Pope Francis Refuses to Answer the Dubia – What Happens Next? (Pt. II)

Written by  John F. Salza, Esq.

Part Two of a Two-Part Series

Part I – Part II

In Part I of this feature, we saw that Pope Francis’ refusal to respond to the dubia issued to him by the four Cardinals (Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra and Meisner) on September 16, 2016, as extraordinary as it was, does not prove Francis is a “formal heretic.” Rather, to be guilty of the crime of heresy, the Pope would have to refuse to correct his errors after two official warnings from the Cardinals, or as Cardinal Burke described it, a “formal act of correction of a serious error.” In this Part II, we address what happens if such an unprecedented circumstance were to occur.

A Declaration of the Crime of Heresy

If Pope Francis were to persevere in his heresy after the Church’s issuance of the two necessary warnings, the common theological opinion is that the Church would then have to officially declare that the Pope is guilty of the crime of heresy before he would lose his office (and exactly when he would lose his office if that happens is subject to debate, as discussed below). The declaration would be necessary because the Pope’s pertinacity may have been established only privately, and the crime of heresy is a public matter for the Church (and thus must be communicated to the Church). It also provides a “point of no return” for the heretical Pope, whose repentance after the declaration would not allow him to regain his office. Again, this is the common opinion among the theologians who have addressed the matter of a heretical Pope.

For example, Suarez says:

“I affirm: if he were a heretic and incorrigible the Pope would cease to be Pope just when sentence was passed against him for his crime, by the legitimate jurisdiction of the Church. This is the common opinion among the doctors.”[1]

John of St. Thomas also confirms the necessity of the declaration of the crime:

“By what power should a deposition happen with regard to the pope? The entire question hinges on two points, namely one, a declarative sentence, by which it is declared . . . that the pope has committed the crime… and two, the deposition itself, which must be done after the declarative judgment of the crime.”[2]

And a little later he says:

“The Church is able to declare the crime of a Pontiff and, according to divine law, propose him to the faithful as a heretic that must be avoided. (…) the deposition of the pope with respect to the declaration of the crime in no way pertains to the cardinals but to a general council.”[3]

As we can see, the Church’s formal sentence which officially declares the Pope is guilty of the crime of heresy is so important and necessary that John of St. Thomas says this declaration must come from a general council. The brilliant Dominican theologian also uses historical examples to prove his case:

It must be said that the declaration of the crime does not come from the Cardinals, but from a general council. This is evident, firstly, by the practice of the Church. For in the case of Pope Marcellinus, who offered incense to idols, a synod was gathered together for the purpose of discussing the case, as is recorded in Distinction 21, Chapter 7, (“Nunc autem”)…Likewise, in the case of Pope Symmachus, a council was gathered in Rome to treat the case against him, as reported by Antione Augustine, in his Epitome Juris Pontifice Veteris (Title 13, Chapter 14); and the sections of Canon Law quoted above show that the Pontiffs who wanted to defend themselves against the crimes imputed to them, have done it before a Council. Second, it is commonly agreed that the power of treating the cases of popes, and that which pertains to his deposition, has not been entrusted to the cardinals. For the deposition belongs to the Church, whose authority is represented by a general council; indeed, only the election is entrusted to the cardinals and no more, as can be clearly shown by reading those things which we have drawn out from the law…”

The obvious question is: How can the Church convene a general council to oversee the deposition of a heretical Pope, when a general council must be convened and overseen by a Pope, either personally or through his legates? In answering this question, Cajetan makes the classical distinction between a perfect council and an imperfect council; or, as he puts it, an absolutely perfect council, and a perfect council in relation to the present state of the Church.

Cajetan explains that a perfect council absolutely is one in which the body is united to its head, and therefore consists of the Pope and the bishops.[5] Such a council has the authority to define dogmas and issue decrees that regulate the universal Church.[5] Cajetan then explains that “a perfect council according to the present state” of the Church (i.e., an “imperfect” council) is composed only of those members who can be found when the Church is in a given condition (e.g., with several doubtful Popes, or with one apparently heretical Pope) and can only “involve itself with the universal Church up to a certain point.”[6] Thus, an imperfect council cannot define doctrines or issue decrees that regulate the universal Church, but only possesses the authority to decide the matter that necessitated its convocation. Cajetan notes that there are only two cases that justify convoking such a council: “…when there is a single heretical pope to be deposed, and when there are several doubtful supreme pontiffs.”

In such exceptional cases, a general council can be called without the approval of, or even against the will, of the Pope. Cajetan explains:

A perfect council according to the present state of the Church [i.e., an imperfect council] can be summoned without the pope and against his will, if, although asked, he himself does not wish to summon it; but it does not have the authority to regulate the universal Church, but only to provide for the issue then at stake. Although human cases vary in infinite ways … there are only two cases that have occurred or can ever occur, in which, I declare, such a council should be summoned. The first is when the pope must be deposed on account of heresy; for then, if he refused, although asked, the cardinals, the emperor, or the prelates can cause a council to be assembled, which will not have for its scope the care of the universal Church, but only the power to depose the Pope.”[7]

As we saw, John of St. Thomas referred to the Council of Sinuesso as an example of an “imperfect council” that was convened by the bishops to oversee the deposition of Pope Marcellinus (d. 304).[8] After Pope Marcellinus committed the grave public sin against the Faith by offering incense at the altar of Jupiter, a council was convened and the compromised Pope, through shame, deposed himself.[9] And although the council was initially called against the will of Pope Marcellinus, it produced great fruit because he repented of his sin. In fact, the bishops were so edified that they re-elected him to the papacy (following his resignation). Pope Marcellinus went on to die as a martyr for the Faith and is now a canonized saint. How different his end may have been if his fate were left to the private judgment of individual Catholics who simply wrote him off as an antipope, or his actions were praised as a great act of “ecumenism” as many in today’s modern Church would have done.

Another question on the minds of Catholics is how many Cardinals and bishops would be needed to convoke an imperfect general council that would declare Pope Francis’ crime, given that many of them (e.g., the clerical mafiosi from the “St. Gallen” group who conspired to elect Francis) are staunch supporters of the Pope and would vigorously oppose his removal? Would a majority of the Cardinals and bishops be required to call such a council? Or would a minority suffice? And would the refusal to participate of those who support Pope Francis result in a formal schism in the Church?

These are troubling questions for troubling times. Indeed, it appears that a material schism is already developing within the Church among the Cardinals and bishops over Francis’ attack on doctrine and morals, just as Our Lady of Akita prophesied.[10] There have been reports of high-ranking prelates publicly opposing each other, such as the recent exchange between U.S. Cardinal-designate Kevin Farrell and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.[11] In a recent interview with TV Libertes, Bishop Athanasius Schneider plainly admitted that “we are witnessing today a strange form of schism,” and that “a certain kind of schism already exists in the Church” over Pope Francis’ teaching in Amoris Laetitia.[12]

However, it would not seem necessary that even a majority, much less all, of the Cardinals and bishops would be required to declare what the Pope’s incorrigibility would have already proven, namely, that he is guilty of the crime of heresy. Because a legitimate imperfect council has the authority to bind the faithful without the Pope’s approval, it follows that it would also not require the approval or participation of every single bishop either, or even a majority of them. Remember that Cajetan describes this type of council as “summoned according to the present state of the Church.” That means the council is composed of only those members who can be found in the current condition, who gather here “only to provide for the issue then at stake,” to declare that the Pope is guilty of the crime of heresy.

To reiterate, because, at this stage in the proceedings, the Pope’s pertinacity would have already been established by the Cardinals, it would not take a majority of the Cardinals or bishops to declare what has already been proven by the Church’s authorities. Further, as Cajetan explains, this council “will not have for its scope the care of theuniversal Church,” and thus would not have to be “universal” in its representation, as would an “absolutely perfect council.” Thus, it does not matter whether a significant number of Cardinals and bishops would oppose the council; the Pope’s public heresy would have already been established by the authority of the Church, and would simply need to be declared (officially recognized and communicated) by those authorities. Further, those prelates who would refuse to submit to the council’s declaratory sentence and command to avoid the heretic Pope would separate themselves from the Church by formal schism, by remaining in communion with a heretic.

Further, it is quite possible that those who would ultimately support Francis and oppose his removal would be in the minority. That is because there are reports which indicate that there is currently an open revolt among the Curia and College of Cardinals over Francis’ teaching in Amoris Laetitia. For example, in a recent explanation on the Society of St. Pius X’s current relations with Rome, His Excellency Bernard Fellay revealed the following:

“The excesses of the present Pope have caused a startled reaction. It’s open now. It’s no longer hidden, or let’s say for people like were hiding themselves, now you have cardinals, you have bishops who have openly contradicted these new tendency, this new tendency of hitting the morals and even the doctrine. We have counted that there are between 26 and 30 cardinals who have openly attacked these modern positions. And numerous bishops.[13]

Veteran Vatican reporter Edward Pentin also commented on the reaction to the Pope’s refusal to respond to thedubia, speculating that the majority of the Cardinals and Curia do not support Francis:

“The reaction has been interesting so far: almost all the College of Cardinals and the Roman Curia have remained silent, neither supporting the cardinals, nor, more importantly, coming out in support of the Pope and his decision not to respond. If silence is taken to mean consent for the dubia, then one could therefore argue that the vast majority are in favor of the four cardinals. That can only be speculative of course, but it could conceivably be true as for months one has heard from one significant part of the Curia that they feel great unease about what is happening. The phrases ‘reign of terror’ and ‘Vatican martial law’ are frequently bandied around.”[14]

In a recent tweet, Pentin also said he learned from a reliable source that Pope Francis has been asking various allies to publicly support Amoris Laetitia and oppose the dubia, evidently frustrated by their silence.[15] What all this suggests is that Francis may not have the support of the majority of Cardinals and bishops. And, thus, if and when the four Cardinals issue the formal warning of correction to Francis as Cardinal Burke has threatened, they may be joined by other brother Cardinals and bishops, which will put more pressure on the Pope. If the Pope would ignore the first warning as he did the dubia, it seems likely that the process would gain momentum, and he could find himself facing a second warning supported by many more prelates. And if he would ignore the second warning or refuse to recant his heresies, it is possible that even a majority of Cardinals and bishops would then take the next step and declare his crime, at a general (imperfect) council. Time will tell. God knows.

What Happens if the Church Declares Francis a Heretic?

What should be obvious by now is that we have a way to go before Pope Francis is considered a public heretic according to the Church’s judgment, although Cardinal Burke has said the process is upon us. Nevertheless, until itis completed, Francis still remains Pope, and no Catholic can claim otherwise without sinning against the Faith. Moreover, even if the Church were to ultimately declare Francis guilty of the crime of heresy after his refusal to correct his errors, exactly when he would lose the papacy after such a declaration is subject to a complex theological debate, although it’s largely academic for all intents and purposes. In our book True or False Pope?, we explain the two major opinions on this question, which we call the Jesuit Opinion (held by Bellarmine and Suarez), and the Dominican Opinion (held by Cajetan and John of St. Thomas).

Both opinions agree that: (1) the Church must declare the Pope guilty of the crime of heresy before he loses his office; and, (2) Christ deposes the Pope as Efficient Cause (because the Church has no coercive power over a Pope), with the Church being only the dispositive cause of the loss of office (but whose actions necessarily precedeChrist’s deposition as Efficient Cause). The opinions differ only on when Christ actually deposes the Pope.[16] What act of the Church serves as the dispositive cause for the deposition? Is it the Church’s declaration of the crime? Or is the additional act of the Church commanding the faithful to avoid the heretic required, as St. Paul instructs Titus? After affirming that both schools require at least a declaration of the crime, John of St. Thomas notes precisely the heart of this debate:

“It cannot be held that the Pope, very fact of being a heretic, would cease to be pope antecedently to a declaration of the Church. (…) What is truly a matter of debate, is whether the Pope, after he is declared by the Church to be a heretic, is deposed ipso facto by Christ the Lord [Jesuit Opinion], or if the Church out to depose him [Dominican Opinion]. In any case, as long as the Church has not issued a juridical declaration, he must always be considered the Pope.”[17]

To further explain, the Jesuit Opinion held by Bellarmine and Suarez maintains that the heretical Pope falls ipso facto (immediately and “by the fact”) from the pontificate upon the Church’s declaration of the crime (which serves as the dispositive cause).[18] For example, Suarez says:

“If he is a heretic and incorrigible, the Pope ceases to be Pope as soon as a declarative sentence of hiscrime is pronounced against him by the legitimate jurisdiction of the Church. This is the common position held by the doctors.” And again: “Therefore on deposing a heretical Pope, the Church would not act as superior to him, but juridically and by the consent of Christ she would declare him a heretic and therefore unworthy of Pontifical honors; he would then ipso facto and immediately be deposed by Christ.”[19]

John of St. Thomas affirms that Bellarmine and Suarez believe the Pope immediately falls from office after the Church declares the crime:

“Bellarmine and Suarez, however, believe that the Pope, by the very fact that he is a manifest heretic and has been declared incorrigible [crime of heresy], is deposed immediately by Christ the Lord and not by any authority of the Church.”[21]

The Dominican Opinion held by Cajetan and John of St. Thomas maintains that the Pope falls from office, not when the Church establishes and declares the crime, but after an additional step. This extra step occurs when the Church, after declaring the crime, also commands the faithful, by the authority of a council, to avoid the heretic (vitandus), according to St. Paul’s instruction to Titus (Titus 3:10). This command, which is rooted in Divine law, is a juridical act (the dispositive cause of the deposition) which has coercive power over the faithful. Just as the Church (the ecclesia docens) necessarily tells the faithful (the ecclesia discens) who to receive as Pope, it must also necessarily tell the faithful who to avoid as Pope (a heretical Pope, judged as such by the Church). In the words of John of St. Thomas:

“It is necessary that, just as the Church designates the man and proposes him to the faithful as being elected Pope, so too is it necessary that the Church declares him a heretic and proposes him as one to be avoided. Hence, we see from the practice of the Church that this is how it has been done; for, in the case of the deposition of a Pope, his cause was handled in a general Council before he was considered not to be Pope, as we have related above. Therefore, it is not because the Pope is a heretic, even publicly, that he will ipso facto cease to be Pope, before the declaration of the Churchand before she proclaims him as ‘to be avoided’ by the faithful.”[21]

In a nutshell, then, according to the Jesuit Opinion, the Pope separates from the Church by the Church’s declaration of the crime, and according to the Dominican Opinion, the Church separates from the Pope by the Church’s command to the faithful to avoid him as a vitandus, after the declaration of the crime. But these differences regard questions of speculative theology; both opinions require the Church to judge and declare the Pope guilty of the crime of heresy before Christ would remove him from office. And, as a practical matter, it seems clear that the Church could accomplish everything at once, that is, a council could issue a single document that: 1) declares that the Pope is guilty of the crime of heresy; 2) commands the Church that he must be avoided (vitandus); and, 3) declares the See to be vacant, and publicly excommunicates the former Pope. Of course, the exact procedure would be determined by the authorities of the Church, who will no doubt draw upon the wisdom of some of her greatest theologians.

What this means is that we have a way to go before Francis can be considered a public heretic who has lost his office. How long? As long as it takes for the Church to issue the two warnings and then convoke a council to declare his crime and command the faithful to avoid him if he refuses correction. We obviously pray that Pope Francis either renounces his heresies or resigns his office before it goes that far. However, as we now enter the centenary of the Fatima apparitions with Our Lady’s commands still unheeded, it is likely that the greatest confusion, division and suffering of the post-Vatican II Church, is still to come.

Originally published at The Remnant. Reprinted with permission.


[1]De Fidedisp. X, sect. VI, nn. 3-10, p. 316 (emphasis added).

[2] Cursus Theologici II-II, John of St. Thomas, De Auctoritate Summi PontificisDisp. II, Art. III, De Depositione (emphasis added).

[3] Ibid (emphasis added).

[4] De Comparatione Auctoritatis Papae et Concilii, p. 67.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., p. 68.

[7] Ibid., p. 70. Cajetan explains that the second case is when one or more Popes suffer uncertainty with regard to their election, and he uses the Council of Constance during the Great Western Schism as another historical example of an “imperfect council.”

[8] In a letter to the Emperor Michael in 865, Pope Nicholas wrote: “In the reign of the sovereigns
Diocletian and Maximian, Marcellinus, the Bishop of Rome, who afterwards became an illustrious martyr, was so persecuted by the pagans that he entered one of their temples and there offered incense.” (Rev. Reuben Parsons, Studies in Church History, vol. II, (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: John Joseph McVey, 1900), p. 510.

[9] See Hidgen, Polychronicon Ranulphi Higden maonachi Cestrensis, vol. 5 (London: Longman, 1865), p. 107.

[10] “The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see Cardinals opposing Cardinals, bishops against bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres…churches and altars sacked; the Church will be full of those who compromise and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord”(Our Lady of Akita, to Sr. Agnes Sasagawa, October 13, 1973).

[11] For example, the U.S. Cardinal-designate Kevin Farrell publicly reprimanded Archbishop Charles Chaput over his refusal to give Holy Communion to public adulterers (contrary to the Francis program). Chaput responded by saying the words of Jesus are clear and that Farrell did not understand the Philadelphia guidelines (NB: the revelation of Jesus Christ) he was questioning. Seehttp://www.catholicnews.com/services/englishnews /2016/bishops-need-shared-approach-to-amoris-laetitia-new-cardinal-says.cfm.

[12] https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/bishop-schneider-we-are-witnessing-today-a-strange-form-of-schism-within-th.

[13] See video and transcription of talk at https://sarmaticusblog.wordpress.com /2016/09/03/satanic-council-the-end-game/.

[14] See https://sarmaticusblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/state-of-play-rise-of-the-copraphagians/.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Theologically, as used here, the term “deposition” means that Christ, as Efficient Cause, severs the bond that joins the man (the matter) to the papacy (the form).

[17] John of St. Thomas, Cursus Theologicus, Tome 6.  Questions 1-7 on Faith.  Disputation 8., Article 2.

[18] Regarding the declaratory sentence, some theologians who hold to the variation of the Jesuit Opinion teach that the fall from the pontificate would occur after the Church established the crime, but before the crime was declared by the Church. This position is intended to avoid any issues with the Church inappropriately judging the Pope. The more common opinion, however, is that the Church is not only able to establish the crime of heresy, but also able to issue a declaratory sentence, since a merely declaratory sentence does not involve coercion or punishment. See, for example, Wernz-Vidal, Ius Canonicum. Rome: Gregorian 1943. 2:453; and, Cajetan, De Comparatione Auctoritatis Papae et Concilii, ch. XXI.

[19] De Fide, disp. X, sect. VI, nn. 3-10, pp. 316-317. This is why Bellarmine wrote: “Jurisdiction is certainly given to the Pontiff by God, but with the agreement of men [i.e., the election] as is obvious; because this man, who beforehand was not Pope, has from men that he would begin to be Pope, therefore, he is not removed by God unless it is through men … in the case of heresy, a Roman Pontiff can be judged.” De Romano Pontifice, bk. 2 ch. 30.

[20] Cursus Theologici (Theological Courses), II-II, De Auctoritate Summi Pontificis, Disputatio, Disp. II, Art. III, De Depositione Papae, p. 138.

[21] John of St. Thomas, Cursus Theologici II-II, On the Authority of the Supreme Pontiff, Disp. 2, Art. 3.

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