H. Papal Disciplinary Decrees Are Infallible

Papal Disciplinary Decrees Are Infallible

© Copyright 2009, T. Stanfill Benns (None of what appears below — in whole or in part — may be used without the express and written permission of the author. All emphasis within quotes is the author’s unless indicated otherwise.)

One of the most commonly misunderstood aspects of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff has been the infallible nature of those decrees issued for strictly disciplinary versus purely doctrinal reasons. Owing to the inroads made by Gallicanism and Modernism, many Traditionalists hold today that one can be condemned as a heretic, schismatic or apostate for violating a dogma of faith and morals, but cannot be certainly condemned for violating a disciplinary decree. We find the denial of this Church teaching common among those who attempt to escape the censures attached to teachings such as a) that issued by the Council of Trent for those acting in the place of clerics at the behest or by the appointment of the people, minus any canonical mission; b) for those who fail to obtain the papal mandate for episcopal consecration and c) in the case of those usurping papal jurisdiction and transgressing Canon Law during an interregnum, in violation of Pope Pius XII’s “Vacante Apostolic Sedis.” Certain members of the faithful who question the condemnation of the teachings of Fr. Leonard Feeney as well as Pope Pius XII’s excommunication of Feeney also believe that they need not give irrevocable assent to these teachings and even the excommunication itself. This excommunication, they hold, was issued “only for disciplinary” and not doctrinal reasons. This although Feeney’s errors, as detailed in the Holy Office’s letter to Cardinal Cushing, are clearly portrayed as contrary to the Church’s own teachings on Baptism of blood and desire. And, as we shall see, even if Pope Pius XII’s excommunication of Feeney was for disciplinary reasons, it was an infallible act.

As Dr. Disandro noted, in his “Doctrinal Precisions” (see Articles to Download), those in the N.O. believed that bulls such as “Cum ex Apostolatus Officio” and other documents were disciplinary in nature and as such did not require an irrevocable assent. Now Traditionalists are trying to say the same. They forget that when Angelo Roncalli began his destruction of the Church, a revision of the Code of Canon Law, not realized until Wojtyla’s reign was promised from the time he called the Council. C. Leroux tells us, in her work “Son of Perdition,” that, “John 23rd ‘s only preoccupation, apart from the opening of the Council, had been ‘the adaptation of Canon Law to the needs of our times.’ [He] announced (it), right at the beginning…the reform of Canon Law, that ‘iron collar.’ That loose-tongued Cardinal Tardini artlessly admitted, ‘From now on, one can say that the principal goal of the Council will be more particularly ecclesiastical jurisdiction the renovation of the Code of Canon Law which might be altered, and then the whole gamut of the customs of Catholic life.’…If one does not wish to subject oneself to divine institutions, the simplest answer is to transform the law…In promising to modify [Canon Law] ‘very shortly,’ he reassured Canon Lawyers who might have raised objections in front of the upheavals which were going to affect not only the interior government of the Church and her doctrines, but Her relations with Her implacable enemies such as the Jews and Freemasons.”

A Modernist omits ‘discipline’ from an infallible pronouncement

Leroux also reports that in a 1961 communique concerning the coming Council, Cardinal Koenig listed as one of the topics to be addressed: “a reform of Canon Law, of the Index, and of penitential practices.” Roncalli let it be assumed that all these things would be “set right” by the alteration of Canon Law. And this is essentially what Traditionalists have attempted to do on their own authority. But all are laboring under a grave misconception concerning the Church’s true teaching on the subject of discipline. This topic has been shamefully confused even further by a misprint (?) in the 1955 edition of Henry Denzinger’s “The Sources of Catholic Dogma.” In the Introduction to this edition, the 30th, translator, Roy Deffarari, credits none other than Charles (Karl) Rahner, S.J. as responsible for “the 28th, 29th and 30th editions.” This may well account for any discrepancies in these editions of Denzinger’s work. The problem concerns an omission in DZ 326, a condemnation of various heresies under Pope Nicholas I by the Roman Council in (860 and) 863 A.D. There Denzinger’s printed:

“If anyone condemns dogmas, mandates, interdicts, sanctions or decrees, promulgated by the one presiding in the Apostolic See, for the Catholic Faith, for the correction of the faithful, for the emendation of criminals, either by an interdict of threatening or future ills, let him be anathema.”

Writing in 1875, Henry Cardinal Manning, in his “The Vatican Decrees in Their Bearing on Civil Allegiance” gives this rendition of the council’s condemnation of that same error: “Si quis dogmata, mandata, interdicta, sanctiones vel decreta, pro Catholica fide, pro ecclesiastica disciplina, pro correctione fidelium, pro emendatione scleratorum, vel interdictione imminentium vel futurorum malorum, a Sedis Apostolica Praeside salubriter promulgata contempserit,: Anathema sit.”

Notice that the words in bold, clearly translated as “for ecclesiastical discipline,” are omitted from Denzinger’s translation. Nor can it be argued that an ecumenical council erred, or that such teaching was later amended without denying the infallible teaching of the Church. We find the following proposition condemned by Pope Pius VI in “Auctorum Fidei,” (DZ 1578): “In every article, that which pertains to faith and to the essence of religion must be distinguished from that which is proper to discipline,” the Jansenists maintained. Pope Pius VI taught: “As if the Church, which is ruled by the Spirit of God, could have established discipline which is not only useless and burdensome for Christian liberty but which is dangerous and harmful,” condemned as at least erroneous, dangerous and injurious to the Church, among other things. Under Can. 2317, those clerics who teach condemned propositions are “barred from the ministry of preaching the Word of God and of hearing sacramental confessions, and from every other office of teaching, without prejudice to other penalties which the sentence of condemnation of the doctrine may perhaps have decreed.” One of the sources listed by Cardinal Gasparri for this Canon in his Fontes is none other than Pope Paul IV’s “Cum ex Apostolatus Officio.” And once the Vatican Council was held, “Auctorem Fidei” formally became an infallible decree.

Papal teaching on disciplinary matters

We learn from Pope Gregory XVI in Mirari Vos: “It would be beyond any doubt blameworthy and entirely contrary to the respect with which the laws of the Church should be received by a senseless aberration to find fault with the regulation of morals, and the laws of the Church and her ministers; or to speak of this discipline as opposed to certain principles of the natural law, or to present it as defective, imperfect, and subject to civil authority.” And from the same Pope in Quo Graviora: “Are they not trying, moreover, to make of the Church something human; are they not openly diminishing her infallible authority and the divine power which guides her, in holding that her present discipline is subject to decay, to weakness, and to other failures of the same nature, and in imagining that it contains many elements which are not only useless but even prejudicial to the well being of the Catholic religion?”

And we read from The Vatican Council: “The pastors and faithful…are bound by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, not only in things which pertain to faith and morals but also in those which pertain to the discipline and government of the Church…If anyone says that the Roman Pontiff has only the office of inspection or direction, but not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which pertain to faith and morals but also in those which pertain to the discipline and government of the Church…let him be anathema,” (DZ 1827, 1831).

And again after the Vatican Council we hear these absolutely definitive words from Pope Pius IX, in Quartus Supra (1873): “But the neo-schismatics say that it was not a case of doctrine but of discipline, so the name and prerogatives of Catholics cannot be denied to those who object. Our Constitution Reversurus, published on July 12, 1867, answers this objection. We do not doubt that you know well how vain and worthless this evasion is. For the Catholic Church has always regarded as schismatic those who obstinately oppose the lawful prelates of the Church and in particular, the chief shepherd of all. Schismatics avoid carrying out their orders and even deny their very rank. Since the Armenian faction of Constantinople is like this, they are schismatics even if they had not yet been condemned as such by Apostolic authority. For the Church consists of the people in union with the priest, and the flock following its shepherd. Consequently the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop, and whoever is not with the bishop is not in the Church. Furthermore, as Our predecessor Pius VI warned in his Apostolic letter condemning the civil constitution of the clergy in France, discipline is often so closely related to doctrine and has such a great influence on its preservation and its purity, that the sacred councils have not hesitated to cut off from the Church by their anathema those who have infringed its discipline.

“But the neo-schismatics have gone further, since ‘every schism fabricates a heresy for itself to justify its withdrawal from the Church.’ Indeed, they have even accused this Apostolic See as well, as if We had exceeded the limits of Our power in commanding that certain points of discipline were to be observed…Nor can the Eastern Churches preserve communion and unity of faith with Us without being subject to the Apostolic power in matters of discipline. Now such teaching is not only heretical after the definitions and declarations of the Ecumenical Council of the Vatican on the nature and reasons for the primacy of the Sovereign Pontiff, but it has always been considered to be such and has been abhorred by the Catholic Church. It is for this reason that the bishops of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, openly declared the supreme authority of the Apostolic See in their proceedings; then they humbly requested Our predecessor, St. Leo, to sanction and confirm their decrees, even those which concerned discipline.”

Three years after writing “Quartus Supra,” we also hear the following from Pope Pius IX, in “Quae in patriarchatu”: “In fact, Venerable Brothers and beloved Sons, it is a question of recognizing the power (of this See), even over your churches, not merely in what pertains to faith, but also in what concerns discipline. He who would deny this is a heretic; he who recognizes this and obstinately refuses to obey is worthy of anathema,” (emph. mine — Pope Pius IX, September 1, 1876, to the clergy and faithful of the Chaldean Rite.) It is for this reason that Henry Cardinal Manning, in the book mentioned earlier, stated that “The Pope, speaking ex cathedra, is infallible; this definition, by retrospective action, makes all Pontifical acts infallible, …such as the Bull Unam Sanctam, the Bull Unigenitus, the Bull Auctorum Fidei, [which] were held to be infallible as fully before the Vatican Council as now…The doctrine of the Church does not determine the doctrine of the Primacy, but the doctrine of the Primacy does precisely determine the doctrine of the Church.” This only repeats Pope Pius IX’s teaching in “Quartus Supra.” And to the list of bulls provided by Cardinal Manning, we can add also Pope Pius IX’s own “Syllabus of Errors,” so many times dismissed as disciplinary and non-infallible.

As if this were not enough to demonstrate that no one can possibly question disciplinary decrees issued by the Roman Pontiff on the grounds that such decrees are not authoritative and do not bind, Pope St. Pius X was once again forced to address this error in “Pascendi Dominici Gregis,” against the Modernists. He states that the intent of these heretics was to reform all aspects of the Church, but especially “its disciplinary and dogmatic parts.” It was not a coincidence that the vigilance councils founded by Pope St. Pius X to combat Modernism, before their abolition by Pope Benedict XV, helped finger one Angelo Roncalli as a suspected Modernist.

Pope Pius XII in “Ad apostolorum principis,” 1958:

“We are aware that those who belittle obedience in order to justify themselves with regard to those functions which they have unrighteously assumed defend their position by recalling a usage which prevailed in ages past. Yet 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…The faithful are bound by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience not only in matters which pertain to faith and morals, but also in those which concern the discipline and government of the Church.”

Prof. Carlos Disandro on Church discipline

Dr. Carlos A. Disandro’s work “Doctrinal Precisions” also sheds much light on where we find ourselves today and how little things really have changed. But most importantly, his writings point out that the misunderstanding of the relationship between doctrine and discipline, begun at “Vatican 2” has continued to plague Traditionalism to this day. It has deepened the rift between the various Traditional sects to such an extent that discipline has been reduced to a matter of inexpert opinion, with everyone able to access a Canon Law book qualified as a “canonist,” able to interpret the law or even declare it to have ceased to apply. Those laws such as “Cum ex…,” issuing from the doctrinal authority of the Church, have been lost in the canonical shuffle, as Disandro ably points out in his “Precisions.” Disandro wrote that it is impossible that a bull for perpetuity such as “Cum ex…” “could “be abrogated (with which falls a canonical argument in favor of the Bull Quo Primum); and secondly, that a disciplinary code would be able to nullify as positive legislation of the Church a question which refers to the very heart of doctrine. Discipline thus would acquire primacy over doctrine, and there would be completed also, in a manner surreptitious but effective, one of the great longings of progessivism: to include all dispute, ancient and modern in the context of a disciplinary law. It is logical that the change in this would be able to bring about a change in doctrine, skillfully veiled by the operation of a subtle theological and semantic transference.

“Therefore, if even worship turns out to be a disciplinary matter (a certainty for Progressives), it does not seem that Paul 6 would be unable to dictate, reform, annul, or confirm his Novus Ordo contrary to Tradition, IN THE NAME OF DISCIPLINE. [ED NOTE: Rev. Kinkead tells us in his Baltimore Catechism # 3 that the liturgy is part of revealed Tradition.] Therefore, for the historicist, Judaeo-Christian mentality of progressivism, all the abolitions, immersions, and subtle changes took place in the proving ground of discipline, with the changes in Doctrine, as in an evolutionary process, transferring over and following consecutively. [ED. NOTE: In other words, change the discipline and the doctrine will change automatically.] in the Church, the CHAIN OF DOCTRINE WITH DISCIPLINE follows the course of INVIOLABLE FAITH — of the Paradosis (Greek word for tradition, or handing down) of the Apostles — through whose care, vigilance and utterance the Pontificate exists…IT IS THE MONTINIAN SYSTEM OF USING THE CANONICAL DISCIPLINE IN ORDER TO TEAR DOWN DOCTRINES AND TRADITION, a thing which is important because it uncovers the null character of such decisions and substitutions.”

In Dr. Disandro’s treatise, we see all the very subjects discussed by Pope St. Pius X in his “Pascendi.” The use of progressivism to move the two sides “closer” to an ecumenical compromise (dialogue), then the eventual evolution of the entire structure of the Church: “The conserving force in the Church is Tradition and Tradition is represented by religious authority…It is in the very nature of authority to protect Tradition…Authority, raised as it is above the contingencies of life, feels hardly, or not at all, the spurs of progress,” (“Pascendi Dominici Gregis”). Here we see described the very blueprint used by the V2 antipopes to destroy the Traditions of the Church, primarily the liturgy. But we also see that in order to arrive at the destruction of Tradition, authority, both doctrinal and disciplinary must be attacked first. The weak link was discipline; none of the liberals and Modernist sympathizers wished to be the recipients of excommunications or warnings. So once their plants were in the Vatican, they simply failed to exercise this power to arrest liturgical renewal and ecumenism. The rest disintegrated of its own accord. This is the process Disandro observed and described. His critics were the SSPX, who openly and insistently have declared “Cum ex…” a disciplinary decree, hence not infallible, and also have ignored the requirement for papal mandate in creating their clerics and jurisdiction in operating their chapels.

V2 called ‘Quo Primum’ a disciplinary decree

In another “disciplinary” decree “Quo Primum,” infallible by virtue of the Vatican Council declaration, we read: “These men consulted the works of ancient and approved authors concerning the same sacred rites; and thus they have restored the Missal itself to the original form and rite of the holy Fathers.” (Read “restored,” not rewritten and reorganized, as done with the Novus Ordo Missae.) “When this work has been gone over numerous times and further emended, after serious study and reflection, We commanded that the finished product be printed and published as soon as possible, so that all might enjoy the fruits of this labor; and thus, priests would know which prayers to use and which rites and ceremonies they were required to observe from now on in the celebration of Masses. In virtue of Our Apostolic authority, We grant and concede in perpetuity that, for the chanting or reading of the Mass in any church whatsoever, this Missal is hereafter to be followed absolutely…Nor are superiors, administrators, canons, chaplains, and other secular priests, or religious, of whatever title designated, obliged to celebrate the Mass otherwise than as enjoined by Us. We likewise declare and ordain that no one whosoever is forced or coerced to alter this Missal, and that this present document cannot be revoked or modified, but remain always valid and retains its full force notwithstanding the previous constitutions and decrees of the Holy See.” If ever any doubt existed that “Quo Primum” was an infallible Bull, it should exist no longer.

And neither should it exist concerning any other disciplinary decrees issued by the Roman Pontiff or the General Councils the Pontiffs have approved. And in “Quartus Supra,” Pope Pius IX clearly states that even without a formal declaration, the Armenians resisting the authority of the papal see were considered schismatics. Likewise all who “avoid carrying out their orders” (those of the Roman Pontiffs) are reckoned as schismatics. This would include any who ignore the decrees of the Roman Pontiffs who excommunicated them for not observing their condemnations or obeying the teachings found in their decrees. This would include those who ignore papal mandates concerning consecration, ignore the teachings of the Council of Trent and other papal teachings concerning jurisdiction and all who ignore those excommunications for heresy and schism to minister to the faithful when no supplied jurisdiction can be granted; also those who ignore the further teachings found in “Quartus Supra” concerning the inability of the laity to participate in the election of bishops and other clerics.

“Concerning the exclusion of the laity from the election of bishops, a clear distinction must be made, lest a doctrine at variance with the Catholic faith result. This distinction is between the right to elect bishops and the ability to give testimony as to their life and morals. The former claim must be credited to the wrong notions of Luther and Calvin, who even asserted that it was a matter of divine law that the bishops should be elected by the people; as everybody realizes, such false teaching has been and is still rejected by the Catholic Church. For no power of electing bishops or other ministers of religion has ever been given to the people by either divine or ecclesiastical law,” (Pope Pius IX, “Quartus Supra”). Not only do certain Conclavists reserve the right for laymen to “elect” a pope as the bishop of Rome “in exile,” but Traditionalist bishops elected by fellow “clerics” — who have been ipso facto excommunicated for schism and/or heresy and hence reduced to the lay state — are, in effect “elected” only by laymen as well, (Can. 188 no. 4, also “Cum ex Apostolatus Officio”). As Pope Pius IX teaches, such actions are “at variance with the Catholic faith” and are “rejected by the Catholic Church.”


The infallibility of disciplinary decrees is just one more nail in the coffin of the Conclavists and Traditionalist clergy and their sects. If they truly wished to escape the errors of the V2 usurpers from the beginning, they needed to run to, not from, papal authority. Those who still cling to the false teaching that they are members of the true Church, hence not excommunicated for following clergy not in communion with the Roman Pontiff are in grave error. Those who defend the (condemned) opinion that Fr. Leonard Feeney should somehow be regarded sympathetically because he was only excommunicated for “disciplinary” reasons, not heresy, are denying a truth of faith. When Feeney’s excommunication is read it is clear that the reasons for his excommunication were entirely doctrinal — not only was he excommunicated for disputing the Holy See’s definition of “outside the Church there is no salvation,” but in refusing to obey Rome’s orders to cease and desist in his teaching, he was denying the definition by the Vatican Council that the Pope is infallible in deciding disciplinary matters as well as those touching on faith and morals.

Therefore Feeney WAS indeed a heretic, and those who defended him then and defend him now should consider the censure levied by Can. 2316 §1: “A person who of his own accord and knowingly helps in any manner to propagate heresy…incurs suspicion of heresy.” Revs. Woywod-Smith comment under Can. 2317: “If a doctrine has been pronounced formal heresy, one becomes a heretic by teaching or defending that doctrine, and incurs the penalties which Can. 2314 inflicts on heresy.” Those who have, for years, regarded disciplinary actions by the Holy See as not binding in conscience must thoroughly study the Church’s teaching on this matter. They must review any beliefs or decisions based on this malicious misrepresentation of Church doctrine. Heresy is a deadly serious business, and there are many who try to minimize the serious nature and consequences of this censure today. Some even smirk when it is mentioned and try to avoid the subject altogether, assuming that God in His mercy could never hold Catholics today guilty of this grave sin against faith. This is a minimizing of the very essence of faith itself, and it is difficult to understand how ANY Catholic could believe that God would give power to His vicars to teach His truths, and then not be deeply offended and demand justice when lies pass for these truths.

It is also interesting to note that many of those actively espousing the Feeneyite heresy teach that the Roman See has been vacant since the election of Pope Pius IX. They give various reasons for this baseless calumny, among that Pius IX was a Freemason in his youth (long ago proven utterly false) and that he erred in believing that one not a member of the Church could be saved “outside the Church.” The real reason they wish to impugn this saintly Pontiff is twofold: a) they wish to nullify the Vatican Council, as did the Old Catholics whom they greatly resemble and b) They wish to erase the other infallible teachings of Pius IX concerning the infallibility of the Church’s disciplinary decisions. The attacks of the enemy and their modus operandi never change. Their primary reason for existence is to destroy even the idea of the papacy and infallibility in the minds of what few faithful remain. If we come away with nothing else from this miserable odyssey people refer to as the crisis in the Church, we should by now understand what Pope Pius XII once told a group of young people: “May God give you the grace necessary to defend the rights of the Sovereign Pontiff and the Holy See, for without the pope there is no Church, and there is no Catholic Society without the Holy See.”

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