Fr. Altman has produced a video titled “Bergoglio is not the Pope.” In his address Fr. Altman correctly states that no churchman – not even the pope – can change dogmatic teachings of the Catholic Church. He first quotes the dogmas of Trent regarding the necessity of a state of grace for Holy Communion and points out that those who teach the contrary are anathema and excommunicated. He thus draws the conclusion that the pope has excommunicated himself by asserting the contrary of Trent.
He says that this is an “open and shut case.” He asserts that non-Catholics cannot be the pope – Lutherans, Muslims, etc. – and because Bergolgio is not Catholic, therefore he is not the pope.
He then emphasises the admonitions of Our Lord against the “wolves in sheep’s clothing” rightly condemning the pope and his “cronies” for their false doctrines. He says we can recognise the false shepherds by their fruits, which is also correct. However, he spends some time speaking of Pope Francis’s corrupt appointments and liturgical abuses mixed with doctrinal errors, with a rising crescendo of grievances against this pontificate repeating the phrase “…from the moment [Francis did X thing].”
This crescendo gives the impression that the good priest is making an emotional appeal to prove his case, which discredits the presentation. Nevertheless he says these grievances “reveal and define the incontrovertible fact that Jorge Bergoglio… is a false prophet, a false teacher… [who] has excommunicated himself from the Catholic Church[.]”
He then quotes St. Robert Bellarmine to prove his case, using the normal quotation used from On the Roman Pontiff. He then goes back to Trent which says that we can know the heresy and who is ipso facto excommunicated. He states correctly that “we are not the schismatics when we hold fast to the deposit of faith.”
Before we comment on the substance of Fr. Altman’s assertions it is important that we give credit to Fr. Altman for his stalwart defence of the Faith against the corruption of the pope and many bishops. Fr. Altman is obviously a good priest who is doing his best to defend the sheep against wolves, and for that reason every Catholic should be thankful to him for trying to work for the Faith, since he is doing more than the vast majority of priests out there.
However, having said that, we must point out a few important things about his talk.
The Question of a Heretical Pope Has Not been Definitively Resolved
Fr. Altman says repeatedly “don’t take my word for it,” and quotes St. Robert Bellarmine. But what is not included in his case is the fact that Bellarmine presents one view among a number of accepted and traditional views. The question of a heretical pope has not been definitively resolved by the Magisterium. Bishop Athanasius Schneider, for instance, published a different view, also based on the patristics and Tradition, here at OnePeterFive, back in 2019.
The paradox between “You are Peter” and “Get behind me, Satan,” has not been resolved in the Tradition. Vatican I did not address important specifics of these things, leading to dubia about the Papacy, which are outlined in a different article (“The Dubia of Vatican One”).
Because of this, it is not possible for bishops or priests – and certainly not the common faithful – to assert a particular view on this question as if it has been 1.) definitively resolved and 2.) adjudicated for a given case in our time now. As Peter Kwasniewski writes in his text on hyperpapalism, in the context of the Beneplenist controversy:
I do not believe that the ordinary faithful are competent to adjudicate when God has stripped a pope of the papal office owing to formal heresy… It is one thing to raise doubts and difficulties about Benedict XVI’s abdication and Francis’s apparent heresies, leaving the final determination to a future pope or ecumenical council; it is quite another to decide, on one’s own, or as a part of a small “remnant,” that one may cease to recognize as pope the one who is virtually unanimously and universally recognized as pope.
Since the Tradition is not definitive on this question, no one can definitively judge the issue, including the case against the current pope.
Judging the Pope and Living in Ambiguity
In the text Defending the Faith Against Present Heresies, editors John Lamont and Claudio Pierantoni bring together the various interventions of theologians against Pope Francis and various heresies which can be ascribed to him, either directly and indirectly. This text wisely includes an “additional note” in the beginning which says that “the documents collected here do not attempt a moral judgement on the person of the pope.” Thus the editors attempt to draw a distinction between the “objective faults against the Faith” and “the subjective gravity of these faults.”
This is the ambiguity in which we must live as Catholics: holding fast to the deposit of faith, but realising that our ability to judge the pope is severely limited. We can judge what we are obliged to pass down to our children – otherwise we could not pass it down. But we are not obliged to pass down to our children an answer on the question of a heretical pope, nor to judge the current pope, since it is beyond the jurisdiction of the faithful to adjudicate these questions. The trap of sedevacantism seems to be an excessive reliance on tribunals other than the ecclesiastical hierarchy. The long term result is a system of private remnants which cannot be united in truth by an objective, visible hierarchy.
Thus we cannot agree that the case against Pope Francis as pope is an “open and shut case.” We must use caution in this matter, and not go beyond what has been passed down to us by Tradition. We must live in this ambiguity, but with faith that God will resolve these matters in His own time.
T. S. Flanders
Nativity of the Theotokos