Church teaching on marriage woes: Can. 2319 and more

Church teaching on marriage woes: Can. 2319 and more

+Feast of All Saints+

Prayer Intention for November

That each day of this month all prayer associates recite a prayer of  their choice for the Poor Souls

Marriage is a very complex subject requiring careful study and the clarification of many fine distinctions. Those critiquing this difficult canonical work would do well to let the author complete the explanation of the current situation before arriving prematurely at any conclusions. Those involved in serious research, especially, should know that one proceeds from the general to the particular. What is presented below will not answer all questions but should serve to help readers better understand points mentioned in the previous two blog posts. Because of the confusion created by our critics, we must make certain the following is understood.

  • We speak here only of marriage between two certainly baptized Catholics.
  • In cases of marriage, doubtful baptisms are presumed to be valid until proven otherwise.
  • The Church teaches that the marriages of those not Catholic are valid, but not fruitful regarding grace and not recognized by the Church as valid Catholic marriages. This would include Traditionalist and Novus Ordo marriages since these sects are schismatic.
  • The marriage of two Catholics acting in a time period when no Catholic priest is available appear to be invalid if held as a religious ceremony before a non-Catholic minister in a non-Catholic church.
  • It cannot be admitted that an after-the-fact invocation of Can. 1098 as a kind of “supplied jurisdiction” or application of epikeia can be said to validate Novus Ordo or Traditionalist marriages given the implications of Can. 2319.
  • The only situation anticipated in these discussions is that of a Traditionalist or Novus Ordo person who decides to become a pray-at-home Catholic, renounces his/her previous errors, makes a Profession of Faith, arrives at moral certainty that the marriage was not valid and now wishes to rectify matters.

Excommunication for marriage by a non-Catholic minister

In an article on Can. 1098 for The Jurist,” pgs. 168-69, 1954, we read: “Nothing prevents an action that complies with the requirements of the law from being validThey may also marry before a non-Catholic minister, not as a minister of religion but as an official empowered by civil law to witness marriages; he must not be allowed to use any religious ceremony, as is seen in Canon 1063” (The History and Application of Canon 1098, John De Reeper, MHF). Can. 1063 was officially interpreted by Pope Pius XII as will be seen below.

Traditionalists do not comply with the requirements of the law; they marry in a religious ceremony before their “priests” as ministers of religion. They marry before them believing they are priests when they are not, which alone invalidates the act, (Can. 104): “Error annuls an action, when the error concerns the substance of the action or amounts to a conditio sine qua non — that is to say, if the action would not have been done except for the error [in this case that the minister was a valid Catholic priest authorized to witness marriages]; otherwise the action is valid, unless the law states otherwise…” (Can. 104). “Error of law or a fact, if it is substantial, renders an act null and void. The same is true if the error, though not substantial by nature, is made so by a condition sine qua non. Any other error leaves the act valid unless the law provides otherwise” (Revs. Bouscaren-Ellis, Canon Law, a Text and Commentary, 1946).

If it had been possible for Traditionalists to understand that the men officiating at their marriage could not be official witnesses as the Church requires for validity; or (validly) or licitly celebrate a nuptial mass; or validly hear their confession before the wedding; if this had been explained to them and understood, would they really have gone through with it? The condition sine qua non here is a valid priest actually delegated for the ceremony by a valid bishop. Can. 1094 makes this a condition of validity for the marriage. Traditionalists believed themselves married before a certainly valid priest, but this was not the case; it was an error, amounting to fraud. Furthermore, the canonists Woywod-Smith, under the heading: Mixed Marriages Before Non-Catholic Minister…,” (Can. 2319 ° 2167) state that: “Many commentators restrict the penalty to Catholics who marry a non-Catholic, but some commentators (Cappello, others) assert that the penalty is incurred also by two Catholics who give or renew the marriage consent before a non-Catholic minister as minister of religion. Two Catholics who marry before a non-Catholic minister are guilty of the offence of Can. 2316…” [IF, in fulfilling Can. 1098, they avail themselves of a non-Catholic religious ceremony when they could merely have gone to a justice of the peace].

“The Third Plenary Council of Baltimore punished with ipso facto excommunication reserved to the local ordinary Catholics who contracted or attempted to contract marriage before the minister of any non-Catholic sect. The law of the Code has superseded the particular law of the Council of Baltimore insofar as the marriage of a Catholic with a non-Catholic before a non-Catholic minister is concerned. But the law of that Council remains, we believe, WITH REFERENCE TO THE MARRIAGE, OR RATHER ATTEMPTED MARRIAGE, of two Catholics before a non-Catholic minister, for the Code does not punish the offense of two Catholics with a latae sententiae censure [Can. 2316 is considered to be a ferendae sententiae censure]. Canon 2221 empowers the legislators to enforce both the divine and ecclesiastical laws with penalties or to increase the penalty decreed by law (Canon 2244,°2085).” Rev. Ignatius Szal writes in his Communication of Catholics with Schismatics (1948) that the Council of Baltimore excommunication additionally applies because it is a particular law considered as still in effect under Can. 6 no. 5 of the Code. Since this excommunication is mentioned under Can. 1063, it is considered to be retained in the Code.

Under Can. 1098, Woywod comments regarding the use of a non-Catholic minister: “The parties are justified in going to a justice of the peace or any other official of the government who is entitled to witness marriages so that their marriage may have the recognition of the civil law. They can also marry before a non-Catholic minister, not as a minister of religion but as an official entitled by civil law to witness marriages. They must not allow him to use any religious ceremony If they can without great difficulty approach a civil official entitled to witness marriages, there is no reason to go to the non-Catholic minister.”

Woywod-Smith seem to be explaining above that because no latae sententiae sentence is prescribed for two Catholics marrying in a religious ceremony before a non-Catholic minister, this is only an attempted marriage; otherwise the two parties would only be subject to the one excommunication under Can. 1063. Under Can. 2316, both parties also are guilty of an act of communicatio in sacris and incur ipso facto the censure for suspicion of heresyAfter six months, if the parties have become aware of their delict and its consequences but have not amended, they are considered formal heretics (Can. 2315). The two citations below mention both marriages actually contracted (mixed marriage, which according to a 1925 private decision of the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments is valid but illicit) and attempted marriage (between two Catholics).

To approach a non-Catholic minister as such for marriage is to communicate formally with him in sacred things. Such action is a manifest participation in the sacred things of non-Catholics, and a recognition of their cult. All those who formally co-operate in the non-Catholic marriage ceremony of a Catholic are likewise guilty of the sin of religious communication. Some co-operators can incur the excommunication which is incurred by Catholics contracting or attempting such a marriage. Those who command, and all others who so induce the consummation of a delict, or so concur in it in any way, that the delict would not have been perpetrated without the command or concurrence are bound by the censure.'” (Rev. John R. Bancroft, C.SS.R., J.C.B., S.T.L., Communication. in Religious Worship with Non-Catholics, 1946). 

Pope Pius XII clarifies the application of Can. 2319 §1 as follows:

Qualifying Clause of Canon 2319 §1 no. 1 Expunged

Pope Pius XII, Motu proprio, 25 December 1953 AAS 46-88

“The good of the Church demands that we take all possible care that the stability of Canon Law be not endangered by the uncertain opinions and conjectures of private parties regarding the true sense of the canons and that interpretations which rest on subtleties and cavils against the clear will of the of the legislator do not result in undue indulgence toward violators of the law, a thing which disrupts the nerve of ecclesiastical discipline. But certain interpreters of the sacred canons, paying too little attention to these considerations, have extenuated the force of canon 2319 §1, no. 1 and, relying too much on the prescription of Canon 1063 §1 to which it makes reference, have taught that not every marriage contracted or attempted by Catholics before a non-Catholic minister is punished by excommunication reserved to the Ordinary.

Accordingly, lest the faithful, no longer fearing the penalty, might dare to commit such crime We, after consulting the most eminent and most reverend fathers of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, of Our own motion and in the plenitude of Our Apostolic authority, decreed and ordained that the words “Contra praescriptum canonis 1063 §1” be expunged from Canon 2319 §1 no. 1. We order also that this Apostolic letter, given of Our own motion, be published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis.”

This seems to indicate that both those contracting mixed marriage AND those attempting marriage do incur the excommunication. The separate treatment of those who have contracted marriage and attempted marriage indicates that here Pope Pius XII is considering two distinct situations. The question asked in the 1925 decision on mixed marriage was: “Is mixed marriage before a Protestant minister valid if conditions of Canon 1098 for marriage before witnesses only are verified?”  Reply: if all the conditions which are required by Canon 1098 for the validity of marriages before witnesses only are verified, the circumstances that such marriages were blessed in a non-Catholic church is an argument not against validity but against licitness.” (Canon Law Digest, Vol. IV, Can. 1098). This does not indicate that these marriages, however, were celebrated in a Protestant or schismatic ceremony; only that they were celebrated before a Protestant minister without the proper dispensation required before marrying a non-Catholic at that time. Yet according to what Woywod-Smith state above, this same application of Can. 1098 would not apply to the marriage of two Catholics.

But Can. 1014 states marriage is always presumed to be valid

Yes it does, but presumption must yield to truth. The truth here seems to be that two baptized Catholics presenting before a non-Catholic minister and engaging in a religious ceremony only attempt marriage; there IS no presumption that it ever existed. Novus Ordo adherents and Traditionalists almost always solemnize marriage in a flashy religious ceremony. Yet they are not commissioned to be, nor could they ever be so commissioned, as official witnesses for the true Church under Can. 1094. They are non-Catholic sects claiming to be Catholic, just as the Anglicans long claimed to be. It would be ridiculous to think that two baptized Catholics could expect to be joined in a valid Catholic union outside their own Church that results in an excommunication excluding them from Church membership and reception of the sacraments.

Renewal of consent

This is covered under Canons 1136 and 1137. Canon 1136 states: “A marriage which is invalid through lack of consent is validated if the party who did not consent now gives his consent provided the consent of the other party continues. If the lack of consent was merely internal it suffices that the party who did not consent now gives consent by an internal act. If the lack of consent was manifested also outwardly, it is necessary to renew the consent outwardly, either in the form prescribed by law, when the absence of consent was public, or in some private and secret but external manner if the lack of consent was occult.” Woywod-Smith comment:” In the chapter dealing with matrimonial consent, (Canons 1081-93), the Code treats of the various forms of defective consent: consent vitiated by ignorance, by error, by fear and force and by a condition attached.” This is where Can. 104 enters in, regarding error but also indirectly a condition.

One who marries believing the minister consulted is a witness acting in the official capacity of the Church when this is not the case has made an error that nullifies the act performed; that of giving consent according to the laws of the Church. Were it not for the fact that these attempted marriages involved a participation in a non-Catholic ceremony, they might be said to be valid; but almost always an actual ceremony is involved. The condition sine qua non for the validity of a Catholic marriage is a true priest possessing the proper delegation by the Church to officiate at the marriage. Technically these marriages are invalid for lack of form: they are only attempted marriages. But one is not aware of this unless it is first realized that the Novus Ordo and Traditionalist sects are not able to validly witness marriages followed by a religious ceremony. And this is not to mention that in the external forum one incurs an excommunication and suspicion of heresy. As Woywod-Smith note under Can. 1098 °1120: “The Church does not dispense in cases of necessity from invalidating laws,” and resorting to a religious ceremony in a non-Catholic Church invalidates the attempted marriage.

Canon 1137 reads: “To validate a marriage which was nullified by a defect in the form it must be contracted again in the legitimate form.” Woywod-Smith comment: “If the parties were married outside the Church, if the priest who witnessed the marriage was not properly qualified, or if two qualified witnesses were not present, the marriage is null and void, and such a marriage can be validated in no other way then by the observance of the prescribed form of marriage. The rule here stated is now general application for all marriages in which at least one of the parties is subject to the law of the Code on the form of marriage. If one of the parties cannot be persuaded to validate the marriage before the authorized priest and witnesses, as happens quite frequently in mixed marriages contracted outside the Church, nothing remains but to get the sanatio in radice to validate the marriage.” And this is available first from the bishop, then the pope, which sadly are not available to us. This covers marriages before Novus Ordo and Traditionalist ministers who were not qualified witnesses and whose ceremonies are not Catholic.

Some canonists have opined that Can.1098 and the China exemptions automatically legitimate all these marriages or prove them able to be legitimated. This may have been true when we still had a true pope and bishops, in a sort of supplied jurisdiction manner, but it is not true today. Can. 1098 is an exception to the law and is to be interpreted strictly. Canon 19 states: “Laws which… establish an exception to the law must be interpreted in a strict sense.” Woywod-Smith comment: “These classes of laws are considered odious. It may seem strange that a law which contains an exception from the general law is called odious whereas in fact it may be very acceptable. However, it is a recognized principle of legislation to favor the universal or common law and to discourage exceptions. Archbishop Cicognani writes in his Canon Law that: “Things deviating from the common law are in no respect to be drawn into precedent. That which is granted gratuitously to one person ought not to be drawn into precedent by others; for whatever is granted to a person contrary to the common law is odious even though the exception be established by law.”

Of course today, Can. 1098 is the only law Catholics can observe, where, as a general rule, while the Church still existed, it was resorted to only occasionally. But it could never be used to “cover” those marriages which the Church holds to be only attempted, not actual. And as we will show below in the appendix, the China exemptions only apply to us today to a certain extent. For they too are exceptions to the law permitted under certain circumstances and cannot be stretched beyond the intended will of the legislator. Next, we will see where all the above leaves us in regard to marriage today.


We are not worried here about those who will remain in the Novus Ordo or Traditionalist sects and believe themselves to be married in the Catholic Church. They marry validly in their own sects but are not Catholic; they are not members of the Church, nor are they married in the Catholic Church. If both parties, baptized in the Catholic Church and married in a solemn ceremony by a Novus Ordo or a Traditionalist minister should leave one of these sects or another non-Catholic sect to pray at home, they would need to observe the following order, adapted from Pastoral Companion, Fr. Honoratus Bonzelet, O.F.M., 1939:

  1. If there are serious doubts concerning Baptism in a particular case, conditional baptism may be given. Otherwise, a renewal of baptismal vows.
  2. A profession of faith must be made.
  3. This must be followed by an examination of conscience and a Perfect Act of Contrition, then Spiritual Communion.
  4. The couple must publicly renew their consent under Can. 1098, before two (preferably Catholic) witnesses and keep a record of the ceremony. In a Can. 1098 ceremony, any civil official or judge, even a ship’s captain, could witness the marriage. But ideally a Catholic male friend can officiate and witness the recital of the vows. The marriage can then be registered with the state. It can be a marriage (or renewal of vows) just as lovely as any other marriage ceremony.
  5. A three-year period of penance and amendment should begin, to satisfiy canonical requirements regarding return from heresy and schism.

Should one party wish not to renew consent but promises not to molest the faith of the one staying at home and agree that the children are to be raised outside these sects, the consent of the Catholic party wishing to pray at home is sufficient. If this is not possible, then the one converting may proceed as though there was never a marriage to begin with, because this is what Canon Law teaches. All cases would need to be submitted to the Holy See for examination and rectification should a true pope ever be elected, but that is highly unlikely. Catholics must abide by the marriage laws of the Church, not cater to the feelings or perceived needs of those involved in non-Catholic sects, offering them assurances that all is well when this is far from the case. Pope Pius XII says we must obey the laws of the Church if we wish to be counted as members of the Mystical Body (Mystici Corporis).

There are concerns about the motives of certain individuals calling themselves pray-at-home Catholics, and they are justified. Fr. Bonzelet writes: “Converts should be received with great care, especially if they are strangers to the pastor. The pastor should above all try to ascertain their motives. If material considerations (intended marriage) are compelling motives, he should apprise them that such motives are not sufficient. He should not, however, for that reason refuse to instruct them, since grace often builds up on extrinsic and natural motives.” There is no longer anyone to “vet” those who seemingly wish to leave these non-Catholic sects.  There are deep concerns about those claiming to be newly converted given the fact that some might simply pretend to convert, then leave and publicly denounce those praying at home to shame them; or simulate conversion solely to justify leaving a spouse. All of this must rest solely on the consciences of those reading what is written here – no one is demanding that anyone do anything. Each person must decide for themselves what is true for their own situation. This was made clear from the beginning. Free will is just that — we answer to God for all our choices. This is why it is suggested that anyone wishing to become a pray-at-home Catholic spend three years on probation so to speak, but all of this must be on the honor system. The Internet is no guarantee of anything. We can only tell readers what the Church teaches and after that, we are at the mercy of the good will and honesty of others.


Marriage decision of the Holy Office issued for China During Communist Rule

We do not (yet) live in a Communist country and are still free to follow many of the Church’s laws that did not and could not apply to the Chinese. The Church was especially concerned that the cautiones or promise that the children be baptized and educated as Catholics be at least given sincerely at the time of the marriage, even if they could not later be fulfilled.

Can the China law be applied to marriages taking place today, now that its existence is known? Only very cautiously and to the extent that is necessary. This is because the reply to the original decree explains that the positive law must be observed whenever it is able to be observed. The need for canonical form and even the witnesses is lifted in rare cases where Communist oppression was at its worst, according to one Spanish canonist, but we can easily use the correct form under Can. 1098 and find witnesses, even if they are non-Catholics. The lifting of the impediments is what mainly applies here, because there is no one to determine when or if they may be lifted and no appeal to Rome is now possible. Can the decree “retroactively” apply to past cases? Only if there is a question of impediments and whether or not they applied at the time of the marriage. This seems to be in harmony with the decree.

Here the distinction must be made between a declaratory decision or decree by the Holy See and an authentic interpretation. On Dec. 21, 1949, the Holy Office explained that the decree on China given in January of that year: “…has the nature of a declarative interpretation and hence can be applied retroactively and in other territories only to the extent that it deals with prescriptions of positive law which in view of extraordinary circumstances in the territory cannot be observed as to other matters it has the character of a positive provision which is not retroactive nor applicable in territories not mentioned in the decree” (Canon Law Digest, Vol. IV, p. 330).

Abp. Amleto Cicognani in his Canon Law explains that: “Interpretation is authoritative if it is given by a superior who possesses public authority. Laws are authoritatively interpreted by the lawmaker and his successor and by those to whom the lawmaker has committed the power to interpret the laws (Can. 17 §1). Cicognani goes on to explain that interpretation is merely declarative when it explains “terms of the law which are in themselves certain; declaratory properly so-called when it explains really doubtful and obscure terms of law,” which it does in this case. An authentic interpretation of the Code can be given only by the commission set up by Pope Benedict XV for the authentic interpretation of canon law. Can. 17 §2 reads further: “The authoritative interpretation of the law, given in the form of law, has the same force as the law itself; if it merely declares the meaning of the words of the law that were certain in themselves the interpretation need not be promulgated, and it has retroactive effect; if the interpretation restricts or extends the original law or explains a doubtful law, such interpretation does not have retroactive effect and must be promulgated.” The China decree is the latter.

This Dec. 21, 1949 reply was private and appears never to have been officially promulgated, as it is not appended to the Code, nor is it listed as being entered into the Acta Apostolica Sedis. Therefore it does not actually have the force of law accorded to the canons. The canons must apply first, whenever they can be obeyed and only in emergency circumstances beyond the lifting of impediments would the China decree be able to be extended to cover marital situations. And while these impediments can be said to have been retroactively lifted in all cases, this does not change the fact that two Catholics marrying before a non-Catholic minister in a religious ceremony only attempt marriage and additionally incur suspicion of heresy under Can. 2316, in addition to excommunication under 2319 §1.



More about Church teaching on marriage: See new addendum

More about Church teaching on marriage: See new addendum

+St. Evaristus+

(Please see the response to attacks on this blog post in the Addendum of Oct. 27.)

Comments on the last blog on marriage woes have become numerous and so it seems more practical to publish a second article to address these observations. Excerpts from the comments submitted particularly by one reader below will be followed by my response.

Reader: “…The issue here is not whether spouses in unhappy marriages such as those you mention can leave their husbands or wives when tension reaches a high level. The issue is whether they can walk away and marry again. In sad cases of serious and irreparable division, the Church has always approved separation. One does not need to have studied specific canon laws to know of the Church’s mercy and realism on this point.”

Response: Here you are presuming that the marriage was validly contracted and that the spouses can possibly reconcile their differences in the future. Of course the Church has always allowed separation; this should go without saying. But we are not just talking about tensions here, but very real moral and spiritual calamities — including possible loss of faith — that afflict many of those believing themselves to be validly married. As another reader has also pointed out, the very fact that such calamities occur, that there are “irreparable divisions,” is only backhanded proof that the graces that should have been received in a Catholic sacramental union were never received; the marriage was not valid, hence not sacramental. The Church’s “mercy and realism” extends to the sacramental reality of things, don’t you think?

The entire conception of marriage as a sacrament has been lost. Also lost is the very serious obligation the Church has to regulate these marriages among her validly baptized children and determine their conformity to Divine law. She does this by issuing laws. In his Mystici Corporis, Pope Pius XII makes it a condition of Church membership to be subject to these laws. He writes in another address: “Clerics and laity may not exempt themselves from this discipline; rather all should be concerned to obey it…” (The Church and its Powers of Sanctifying and Ruling, Nov. 2, 1954).  Perhaps in the past there were lawful pastors to explain the laws regarding marriage, but we no longer enjoy that luxury. So do we educate ourselves or rush blindly into a vocation that binds us for life? Without the graces we need to fulfill our state in life, how can we possibly hope to be worthy spouses, parents, grandparents? The Church determines — and has the strict RIGHT to determine — when those graces are received, because Our Lord Jesus Christ is the dispenser of those precious graces!

The chain of Divine jurisdiction established by Christ, flowing from the pope to the bishops and finally to the priests by way of delegation, is the unquestionable guarantee that these graces are rightly received. As proven elsewhere on this site, unless this chain is maintained in all the sacraments, save that of emergency baptism (and in exceptional cases marriage, which is a natural right), the sacrament is not valid simply because the Church, commissioned by Christ to bind and loose, says it is not valid. It was presumed even in Can. 1098 marriages that whenever possible those marriages would later be blessed by the proper parish or missionary priest and entered into the parish register.

Reader: “But you seem to be suggesting that through inculpable ignorance regarding what appears to be a legalism, a person who has enough devotion to the Church to seek to marry within it can watch a spouse, or presumed spouse, not only leave, but act as if the marriage never took place and seek a new spouse. Is this truly just? It seems so pharisaical.”

Response: First let’s address inculpable ignorance. This is something that must be proven to exist, not assumed. The 19th century Scottish bishop, George. Hay, in his classic work The Sincere Christian sets down the requirements for the existence of invincible ignorance: “For one to be in invincible ignorance it is required that he be sincerely resolved to embrace the truth wherever he may find it and whatever it may cost him.  For if he be not fully resolved to follow the will of God, wherever it shall appear to him, in all things necessary to salvation; if on the contrary, he be so disposed that he would rather neglect his duty and hazard his soul than correct an ill custom, or disoblige his friends, or expose himself to some temporal loss or disadvantage…Such a disposition must be highly displeasing to God and an ignorance arising from it can never excuse him before his Creator… He must sincerely use his best endeavors to know his duty, and particularly that he recommend that matter earnestly to Almighty God, and pray for light and direction.

For whatever desire he may pretend of knowing the truth, if he does not use the proper means for finding it, it is manifest that his ignorance is not invincible but voluntary; for ignorance is only invincible when one has a sincere desire to know the truth with a full resolution to embrace it, but either has no possible means of knowing it or, after using his best endeavors to know it, yet cannot find it.” When these standards are applied, I think it is clear that many do not qualify as inculpable. The means to dispel this ignorance have existed since the 1980s. Few use their best endeavors to find it, in my experience anyway. They will research a million things on the Internet, but not this. The problem here is not whether they were ignorant but whether they were Catholic. Those marrying in Traditionalist sects are schismatics. Until they leave those sects and renounce them they cannot be considered to have married in the Church.

Secondly, we proceed to “what appears to be legalism,” but, when examined more closely, is really the veiled practice of liberal Catholicism. I object to the term legalism because it is a common accusation made by Traditionalists. Wikipedia defines it as: “…A usually pejorative term [pejorative meaning it is used to deprecate or demean] referring to an over-emphasis on discipline of conduct, or legal ideas, usually implying an allegation of misguided rigour, pride, superficiality, the neglect of mercy, and ignorance of the grace of God or emphasizing the letter of law at the expense of the spirit.” We will address the last sentence here because it explains everything we really need to know about legalism.

In an article printed in the May 1965 edition of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review by one Fr. Robert G. Wesselmann, J.C.L., (“Canon Law: Criticisms and Reactions”). Wesselmann begins by saying: “When Pope John XXIII announced plans for an Ecumenical Council in 1959, he immediately indicated that one goal would be revision of the Code of Canon Law. At first canonists thought of revision merely in terms of tidying up the present Code — eliminating inconsistencies in terminology, incorporating laws enacted since 1917 and changing a few specific laws…in accordance with Conciliar decrees. Now even canonists are having second thoughts about the place of law in the mission of the Church.”

Wesselmann effectively dilutes all authority of the hierarchy in the Church, pretending the laity are able and qualified to decide for themselves on moral matters without the strictures of “legalism.” He writes: “Canon Law must be partially blamed, at least by defect, for the legalism which the liturgists decry… To be able to do away with the present system, we would need greater emphasis on equity (justice tempered by fairness, moderation, mercy) in enacting and enforcing laws and more frequent exercise of the virtue of epikeia by the subjects of the law…For the subjects of law, it means willingness to apply the law in concrete circumstances, not according to its letter but according to its spirit…” He wishes to leave the determination of this “equity” to the average layperson and encourages “the rejection of constant readiness to place any and every perplexity before one’s superiors…The present penal section of the Code…is needlessly complicated and might be virtually abolished,” as it was in effect when the 1983 Code of Canon Law was issued.

So cries of legalism can be directly traced to the liturgical renewal crowd that led to the institution of the Novus Ordo and to Traditionalists and their adulation of epikeia! Isn’t this ample proof that both these two organizations are really just two sides of the same coin? They have been very clever in obscuring the many things they have in common with the Novus Ordo, in order to appear to be the perpetual foes of the anti-Church. So this may come as a surprise to those who are not aware of the extent of Traditionalists’ true affinity with the church in Rome.

Thirdly, many Traditionalists over the years have tried to label those insisting that Canon Law is binding on the faithful as Pharisees. They feel that upholding the law and advocating for its strict application in our present circumstances seems unjust. But the term pharisaical is often misapplied because it is misunderstood. Christ explains this while addressing the Pharisees as follows: “…You have made void the commandment of God for your tradition. Hypocrites, well did Isaias prophesy of you, saying, ‘This people honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.’ But in vain they do worship me, teaching doctrines and the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:7-9). That the Hebrews of Jesus’ time truly believed their elders’ teachings were at least equal to the Scriptures is confirmed by the later comments of Jewish rabbis on the Talmud: “The Scriptures are water; the Mishnah, wine; but the Gemara, spiced wine.”

Rev. Leo Haydock comments: “The Pharisees pretended the greatest exactitude even in the smallest commands of the law, when the observance of them could impress the people with a favorable idea of their sanctity; whereas they omitted the more essential precepts of the law, when it did not incur them the praise of men.” The Catholic Encyclopedia notes: “Together with the Pharisees they are represented in the Gospels as being very ambitious of honour (Matthew 23:2-7, Mark 12:38-40; Luke 11:43, 45, 46; 20:46), and as making void the weightier precepts of the Law by their perverse interpretations by means of which they had gradually laid a most heavy burden upon the people. They are also rebuked by Christ because of the undue importance ascribed by them to the ‘traditions of the elders.’” Therefore the Pharisees were following their OWN laws, not God’s laws, as Christ Himself notes above. Likewise, Traditionalists take it upon themselves to basically dismiss Canon Law, relying on their own interpretations rather than those of the lawgiver as the law demands. This negates all they do under Pope Pius XII’s Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis, governing interregnums.

Reader: “All unloved spouses in some sense suffer for the glory of the institution of marriage, which though it may bring extraordinary suffering to some brings happiness, security and well-being to many more… To the Catholic, who does not equate happiness with an absence of pain, it can be very consoling.”

“Unfortunately, we live in a world where because of a high degree of social isolation and the easy availability of divorce, the unspoken traditions that once guided people, the strategies by which a lack of companionship or love in marriage could be overcome by building separate, independent lives and friendships while remaining together, have been largely lost. There is now simply one solution and that is ending the marriage and looking to establish a new one.”

Response: It IS a privilege indeed to suffer for the glory of the institution of marriage provided it is a valid marriage. Would any of these Catholics have consented to be married had they known that the person presumably performing the marriage could not officially witness the conveying of the necessary graces and was not acting validly? I hardly think so. IF someone sees that praying at home is their only option today and realize that they did not marry validly before a lawful pastor, it is easily remedied under Can. 1098. If they adopt the pray-at-home position, and truly wish to live a Catholic life but are needlessly suffering under intolerable obstacles to their faith and mental well-being, then they cannot be and must not be seen as “walking out on their marriage,” when the Church says it was never a marriage to begin with. Nor should this necessarily be done with the intent to find a new husband or wife, although this cannot be excluded. They are free to marry, but in this wicked world, finding a new partner and starting over is a very daunting task, a task that some today choose not to pursue. Still, the Church considers marriage preferable to the sins of impurity that could result, especially among those prone to such sins.

Catholic couples have a RIGHT to receive matrimonial graces

Provided that the Church’s laws governing marriage are followed, those contracting marriage confer the graces of the Sacrament on each other. The Church has the strict right to determine the binding nature of these laws. In a 1946 address entered under Can. 2314 on freedom of conscience and the objects of judicial jurisdiction (Canon Law Digest, Vol. III), Pope Pius XII wrote the following on the hardships facing married couples following WWII: “What a degree of courage, of self-denial, of patience; what a treasure of loving mutual trust, what a spirit of Christian faith were required in order to keep intact their plighted faith… The motherly heart of the Church bleeds at the sight of the unspeakable anguish of so many of her children. To come to their aid, She spares no effort and carries her condescension to its extreme limit. This extreme limit is solemnly formulated in Canon 1118 of the Code of Canon Law: ‘Marriage which is sacramental and consummated cannot be dissolved by any human power nor by any cause save death.’”

Note above the word sacramental. Who alone were able to (administer or) witness the Sacraments? Those who can be rightly identified, of course, as lawful pastors, rightly commissioned by the Church as such. Does the Church consider marriages between Catholics, (or where one party is Catholic at least), by one not delegated by the Church sacramental? Not according to Can. 1094. Therefore even if consummated, it is still not considered valid. And this same Canon offers the exception of Canon 1098. But how could Can. 1098 be invoked unless one first realized there are no lawful pastors left and they must invoke it? It cannot take effect automatically while the parties still remain outside the Church! Since Novus Ordo and Traditionalist pseudo- clergy and followers cannot validly convey sacraments, how could such a marriage be sacramental? One is either within the Church and obeys Her laws or they are not. Those wishing to be truly Catholic have a strict right to receive the graces issuing from a valid matrimonial contract, valid as defined by the Church. This we learn from Richard Cardinal Cushing:

“Matrimony is a sacrament which a priest cannot administer. At the marriage ceremony he is merely the authorizing witness. The bride and groom are the ministers of the Sacrament. Since the groom confers the Sacrament on the bride, the first gift he gives her as his wife is an increase of sanctifying grace which is the greatest gift even an omnipotent God Himself can give, and so the bride to the groom. Such a gift is infinitely more precious than the most expensive watch or ring. When God instituted marriage, He had a twofold purpose: the propagation and education of children and the mutual help and comfort of man and woman in their closely associated life. To achieve that purpose steadily through a lifetime together the husband and wife need direct and immediate help from God. The effect of the sacrament is not just for a day. It is for a lifetime. God stands ready to give that help. When the couple receives the sacrament, they receive a title or right to the following actual graces.

  1. To fulfill God’s law with regard to the conception and birth of children.
  2. To enjoy the pleasures and to carry the burdens of married life in a holy way.
  3. To cherish each other and to grow in the love of each other, putting up with the inevitable defects that exist in every human being.
  4. To bring up the children in a way worthy of their human nature and worthy, too, of their supernatural destiny.

“Throughout their lives husband and wife, who later become father and mother, are continually helped by God with actual graces which come to them as their due because of a sacrament with which they sealed the very beginning of their united lives. In a very real sense, the sacrament makes them each to each and they and the children, each to each, ‘keepsakes for heaven’”. The Sacraments: 7 Channels of Grace for Every State in Life; published by the Daughters of Saint Paul). Those, then, who never received these graces, have a right now to receive them, for married couples today need them more now than ever before.


We are children of Holy Mother Church. When Mother says no, you cannot marry before anyone but a lawful pastor if you wish to be married validly, we respect Her and we obey. When the Pope tells us, in an infallible decree, (Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis), how we must behave during times when we have no pope, (an interregnum), we obey. If he orders that during such a time none of the laws of the Church may be changed, and if changed, the changes are null and void, we give a firm and irrevocable assent to what he teaches. Any attempt then to change those laws or violate the rights of the Church by invoking epikeia (or accepting as valid men who were never approved by the pope for consecration as bishops, another stipulation in this decree) we must consider such things as never having occurred. The laws of the Church today stand just as they stood on the death of Pope Pius XII; his intent as the supreme lawgiver is perfectly clear. We have no right to consider these laws unjust or question them in any way. Not, that is, if we wish to remain Catholic.

Matrimony is a beautiful Sacrament in which two people give themselves to each other exclusively and wholly, until these bonds are dissolved by death. To employ a Traditional or independent priest of whatever degree of presumed holiness or spiritual friendship to “bless” such a marriage and act as witness could actually be a curse on future married life. In these unprecedented times we must obey God not men, as Christ tells us that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments. He commands us not to allow entry to the hireling, and to run from false shepherds. Ask Our Lord and His Blessed Mother, also those married saints to whom you are devoted, to bless your marriage. Refrain from breaking God’s laws, and such blessings will be given you in abundance.


“Your article is a grave attack on Catholic marriages!”

So wails the anti-Canon Law crowd that just “liked” the article on the need to obey Canon Law (?) They cite nary one canon in their favor, no papal or conciliar documents, not even theological opinions. But they believe they have the right to disagree, to snipe, even to condemn. Canon Law and scholastic theology require proofs to establish a credible argument, but this is apparently not something they feel obligated to do. Let them prove Traditionalists and some Novus Ordoites were never baptized; that they are not at least material heretics and schismatics and that therefore Can. 1094 does not apply to them. Maybe then their objections would make more sense. Ah, but they have no answer to this either, no proofs. They apparently love to argue, so perhaps they would like to take on the pope, or the Roman Rota below.

Anyone who reads this site knows that we have long considered Traditional pseudo-clerics and their followers schismatic. Schismatics are those certainly baptized in the Catholic faith who publicly joined a non-Catholic sect; they are no longer members of the Church according to Canons 2200 and 2314. They are not only schismatics but are at least material heretics for their denial of the necessity of the papacy. Material heretics are considered as outside the Church until their cases can be decided by the proper authorities (Can. 2200; Rev. Adolphe Tanquerey, others). So according to Pope St. Pius X and Pope Pius XII’s reinstatement of his Ne Temere decree, the marriages of lapsed Catholics and schismatics must be conducted according to the canonical form, which in the past was by a lawful pastor delegated to act as an authoritative witness in such marriages, (but in his absence today, the canonical form can only be Can. 1098). Novus Ordo sectarians and Traditionalists are married under neither.

Canon 1098 must be interpreted strictly since it is an exception to the law. We read under Can. 1098 in the Canon Law Digest, Vol. II: “Canon 1098 contains an exception to the law and is therefore subject to strict interpretation according to Canon 19; that is, the existence of the condition required for its application must be strictly proved in the exterior forum” (Roman Rota, July 29, 1926). How do you strictly prove the intent to invoke Can. 1098 when a Traditionalist or Novus Ordo couple thinks the marriage ceremony itself is a valid act??? In another decision, the Roman Rota made an important distinction between the “belief” of the Catholic parties in one case that an authorized priest was not available and the actual fact that he indeed was available, declaring the marriage invalid (Jan. 30, 1926; Ibid). The belief of lay Traditionalists that they can only marry validly if married by a pseudo-cleric in the alleged continuation of what they believe to be the Catholic Church is similar. It does not correspond to the actual facts, that is, they could only use Can. 1098.

Revs. Woywod-Smith comment on Can. 1099 §2: “Beginning with January 1, 1949, …marriages [of Catholics baptized in the Catholic Church] even with non-Catholics will be invalid unless the canonical form of marriage is observed. Their marriages contracted on or after that date without observing the canonical form are clandestine in the same way as the marriages of those mentioned in Canon 1099 §1 when contracted with defective form. When therefore their validity is attacked, the case is to be resolved by the ordinary or even the pastor in consultation with the ordinary. Non-Catholics baptized and unbaptized are exempt from the Catholic form of marriage whenever they marry persons similarly not bound by it. Catholics who at an adult age have fallen away from the Church either by joining a non-Catholic sect or rejecting all religious creeds according to Canon 1099 §1, #1 ARE NOT EXEMPT FROM THE CATHOLIC FORM OF MARRIAGE when they marry other lapsed Catholics or Protestants or unbaptized persons… Pope Pius XII abrogated paragraph two of Canon 1099, formerly excluding the children of lapsed Catholics and apostates form the necessity of of observing the canonical form, to now include them:The children of lapsed or apostate Catholics… if, though baptized in the Catholic Church they were reared outside the faith from infancy …are now [also] bound to the Catholic canonical form of marriage” (A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, 1957). This applies to nearly all Traditionalists and those in the Novus Ordo.

So if as pray-at home Catholics we believe validly baptized Traditionalists are schismatic, (and Canon Law teaches that they are), they also are bound by the proper canonical form to marry. Therefore, we can only say that their marriages before one who was not a lawful pastor were invalid and Can.1098 was never invoked; this is precisely what the Church teaches. And Canons 1133 and 1134 further state: “To validate a marriage which is invalid …the renewal of consent is required by ecclesiastical law for the validation of the marriage even though in the beginning both parties gave their consent and have not revoked it since (Can. 1133). The renewal of consent must be a new act of the will for a marriage that is known to have been invalid from the beginning” (Can. 1134).

This is all that is required by those returning from heresy and schism who do not wish to contest the marriage. Certainly, it is by far the preferred route to go. But given the Church’s clear teaching on this subject, who can fault one who for very serious reasons holds the marriage invalid? Let the Church, if it is ever restored to us, be the judge of this, not those who contest Her laws. I am confident a future pope would never fault anyone for strictly upholding Canon Law, which by infallible decree cannot be changed or discounted during an interregnum.


Exemption of “ab Acatholicis Nati” Abrogated (Pius XII, 1948) Motu proprio,1 Aug.,

(Canon Law Digest, Vol. III, Pgs. 463-64)

This Motu proprio, entitled “Abrogatur Alterum Comma Paragraphi Secundae Canonis 1099,” is as follows: The Decree, Ne temere, issued by order of Our Predecessor of happy memory, Pius X, had provided (art. XI) that all persons baptized in the Catholic Church, even if they had afterward fallen away from it, were bound to observe the form of marriage prescribed in the Council of Trent. However, as regards persons born of non-Catholics and baptized in the Catholic Church, who from infancy had grown up in heresy or schism or infidelity or without any religion, lest their marriages should be null, it was provided in the Code of Canon Law that baptized persons of this class are not bound to observe the canonical form of marriage. But the experience of thirty years has sufficiently shown that the exemption from observing the canonical form of marriage, which was given to this class of persons baptized in the Catholic Church, has not conduced to the good of souls, and has moreover very frequently multiplied difficulties in the solution of cases; wherefore We have deemed it expedient that this exemption be revoked.

Accordingly, after hearing from the Eminent Fathers of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, We of Our own motion and out of the fullness of Apostolic power, decree and provide that all persons baptized in the Catholic Church are bound to observe the canonical form of marriage; and We therefore abrogate the second clause of paragraph 2 of canon 1099, and order that the words, “item ab acatholicis nati, etsi in Ecclesia catholica baptizati, qui ab infantili aetate in haeresi uel schismate aut infidelitate aut sine ulla religione adoleverunt, quoties cum parte acatholica contraxerint,” be expunged from canon 1099. And We take this occasion to admonish missionaries and priests to observe most carefully the provisions of canons 750-751. We therefore order that this Apostolic Letter given of Our own motion be reported in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, and We decree that its provisions shall go into effect from the first day of January, 1949. All things to the contrary, even such as are worthy of special mention, notwithstanding.

Given from Castel Gandolfo near Rome, the first day of August, Feast of Saint Peter in Chains, in the year nineteen hundred and forty-eight, the tenth of Our Pontificate.

AAS 40–305; Pius XII, Motu proprio, 1 Aug., 1948. Periodica, 37-334 (Creusen).

Motu proprio, 1 Aug., 1948. Periodica, 37-334 (Creusen).


NOTE: Confusion on this matter may be arising if those consulting Canon Law to check the above are referencing these topics in Canon Law texts written before Aug. 1, 1948. Regardless of whether Traditionalists are considered schismatic or simply non-Catholic, their baptisms are considered valid, according to the canonists Revs. Woywod-Smith and Bouscaren-Ellis; also in later decisions by the Holy Office and the Rota. A decision issued by the Holy Office in December 1949 reads: “Regarding the validity of baptism in certain sects… Whether, in adjudicating matrimonial cases baptism conferred in the sects of the Disciples of Christ, the Presbyterians, the Congregationalists, the Baptists and Methodists, where necessary matter and form were used, is to be presumed invalid, the Holy Office replies: “In the negative.” And to the question as to whether there is doubt “regarding the intention of the minister in certain cases, whether they are to be considered valid unless the contrary is proved in the particular case,” the Holy Office declared: “In the affirmative.” (Canon Law Digest, Vol. III, AAS 41-650).

So either way, even in doubt, these baptisms are to be considered valid. Bouscaren-Ellis comment on doubtful baptism under Can. 1070: “The case is obvious where a child is presented to a Catholic priest to be baptized or where an adult receives formal baptism in the Catholic Church… The fact that a person baptized in the Catholic Church afterward abandoned it would not exempt him from this law regarding the form of marriage… [In the case of]  two Catholics, even though doubt exists as to the validity of the baptism of one of them, the presumption in favor of baptism agrees with the favor of marriage.” Woywod-Smith extends this presumption of validity to lay baptisms as well.

What does the Church really teach about: Marriage woes today

What does the Church really teach about: Marriage woes today

+Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost+

Over the years, many have submitted questions about marriage issues asking what they should do in these times when there is no priest, bishop or pope to consult regarding one’s marital status and no real guidance on what one should do. Years ago, a decision was discovered in the Canon Law Digest (Vol. III, Can. 1067 and Vol. IV, Can. 1071) that simplified matters, stating that in emergency situations such as existed under Communist rule in China in the 1940s, all impediments to marriage are lifted save for those of affinity and marriage to one in Orders or a religious under perpetual vows (which is not applicable today). Even the usual form for marriage seems not to be necessary for validity (although it should always be used by Catholics whenever possible). The Holy Office determined that this decision also could be applied to any region suffering the same circumstances (absence of priests and difficulty of obtaining dispensations) and this certainly applies to us today. (See the article on these papal decisions at; subhead Matrimony).

Those already praying at home who now are seeking release from marital situations or suffering from anxiety about the validity of their marriages will be surprised to learn that they are not considered validly married under Canon Law if they were married by a Traditional or Novus Ordo minister whom they believed to be a true priest, but who in fact could not validly witness the marriage. This is stated in Can. 1094: “Those marriages only are valid which are contracted either before a pastor or the local ordinary or a priest delegated by either and at least two witnesses…” The law considered only priests subject to their bishop and delegated to celebrate marriage by a bishop in communion with the Roman Pontiff as true and lawful pastors, to whom the parties were subject. Since this was not the case, these marriages were invalid. HOWEVER, THOSE WISHING TO REMAIN IN THEIR MARRIAGES NEED ONLY REPEAT THEIR VOWS USING THE LINK ABOVE TO RENEW THEIR CONSENT. It is as simple as that.

The above assessment of validity is based on the fact that scarcely anyone, if anyone at all, knew of the concessions granted to China and its application to those of us today until about 2015. Therefore, they believed they must be validly married under the current 1917 Code of Canon Law. The fact that this law was not made known to them as the Holy See desired is proof itself, at least on the part of Traditionalists, that the marriages they officiated at were the product of deceit, since these “pastors” pretended to lift impediments that never needed lifting and presented as lawful minsters of the Church when they were not. This in itself would invalidate the marriage under Can. 104 as an act of fraud, outside anything governed by Can. 1094.

Those truly unable to remain in marriages apparently invalid under Can. 1094 may today consider themselves free to leave or divorce civilly, if married in the Novus Ordo or by a Traditionalist cleric. First, however, every effort should be made to resolve any problems in the marriage, especially where children are involved, and simply repeat vows according to the Can. 1098 exception. Where this is not possible, the Catholic is free to marry any partner, Catholic or not, as long as the promises are sincerely given to raise the children Catholic and that the non-Catholic will never interfere with the Catholic spouse’s practice of religion. This should be secured by a pre-nuptial agreement. The person conducting the marriage ceremony should invoke Can. 1098 in the presence of two witnesses (Catholic, whenever possible) and use the Catholic form of marriage prior to any civil registration of the marriage. The Church advises that the marriage also be registered with the civil authorities, although some disagree with this recommendation. But without civil record, it could happen that if problems arise with the marriage in the future, it would be difficult to prove it actually took place.

Marriage in the Catholic Church has the presumption of validity, provided that it is celebrated according to the laws of the Church. The question is: who would the Church of 1958 consider as Catholic and married within the Church?

Marriage cases usually decided by the diocese

The above is the simplest avenue to deciding many cases today. But other instances involving contested marital consent and the application of the Pauline and Petrine Privilege is an entirely different matter. Except in the case of the Pauline Privilege, doubtful baptisms are to be considered valid unless positively proven otherwise Decision. On Can. 1070, Canon Law Digest, Vol. III; T. Lincoln Bouscaren, 1954; AAS 41-650). Such matters were referred to the diocesan courts and the cases were treated much like they currently are treated in family courts today, with all the same legal formalities observed, only in an entirely Catholic fashion. Appeals of these decisions were forwarded to the Roman Rota or the Roman Pontiff. Had Traditionalists done for the faithful what should have been done and tried to supply for the many difficulties they would face without a true pope, instead of focusing entirely on the Mass and Sacraments (which could not be provided without grave sin), some legal substitute for determining cases today might have been possible, but of course this is not the case.

This leaves those wishing to convert, to resolve their marriage situations and to remarry in an intolerable situation. Marriage is a natural right, and grave sins can result if men and women are denied this right. On the other hand, grave sin results if one marries and is still judged by the Church to already be married. Because authoritative and educated decisions in these matters cannot now be obtained, (and no, Traditionalist “bishops” have no jurisdiction or expertise of any kind to decide such matters), what are Catholics wishing to keep the faith at home and remain faithful to do? It seems that in this matter, given that the Church in the China emergency lifted all her impediments save a few, that the natural right to marry would prevail over existing Church law. “Strict disciplinary laws are imposed by Holy Mother Church upon her children, and they are all for their own welfare. As soon, however, as they would militate unduly against their welfare, the Church is willing to adapt to embarrassing circumstances mitigating her apparently inflexible laws for the benefit of her children” (John De Reeper, MHF, The Jurist, April 1954, Vol. 2: The History and Application of Canon 1098). This is reflected in the Church’s emergency laws for China.

Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis, Pius XII’s papal election law governing us during an interregnum, forbids any alteration or dispensation from the canons. We also know, from following the principles that a probable opinion cannot be used concerning the validity of the Sacraments, that such also would be the case regarding marriage. Yet probable opinions differ from moral certainty, which is what must be reached in marital cases. And Pope Pius XII has decided it is not necessary to arrive at a high degree of moral certainty in these marriage cases, (since moral certainty admits of degrees). He also states that the judge should reconcile his opinion with the common opinion of well-educated people (Canon Law Digest, Vol. III, T. Lincoln Bouscaren, S.J., S.T.D., LL.B., 1954; AAS 34-338). In another address, the pope further teaches that civil tribunals can decide cases of nullity regarding marriages and that the Church will accept these as valid (Ibid., p. 654, AAS 38-391). However, most states do not treat all of the same causes for nullity that the Church will allow, so those not treated would need to be considered separately. Nor does the state today accept the full moral implications of the causes of nullity; in fact much of the time these are not considered at all, or are considered only to a certain extent, or in a negative way. Pope Pius XII further explains moral certainty below.

Pope Pius XII differentiates between moral certainty and probability

“According to Can.1869 §1, in order that the judge may be able to pronounce his decision there is required moral certainty regarding the facts of the case which is to be decided. Now this certainty, based on the constancy of the laws and practices which govern human life, admits of various degrees. There is absolute certainty in which all possible doubt as to the truth of the fact and the unreality of the contrary is entirely excluded. Such absolute certainty, however, is not necessary in order to pronounce the judgment. In many cases it is humanly unattainable; to require it would be to demand of the judge and of the parties something which is unreasonable. It would put an intolerable burden on the administration of justice and would very seriously obstruct it.

“In contrast to this supreme degree of certitude, common speech often designates as certain a cognition which strictly speaking does not merit to be so-called but should rather be classed as a greater or lesser probability because it does not exclude all reasonable doubt but leaves a foundation for the fear of error. This probability or quasi-certainty does not afford a sufficient basis for a judicial sentence regarding the objective truth of the fact. In such a case, that is when the lack of certainty regarding the fact at issue forbids pronouncing a positive judgment on the merits of the case, the law and especially the rules of procedure supply the judge with obligatory norms of action in which presumptions of law and rules regarding the favor of the law have a decisive importance. The judge cannot afford to ignore these rules of law and procedure. Yet it would be an exaggerated and wrong application of these norms and as it were a false interpretation of the mind of the legislator were the judge to seek recourse to them when there is not only a quasi-certainty but certitude in the proper and true sense. There are no presumptions nor favor of law as against the truth and a sure knowledge thereof.

“Between the two extremes of absolute certainty and quasi-certainty or probability is that moral certainty which is usually involved in the cases submitted to your court and of which we principally wish to speak. It is characterized on the positive side by the exclusion of well-founded and reasonable doubt and in this respect it is essentially distinguished from the quasi-certainty which has been mentioned, On the negative side, it does admit the absolute possibility of the contrary and in this it differs from absolute certainty, the certainty of which We are now speaking. It is necessary and sufficient for the rendering of a judgment even though in the particular case it would be possible either directly or indirectly to reach absolute certainty. Only thus is it possible to have a regular and orderly administration of justice going forward without useless delays and without laying excessive burdens on the tribunal as well as on the parties.

“Sometimes moral certainty is derived only from an aggregate of indications and proofs which taken singly do not provide the foundation for true certitude but which when taken together no longer leave room for any reasonable doubt on the part of a man of sound judgment. This is in no sense a passage from probability to certainty through a simple cumulation of probabilities which would amount to an illegitimate transit from one species to another essentially different one. It is rather to recognize that the simultaneous presence of all these separate indications proofs can have a sufficient basis only in the existence of a common origin or foundation from which they spring — that is, an objective truth and reality. In this case, therefore, certainty arises from the wise application of a principle which is absolutely secure and universally valid; namely, the principle of a sufficient reason… This moral certainty with an objective foundation does not exist if there are, on the other side, — that is in favor of the reality of the contrary — motives which a sound, serious and competent judgment pronounces to be at least in some way worthy of attention and which consequently make it necessary to admit the contrary is not only absolutely possible, but also in a certain sense probable” (Ibid. C.L. Digest III, AAS 34-338).

Cumulative circumstantial and other evidence, then, can lead to certainty in such matters and does not involve the use of a probable opinion regarding the validity of marriage. Hypothetical examples of such cumulative evidence are as follows:

Case 1: Miriam, a Catholic, marries Mark a Lutheran who before the marriage declares that he will marry her only on the condition that she agrees to use birth control. Miriam’s aunt overhears Mark propose this requirement and objects, but Miriam does not believe that her future husband is serious. They marry under Can. 1098, and when he later deserts her because she refuses to use contraceptives, he tells friends in a public place that he is not a “baby machine” and won’t stay with a woman who saddles him with a passel of kids. Mark does not deny he asked Miriam to use birth control and will not return to the marriage. Miriam requests an annulment.

Case 2: John a Catholic and Thelma a non-Catholic discover that Thelma is pregnant, and Thelma demands that he marry her. John is reluctant to marry and gets drunk the day of the scheduled wedding. The two marry with a dispensation for mixed marriage, and later John learns that Thelma had been with another man and the child is not his. John leaves Thelma because he believes the wedding was a sham and now wishes to remarry.

Case 3: Douglas, a Catholic, becomes engaged to Louise, a Fundamentalist. Louise tells him she has suffered some problems with drugs in the past but is now clean and promises she will not return to her former habit. They marry before a Traditionalist “priest” and after a few years of marriage Louise returns to her drug habit. She becomes increasingly irrational and commits petty crimes. She neglects the children of the marriage. Douglas divorces her to protect the children but would like to provide them with a good Catholic stepmother.

In all the above cases, provided trustworthy witnesses are willing to sign and notarize affidavits for the complainant and there is no evidence to contradict these statements, there seems no reason to believe that these marriages were ever valid, owing to a sinful future condition, fraud, marriage before a schismatic and drug-induced insanity. All these types of cases have been heard before the chancery or the Roman Rota and were determined to be invalid. Other than the law for China, there is no law governing how such cases should be handled when there can be no recourse to the diocesan courts. This situation falls under Can. 20 which reads: “If there is no explicit provision concerning some affair either in the general or in the particular law, a norm of action is to be taken (unless there is question of applying a penalty) from laws given in similar cases, from the general principles of law applied with the equity proper to Canon law, from the manner and practice of the Roman Curia and from the common and constant teaching of approved authors.”

It would seem that the best way to document these cases in an objective manner is to have a paralegal work up the evidence and prepare it in legal form as though it would be submitted into evidence in court. Discovery would need to be requested from the opposing party. The mind of the legislator is exhibited in the emergency laws for China. Many decisions issued on nullity, especially, from pre-1959 cases, are available for comparison. Appeal cases decided by the Roman Rota also are available. All that is needed for proof of the Can.1094 invalidity is a certificate of marriage signed by a Traditionalist and a notarized statement that there has been no previous or subsequent marriage, accompanied by a marriage license search for all 50 states. But of course, all this is based on whether or not the individuals seeking such marital remediation have truly embraced the pray-at-home position. This would include signing a profession of faith, at least starting the three-year probation period and formally pledging to abstain from attendance at any type of Traditionalist or other non-Catholic ceremonies. Otherwise they would be classified as validly married in a non-Catholic church as non-Catholics.

Ideally, Catholics would first need to complete their three-year probationary period before proceeding any further with remedying their marital situation. But because this could involve sin where a marital situation is in dispute, it is not practical. There is no formal organization among pray-at-home Catholics: all is done according to the honor system. Some have only pretended to embrace the pray-at-home position in order either to gain some sort of advantage or for reasons unknown; this is on them. You can fool others, but God will always know your true intentions. One marriage situation yet to be covered is that which falls under the Pauline Privilege or the privilege of faith. These cases depend entirely on the good will of the ones who wish to invoke this privilege, and therefore will be more difficult to gauge.

The Pauline Privilege

In the Canon Law commentary by Revs. Woywod-Smith, the header over Can. 1127 reads: “In doubtful cases the Pauline Privilege has the favor of the law.” This means, under Can. 1120, that even if some of the facts are doubtful in cases where the Pauline Privilege is invoked, the privilege still applies. This privilege applies, however, only to those unbaptized at the time of the marriage, although one is later baptized a Catholic. These marriages may be considered dissolved in favor of the one who converts, provided the unbaptized partner 1) does not wish to convert and be baptized and 2) will not live peacefully with the other party if not baptized, meaning he or she will not interfere with the other’s practice of the Catholic faith. These two conditions are called interpellations and can be established by the convert with the testimony of two witnesses (Can. 1122).

The Catholic party is free to marry if the answer to the interpellations is in the negative, unless, after Baptism, he or she has given the unbaptized party just cause for separation (Can. 1123). Doubts may often arise about the validity of the marriage contracted in infidelity; the person of the first wife, (which may be one of several wives); the validity of the baptism of one party; the sincerity of the unbaptized party to live peacefully with the converted party; about sufficient reasons for dispensation form the interpellations (in certain cases); about the existence of the marriage contracted or about verification of all the conditions required to apply the Pauline Privilege. The Pauline privilege cannot be invoked if one of the parties was validly baptized at the time of the marriage. And civil divorce often complicates matters. Since any insoluble complications would need to be referred to the Rota or the Roman Pontiff, only the simplest of cases under these canons would be able to be resolved, and many of these cases today are anything but simple.

Applying the above remedies

We must all work out our salvation in fear and trembling, and in these times this Scripture verse is more applicable to us than ever before. This author can provide necessary past case information from various sources and offer technical assistance, but in no way can any opinion on these matters be ventured. This is strictly a matter of conscience on the part of the parties involved. Strict honesty and due diligence in conducting the investigations described above is the only guarantee that they will be acceptable to God, and that any unions which may follow will enjoy His favor and approval. Being willing to abandon any attempts to reconcile such marriages when the proof clearly shows that moral certainty cannot be achieved must be fully understood and accepted before ever embarking on the task of investigating them. For it means accepting as God’s will a situation which may seem difficult or impossible, such as living together as brother and sister or permanent separation. Yet with fervent prayer and God’s help there is always a way to survive such situations as a Catholic.

For those who are able to reconcile their marital situation, the task is not over. They then must study the Church’s true teachings concerning marriage and realize that the modern idea of marriage presented today, while practiced by many calling themselves Catholic, is so far removed from what Christ desires for His Church that it can end only in grave sin. Natural Family Planning, condemned by many of those professing to be Traditional Catholics, is only one of such modern ideas. And yet if a very serious reason exists to use this method, and this author considers family economics and the many dangers present to children in this time serious reasons, it can be used and in certain cases should be used. Abstinence from marital relations, when no danger of impurity concerning either partner exists, is key to strengthening both the will and serving as a safeguard to marital purity. This is true even when there is no hope of procreation. Below we will find Pope Pius XII’s teaching on marital purity and the discussion of marital relations among Catholics most helpful in determining what the Catholic attitude should be.

Pope Pius XII speaks on marital purity

Much discussion has appeared in the past several years on the Internet concerning certain sexual practices in marriage, particularly regarding the teachings of St. Alphonsus Liguori. From personal experience, some of these translations of St. Alphonsus have been unreliable and one, at least, even reversed what he actually taught. And yet Pope Pius XII warned authors in 1951 that: “Not a few authors treating of conjugal life frequently descend without reserve to describing openly and minutely all its details: moreover, some of them describe, praise and recommend a certain act” (which the Church forbids). “Lest it fail in its duty in regard to so grave a matter, which concerns the sanctity of marriage and the salvation of souls, the Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office, by express mandate of His Holiness by divine Providence Pope Pius XII, issues a serious warning to all the aforesaid writers that they desist from acting in this way. It also earnestly exhorts the sacred pastors to maintain a strict vigilance over these matters and apply solicitously the appropriate remedies” (AAS 44-546; Canon Law Digest, Vol. 3, Can. 1081).This should put an end to all such online discussion of these matters, although sadly it probably will not do so.

In another address listed in the same volume cited above, under Can. 1111, from an October 1951 address to Italian Catholic midwives, the Pope wrote:

“[Married couples] must contain themselves within the bounds of just moderation. Just as in the enjoyment of food and drink, so in their sexual pleasure they must not abandon themselves without restraint to the impulse of the senses. The right norm is therefore as follows: only in marriage and on condition [that procreation is not excluded] is the desire and enjoyment of that pleasure and satisfaction licit. For the pleasure is subject to the law which governs the action from which it springs and not vice versa; that is, the law is not subordinate to the pleasure. And this law so conformed to reason applies not only to the substance of the action, but also to its circumstances, so that even though the substance of the act be not perverted there can be sin in the manner in which it is performed.

“The transgression of this norm is as old as original sin but today there is danger of losing sight of the fundamental principle itself. For at the present time, it is a common thing — even on the part of some Catholics — to maintain, in speech and writing, the necessary autonomy, the proper end and proper value of sexuality and its use, independently of the purpose of generating a new life. Those who hold such views would subject the order established by God to a re-examination and a new norm. If nature had intended exclusively or at least primarily the mutual giving of the spouses one to another and their mutual possession of one another enjoying pleasure, and if it had destined that act only for the purpose of enriching their personal experience with the highest possible felicity and not in order to stimulate them to service of life, the Creator would have adopted a different design in the formation and constitution of the natural act.

“A flood of hedonism is pouring over the world threatening to engulf every aspect of married life in a rising tide of hedonistic thoughts, desires and acts, not without serious danger and grave harm to the primary duty of married persons. This anti-Christian hedonism is often unblushingly erected into a doctrine inculcating the eager desire to intensify without limits the pleasure experienced in the preparation and performance of the conjugal act as though in marital relations the whole moral law consisted in the regular performance of the ACT itself and all the rest, no matter how it were done, were justified by the outpouring of mutual affection sanctified by the Sacrament of marriage meriting praise and reward before God and in conscience.

“The dignity of man, the dignity of the Christian which imposed some restraint on the exercises of sensuality these count for nothing with them… [However], the gravity and sanctity of the Christian moral law do not permit an unbridled satisfaction of the sexual instinct and the exclusive quest of pleasure and enjoyment; nor that man endowed with reason should permit himself to be dominated by passion to that extent, either as regards the substance of the act or its circumstances… The happiness of marriage is in direct proportion to the mutual respect the parties show for each other, even in their most intimate relations. Not that they judge to be immoral and consequently refuse what nature offers and what the Creator has given them, but because THIS RESPECT AND MUTUAL ESTEEM WHICH IT FOSTERS IS ONE OF THE SOUNDEST ELEMENTS OF A LOVE THAT IS PURE AND FOR THAT VERY REASON ALL THE MORE TENDER.”

 THAT is true marital love! May all who endeavor to achieve it never forget this beloved pope’s most important words.

What was God’s will for His Church after Pope Pius XII’s death?

What was God’s will for His Church after Pope Pius XII’s death?

+Feast of the Holy Rosary+

I would like to announce a new page on the website for spiritual reflection entitled, The Healing Pool (see front page under the Prayer Society logo). In these stressful times it is important to take a moment to refresh ourselves with spiritual  nourishment, even if only briefly. It can change our entire outlook and give us the strength we need to carry on. These reflections will be posted as often as possible, so bookmark the link. A great translation of a very consoling spiritual work, courtesy of a reader in Spain, will be available soon. I also hope to begin to offer some spiritual perspective here regarding situations we might easily find ourselves experiencing some day, with so many already suffering in different parts of the world from various disasters and persecutions.

New information

In the past few months, several key articles (see the three recent articles on the site’s home page) have been posted explaining why Traditionalists cannot and do not constitute the continuation of Christ’s Church on earth. These articles are the culmination of decades of study regarding the Church’s teachings and laws prior to the death of Pope Pius XII. They represent the final demonstration of serious positive doubt that all must use as the basis for developing certitude necessary to adjudge our present situation. These articles prove that Traditionalist operations must be avoided under penalty of mortal sin because the Church — not this author — teaches they are not members of the Catholic Church and that their Orders are apparently invalid. This according to Canon Law and the teaching of approved theologians.

The conclusions of these articles are further strengthened by the following information, made available by a reader below, on the ability of the pope to make certain conditions necessary to sacramental validity:

Others say that if the pope forbids a bishop to chrism, then chrism does not confer character. For although the pope cannot take away the sacrament of confirmation, he can, nevertheless, determine, as to the form, persons, and days, by whom, in what form, and on what days, it is to be conferred, as is said below concerning baptism. C. 1. And if it can establish anything about the persons conferring the Sacrament, then it can also take away from a certain person, the power of chrismation, even though he be a bishop. And they say the same thing about baptism. However, if the pope were to do such things without the knowledge of others, and without grave cause, he should not be supported, for he would be acting against the general good of the Church.

“But… if the bishop were to forbid someone to baptize, baptism would be no less valid for that reason. For the bishop has no power to establish anything about this, as the pope has…. So, they say that the pope can do this because of the privilege given to him: All that you bind on earth, etc. Which makes him have this power by [divine] institution and command Wherefore he is to be obeyed in all spiritual things and in things concerning the soul, unless they are contrary to the faith or specially forbidden to him

 “And it certainly seems right to say what they say of the pope, that THE SUPREME PONTIFF CAN ESTABLISH IN THEORY AND IN FACT, THAT IF THE SACRAMENTS CONFERRED BY SUCH PERSONS ARE NOT VALID, THEY WILL INDEED BE INVALID. We also admit that he can prevent bishops from chrism and priests from baptizing. But in this case the prohibition does not apply without there being a constitution establishing when the collation of the sacrament is valid, even if it is done against the command of the bishop(Pope Innocent IV;…). Protecting the Church against wolves and hirelings during an interregnum in an infallible document entered into the Acta Apostolica Sedis, and therefore available to all the public, definitely constitutes grave cause. It also satisfies the requirement of being issued in the form of a constitution (Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis).

We obey even the opinions of the popes. But this is something Traditionalists refuse to do.

Obligation to inform

Before proceeding with what follows below, it is necessary to remind readers of betrayed-catholics’ longstanding position regarding Traditionalist works on doctrinal matters. First of all, any papal document, whether binding or not, that is signed by the Roman Pontiff is considered under Canon Law as incontrovertible evidence; also the decisions of the Rota and the Sacred Congregations. As Abp. Amleto Cicognani notes in his Canon Law, the Roman Pontiffs and the Holy See are “…the primary, ordinary and abiding source of law.” This would include the teachings of the ecumenical councils, and Trent, especially, is a source of Canon Law. In addition, any pre-October 1958 work by an approved theologian or canonist — and especially, where Canon Law is concerned, those dissertations which assay and summarize the various scholastic and canonical works — are to be taken as superior to anything taught by Traditionalists. But these works cannot and must not be the “go to” sources for what the Church legislates and teaches, only secondary sources.

Having essentially usurped the papacy and ignored the teaching of the continual magisterium all these years, Traditionalists have a true antipathy for Canon Law because it issues directly from the papacy. This is the real reason why the shills they employ go out of their way to defame and discredit anyone who works from a Canon Law perspective. And these attacks become increasingly more vituperative in proportion to the force of the truths which must be presented For Can. 999 states: “All the faithful are bound by obligation to make known to the ordinary or to the pastor before the ordination any impediment to sacred orders of which they have knowledge.” Well there definitely is knowledge to be had of impediments and disqualifications to both ordination and consecration and even worse. And in lieu of valid clergy not pointing them out, it would be a serious sin of omission not to make these deficiencies public.

The pray-at-home position would unquestionably stand on its own regardless of any proofs that Traditionalist Orders are most likely invalid, since serious doubt alone about such Orders suffices to withdraw oneself from all Traditionalist sects. If nothing else, even stronger evidence would help those wishing to attain certitude to better achieve it. But Catholics are not allowed to remain in a state of doubt if such doubt can possibly be resolved. “Anxieties arising from a doubtful law should be removed; peace of conscience should not be disturbed by a doubtful fact,” Abp. Amleto Cicognani states in his Canon Law, referring those with such doubts to ecclesiastical authorities. We have no authorities to consult except those who have written about these topics when we still had a true pontiff. And God’s honor and glory is at stake, as well as the good of souls. Again, not to act would be a grave sin, because our neighbor is in spiritual peril. But this is not something that Traditionalist pseudo-clergy, or their followers for that matter, seem to be very concerned about. Once the matter has been made public and and the danger exposed, nothing further is required from those offering the information. The Holy Ghost must act on souls with His graces, which no human can provide.

 Canon Law and interpretation

The studies of Msgr. Joseph C. Fenton and those authors he cites and recommends in his works, as well as other reliable sources, have been used to document what is written on this site. Approved canonists generally referred to by those bothering to apply Canon Law to this situation include Revs. Woywod-Smith, Revs. Bouscaren-Ellis, Rev. Ramstein, Abp. Amleto Cicognani, Rev. Charles Augustine and others. Under Can. 17, Abp. Cicognani states that no one is able to authentically interpret the law for himself; only the legislator, his successor and those to whom the lawmaker has committed the power to interpret the law may interpret the law authoritatively. When a skilled canonist acting under the proper authority interprets the law, it is called doctrinal, and this is what the dissertations quoted on this site are considered. No one after October 9, 1958 has the right or the authorization to evaluate these works and arrive at conclusions contrary to them. This is why no works of our own, per se, exist on these matters. We simply cite the works of approved authors and their commentary, although explanations are offered to help the reader relate them to the current situation.

All works here are based on the conclusions of others applied to the situation today. Accusations Canon Law has actually been interpreted on this site are simply false. Laypersons can certainly cite Canon Law and challenge Traditionalist interpretation of the laws, pointing out that the laws are not being followed. This, however, cannot be confused with actual interpretation. Interpretation means an explanation or opinion of what something means(Cambridge Dictionary) or the extent of its application. Or it can be defined as the act of reframing, or otherwise showing your own understanding of something. If some issue is explained based on my own understanding and opinion, that is my explanation. If instead  documents are presented that offer these explanations from approved sources, that is not MY interpretation, but the interpretation of those who are quoted.

In providing these sources, the rules of Canon Law under Can. 17 must be followed, (an act of obedience, not interpretation). Documents from the magisterium or the ecumenical councils or Sacred Congregations are used to demonstrate the origins of the law and the mind of the lawgiver. And if parallel passages of the Code are mentioned, this is referencing, not interpreting them. What they state and what the pre-1959 commentators say they state stands for itself. Merely citing canons and pointing out that they apparently have not been followed according to their previous understanding by approved theologians does not constitute private interpretation. Traditionalists make no attempt whatsoever to follow these rules, and this speaks volumes regarding their supposed superiority in being able to interpret the law. In their Canon Law Digest commentary on Can. 17, Vol. 5 (1963), the canonists Bouscaren and O’Connor wrote the following:

“His eminence, the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of the Canons of the Code, Maximus Cardinal Massimi, declared shortly before his death… that it was his personal opinion he no longer preferred to give authentic replies since all the canons were already sufficiently clear in their obvious meaning.  It is interesting to observe that no officially promulgated replies have since been given for the Code of the Latin church since his death [in 1954].” So this very experienced cardinal, the last of his kind, believed that the Code should be taken exactly as it stood, supplemented by the authentic interpretations already given for over 35 years. And pointing to the canons themselves, exactly as they stand — also the authentic interpretations found in the Canon Law Digest — is all I have ever tried to do. Pope Pius XII, after all, had already said this. For he infallibly declared in his 1945 election law Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis (VAS) that during an interregnum, Canon Law cannot be corrected, changed or dispensed from, and he invalidated any future attempts to do so.

 The papacy, Canon Law and God’s will

Pope Pius IX, in dealing with schismatics in Armenia who were resisting papal discipline wrote:

“They call Our attention to the customs and canons of their churches as if We had abandoned the provisions of the sacred canons. We might respond to these men in the same way Our predecessor St. Gelasius did when the Acacian schismatics brought the same false accusation against him: ‘They cite the canons against Us without knowing what they are saying since they show that they are themselves in opposition to the canons by the very fact that they deny obedience to the first See although its advice is sound and correct.’ For these are the very canons which recognize the full, divine authority of blessed Peter over the whole Church. Indeed, they proclaim that he lives and exercises judgment in his successors to the present time and forever, as the Council of Ephesus affirmed.” (Quartus Supra).

If Catholics sincerely believe that Pope Pius XII was the last true pope, then all that he taught and decided during his reign, everything written and approved by institutions known to be loyal to the Holy See prior to his death must be carefully adhered to and followed, not interpreted or piecemealed to suit what others style as an “emergency.” No one now leading Traditionalists, even if they received an education in “conservative” institutions in the 1960s, 1970s were instructed by those approved by the Holy See; already Liberals and Modernists had infiltrated even conservative universities and colleges. And certainly those attending Traditional “seminaries” were mis-instructed, at best. Most of the detailed works on various canons and other topics are one-of-a-kind and cannot be duplicated. Because they provide these invaluable detailed histories of law and practice that today could not even be accomplished owing to a lack of access to materials, they must be considered the governing sources for any credible work.

According to Volume IX (iii) of the Catholic Encyclopedia concerning Canon Law’s constitution, Rev. Francis J. Schaeffer writes in this volume: “The ultimate source of Canon Law is God, whose will is manifested either by the very nature of things (natural Divine law) or by Revelation (positive Divine law) …To attain its sublime end, the Church, endowed by its Founder with legislative power, makes laws in conformity with natural and Divine law. They are, properly speaking, the active sources of Canon Law. Their activity is exercised in its most solemn form by the ecumenical councils…(these) councils, especially…Trent, hold an exceptional place in ecclesiastical law… The sovereign pontiff is the most fruitful source of Canon Law: …From the earliest ages the letters of the Roman Pontiffs constitute, with the canons of the Councils, the principal element of Canon Law; … they are everywhere relied upon and collected, and the ancient canonical compilations contain a large number of these precious decretals.” If we wish to know the will of God, and the mind of the Church as it has been consistently expressed throughout the ages, we need only look as far as Canon Law.

St. Francis writes: “Obedience to the Commandments, both divine and ecclesiastical, is of obligation for all, because THERE IS QUESTION HERE OF THE ABSOLUTE WILL OF GOD WHO HAS MADE SUBMISSION TO THESE ORDINANCES A CONDITION OF SALVATION.” (Holy Abandonment, Rt. Rev. Dom Vital Lehody O.C.R., page 9). Commenting on St. Francis’ observations, Rev. Lehody writes: “… Rules are ordinarily the chief means at our disposal for the purification of our souls. Obedience detaches and purifies us continually by the thousand renunciations it imposes, and still more by its demand for the mortification of our judgement and self-will… The signified will must be considered the fixed and regular path amidst the accidental and variable events of life, the tasks of our days and of every instant.” (Holy Abandonment, pages 18 and 22). And Holy Scripture tells us we must obey God, in His signified will, not men who are not even lawful pastors.

Likewise we read in the Vatican Council documents: ‘…the faithful…are bound by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, not only in those things which pertain to faith and morals, but also those which pertain to the discipline and government of the Church, so that the Church of Christ, protected not only by the Roman Pontiff, but by the unity of communion as well as the profession of the same faith, is one flock under one highest shepherd. This is the doctrine of Catholic truth from which no one can deviate and keep his faith and salvation,’” (DZ 1827). Here, then, is the final answer to all those who dare to assail Canon Law. They cannot understand that it is not inequitable LAWS that bind us, but the failure to obey these laws and make them known to those who are in ignorance concerning them. Obeying the law is nothing more than the will of God; and all canon laws are presumed still binding under the very laws governing the canons unless certainly proven to have ceased altogether. Since the laws governing discipline cannot work to the detriment of the faithful or the destruction of the Church, we know that “He who walks with the law walks safely.”

 Traditionalists and obedience

Below is a summary from an article that has been available on this site for many years ( will provide readers with a better idea of the status Church membership wise of Catholics exiting Vatican 2. Please do read the entire article for a better understanding of this subject.

The theologian Rev. Adolphe Tanquerey writes: “All theologians teach that publicly known heretics, that those who belong to a heterodox sect through public profession, or those who refuse the infallible teaching of the AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH, are excluded from the body of the Church, even if their heresy is only material heresy,” (Manual of Dogmatic Theology, Vol. II). And as Msgr. J. C. Fenton notes in his “The Teaching of the Theological Manuals,” (The American Ecclesiastical Review, April 1963): “If the theses taught by Tanquerey were opposed to those of ‘the most authentic Catholic tradition of all ages,’ then thousands of priests, educated during the first part of the twentieth century were being led into error.”

Canon Mahoney states in his work: “The liberal view [is that] baptized non-Catholics in good faith are members of the body of the Church precisely because they are not excommunicated…The view diametrically opposed to this is [that] the excommunication of heretics applies to material as well as formal heretics…If a choice had to be made between these two views…, there is no question that the second fits in best with Catholic discipline …” (Questions and Answers,    All canonists and moralists agree that those who are heretics or schismatics and know they are wrong cannot be given the Sacraments of the Church unless they renounce their errors and are reconciled with the Church. Numerous decrees of the Holy Office put this point beyond controversy” (commentary on Can. 731, A Practical Commentary on Canon Law, Revs. Woywod-Smith).

Surely those leaving the Novus Ordo or various Traditionalist sects knew that they were wrong, or why else would they have left? Even if they had not yet reached adulthood, doesn’t Canon 2314 and 2294 require that they renounce their errors and be absolved and abjured by certainly valid bishops in communion with the Roman Pontiff, also be released from heresy and infamy of law by the Holy See? A pre-1958 article from The Jurist further notes that no young man aspiring to become a priest could even be considered for ordination unless he had been dispensed from any irregularity by the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments and also dispensed from infamy of law by the Holy See. Furthermore, the person under consideration here had been raised in a Methodist sect whose baptisms are considered valid by the Church but was still considered under censure because he had not converted before the Church’s required age of discretion (14). So where does that leave those of us baptized into the Church and raised with at least some Catholic teaching? The young man here is adjudged to be in good faith only because he was raised in a Protestant sect.

The Jurist article notes further that “To insist that one 14 and older cannot be held guilty of censures is to deny the Church’s right to establish and enforce censures. This teaching of the Jansenist heretics is condemned by Pope Pius VI” (in Auctorem Fidei). And while Pope Pius VI did not condemn the proposition of the inability of the Church to pronounce ipso facto excommunication as heresy per se, after the conclusion of the Vatican Council in 1870, such denial of the Church’s right to establish and enforce censures amounts to a denial of the supreme jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff. This was the teaching of the Church on heresy prior to Pope Pius XII’s death, but Traditionalists have ignored it and disputed it. They cannot and will not accept it as God’s written will. And they continue to believe they are practicing Catholics while in reality they are not even members of the Church.

This means then that those of us accepting and participating in the Novus Ordo after the age of 14 were at least material heretics, like it or not. And we had no one to absolve us and no Holy Office to dispense us. We were unable to request the Sacraments from anyone because we were no longer members of the Church. Under Can. 682, yes, the laity has the right to receive from the clergy the spiritual goods and necessary means to salvation. HOWEVER, excommunicates cannot receive the Sacraments even if there were certainly valid priests not excommunicated for heresy and schism to administer them. And certainly valid priests would be obligated to refuse them the Sacraments when not “legitimately” requested (Can. 467). The entire Traditionalist movement was founded on an error, as explained in last week’s blog.  For pseudo-bishops, as Pope Pius IX characterized them, could never perpetuate Christ’s true Church on earth and the misinterpretation of Canon Law, dispensed from and ignored in order to accomplish their imposture, was null and void from the beginning.

Most importantly, what all this ultimately means for those following Traditionalist sect leaders is that under Canon Law they are obligated to observe the penalties for heresy and schism (Can. 2232) owing to the notoriety of their offenses. There is no substitute for the absolution from censures and infamy of law that must accompany the Profession of Faith, (Can. 2250, §1-3; 2294-2295). And all those who have not received such absolution cannot posit legal ecclesiastical acts according to Can. 2315, nor can laity receive the Sacraments, (Can. 2241), if there were valid Sacraments to receive. According to Revs. Woywod-Smith, “The Holy See insists that converts from heretical or schismatic sects be not received into the Church until they have first abjured the heresy or schism and been absolved from the censure,” (Instruction of the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda, July 20, 1859). And under Canon Law, there is no one to validly absolve from these censures.

Also, whether it involves simulation of the Sacraments or the possibility of a valid Eucharistic consecration, inducing a man to say mass and communicate himself, as well as communicate others, is a mortal sin of sacrilege and cooperation in sin. Grave sin abounds in these sect affiliations. And there is no one to absolve from them.


Those continuing after all these years to remain with Traditionalists despite information available to them explaining that they are living outside the Church in mortal sin will most likely never leave these groups. They simply cannot internalize the fact that they exist outside the Church’s divine structure, trapped in a web of hypotheses and theories — based almost entirely on the opinions of theologians — concerning Her constitution and continuation. And it is a web that has been intricately woven by Traditionalists leaders and their operatives wishing only to engage in constant turf wars to enhance their positions of power, retain their Internet presence and secure their financial future. This has all been pointed out before.

When he left this earth, Pope Pius XII bequeathed everything he had ever written to the faithful — his last will and testament. Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis was the first document before the eyes of the faithful, the cardinals and bishops included among them, following his death. Not only does it bind us as an infallible document but as a testimony to how this Pontiff and all his predecessors wished the Church to conduct itself during an interregnum. He was telling us how to preserve the Church, speaking with Christ’s voice. No one listened. The laws were not to be changed, corrected or dispensed from, especially his papal election law, and any changes or dispensations were made null and void. So the laws regarding the commission of heresy, (even material heresy) apostasy and schism (Canons 2200 and 2314), and the practices of the Church regarding those laws, were to remain in full force.

God has given man free will. It was the will of Traditionalists to have their mass and sacraments at any and all costs, regardless of God’s signified will expressed in His laws. Even when made aware that Traditionalist pseudo-clergy lacked jurisdiction in the 1980s, they failed to correct themselves because these Traditionalists convinced them they had jurisdiction through other channels. They did not check this out, in most cases; they did not read the encyclicals of Pope Pius XII and previous popes with a truly docile and submissive attitude, minus the interpolations of Traditionalists. Nor did they study the Catechism of the Council of Trent or the Vatican Council decrees or even their Baltimore Catechism, for that matter. And they failed the one test that any true Catholic should easily pass — there can be no claim to authority and no Catholic Church without a certainly legitimate pope.

Most Traditionalists would agree that we are suffering the passion of Christ’s Mystical Body on earth. Did they think this would be any less painful than Christ’s own Passion? Did they really believe that they would be required to suffer nothing? Do they not remember Christ’s agonized cry from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabacthani?” They should not be surprised then when even those who claim to love and serve God come in the guise of St. Peter ,who would soon betray Him, and urge them to escape their sufferings. When Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, did not Our Lord restore the ear and tell him to put his sword away, saying to him, “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father hast given Me?” And in Col. 1: 24: “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for His body, which is the Church.”

As Rev. Lehody wrote above: “… Rules are ordinarily the chief means at our disposal for the purification of our souls. Obedience detaches and purifies us continually by the thousand renunciations it imposes, and still more by its demand for the mortification of our judgment and self-will…” Our wills must be sublimated to the Divine, through His signified will and will of good pleasure. If it is not in perfect agreement with that will, if we are not refusing to cooperate in the sins of Traditionalists and the Novus Ordo by avoiding all their services; if we are not observing the censures imposed on us, renouncing our errors and doing penance for our sins, we are defying God’s will and will not save our souls. That almost no one would do penance for their sins in the end times, regardless of the many punishments God would send, is predicted in several places in the Apocalypse. Time is running out. “Go out from her, my people; that you be not partakers of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and the Lord hath remembered her iniquities” (Apoc. 18: 4-5).

Lay Election of Popes Disproven by Church History

© Copyright 2009; revised 2022, T. Stanfill Benns (All emphasis within quotes added by the author)


Appearances can be deceiving; that is why Our Lord tells us in the Gospel to “Judge not by appearances…” In general reviews of Church history, law and teaching, the statement is often found that in the early ages of the Church, clergy and people elected the Pope.  This statement leads one to believe that bishops, priests, and people voted for who would become pope and shared an active role in papal elections. But this is nothing more than an assumption, in reality. On closer investigation, the current laws of the Catholic Church governing papal election (Pope Pius XII’s “Vacantis Apostolica Sedis”) are far closer to what existed from the beginning than it appears. And while it is true that laymen can be elected pope, it is not true, as some have claimed, that this occurred with relative frequency in the first millennia A.D. Nor is it true, in any way, that the election of laymen is an indifferent matter; that the selection of laymen as papal candidates is in any way “business as usual” for the Church, or something that is looked upon as desirable. Church history reveals that only during one disastrous period were laymen elected or appointed pope, with the peripheral participation of laymen, with any frequency. As we shall see, the results of these elections were nothing short of scandalous and detrimental to religion. Following Our Lord’s advice then, we have taken a closer look not only at the history and practice of the Church where lay participation in papal elections is concerned, but at what Christ Himself has indicated as His will in this important matter.

What Did Jesus do?

Protestants have popularized the slogan “What would Jesus do?” on bracelets, in publications on coffee cups and so forth. Just as they took off with Fr. Lord’s “The family that prays together stays together,” the Protestants adopted “WWJD” as their own slogan, although it first appeared in print in a work by the Cistercian Abbot, Dom J. B. Chautard (“Soul of the Apostolate”) over 60 years ago. Chautard’s exact words to Catholics seeking to advance in the spiritual life were: “What would Jesus do? How would He act in my place? What would He advise? What does He ask of me at this moment? Such are the questions which arise of their own accord in the soul eager for interior life.”

To know what Jesus would do, we must first know what He did do and use this as our template, since no one can know the mind or motives of Our Lord in any other way. The Apostles and early Christians constantly looked to the life and works of Christ for inspiration, striving to imitate their Savior in every possible detail. Before the times of massive Church membership and government, before the Gospels were even set down in written form and distributed to the Churches, Apostolic tradition and preaching were all that existed to keep the faith alive; that and the blood of the martyrs, known to all as the seed of the faith. In this sacrifice of life itself, the Apostles and early Christians found perfection in imitating their Master. The Apostles preached, offered the Holy Sacrifice and administered the Sacraments in obedience to Our Lord. Likewise they were martyred in obedience to His teachings and instructed their followers to sacrifice all in obedience to His teachings as well; teachings which ultimately came from God the Father. It was and remains the most important lesson of all time.


Obedience to God’s will in all things was the most predominant virtue in Our Lord. Here we have a God, obedient unto death to His heavenly Father, when at any moment a legion of angels could have delivered Him from any evil which threatened Him. Even as a Child, He could have freed Himself from the chill of the stable, the rigors of the flight to Egypt, the poverty of His life in Nazareth and the need to apprentice Himself to His stepfather as a lowly carpenter. He could have lived in a palace with servants, but He chose to stay where His Father had placed him, in obedience.

Even though it worried and frightened Mary and Joseph, He was bound to go to the Temple following His Bar Mitzvah, for in this way he was giving the first fruits of his newly declared spiritual manhood to His Father, and claiming His rightful place on the very site He would one day preach.  After St. Joseph’s death, He would remain with His Mother as her only support, continuing to work in the trade of His stepfather. And at her request and in obedience, He performed His first miracle by changing the water to wine at a wedding. Thus began His Public Life.

In the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before His death, Christ renewed His intent to obey His Father in all things. He willed to suffer a horrible agony and death to accomplish that obedience and our redemption. He told His disciples that on the other side of this horrible suffering and ignominy was new life, the Resurrection. And still they begged Him not to do His Father’s will; to escape His fate instead. Many beg us to escape our own suffering and forget we must obey. They urge us to attend illicit or invalid Masses and receive invalid or sacrilegious Sacraments; to place ourselves under some illicitly ordained and/or consecrated cleric, or accept some lay-appointed “pope” as our leader. Like Christ we have only one choice we can make if we are to accomplish our eternal goal.

What Christ taught and did

Many of us have gone to great lengths to discover what all this true obedience entails. But years of studying theological and other works seemed to provide only incomplete answers. That is because the answer lay in what Christ said and did.  This we learn from one of the great Fathers of he Church, St. Cyprian, who wrote: “Most of the bishops…set over the Lord’s churches throughout the world, hold to the method of evangelical truth and of the Lord’s tradition, and depart not by any human and novel institution, from that which Christ our master both taught and did…The Will of God is what Christ has done and taught,“(Faith of Catholics, Vol. 1, Msgr. Capel, editor). Likewise the Asiatic bishops, commenting on the approbation of the canonical books of Scripture, stated that: “As, on this principle of what Christ had done and taught, the writings of which we are speaking were admitted as sacred and divine…” (Ibid; all emph. mine).

How can what Christ taught and did lead us to the truth concerning who are valid and lawful successors of the Apostles? We need only trace Jesus’ actions in the Gospels to see the will of God in the Divine laws Christ enacted for the selection and identification of His Apostles and their true successors.

Holy Scripture tells us that:

1) Christ received his Divine commission from His Father in Heaven; He was appointed to teach, to govern and to sanctify the faithful.
2) He was the High Priest and King.
3) He did not assume this power on His own, because this would have destroyed the Divine chain of command; He was sent by His Father.
4) When He began His public ministry, Jesus first “called” his apostles to their vocation, then trained them for three years before ordaining and consecrating them all at the Last Supper.  
5) He first promised St. Peter the keys (the papacy) and made him the leader of the rest. But he did not make him Pope until after the Resurrection, because until then Christ Himself was the visible Head of the Church.
6) Also after the Resurrection He sent the Apostles to baptize and convert the whole world, investing them with the powers that He promised them and later sending them the Holy Ghost.
7) He promised to be with His Church, as He constituted it, “until the consummation of the world,” and he made this promise to all the Apostles, not just Peter. Therefore the Pope and His successors and the Apostles and their successors, the bishops, would exist until Christ comes again, and the earth is destroyed by fire.
8) Sending priests to preach in God’s name dates back to the Old Testament.
9) Christ commissioned His Apostles to: teach (teaching them all things); to govern (He gave all the Apostles jurisdiction after the Resurrection); and to sanctify (baptizing converts and doing all that He commanded).
10) Evil men would try to enter the sheepfold to steal, kill and destroy the flock.
11) Some of these would enter secretly.
12) And they would deny the Divinity of Christ.

Bishops and the ordination of priests

Men are called to the priesthood by the proper bishops of their diocese, and a true pope must grant these bishops the necessary jurisdiction to call these men. The pope granting the jurisdiction can only have been legitimately elected according to all the rules for election laid down by a previous true pope, and must be ordained and consecrated by certainly valid and licit bishops either before or immediately following his election. The Popes always have been accepted by a reasonable number of faithful, (on Pentecost a few thousand accepted Peter; during the Western Schism different papal claimants had anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 followers, and this when the world population was much smaller.) Priests are trained for eight years or more and personally receive much spiritual education and direction from their instructors and confessors.  If these priests feel that these students are not advancing as they should, they can ask them to leave the seminary at any time. So they are called and trained as Christ called and trained the Apostles. If this training deviates in any one detail from what Christ taught and did, and what His Church says He taught and did, the calling and training of men for the ministry is not a blessing, but a curse. As St. Thomas Aquinas says, it is better to have fewer, but holier priests, than many who lack holiness and proper training.

Those rightly and licitly trained and retained are eventually ordained and some are consecrated bishops. But this ordination and consecration, to truly make these men priests and bishops, must come from one who belongs to a line of bishops proving their succession from the Apostles. And because Christ placed all the Apostles under St. Peter, and made them subject to him, these bishops must be in communion with the true pope. These are two indispensable conditions of what the Church calls Apostolic Succession. The Apostles and all the men who succeeded them create an unbroken line reaching directly back to Christ. There can be absolutely no break in the matter of orders or jurisdiction received from this line, or the Church is not the Church Christ constituted when He was on earth. He promised it would last as He constituted it until the end of time and His promises are always true. If we say there can be a break either where orders or jurisdiction are concerned, we say that He is a liar and was only a man; a great prophet perhaps, but not God. But only God could have guided the ship that is the Church all these years through so many hurricanes and gales and over so many dangerous reefs without shipwreck where Apostolic Succession is concerned.

Lay participation in the selection of priests and bishops

The Church teaches infallibly that the bishops are the successors of the Apostles. Bishops alone have the completion of the priesthood Christ granted the Apostles when he placed them in charge of the worldwide Church, with Peter as their head. In the early ages of the Church, the bishops allowed the laity to nominate the clergy they believed would be good priests and bishops, then the bishops would choose the most worthy from among these men for consecration. “St. Cyprian…never promoted anyone to Holy Orders without first taking the advice of his people and clergy,” (Rev. J. Tixeront, “Holy Orders and Ordination”). “The bishop was elected by the people, by the clergy of the Church over which he was to preside, and by the bishops of the province. We hasten to add that the strict right to elect belonged to the bishops of the province while the people and inferior clergy were merely consulted…

Jules Le Breton and Jacques Zeiller comment that “The bishops were elected by the Churches but they were usually proposed by the clergy of the city, and it was for the Christian people, then, to confirm their choice,” (“The History of the Primitive Church”). Tixeront explains that this only lasted until the sixth century. “But beginning in the sixth century, the Church began by degrees to withdraw the power granted to the people and the inferior clergy to elect priests and deacons,” (Ibid). From that time on, the only vestige of their former right was the power they had to oppose the Ordination of candidates whom they deemed unworthy, the “scrutiny,” still retained today in the rite of Ordination.

This is confirmed by St. Alphonsus Liguori in his “Exposition and Defense of Faith.” He notes under the 23rd session of the Council of Trent that the heretics then proposed that “all Christians are priests, and the call of the magistrate and consent of the people” were required for ordinations and consecrations. In response to this one Council father stated that “If the people had sometimes chosen priests or deacons, the election was made by the concession of the Holy See, but the right of confirming it and giving spiritual power belonged exclusively to the Churc” Another Council attendee added to this statement that the people assisted at the election only to give the necessary testimony [to the character of the candidates] but that they did not elect.” The laity today can still present themselves at ordinations and object to the candidates to be ordained.

In Rome, for the first 1,000 years or so, the clergy (bishops and priests) of Rome elected the pope but just as in any other diocese, they accepted the recommendations of the people regarding who should be eligible for election. Rev. Tixeront reports that deacons were typically elected to the papacy, because in the course of their active ministry they acquired a greater range of pastoral experience. This does not indicate that in these early centuries, laymen were elected pope. Nor is any credence given here to the idea that laity claimed an active vote in papal elections. Catholic historians regularly complain that it is very often next to impossible to state anything with certainty concerning the papacy, especially in the years 800-1,000. And very often, in researching popes before this time, the history books will say that nothing or very little is known concerning them. Hughes tells us only that by the eighth century, the election by, clergy, Roman nobility and the people was the “customary” practice. Some have intimated that the laity cast votes directly for the popes in these elections, but if this actually happened it was an event that occurred contrary to and outside the law.

Every exception to or derogation from the law must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt when following the Scholastic method mandated by the Church. Things deviating from the law are not to be drawn into precedent, (Rev. Amleto Cicognani, “Canon Law”). No certainty can be had in this matter, and we know that a certainly valid law did exist. In an “ancient canon,” a priest writing a biography on St. Bernard shows that the faithful had only the power to nominate, as was the case with selecting priests and bishops. This Canon states: “The Church ordains that the preference shall always be given to him who, at the request of the people, with the consent and concurrence of the clergy, has been first placed by the Cardinals in the chair of Blessed Peter” (“Life and Teaching of St. Bernard,” Rev. Ailbe Luddy, Cist., 1950).

Lay participation in papal elections

It was this old law to which Pope Nicholas II referred in 1059 when he officially limited the election of a pope to the cardinals. Referring to one of the earliest laws governing elections, Pope Nicholas II wrote: “However, it would certainly be correct and even lawful, if the order of selection carefully weighed in the opinion of Pope Leo the Great was resumed…If the perversity of depraved and wicked men shall so prevail that a pure, sincere and free election cannot be held in Rome, the cardinal bishops, with the clergy of the Church and the Catholic laity may have the right and power, even though few in numbers, of electing a pontiff for the Apostolic See wherever it may seem most suitable,” (April 12, 1059). When we investigate the history of Pope Leo the Great (Pope Leo I), we discover why Luddy referred to an ancient canon — Pope Leo the Great reigned from 440-461 A.D.  The historian Philip Hughes reports that during the time of Pope Gelasius I, “A carefully noted collection of all the canons of the councils and decrees of the different popes deciding cases” already had been collected, and among these easily could have been this ancient canon, (“A History of the Church,” Vol. II). It is most likely, then, that the ancient canon referred to by Luddy appeared in this early collection, which was later included in other official collections, even the Hadriana, used by Christian princes. So very early in the Church’s history Her laws clearly limit the laity to the nomination of papal candidates only. We know this because a later law limited even this level of participation in an election.

This original law of Pope Leo I was echoed again in 769, when Pope Stephen III decreed at the Lateran Synod that the Pope was to be chosen “only from the Cardinals of the Church or the deacons of Rome” (Rev. Ronald Cox, “A Study on the Juridical Status of Laymen in the Writing of the Medieval Canonists”). There had to be a good reason for Pope Stephen to make this decision. We can only assume that he believed that even lesser clergy were not qualified as papal candidates, far less laymen. At the same time, Pope Stephen placed further restrictions on the role played by the laity: “None but clerics should take part…in the election. The laity’s share (nomination) was reduced to the opportunity of cheering the newly-elected Pope and of signing the Acta of the election in sign of agreement,” (Hughes, Ibid.). So the myth of the laity’s right to actually cast a vote for a papal candidate cannot find support in ancient canon law, in papal law or in Church history. Divine law permits only the clergy to actually elect, because to them was entrusted the government of the Church by Christ Himself. The confusion surrounding the laity’s role in papal elections is much easier to understand once Church history is explained.

Rev. George Stebbing C.S.S.R., in his “The Story of the Church,” adds that Pope Nicholas II decreed that: “(1) The selection of a candidate should first be considered by the cardinal bishops, who then, with the other cardinals, should proceed to an election to be afterwards acclaimed by the rest of the clergy and the laity; (2) A Roman member of the clergy should be chosen if possible; (3) The election should be held in Rome, [but if not] the new Pope would exercise full authority even before being enthroned.” The decision to accord the Roman emperor only the right of acclamation in the election had “the effect of taking the choice out of the hands equally of the German emperors and the Roman clergy.” So how was the myth of lay involvement and the election of lay popes perpetuated and used to justify lay election today?

The Siege of Christendom

Lay involvement in elections was at its height during a period Hughes describes as “The Siege of Christendom.” At the beginning of this period, contravening the laws of Pope Leo I and Stephen III, a part in papal elections was restored to the laity and the papal election was limited to the Roman clergy and people, (822-827). The emperor also commanded that the pope swear an oath of allegiance to him, and that no pope would be consecrated until the emperor’s representative had decided that the election laws laid down by the emperor were followed to the letter. First the Roman nobility, in the 800s, then the German emperors, in the next century, either designated their choice for pope openly or reserved the right to approve the choice of the electors. Far from benefiting and providing stability to the Church, these concessions, agreed to only reluctantly by the Church, proved disastrous. Hughes calls these concessions ”unfavorable to the popes,” and describes the time period of the siege, 814-1046, as “the end of even the elementary decencies of life…These years are perhaps the darkest in all known European history. Nowhere are they darker than in Rome, where for sixty years one family dominated, making and unmaking popes at its pleasure…The details of this story are so grotesque, they lose all relation to reality.”

Rev. Stebbing adds: “[All] was covered with a cloud of ignorance, barbarism and corruption which almost seemed to envelope everything…And out of the darkness we have to make out what we are able of the persons or things that appear by the aid of the few and by the no means unimpeachable historians who lived in the period. The general barbarism and violence of the age told very disastrously on the position of the Holy See and the character of its occupant. Never was there a time when its subjection to the secular powers around it were so oppressive and so never has there been a time when so many unworthy pontiffs made their way to Peter’s chair. It was as if Divine Providence would furnish an object lesson of what the consequences would be if the Pope were anything but free, sovereign and independent.” Popes were rumored to have mistresses, they were implicated in murder and torture plots, and they were involved in all manner of intrigues. One pope was poisoned and beaten, another strangled to death in prison, and another very nearly died from a beating but survived. One, it is said, had his nose cut off. Another lay rotting in the streets before his burial and another was dug up from his grave to be deposed in full papal regalia. The features of the face of one antipope were obliterated, he was drug through the streets of Rome and he later was beheaded.

Hughes, Prof. McSorley and Stebbing explain the actual progression of papal election in these ages. First, local Roman rulers were forced to intervene in papal elections when the unruly people who participated in them revolted because their favorite candidates were not elected. On several occasions in the fifth and sixth centuries these rulers forced two rival contestants to resign, or decided from between two contestants who the true pope would be. Then the Carolingian emperors were involved in papal elections and until about 962, a Roman faction nominated every papal candidate. The freedom of election had been lost in the 800s, with the papacy treated as a prize to be won by these various political factions for their own benefit. When an agreement signed with the king of Italy in 824 gave the Roman people a share in the election again, the problems began. Yet even after this concession, we still find that the popes were not appointed, but elected by clergy and people or the Roman clergy until the latter part of the century. The 900s saw the reign of the Roman family the Theophylacts, who imposed one after another unworthy candidate on the throne of St. Peter. Eventually the German emperor Otto I stepped in, ended threats by barbarians and became the protector of Rome. Stebbing says he “nominated candidates to the papacy, summoned popes to trial and on occasion, deposed them.”

Age of the lay popes

It was Pope John XII who requested that Otto I end the interference of rival Roman factions in Church government and it was this same pope who crowned Otto I, making him master of Italy. He came to Italy shortly after the election of the first certainly known lay pope, Leo VIII, elected in 963. All historians now agree Leo was a layman. A council decreed his election invalid because Leo was a layman, but the emperor Otto later reinstated him. He reigned for only two years. It was over a several-year time period following Otto’s rule that two or three other lay popes were elected. Benedict VIII was the second layman “forcibly” elected and he is said to have been at least not incompetent or scandalous. Some believe he was a cleric on election. All agree that John XIX, brother of John XVIII was a layman when elected, and Hughes reports that he “revived the worst traditions of his tenth century predecessors.” But Rev. Stebbing disagrees.

“John XIX was clearly aware of his lack of preparation for this sacred office, and deplored it openly. He determined to guide his conduct by the advice of the best and wisest men he could find to counsel him. In this way…he was able to bear himself with dignity and escape the pitfalls laid for his want of ecclesiastical knowledge.” John XII, pope at the beginning of Otto’s reign, was one of the most scandalous popes to be elected during this approximately 225-year period. His degeneracy was equaled only by Benedict IX, who ruled off and on from 1032 to 1046. Benedict was one of two very young men made popes during these times, although several respected historians firmly state that he was somewhere between 18-30, not 12 at the time of his election, and some maintain he was a cleric. Others believe he was a layman. Benedict’s successor is said to have bought the papacy from Benedict to end the scandal and his evils resulting from his reign, (Stebbing). But soon this evil period would end.

The differing reports of historians concerning the number of lay popes tells us only that we cannot assume they were laymen, particularly since this was not the usual practice of the Church. No one can “prove” the status of these popes, one way or the other, if even the historians disagree. The practice of the Church shows that on all but a few confirmed occasions, clerics were elected to the papacy. The issue here is NOT whether laymen were or were not elected; no one is contesting this. The issue is whether they were ordained and consecrated following election. Even if one or two were not ordained or consecrated before their deaths, (and we know of two confirmed instances of this —Adrian V and Stephen II), Divine jurisdiction was still received and could be exercised in the external forum, according to Canons 109 and 218.

Painful transition

The papacy was at the mercy of its protectors, be they the Romans or the Germans. Unlike today, they were not their own city-state. The Popes have never had their own armies, other than palace guards. Whatever Rome suffered, they suffered. They could have fought the nominations of the emperors and the Theophylacts, but soon realized that disastrous consequences followed. Popes who did not go along with the powers that be were murdered, poisoned, imprisoned, tortured and held, basically, under house arrest. The emperors exacted a stiff fee for their protection. Even though the clergy at times had only a “nominal” part in the election (Hughes), this was preferable to the alternative. Having no part in the election, the confusion and harm to the faithful brought by contested elections, (which occurred anyway) and outright extended vacancies of the Holy See, known to be disastrous, was what they were facing.

The Church was relieved when Henry III, emperor of Germany, came on the scene, for Henry proved to be a better emperor than previous ones. Hughes records that in 1024 he “put an end to the scandals” in Rome, deposed three claimants to the papacy, and “nominated as pope a good German prelate…who took the name Clement II.” All in all, Henry nominated a total of three popes to the papacy. And the people and clergy confirmed his nominations without complaint. Henry, after all, was not a common man, but of royal blood. And the men he appointed were all bishops. One of them, Pope Leo IX was a saint. The man who succeeded him, Victor II, was the last pope nominated by an emperor. The Roman clergy elected Stephen IX and his successor and the next Pope, Nicholas II, ended the appointment of popes by the emperors. But this did not come about without a final opposition on the part of the imperialists, which made for a protracted transition. 

Even after Pope Nicholas II’s law was passed in 1059, ending the reign of the emperors over the papacy, the Church’s affair with imperialism was not over. On Nicholas II’s death, a pope was elected according to the new law, and then German and Lombard bishops selected another man favored by the nobility of Rome (antipope Honorius II). A schism ensued which lasted three years. It took a council to condemn Honorius before Pope Alexander II could begin his reign. (Over one-fourth of the entire list of antipopes in the Church’s history can be found during the time period from 814-1061.) As Hughes comments, the condemnation of lay involvement “suffered somewhat of an eclipse.” 

The next round against imperialism came with the condemnation of lay investiture. Emperors, foiled at interfering with papal elections, still did not hesitate to engage in simony and appoint bishops to sees without papal approval. It was a deeply ingrained abuse that had been part and parcel of the state-run situation in Rome for over two centuries, and unless it also was eradicated, Rome would never be entirely free.

Hughes comments that Gregory VII’s reign, which began in 1073 and ended in 1085 “were years of scarcely uninterrupted storm.” Lay investiture was challenged; a Roman council was convened which declared all those receiving sees from laymen excommunicated as well as the laymen who were offering them. King Henry IV of Germany failed to take Pope Gregory VII’s decision seriously, and prepared to appoint five bishops to sees. Gregory VII threatened him with censure, and Henry responded by trying to unseat the pope. For a time Gregory was even kidnapped, but was eventually returned to the Vatican. The excommunication was delivered to Henry, who submitted to the pope. Later however he returned to his old practices and the excommunication was renewed. The pope was taken prisoner again. He died with Italy divided, imperialism still threatening, and another three-year schism in progress. But the excommunication of Henry left a lasting impression, or should have. With time and troubles that demanded greater attention, imperialism subsided. It would come to life again during the Great Western Schism, the Reformation and in our own times.

Perpetuity of Pope Nicholas II’s law

The experiment of laymen even nominating other laymen as popes, or confirming a nomination made by the emperor, should have left a very bad taste in the mouths of Catholics, as Rev. Stebbing notes above. It resulted in the most shameful behavior and painfully embarrassing history for the Church. The Church only agreed to the conditions imposed by the emperors in fear of their lives and in hopes of purchasing what little modicum of order remained. Certainly no one should point to these regrettable years to prove that the feasibility of laity participating in any way in the election of the unworthy (whether the one “elected” is a cleric or layman) is anything worthy of repetition. Most certainly it is not something that can be cited as a precedent that would grant permission. (Even during the “Siege” period, historians note, clerics assisted in the election by at least confirming the emperor’s nomination.) The very last vestige of any participation in an election by an emperor came with Pope St. Pius X’s removal of the emperor’s right to veto a papal candidate prior to election. This is the reverse of nominating a candidate in that it amounts to deflecting the nomination of a candidate considered unworthy. This power was not the grant of an actual vote. It was a refusal right exercised by the last remaining Catholic emperors in St. Pius X’s own papal election. He later abrogated this veto in his 1904 papal election law, Vacante sede apostolica.

Both the historian Hughes, writing in 1935 and Rev. Anscar Parsons in his canon law commentary “Canonical Elections” (1939) state that Pope Nicholas II’s law was still in effect at the time that they wrote their works, since his “decree fixed the law for all future times,” (Hughes). Inasmuch as the law that he wrote limited papal electors to the cardinals who were to elect a cleric, this part of the election has never changed. Hughes notes that Nicholas’ law stated that, “Henceforth, the only electors were the cardinal bishops and the cardinal clergy of Rome. They were to elect, by preference, a cleric of the Roman Church. The emperor is not accorded any rights…” Pope St. Pius X’s election law and Pope Pius XII’s reordering of his law, Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis codified Pope Nicholas II’s law, effectively retaining its relevant parts and abrogating the rest. Pius XII admits the possibility that a layman could be elected (Six ans se sont, 1957), but only if deemed “fit” prior to his acceptance of the papacy. This is because at least two laymen already were officially listed as valid popes, a dogmatic fact which is indirectly infallible. Pius XII’s papal election law makes no specific mention of the election of a layman, however, although he orders that anyone elected who is not yet a priest must be ordained and consecrated. He addressed the matter of electing a layman only because those clamoring for novelty and change in the Church (Yves Congar and others) brought it up and the matter needed to be clarified. One would think that Traditional conclavists, who should be decrying innovations at every turn, would have been the last to resort to one.

In writing his papal election law, Pius merely added that a two-thirds plus one majority was needed for valid election and eliminated Pope St. Pius X’s requirement: that cardinal-deacons not yet ordained could not participate in the election unless they had first received permission from the Pope before his death. (This reflected the former law of Pope Sixtus V, who in 1586 decreed that there would be three levels of Cardinals: six cardinal bishops, 50 cardinal priests, age 30 or greater and 14 cardinal deacons. The cardinal deacons, he said, “could be 22, provided they became priests within one year of their appointment,” (Glenn D. Kittler, The Papal Princes). When Pope St. Pius X wrote his papal election law in 1904, Canon Law had not yet been codified. When it was codified, with this saint as the primary author of the Code and Pope Pius XII as one of his many assistants, this law was strengthened.  It was incorporated into the Code under Can. 232. This Canon states: “Cardinals… must be at least priests and be endowed with exceptional learning, training and experience,” (Revs. Woywod-Smith). Some have tried to say that the restriction of the right to election to Cardinal priests and bishops was an innovation strengthened by antipope John 23. But Pope Stephen III’s law above proves this is far from the truth.

We have explained before that the mention of the stipulation for emergencies found in Pope Nicholas II’s law cannot be interpreted as a privilege allowing the laity only to elect. It is included in a law intended to be in effect in perpetuity, but this does not give it the status of a privilege or extend it beyond its original purpose. It does lay down the method for proceeding in an emergency, and we do find ourselves in such an emergency. However, as Pope Pius XII decrees in his Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis, only the cardinals, (and as others have taught, in their absence the bishops) can decide what is to be done in the present situation. “If…a pure, sincere and free election cannot be held in Rome, the cardinal bishops, with the clergy of the Church and the Catholic laity may have the right and power, even though few in numbers, of electing a pontiff for the Apostolic See wherever it may seem most suitable,” (Nicholas II, April 12, 1059).

If we reference Pope St. Leo II’s law as Pope Nicholas II advises, all this provision says is that an election may be held outside of Rome with the usual provisions made for the laity; that of nomination at best and affirmation at the least. This is a restatement of an ancient law specifically designed to exclude direct lay participation in elections, (actual vote or appointment). The Church’s laws in this regard have not changed in nearly 1600 years.  There should no longer be any doubt about this. The Church fought valiantly to escape State control; She knew its many dangers. And to return to such a system would be to invite the return of calamity, as we have seen.

Apostolic succession never absent

Even during the tumultuous times of the Church’s “Siege” era, despite any irregularities in papal elections, one thing never changed, and this can be proven historically: whether laymen or clerics in minor orders, the one elected was always ordained and consecrated as soon as possible, then crowned. They were accepted as popes afterward by the entire Church. Inexperienced popes had full benefit of all the great minds at the Vatican for training, advice and briefing. In this manner they obtained full Apostolic succession since they were ordained and consecrated by successors of the apostles, to continue the Church’s Divine mission. No lay pope-elect has ever ruled the Church for any meaningful period of time without benefit of ordination/consecration. The instances of clerics elected pope remaining for a time without orders happened in the early ages of the Church when lay interference in elections was at its peak or Rome was undergoing attack from barbarians or foreign armies. These popes were elected validly by the cardinals and clergy, were accepted by the faithful and all were clerics on election. This is a far cry from lay people electing a questionably valid and illicit priest or a disqualified layman, or lay people and/or illicit clergy electing an illicitly ordained priest who is then consecrated by an illicitly consecrated bishop.

Research to date ascertains that five popes experienced delays in their consecrations, meaning that they were either deacons or priests at the time of their valid and licit elections, so were members of the hierarchy, (Can. 108). They also were subsequently accepted by the faithful. Stephen II, a deacon or priest on election in 752, simply died that same year before he could be consecrated; scarcely anything is known about him. The same is true of Adrian V, a cardinal-deacon elected in July 1286 who is confirmed as dying before receiving consecration. He reigned for 36 days (some say six weeks) and died in August. His only remarkable act was to suspend what some cardinals considered an overly strict law regarding Conclave rules enacted by his predecessor Gregory X, (1911 Catholic Encyclopedia). His successor, John XXI, later ratified the suspension of these rules. Eventually, however, the very rules Pope Gregory X proposed were adopted: the requirement that cardinals must remain inside the Conclave until the election of the pope regardless of any privations. These later became the permanent rules governing conclaves, and remain to this day.

As for the other three, Pope St. Leo II, a cardinal-priest was not consecrated for 17 months, being elected in January 681, sometime after the death of Pope Agatho on Jan. 10, 681. It is quite interesting to note that several historians do not date Leo II’s reign as Pope until 682, following his consecration, even though he was elected in 681. Pope St. Leo II was consecrated on Aug. 17, 682 and on this same day confirmed the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, which had been in session at the time of Pope Agatho’s death, (Rev. Newman C. Eberhardt, C.M., “A Summary of Catholic History,” Vol. I. Eberhardt cites this confirmation as being made in “a letter to the emperor.”) Pope St. Leo II is listed as reigning from 682-683 in the Council of Constantinople documents cited by Henry Denzinger’s “Sources of Catholic Dogma,” (1957 edition).  

Pope St. Leo II died in 683, shortly after his consecration. His successor Benedict II, also had to wait 11 months before receiving consecration. Pope Gregory IV, elected as a cardinal-priest, waited six months after his election before being consecrated in March, 828. Once again, these delays were certainly not Church policy, but were imposed by agreements made by Rome with the emperors. They are nothing to be passed off lightly. And given the one precedent we have, certainly ordination and/or consecration have never been postponed for more than two years, but exceptions should never be drawn into precedent.

The Western Schism

While Martin V was only a subdeacon when elected, he was initially a cardinal from the Roman obedience of Gregory XII, later declared the valid pope, (although Martin left the Roman line as many others did). Martin V was held in good repute according to the Catholic historians consulted, and many in his family served as cardinals before him. He was an expert in Canon Law. Immediately following his election, over a three-day period he was made deacon, priest and bishop. One would think today that Martin V was at least a material schismatic prior to his election; but the laws governing schismatics at that time were not then what they later became. And Gallicanism was not condemned as a heresy until the Vatican Council convened, although it is said that as a cardinal Martin firmly opposed conciliarism. In this he agreed with Cardinal Zabarella, one of the “leading” cardinals during the Council of Constance. Historian Walter Ullmann says of Zabarella: “There seems to be a genuine dislike on the part of Zabarella for anything approaching so-called self-help by the citizens, in the sense that they could take the law into their own hands: if the faithful of either [papal] obedience believe in the justness of their cause, they will be saved,” (The Origins of the Great Western Schism).

This is precisely the position taken by Pope Paul IV in his 1559 Bull, Cum ex Apostolatus Officio; he did not hold the cardinals who left the obedience of one they held to be a doubtful pope as bound by any censures or guilty of schism, regardless of the time spent in that obedience or whether they acted as electors. He approved of calling upon the civil power to facilitate a new election, which was done at Constance. Even a great Saint, Vincent Ferrer, had endorsed a false pope, (Benedict XIII). And 140 years later, Pope Paul IV held none of them to any censures, and indicated that those only were to be considered heretics and schismatics who knowingly and willingly embraced error or departed from the obedience of one certainly known to be a true pope, having been “canonically elected.” How to tell, outside canonicity, that an election is valid is set down by St. Bernard: character of the one elected, dignity and integrity of the electors, (canonicity of the election), the validity and character of the one consecrating Innocent II a bishop, lack of prejudice owing to family connections and the absence of intimidations by civil authority, (ibid Ailbe Luddy). And none of them seem to have been seriously considered as determinants during the Great Western Schism.

Before Pope Martin V’s election, two of the papal claimants were deposed and Gregory XII resigned, but not before insisting that he formally convene the Council of Constance. Some historians remark that Gregory XII always believed he was the true pope. As a cardinal he had taken a vow to resolve the schism if elected, even if this meant tendering his resignation. But pressure from his family and the secular government caused him to rethink this course of action. He backed off from a mutual agreement with Pedro Luna (Benedict XIII) to resign simultaneously, sensing that Luna was not sincere in his offer to resign. Following Gregory’s failure to honor his vow, Odo Colonna, the future Martin V and several other cardinals left him in disgust. The false Council of Pisa was the unfortunate outcome of these failed negotiations, resulting only in the election of yet a third line of antipopes.  St. Vincent Ferrer also later abandoned Luna for his stubborn refusal to resolve the schism. As early as 1394, “the University [of Paris]… canvassed its doctors and graduate theologians for a thorough census of opinion,” (Thos. Neill, PhD., Neill Schmandt, PhD., History of the Catholic Church).  Unfortunately, their recommendations were met with inaction.

The preferred solution chosen by the University was voluntary abdication, rather than mediation or the convening of a general council, but “the popes rejected the idea.”  In 1398, the French hierarchy voted to withdraw obedience from the Avignon pontiff and for five years acknowledged none of the claimants as pope. Cardinal Zabarella condemned this move of “subtractio,” as outright disobedience. But had the popes done what they were asked to do, had they shown true compassion for the faithful and the Church, the French would never have been disobedient, the cardinals would not have left Pope Gregory XII, and the schism would have ended 20 years sooner. It is easier to understand how men elected by cardinals on two different sides, each with their own obediences and at least somewhat plausible claims, might think they are popes. It is impossible to understand how men without any orders or with only illicit orders, schismatics and most likely heretics, in spite of the Code of Canon Law and Pope Pius XII’s election law and contrary to Church history and practice, could think they had even a prayer of a chance at valid election and Apostolic Succession.

Who can depose doubtfully elected popes?

Some have said material schismatics can elect and be elected, because Cardinals from all obediences and even lay people were allowed to elect the pope at Constance. Six representatives from each nation joined 23 cardinals to elect Martin V. The old Catholic Encyclopedia states that these representatives were all prelates. What is a prelate? Can. 110 tells us that prelates are clerics. Attwater’s A Catholic Dictionary tells us that “the principal prelates are bishops,” followed by prefects apostolic and major superiors of religious orders. Would it really make sense that the Council would invite the minor clergy far less lay people to this election, excluding bishops, archbishops and abbots? This ridiculous attempt to use every possible ruse and all misinformation to convince people that the laity played a role in Church government they clearly never enjoyed is reprehensible. These people forget that the Church during the Western Schism had a true pope all along.

That pope, believing he was indeed the true pope convened Constance before he resigned. By convening Constance, he more than likely supplied for the election of a true pope because he knew the intended outcome of the council would be an election. When the Church (the pope primarily and the body of bishops only secondarily) supplies for defects, She can in effect remedy every flaw in the election. She obviously remedied these flaws at Constance, or the Church would have never recognized Gregory as pope and would not have retained Her Apostolic succession.

Constance did not depose “popes;” the true pope resigned. The Church’s recognition of Gregory XII as the true pope proves this; it could not have been otherwise. No one may depose a canonically elected, ordained and consecrated pope certainly accepted by the faithful except in the case of heresy pre-election. This is the teaching of Pope Paul IV in Cum ex Apostolatus Officio and also is the common teaching of theologians. Constance deposed only doubtful popes, a practice we see from above that has existed since the earliest times in Church history. The Roman political factions deposed papal claimants right and left, Otto I deposed papal claimants, Henry III also deposed papal claimants. In his work Canon Law, Rev. Amleto Cicognani explains that the Gallicanists erred in believing that what really applied to an extraordinary situation (the calling of a General Council to judge doubtful popes), also applied ordinarily, so that these bishops believed they could likewise judge, and were superior to even a certainly valid pope. The historian Franzen Dolan explains that there were really very few participants at the council who held to “radical ideas” such as those espoused by Marsilius of Padua. He states that the council never considered defining that it held itself superior to the pope. Instead, he points out, “the overwhelming majority” simply wanted to dispose of the troublesome antipopes and protect the Church “against similar cases of schism in the future.”

For a wonderful look at Apostolic succession expressed in principle, we need only look as far as the current law of Pope Pius XII on the election of a Roman Pontiff. Even before Canon Law was codified during the reign of Pope St. Pius X, Pope St. Pius X revised papal election law, compiling the essence of all the old laws on election into one manageable document, which addressed the needs at the time. Pope Pius XII would later issue his own law, but with very few changes to Pope St. Pius X’s law and only minor additions. So the present document governing elections, Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis, is nothing less than a compendium of teaching on papal election law issuing from the continual magisterium. In faithfully following these rules, the cardinal-priests and cardinal-bishops link in a very meaningful way to all that has gone before in the Church and connects it to the future of the Church. That is why, as one theologian so eloquently explains:

“The pope has [jurisdiction] immediately from God on his legitimate election. The legitimacy of his election depends on the observance of the rules established by previous popes regarding such election…In the absence of legitimate election, no jurisdiction whatsoever is granted, neither de jure, NOR DESPITE WHAT SOME HAVE TRIED TO MAINTAIN, DE FACTO… A doubtful pope may be really invested with the requisite power, but he has not practically in the Church the same right as a certain pope — he is not entitled to be acknowledged as Head of the Church, and may be legitimately compelled to desist from his claim…

That the Church should remain thirty or forty years without a thoroughly ascertained Head and representative of Christ on earth, this could not be [Catholics reason]. Yet it has been, and we have no guarantee that it will not be again…We must not be too ready to pronounce on what God will permit…We, or our successors in future generations, may see stranger evils than have yet been experienced…contingencies regarding the Church, not excluded by the Divine promises, cannot be regarded as practically impossible, just because they would be terrible and distressing.(“The Relations of the Church to Society — Theological Essays,” Rev. Edmund James O’Reilly, S.J. as quoted by John S. Daly; from the chapter “The Pastoral Office of the Church,” all emphasis by Rev. O’Reilly in the original. Rev. O’Reilly was the theologian of choice in Ireland for local Irish Councils and Synods, was a professor of theology at the Catholic University of Dublin and was at one time considered as a candidate for a professorship at the prestigious Roman College by his Jesuit superior.)

The Church thereby recognizes that whenever several papal claimants exist, the best plan is abdication and the only other recourse is declaration that such men were never popes. As Cardinal Zabarella wrote: “It is the people themselves who have to summon the neighboring bishops for special purposes if the properly instituted bishop neglects his duty of summoning his colleagues,” (Ibid. Ullmann; emph. mine). In a case such as ours, Zabarella says, “good clerics and loyal believers and followers of the Church” would need to resolve the situation, and God would have to intervene, since the Church, “cannot not be.” This also was the gist of Pope Nicholas II’s emergency clause. St. Robert Bellarmine concurred over 100 years later by suggesting the Imperfect Council, which must be convened by the bishops and could only act to denounce all usurpers and provide the Church with a pope.

Church practice, however, also would allow laymen to officially declare a man a false pope, and Pope Paul IV’s “Cum ex Apostolatus Officio” states this as a contingency in the case of removing a usurper. When the location of true bishops and clergy is unknown, it seems to be the only option. Especially if an election could be proven invalid according to existing Canon Law and Church teaching and was then easily and generally recognized as invalid, the claimant could be dismissed. In our current situation it may no longer be possible to summon true bishops, yet still the Church “cannot not be.” Divine intervention is the only answer left to us, whether this means miraculously revealing the location of the hierarchy or some other miracle. What Christ promised will always be.

Apostolic succession in Canon Law and Church teaching

Christ set down the essentials for apostolicity by His own ordination and consecration of the Apostles, lending Orders its divine origin, then His appointment of Peter to the papacy. Thus was the Divine form for this most essential mark of the Church established, a mark without which the other marks cannot exist, (1911 Catholic Encyclopedia). He gave the power of binding and loosing to the Apostles, and this they used to determine the method for designating Peter’s successors. St. Peter appointed Linus to succeed him, but all the rest, save the exceptions mentioned above, were elected by at least some members of the clergy of Rome.  Nowhere in Holy Scripture does Jesus accord any power in the administration of His Church to laymen. He set St. Peter over the sheep (bishops) and the lambs (the rest of the faithful) in appointing him pope.

This is why Pope Nicholas II, following Pope Leo I, groups them in precisely the same way: “ the cardinal bishops, with the clergy of the Church and the Catholic laity.” He gave the power of binding and loosing to Peter primarily and the Apostles as governed by Peter. The people do not share this power. The Church has condemned the teaching that the people themselves can directly elect or appoint their own ministers. (DZ 570, 960, 967, 1502; Denzinger’s “Sources of Catholic Dogma”). Their participation was always confined to nomination and/or acclamation. If emperors appointed the popes, or had a major share in their appointment, the Church supplied for such a situation, but only reluctantly. At the earliest opportunity she condemned the abuse to return to Her common and constant practice. And She has repeated these condemnations throughout Her history.

Doctrine develops; and the doctrine of the Church concerning the role the laity could rightfully play in ecclesiastical government developed slowly and painfully. But today there can be no doubt how the Church has decided in this matter. Hughes relates that it also was Pope Leo I who, although agreeing to ordain and consecrate a certain number of men elected to Episcopal sees who were not clerics, insisted that the law that they be clerics prior to election must be observed in the future. And this in the fifth century! The specious objection that this law was often not observed later on must be totally disregarded. It was the stated will of the legislator that it certainly be observed, and the legislator possessed the power to bind and loose in Christ’s name. This is upheld in DZ 967 and 424:Those not rightly ordained or sent are not lawful ministers. This means that while a priest who is a bishop-elect has the power to rule his diocese prior to consecration, (external jurisdiction only), this is not true of one who is not a cleric.

If one not a cleric is elected, Canon Law nullifies the election (or appointment). This ancient fact is reflected in the 1917 Code of Canon Law (Canons 147, 153, 154 and 453). First of all, governing all the rest, Can. 147 states that no office in the Church can be validly obtained without a canonical appointment, understood as “the conferring of an ecclesiastical office by the competent ecclesiastical authority in harmony with the sacred canons,” (the canon in this case being Can. 160, which refers readers to Pope Pius XII’s papal election law, “Vacantis Apostolica Sedis.” The canonists Bouscaren-Ellis report that this includes the papacy and Canon 109 and 219 confirm this.) Then Can. 153 declares that only a cleric may be elected to an office and must have the qualifications demanded by common law or particular law; if not properly qualified, conferral of the office is at least voidable. Canon 154 pronounces as null and void any office involving the care of souls that is granted to one not a priest. These two laws are repeated in Can. 453 in the case of pastors.

Some have tried to sidestep these laws by saying that a layman elected pope (by laymen, no less; and clerics deposed for heresy are reduced to lay status under Can. 188§4) receives jurisdiction directly from God and may exercise it (indefinitely) without the benefit of ordination and consecration. Church history and practice (tradition), Canon Law and infallible Church teaching tell us this cannot be true. Competent ecclesiastical authority only may elect, in accordance with the sacred canons, which always insisted on the participation of the clergy. And only when legitimately elected can a man accept the election and simultaneously receive the Divine jurisdiction that grants the actual office. The acquisition of Divine jurisdiction is entirely dependent on this legitimate election. Even the ancient laws demand that a certainly qualified cleric be elected, or in the rare case of a layman elected, that, at the very least, the one elected be confirmed (ordained and/or consecrated), by valid and licit clergy and acclaimed by the entire Church. The only reason the papacy survived the “Siege” era is because Apostolic Succession was always guaranteed

Certainly laymen can be and have been elected, in straightened circumstances or times of emergency, but this is not the constant practice of the Church. Even then, valid and licit clergy always supplied for the election of even an unworthy cleric or layman, at the request of a layman (emperor) and with the participation of cardinals as well as lesser clergy other than cardinals. But this is not possible today. The definition of Apostolicity/Apostolic Succession given in the old Catholic Encyclopedia leaves no doubt that unless a man possesses not merely valid and licit appointment or election but the actual valid and licit orders necessary to his particular office, he can never be counted as a successor of the Apostles.

  1. a) The one who is claiming apostolicity must be able to prove that he possesses Orders and jurisdiction, which proceed in a direct and unbroken line from the Apostles to a bishop yet possessing them today.
  2. b) This bishop must be lawful, (i.e., he must have received his episcopacy from Pope Pius XII). He cannot have been separated from the Church by heresy, apostasy or schism.
  3. c) The doctrine he teaches must be unchanged from the time of the Apostles to the present, with no deviation, either, from those teachings of the Supreme Pontiffs proceeding from the ordinary or extraordinary magisterium.
  4. d) The transmission of power must be both material and formal, meaning it must consist of actual succession from an unbroken line of orders conveyed by those with the authority (jurisdiction) to transmit it, for no one can give an authority he does not possess.
  5. e) An authoritative mission is absolutely necessary for apostolicity to exist and a man-given mission is not authoritative. Unless apostolicity exists, none of the other marks can exist.
  6. f) No new mission can arise because the mission given by Christ to the Apostles must pass from themselves to their legitimate successors in an unbroken line until the end of the world.
  7. g) This notion of apostolicity derives from the teaching of Christ Himself. To deny this is heresy.
  8. h) Any concept of apostolicity that excludes authoritative union with the apostolic mission robs the ministry of its Divine character. No one may disregard any teaching based on Divine law and retain membership in the Church.

This also is testified to by the unanimous teaching of theologians, (

Active lay involvement in elections forever condemned

Finally, The Council of Trent and Pope Pius VI put an end to all controversy concerning the role the laity is to play in the future where the election of bishops or any other ministers are concerned. Occurring only 125-150 years after Constance, it was the first opportunity the Church had to address these matters once the error of Gallicanism found expression in Protestantism. That Trent and Pope Pius VI intended to end these abuses is unquestionably evident in the infallible documents below:

From the Council of Trent: “This Holy Synod teaches that, in the ordination of bishops, priests and other ordersthose who are called and instituted only by the people, or by the civil powerand proceed to exercise these offices, and…those who take these offices upon themselves, are not ministers of the Church, but are to be regarded as ‘thieves, robbers and those who have not entered by the door,'” (DZ 960; Canons 108-109; Can. 147). “If anyone says that … those who have neither been rightly ordained nor sent by ecclesiastical authority, but come from a different source, are the lawful ministers of the Word and of the Sacraments, let him be anathema.” (The Council of Trent, Sess. 23, July 15, 1563; DZ 967, 424; emph. mine).

Condemnation of the Jansenists: Pope Pius VI also condemned a Jansenist version of this same notion: “‘Power has been given by God to the Church that it might be communicated to the pastors who are its ministers for the salvation of souls.’ If thus understood that the power of ecclesiastical ministry is derived from the community of the faithful to the pastors — heretical,” (DZ 1502; Canons 108-109; emph. mine).

These infallible teachings prove that if anyone is instituted by “only by the people, or by the civil power…” [or] “…by the community of the faithful…” as a true priest or bishop without being  “rightly ordained nor sent” and … proceed to exercise these offices…” as “lawful ministers of the Word and of the Sacraments,” they are excommunicated for heresy. In comparing the wording of these condemnations to what happened during the “Siege era” of the Church and the Western Schism, as well as today, it is clear that the Church had these abuses in mind and intended to proscribe them forever here by issuing these anathemas. It is clear from the wording that this was done to protect apostolic succession, and that no one not rightly ordained or sent can be intruded as a lawful minister — be this person a pastor, a bishop or a Pope, who after all is simply the bishop of Rome.

This also was emphasized later in the Constitution “Charitas,” issued by Pope Pius VI: “We therefore severely forbid the… illicitly consecrated men… to assume episcopal jurisdiction or any other authority for the guidance of souls since they have never received it.” So let us hear no more talk of emperors only appointing popes, laymen elected pope, laymen not ordained or consecrated before their deaths and the appointment of laymen to Episcopal offices, even by ecclesiastical authority, with no need of orders. Regardless of what happened in the past, all these things are now forbidden by the Council of Trent and other Church teachings as reflected in Canons 153, 154, 333 and 453.  Pope Gelasius taught that once the Church has ruled on a matter, it can NEVER be discussed or questioned again, (DZ 161).

As Pope Pius XII also later taught in “Ad Apostolorum Principis” : “Everyone sees that all ecclesiastical discipline is overthrown if it is in any way lawful for one to restore arrangements which are no longer valid because the supreme authority of the Church long ago decreed otherwise. In no sense do they excuse their way of acting by appealing to another custom, and they indisputably prove that they follow this line deliberately in order to escape from the discipline which now prevails and which they ought to be obeying” (condemning the lay investiture of Chinese bishops behind the Iron Curtain). How astute Pope Pius XII was in observing that those laymen intruding bishops and the bishops intruded would use the excuse of another custom to exempt themselves from obeying infallible decrees. It was this very appeal to abolished customs that contributed to the destruction wrought by the liturgical reformers at the false Vatican 2 council.


In summarizing what is stated above, the following observations can be made. First of all, the laity as a group never possessed an active vote in papal elections, as the assay of the various early Church laws and actual Church practice cited above proves. Secondly, any participation in the government of the Church by the Roman nobles or the emperors was either the result of tacit agreement by the Holy See or an official, signed agreement between the Vatican and its various “protectors,” at a time when the Vatican had no other choice in the matter.  In the third place clergy, including cardinals, always confirmed any nomination by ruling nobles and emperors, providing orders and/or consecration when necessary, and officiated at the coronation. The remaining nobles and laity also affirmed the election. Fourthly, it could be said that at the time, the failure of the clergy to insist on installing their own candidates rather than accepting a poor choice from the emperor was the result of force and fear. This excused them from any guilt in not obeying the Church’s own laws and practices, since papal election laws were then merely ecclesiastical. Confirmation, coronation and acclamation by the official body of the clergy and the faithful, then, supplied for any deficiencies and effectively legalized such elections.

Until its condemnation at Trent and by Pope Pius VI, election by nomination of the emperor was not identified as a heresy, although it was strictly forbidden for several hundred years. Likewise the Vatican Council forbade the holding of the Gallican articles for several hundred years before their eventual condemnation in 1870. So today, is it lawful and within the bounds of Catholic belief to advocate that we return to the idea that a General Council is above a valid, licit, canonically elected Pope? Most certainly not! And neither is it lawful or within the bounds of Catholic faith and belief to now return to a method of papal election that has since been condemned as heretical. Some will object that the condemnations above were only intended to apply to the institution of Protestant ministers. But when a man not a priest or bishop is “elected” to an office that requires the reception of the priesthood and episcopacy according to invalidating and incapacitating canon laws, and he is not a priest or bishop, but rules and performs as one, this is what the condemnation is forbidding. Or if an illicitly ordained man is elected, even by the people and (illicit) clergy, and he presumes to teach and preach as well as administer the Sacraments, this is clearly likewise condemned.

Canon Law demands that all orders and jurisdiction must be bestowed upon the clergy and proceed only from the clergy, (Can. 118, 147).  In authentically interpreting Can. 147, Pope Pius XII cited DZ 960, in forbidding Chinese secular authority to approve the consecration of bishops. The Divine mission promised to the Apostles by Christ belongs to the bishops, but it can be activated only by the successor of St. Peter. The power that is promised to the pope is “episcopal and ordinary,” (Can. 218). In other words, it requires episcopal consecration, either before or after election, if apostolic succession is to be continued. Episcopal or episcopacy means “an order superior to the priesthood” that includes the power to “govern their flocks…ordain priests and to confirm,” Attwater’s “A Catholic Dictionary; also defined by the Council of Trent). Ordinary means “a cleric with ordinary jurisdiction,” (Ibid.; emph. mine).  This is nothing more but the foundation of apostolic succession: orders and jurisdiction. Divine jurisdiction is transmitted only when ecclesiastical authority Can. 147) posits a legitimate election, (109, 218). Canons 218 and 219 are only a restatement of Divine and infallible teaching. The people or secular authority have no right to appoint even a cleric to an office, as Trent teaches, and the cleric thus appointed cannot exercise such an office even if they appoint him. Only the proper ecclesiastical authority (the cardinals, or the bishops and priests, in their absence), the governing body of the Church, was authorized by Our Lord to designate the one to whom He will transmit Divine jurisdiction, in the papacy.

What did Jesus do?

He created the hierarchy, the ecclesia docens, that they might teach, govern and sanctify the laity, the ecclesia discens; Divine law says that the laity has no governing power in the Church, (Can. 108, 109). He promised to bind and loose, guaranteeing His confirmation of de fide decrees in Heaven already enacted by His Church on earth. He promised that not only the papacy, but also the bishops and priests — the Church as He constituted it — would last “unto the consummation.” He demonstrated by his actions that unless these priests and bishops were first ordained (and consecrated), as He first ordained and consecrated His Apostles before sending them on the Divine mission, they could not be His successors. He gave the power concerning binding and loosing to His Church, and She has never failed to teach that cardinals must elect (preferably) a cleric as pope and that only in emergencies can the Universal Church — cardinals and other bishops and priests, with laymen allowed only to nominate candidates or to acclaim them — act outside this law.  Christ came to earth solely to do his Father’s will, and we must do as He did. Therefore, we must “depart not by any human and novel institution, from that which Christ our master both taught and did…The Will of God is what Christ has done and taught.”

It is as the Vatican Council solemnly proclaimed: “The doctrine of Faith, which God has revealed, has not been given over to be perfected by human intelligence, as though it were a philosophical theory,” (DZ 1800, emph. mine). It is not for us to question how Christ will revive His Church in these seemingly impossible circumstances, or even if, instead of reviving, He will arrive for the General Judgment. One of the two must occur. We are dealing with doctrines of faith, which cannot be questioned. A paraplegic cannot propel a bicycle forward, and a man missing even one of the two legs of orders and jurisdiction can never claim succession to the Apostles. It is what Jesus said, and what He did. It is what His Church unquestionably teaches that He said and did. If we once admit that any man can state otherwise and speak the truth, then we admit that man is a god in his own right and we deny Christ’s Divinity. “God alone is true and every man a liar.”

Jesus promised He would be with us unto the consummation. Lift up your heads, He tells us, for your redemption is at hand. If we keep our eyes on Heaven and remember what Jesus said and did while on earth, we cannot lose sight of our salvation.

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(books consulted or quoted for this work):

Primary sources

  • Holy Bible, Douay-Rheims version, John Murphy & Co., 1899
  • Rev. Stanislaus Woywod, Rev. Callistus Smith, “A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law,” 1957
  • Rev. T. Lincoln Bouscaren, Rev. Adam Ellis, “Canon Law: A Text and Commentary”
  • 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia, several volumes
  • Henry Denzinger’s “Sources of Catholic Dogma,” 1957
  • Donald Attwater’s “A Catholic Dictionary” 1941

Papal documents

  • Pope Paul IV, “Cum ex Apostolatus Officio,” 1559
  • Pope Pius VI, “Charitas”
  • Pope Pius XII, Six ans se sont,” 1957
  • Pope Pius XII, “Ad Apostolorum Principis”
  • Pope Pius XII, “Vacantis Apostilicae Sedis”

Historical Sources

  • Abbot Dom J. B. Chautard, “Soul of the Apostolate,” 1945
  • Msgr. Capel, editor, “Faith of Catholics,” Vol. 1, 1885
  • Rev. J. Tixeront, “Holy Orders and Ordination,” 1928
  • Rev. Ailbe Luddy, O. Cist., “Life and Teaching of St. Bernard,” 1950
  • Philip Hughes, “A History of the Church,” Vol. I-II, 1935
  • Philip Hughes, “A Popular History of the Catholic Church,” 1951
  • St. Alphonsus Liguori, “Exposition and Defense of Faith,” 1846
  • Rev. Ronald Cox, “A Study on the Juridical Status of Laymen in the Writing of the Medieval Canonists,” 1959; Catholic University of America
  • Rev. George Stebbing C.S.S.R., “The Story of the Church,”1915
  • Rev. Anscar Parsons, canon law commentary “Canonical Elections,” Catholic University of America, 1939
  • Glenn D. Kittler, “The Papal Princes,” 1961
  • Thomas Neill, PhD., Neill Schmandt, PhD., “History of the Catholic Church,” 1957
  • Karl Bihlmeyer, Herman Tuchle, “Church History — the Middle Ages,” Vol. II, 1963
  • Joseph Lortz, Edwin Kaiser, “A History of the Church,” 1939
  • Rev. Newman C. Eberhardt, C.M., “A Summary of Catholic History,” Vol. I, 1960
  • Walter Ullmann, “The Origins of the Great Western Schism,” Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1949
  • August Franzen, John Dolan, “A History of the Church,” 1965
  • Rev. Edmund James O’Reilly, S.J., “The Relations of the Church to Society — Theological Essays” 1892
  • John Farrow, “Pageant of the Popes,” 1942
  • Joseph McSorley, “Outlines of Church History,” 1944, (McSorley was a former professor of theology at the Catholic Univ. Of America)
  • Notre Dame Sisters, “A Compendium of Church History,” 1911