example for other crisis periods in church history.

Servideus: The faithful laity will play a big role, too. You have to support your true bishop at a time when a lot of people will be saying: “He’s not the bishop. He’s been kicked out. Stop already. You’re being so divisive. You’re schismatics!” Don’t give in to their simplistic views, reject what you know is wrong, and stick to what you know is right.

Paulinus: Exactly. As Newman said, the laity were the great supporters of the minority of orthodox bishops during the Arian crisis. We are seeing the same scenario in our times.

Servideus: Time to fast and pray.

Paulinus: Amen to that.



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