Neglected Aspects of Church Membership, Pt. I

Neglected Aspects of Church Membership, Pt. I

© Copyright 2009, T. Stanfill Benns ( All emphasis within quotes is the author’s unless indicated otherwise.)

Readers will find the works of Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton quoted often here because Pope Pius XII personally commended him for his faithfulness to Catholic truth. In this evil day it is especially important to hold closely to those who themselves held fast to what once was the Church. Where complicated theological questions are concerned, it is necessary to consult an expert, and the best expert closest to the problem that one can find. Msgr. Fenton wrote several pieces on the encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, also on the notes or marks of the Church and membership in the Church in the 1940s and 1950s for the American Ecclesiastical Review, (AER). To my great fortune, I was able to purchase some of these works decades ago. It is in the September 1956 issue of AER (“Adequate Theological Treatise De Ecclesia”) that we find comments by Msgr. Fenton that explain the reason so many failed to understand what happened to the Church in the 1960s and to do what needed to be done when it happened. By better understanding this great stumbling block, perhaps it will be possible to unravel some of the knots in Catholic thinking concerning the nature and constitution of the Church that have plagued so many for so long.

“The work of theological science is badly hampered if, in any individual treatise, some elements of God’s supernaturally revealed message about the subject of that treatise are not considered in it. There is always he danger that such incompleteness may lead to inaccuracy in the theologian’s grasp and explanation of what God actually teaches in and through His Church about the topic with which the treatise is concerned. Inaccuracy of intellectual grasp and of explanation of divinely revealed truth constitutes failure in the field of sacred theology.”

Four primary neglected aspects of the treatise on the Church

Msgr. Fenton then goes on to explain that “In the present status of scholastic theology, it is quite obvious that the treatise De ecclesia Christi does not contain all of the material it should…The treatise on the Church which finally became incorporated into the course of strictly scholastic theology, was in the last analysis, only the material which had been set forth by the great Counter-Reformation writers. Two points were stressed, the fact that the visible society living under the leadership of the Roman Pontiff is actually the true ecclesia of the New Testament (in the thesis on the membership and notes of the Church) and the position of the Church as the immediate norm of Christian faith. With these there was usually some discussion of the origin and the indefectibility of the Church…” While polemical, apologetic and canonical expositions on the Church existed, the scholastic exposition was still not developed properly, Fenton says. He then describes four tendencies that governed the development of this treatise in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The first, he says, was a tendency to emphasize the foundation of the Church militant of the New Testament while abandoning “the equally theological thesis about the establishment of God’s supernatural kingdom on earth during the days of our first parents.” This has resulted in the failure among Catholics today to view the history of salvation as an integral whole, and to see the pattern of the Israelites’ mistakes, repeated by us today. Without prophet or king, falling prey to unworthy pastors, led by the laity in their battle against the Jewish antichrist Antiochus and the struggle to restore the sacrifice, they eventually rebuilt the Temple shortly before the birth of Christ. The significance of these similarities has been occluded by Traditionalists’ fierce dislike and even hatred, in some cases, of the Jews, who they blame entirely for the destruction of the Church. This prejudice is not conducive to the fullness of realization of our role as “spiritual Semites,” as Pope Pius XI described those Christians who fell heir to the promise God made to the Chosen People. And it prevents Catholics from fully appreciating the fact that, as St. Jerome taught, the Old Testament foreshadows in all its details the events found in the New Testament.

The second characteristic of this development in the scholastic theological manuals in the 1900s was the repetition of “all the old treatises on the Roman Pontiff and a little of the material of the old treatises on the Councils into the fabric of the scholastic treatise on the Church.” This explains part of the problem we see today, in that the older treatises on the Roman Pontiff and earlier Councils, if not reconciled with the teaching of the Vatican Council and other papal documents are confusing for many Catholics and do not always make the necessary distinctions between what once were open questions but were later defined by the Church. Such is the case where the question concerning whether bishops may independently exercise the ordinary ordinary jurisdiction they receive from Christ upon their consecration, or whether it can be exercised only with the direct authorization of the Roman Pontiff. This question was decided in favor of the latter statement by Pope Pius XII, as this pope taught in Mystici Corporis Christi, Ad Sinarum Gentum and Ad Apostolorum principis.

Then there is the confusion arising from the earlier teachings that a Roman Pontiff who teaches heresy is automatically deposed. This was determined impossible by the Vatican Council, which teaches that Christ guarantees that His promise of unfailing faith made to St. Peter could never be withdrawn. It is understood only by reference to Pope Paul IV’s bull Cum ex Apostolatus Officio, which explains that while the faithful know immediately that one who openly teaches heresy as truth is deposed and is no pope, the actual heresy was held occultly or even openly, unbeknownst to the faithful, prior to his election. Thus such a pope never actually became pope and his election and all his acts were actually invalid from the beginning. Usurpers of this kind only appear be pope and only appear to teach heresy from the papal seat, when this is theologically impossible.

The fourth, Msgr. Fenton explains, is the attempt to separate the infallible statements belonging to the ordinary and the extraordinary magisterium and their binding nature, and doctrinal statements which are authoritative but not infallible. Thus the definition in Humani Generis regarding the fact that teachings of the ordinary magisterium, which the Vatican Council (DZ 1792) says are infallible along with the extraordinary decisions of the magisterium, can be found in those documents appearing in the Acta Apostolica Sedis; also the teachings found in the Vatican Council and in Canon Law that even those teachings not formally condemned by Popes and Councils are proscribed by the Church, even if not as formally heretical, and deserve at least some sort of censure, (DZ 1820). The last tendency Fenton identifies is the one where non-infallible statements about Our Lord and Our Lady are inserted into the treatise on the Church, making it difficult to understand what must, de fide, be believed concerning the Church’s function and constitution and what is useful, yet not strictly a part, of a scholastic treatise on the Church. Fenton then goes on to detail other neglected points of this same treatise that have seriously impacted the ability of the faithful to properly understand the true nature of Christ’s Church.

Pastoral theology

Especially neglected, Msgr. Fenton points out, is the purpose of the Church itself and the “tremendous responsibility involved in the care of souls…The absence of an adequate treatment of this section has had a most unfortunate effect on the theological culture of our times…Since the issuance of the encyclical Mystici Corporis it has been common Catholic teaching that diocesan bishops derive their power of jurisdiction from Our Lord by way of the Roman Pontiff. In other words, there was one solemn grant of authority by Our Lord to His Church, the grant described in the lines of St. John’s Gospel which tell that Our Lord commissioned St. Peter to feed or take care of His lambs and sheep, (Jn. 21: 15-17). All the legitimate authority which has been exercised since that day has been founded on that commission. In granting that commission…he imposed a heavy responsibility on (the apostolic college). He charged them with the obligation of taking care of the spiritual welfare of the men and women for whom He died. And it certainly is well within the competence of an adequate treatise to study and to state the seriousness and the extent of that obligation.” What Msgr. Fenton says here is crucial, for it explains to us that in 1956 bishops were not sufficiently imbued with a true appreciation of their responsibilities and what, in Christ’s own name, they owed to the faithful; this because the treatise in the Church had not been adequately identified and set forth. It also implies that they did not sufficiently understand their duties, and intimates that this failure to understand and exercise them properly had already adversely impacted their flocks.

Mutual charity; Catholic Action

Next Msgr. Fenton also mentions the failure of the manuals to demonstrate the right relationship between the function of charity in the Church and the note of unity. In a later article he relates that Pope Pius XII defined this charity as: “…’the theological virtue of charity, which has as its object God Himself, who is ‘Charity’ and ‘Love,’ infinite and worthy to be loved for His own sake and above all things’,” (a letter, written at Pius XII’s direction, by Monsignor Dell’Acqua to Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa, the Archbishop of Florence. This letter was intended for the direction of the “Settimana Sociale di Aggiornamento Pastorale”). He showed that basically and essentially the love of charity that should exist and operate within the Christian community is this supernatural love of friendship for the Triune God, who has first loved us so tenderly. Then he pointed out the fact that this charity for God must carry with it a love for one another in the society of Our Lord’s disciples… as the Holy Father pointed out, this mutual love of charity within the Church was proposed by Our Lord Himself as evidence of discipleship. The disciples were instructed and ordered to forgive one another, to bear with one another, and to seek forgiveness from one another. They were to put aside anything that stood in the way of mutual love of charity among themselves.” (“Pope Pius XII and the Theological Treatise on the Church,” Dec. 1958, AER). It is important to remember this definition by the pope, since the Novus Ordo and even the Traditionalist movement is imbued with the false idea that this love is owed primarily to neighbors, and in a liberal way not intended by God and His Church.

Pope Pius XII touched on this in Mystici Corporis, where He explained that Catholics were to mutually support and encourage each other in the practice of their faith and their ultimate attainment of eternal salvation. More importantly, Pius XII repeatedly emphasized the need for mutual cooperation in the exercise of the lay apostolate and Catholic Action. In his many addresses on this subject, Catholics were plainly informed that they were required to participate in the salvation of souls, owing to a shortage of priests and religious, and that such participation was as old as the Church Herself. The damage that this failure to achieve doctrinal unity has wrought is yet to be fully understood. Such unity can be secured only under the unifying force of one head, the Roman Pontiff. And that charity which binds together the members of the Mystical Body is always necessarily lacking unless it is activated and directed by the head, which controls all functions of that Body. It is obvious that Traditionalists are not united in what they believe or practice and therefore do not work as a unified force for the defense of the faith and the salvation of souls, specifically because they do not belong to this Body under one visible head. This, however, despite claims to the contrary by various unlawful clergy and inept lay commentators, does not mean that they are unable to save their souls. But as Pope Pius XII teaches, if they are to save their souls, they can do so only by possessing supernatural faith and animated charity.

As Rev. John Kearney wrote in 1941: “The life which includes contemplation of Divine truth and giving to others the truth we have contemplated is, as St. Thomas teaches, most like the life of Christ and therefore most perfect. St. Thomas also teaches that a special aureola of splendour will be given in heaven for doctrine and preaching. Preaching does not mean formal teaching in the pulpit only; it means the leading of others by word and example to understand the Catholic doctrine…Here is a test of our charity: If we think much of God and find our contentment in Him, if His interests are our interests, if the success or failure of His Church brings us joy or sorrow, if, in comparison, with those of heaven, we despise the passing things of earth, then we can have confidence that charity is predominant in our life, and, in consequence, it will be easy for us to make charity predominant among the motives that lead us to do good to our neighbour…The Church wants strong Catholics. The most prominent fault in our fairly strong Catholics is weakness — want of courage. We must be independent of evil even in our own home, in our own community…Our resistance to evil will be very much more pleasing to God if we are not only charitable to our own soul but try to do something to eradicate the evil we meet, i.e., to cause the evil to cease. If we do this for the honor of God and for the good of the soul of our neighbour, we are doing a work of supreme divine charity and of supreme fraternal charity,” (As I have Loved You).

I have tried for many years to follow Rev. Kearney’s advice. Still there are those who accuse myself and others of being harsh, even rude, when truths of faith are questioned and a defense must be made. They wish the faith to be spoon-fed to them without any effort on their part, even though they might be intellectually equipped to make such an effort, and liberals that they are, they flinch under the lash of just criticism. “Liberalism prefers the tactics of recrimination, and under the sting of a just flagellation, whiningly accuses Catholics of a lack of charity…Narrow! Intolerant! Uncompromising! …Are not your vigorous denunciations, it is urged against us, harsh and uncharitable, in the very teeth of the teaching of Christianity which is essentially a religion of love? Such is the accusation continually flung in our face,” (Rev. Felix Sarda-Salvany, Liberalism Is a Sin). So in light of this, I make no apologies. As Rev. Kearney himself explained, “Who will stand by in silence and see His Lord and Saviour insulted by sin or by lukewarmness and never raise his voice, never make an effort to stop the evil, but will permit the heart of Jesus which bled for him, to be again grieved and the Precious Blood to be ignored? What ingratitude, what meanness, what cowardice there is in this,” (Ibid.).

In the January 1948 issue of American Ecclesiastical Review, Msgr. Fenton wrote: “Tendencies to brush over the more difficult teachings of the Catholic Church in the endeavor to render non-Catholics favorable to the Church have been severely condemned…When a complete exposition of Catholic belief is called for, the winning of good will cannot justify the suppressing or passing over of ‘hard sayings.’ When Christ saw many of His followers depart, because He had demanded their intellectual assent to a profound mystery. He remained uncompromising, and even more explicitly repeated that He would give His very flesh and blood for the nourishment of those who would accept Him. Why should we adopt a different course when we are striving to fulfill His command to preach the Gospel to all mankind?” And as Rev. Kearney said above, preaching need not mean preaching from the pulpit, but can also mean the spread of doctrine which Catholics were asked to accomplish by means of Catholic Action and the lay apostolate. Those who insist on being stroked and fawned upon when it comes to explaining the importance of doctrine, which they are ill-disposed to accept in the first place, are not interested in the content of Christ’s message but only in the assuaging of their own egos. They are not of good will, and for this reason there is no loss when they finally stamp their feet as spoiled children are wont to do and leave.

Good Catholics are docile and not easily put off if they are really looking for the truth. They do not take offense at an impassioned defense of the faith or show displeasure when corrected. And those demonstrating the doctrines of the Church need not walk on eggshells in presenting these truths. As Rev. Sarda observes, “Charity is a supernatural virtue which induces us to love God above all things and our neighbors as ourselves for the love of God… ‘To love is to wish good to those we love,’” the philosopher says; to God, to our neighbor, that is to everyone. “True love wishes…first of all, supernatural good, ‘for the love of God.’ If it is shown that in displeasing or offending our neighbor we act for his good, it is evident that we love him even when opposing or crossing him…When we correct the wicked by restraining or by punishing them, none the less do we love them. This is charity and perfect charity, (Ibid.).

Marks of the Church and conversion

In summarizing his observations, Msgr. Fenton remarks that “…some sections of the tractatus de ecclesia as it exists today will have to be radically reorganized. Thus there must be a renewed study of the notes of the Church and a willingness to bring together and to explain all of what has been divinely revealed about the unity of the Church.” Fenton then explains that previously unity has been addressed in the context that its very existence demonstrates that the Church is the supernatural kingdom of God, rather than showing how the notes or marks of the Church must exist and in what manner, in order to so constitute the Church established by Christ. This is due to the fact that, especially during the 20th century, those engaged in convert work based their instruction at least partly on the empiric method, rather than the previously tried and tested historic-deductive method, or the way of the four marks. Now as a type of false philosophy, Rev. Pascal Parente tells us in his A Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology that the empiric method is “opposed to sound philosophy and to religion.” However those using this method to effect conversions are quick to point out that they do not use it exclusively, and also point to the fact that the Vatican Council itself, as a consequence of the visibility of the four marks (and the attributes), “…is her own great and perpetual motive of credibility, the unanswerable testimony of Her Divine mission,” (DZ 1794).

So those involved in making converts used a combination of what Msgr. Fenton describes as the insufficient material explaining the four marks and the use of the empiric method to explain the constitution of the Church to those wishing to become Catholics. Such a presentation is bound to have less than satisfactory results, if we believe Msgr. Fenton and Rev. Parente. The empiric method is easier for some, Rev. A. Patrick Madgett explains, because they are:

1) “too impatient to spend time in historical investigation and thorough logical analysis,”

2) have already “satisfied themselves on all that is important,” or are

3) “blinded by prejudice,” (Christian Origins, Vol. II).

Madgett notes that this method not only works for converts, but is “the greatest single influence in maintaining the faith of those who belong to the true Church of Christ…” While this may be true in normal times when the Church is not under attack, it has not proven true in our own times. And Rev. Parente does not seem to agree that the empiric method should be used at all. He writes: “Empiricism is a philosophy which reduces all reality to the data of experience whether internal…or external…Empiricism makes…the sensible phenomenon the only reality.” And Pope St. Pius X condemned this Modernist error in Pascendi Domenici Gregis. This is the method (using the “sensible phenomenon,” i.e., the visible Church Herself) that Madgett describes concerning the teaching about the visible Church in former times.

Madgett tells us that those making converts to the Church were using Her very existence to prove the truth of Her claims. This is experience of the actual thing itself, and so fits Rev. Parente’s description, although Madgett does state it should be used with the explanation of the four marks. And Parente does say it is an error when the sensible phenomena is made “the ONLY reality.” So while the methods used to make converts may not have been in error per se, the explanation of the four marks, as Msgr. Fenton explains, was not sufficient to supply the additional material necessary to adequately explain the Church’s constitution. If we have any doubts concerning this matter, we need only look at the confusion today that exists concerning these marks and their existence.

While this method may have been tolerated, it could not be promoted as the best or the primary method of relaying the faith without falling into the heresy of modernism. As an adjunct, yes; it could be used, perhaps, in combination with an updated and COMPREHENSIVE explanation of the four marks. But Scripture itself tells us it is not the preferred way. As related in the Acts of the Apostles (Ch. 17), St. Paul went to reason with the Jews in Thessalonica from the Scriptures and because they would not investigate what he said or listen to reason, the mob revolted against his teaching, forcing the Apostles to flee to Berea. There the Bereans “received the words with all readiness of mind and searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed.” We quote below from Judge A. C. Baine’s Faith and Reason, (1861; foreword by Abp. Joseph Alemany of San Francisco, Calif., a friend of St. Anthony Mary Claret).

“All [prejudices] exist because the life and faith of the Church has not been investigated and understood. The Bereans were thought more noble than the Thessalonicans simply because they examined if those things were so which the Apostles taught… To investigate what the Church has always held, and in what duties and obligations she has always instructed her children, and to ascertain what power she has always retained, and what authority she has always exercised, and to know in what PRECISE MANNER she has always exercised it, we must pursue the natural line of conduct we would follow to investigate the acts of the civil state. We must look into the legislation (teaching acts) of the fathers of the Church. We must scrutinize their epistles, their commentaries; their conversations with and judgment upon heretics, from Simon Magus to the Mormon prophet; their homilies, their catechisms, their definitions or declarations of faith, and the decrees of their authorized councils… An unbroken custom of doing certain things in the practice of a faith is surely the highest and most secure evidence of the creed or belief itself.” And this has been procedure from the earliest times of the Church.

Later Pope Pius XII taught in Humani Generis that, “The Magisterium must be the proximate and universal criterion of truth for all theologians, since to it has been entrusted by Our Lord the whole deposit of Faith — Sacred Scripture and Divine Tradition — to be preserved, guarded and interpreted.” As Msgr. J. C. Fenton stated in the December 1946 issue of The American Ecclesiastical Review, “Every dogmatic definition is the statement of a truth given to the Church before the death of the last Apostle. The expressed acceptance of the body of truth within which the defined doctrine belongs constitutes the profession of faith necessary for membership in the true Church of Jesus Christ,” (“The Necessity for the Definition of Papal Infallibility…”). And as Rev. Adolphe Tanquerey has pointed out, “We must submit ourselves with childlike docility to the teachings of faith…We submit our judgment not only to the truths of faith, but to the directions of the Holy See…We must study before all else not what is pleasing but what is profitable…In order to discipline the mind we must study what is most necessary, with the desire to know and love the truth and to live by it…As St. Augustine tells us, knowledge should be put to the service of love: ‘Let knowledge be used in order to erect the structure of charity,’” (The Spiritual Life).

If all can be proven to have been received directly from the Apostles who received it from Christ’s own mouth and works, then transmitted “’all things whatsoever’ Christ had commanded them,” then it is manifestly evident that these teachings are true. This testimony given above by Judge Baine would not be so compelling if Abp. Alemany, in his foreword, hadn’t informed readers that Baine was himself a convert. So what Rev. Madgett says was perhaps true for some in the 20th century, but as we see today it was not sufficient to give them the necessary tools to prove, as St. Paul said, “the faith that is within us.” What is and was necessary was to conduct a systematic study of the Church and the papacy, as defined by the Councils and the continual magisterium.

The Vatican Council’s expanded meaning of “perpetual motive”

We also have this to consider. The heading above the statement by the Vatican Council that the Church Herself is her own perpetual motive for credibility reads: “The divine external aid for the fulfillment of the duty of faith.” A mere aid does not reduce to an entire method or manner of doing things. And it should not be disconnected from the paragraphs which follow, under the heading “the divine internal aid to the same,” which culminates in the paragraph: “Wherefore, not at all equal is the condition of those who, through the heavenly gift of faith, have adhered to the Catholic truth; and of those who, led by human opinions, follow a false religion. For those who have accepted the Faith, under the teaching power of the Church, can never have a just cause of changing or doubting that faith,” (DZ 1794). The denial of this teaching is condemned in the following Vatican Council Canon, (DZ 1815): “If anyone shall have said that the condition of the faithful and of those who have not yet come to the true faith is equal, so that Catholics can have a just cause of doubting the faith which they have accepted under the teaching power of the Church, by withholding assent until they have completed the scientific demonstration of the credibility and truth of their faith: let him be anathema.” (This is repeated in the 1949 letter Suprema Haec Sacra).

As has already been explained at length elsewhere, Traditionalism, and post V2/Novus Ordo teaching is not the true faith. Traditionalists and members of the Conciliar church do not adhere to Catholic truth. Those choosing to follow these sects abandoned the teachings in the papal encyclicals (past church teaching) and Christ’s own teaching on tradition, infallibility, apostolicity and jurisdiction to follow the opinions of mere men into a false religion. We know they are a false religion because the Church Herself infallibly teaches that to be truly visible her hierarchy must be valid AND licit and must be directed by a canonically elected and duly accepted pope.

The choices Traditionalists made following the false V2 council were not informed choices, but choices made based on human opinions, also their own desires and perceived needs. Had these been set aside and the situation examined objectively, they would have discovered that doubt existed concerning the right of Trads to operate in the absence of true hierarchy. No one is allowed to act in a state of doubt. If on one side one cannot believe the Novus Ordo Church to be true and on the other doubt also that Traditionalists truly constitute the Church, papal teaching and the common teaching of theologians state that one would not be able to engage in the services of either one without sinning gravely. The Vatican Council indicates that in the absence of any true teaching authority, such persons misled by human opinions are not condemned for completing the scientific demonstration of the credibility and truth of their faith. This can be done only by reviewing and studying past papal decrees, the teachings of the Councils and the writings of the fathers. But they can study these and only these and other authoritative, approved and related teachings on the faith printed pre-1959, (although some things written shortly after this date are also reliable, especially if written by those known to be otherwise orthodox).

CATHOLICS, unquestionably baptized and raised as such under the teaching authority of the Church, and continuing in this same true faith past the age of 14, must never doubt their faith, as it was taught by the Church before the death of Pope Pius XII. But they were bound to withhold assent from believing the teachings of non-Catholic sects (Trads and NO). Traditionalists outside the faith cannot doubt what they know that is true, nor withhold assent from it, although they can and must investigate from exclusively Catholic sources to dispel their errors and reaffirm what they DO know. Had the complete scientific investigation only from Church sources been duly completed, questions would undoubtedly have arisen. Yet how many undertook this scientific demonstration of their faith as they should? It is assumed that in normal times, one baptized but not raised in the Catholic faith had the ability to discover the truth because the visible Church could be approached and consulted. Not so today. But among those who did examine their faith after Vatican II, it is not to be assumed here that they were in any way withholding assent from the faith they had received at Baptism under the teaching authority of the Church. Neither were they ever considering that any other faith could be valid, as long as they studied only from truly Catholic sources.

Traditionalists are not members of Christ’s Body

This does not change the fact, however, that even though they may renounce any errors, they remain outside the Church as non-members until they are abjured and absolved by valid and licit clergy. This is not to be considered as an adverse judgment of Traditionalists or anyone else on this author’s part, but only an objective observation of what the Church Herself determines must exist in order to qualify individuals as valid members in Her society. The juridical Church, which Msgr. Fenton says alone is the true measure of Church membership judges only by externals. Union with the visible Church, especially the hierarchy directed by the pope is the guarantee of membership, and the Church is not visible to us today. If Catholics wish to save their souls, they cannot shrink from uncomfortable realities that distress them and create feelings of unworthiness or guilt.

We must bravely face these realities, admit any guilt and do all in our power to correct the situation; as Rev. Kearney insists, only Christian fortitude and love will inoculate us against the evil infection of worldliness. Denial and refusal to admit wrongdoing is not consistent with practicing the Catholic faith. All of us are in the same boat, this author included. And the only way to remedy the situation is to accept responsibility for our sins, own up to them publicly if committed publicly and do all in our power to correct our mistakes. God has promised that He will not leave us orphans, even if we die without absolution. He has provided a way for us to save our souls as long as we accept the teachings of his Church and follow the provisions She has made for such cases. To believe otherwise is to sin against the virtue of hope.

Rev. Ignatius Szal, in his The Communication of Catholics With Schismatics rightly states that baptized Catholics raised in heresy or schism who convert to the true faith, even if no obstinacy was involved on their part, must be absolved from the censure for schism if they convert after reaching the age of 14. This has been confirmed by several decisions handed down by the Holy See and the Sacred Congregations, and therefore must be accepted as the teaching of the ordinary magisterium. It is based on the rule expressed in Can. 2200§2, (1917 Code) that they are bound by the censure of excommunication for schism or heresy given the external violation of the law once this state has persisted for longer than a year. The age 14 is probably used because this is determined to be the age of discretion by the Church in regard to other matters. While we may not know why a person under 14 is excused and those under 14 are held liable, it can be assumed that by this age there has been sufficient time for the child to be indoctrinated in a false faith, and become a part of some particular sect. How many Catholics had reached the age of reason before Pope Pius XII died? How many had already reached the age of 14?

Basically all Catholics under 14 when Pope Pius XII died were certainly raised in the false Novus Ordo or Traditionalist religion and have become at least material heretics. Even young people had the obligation to question the changes introduced by the false Vatican 2 council, but the initial changes in Catholic teaching and belief were very subtle. And by the time the Novus Ordo Missae was introduced in 1969, most of this last generation of Catholics was well into their teens or their early twenties. So both those over 14 and under 14 were probably members of the Novus Ordo sect at one time. Had they left this sect and not joined various Traditionalist groups, they would not have incurred censure for following a false pope, although the absolution in the external forum would still be required.

Had they remained unattached from these sects entirely, it appears they would have avoided any kind of censure. But Traditionalists today have a very difficult time believing that they could possibly be excluded from membership in the Church by joining up with illicit clergy, when all they intended to do was to keep the faith. But they are far more culpable than those only 14. They definitely had better training and resources to examine the matter than, say a fourteen-year old boy raised by a divorced, baptized Catholic mother and a Protestant or agnostic father during the same time period. And this highlights the crux of the problem; no one knew enough about the constitution of the Church to reason out that adherence to Mass and Sacraments from illicit priests and bishops does not of itself determine membership in the Mystical Body. As Msgr. Fenton emphasizes in yet another article, only adherence to the Roman Pontiff and his teachings is the genuine proof of that membership.


This brings us to the final point on the tract of the Church that Msgr. Fenton states has not been properly treated in scholastic manner. This is the “necessity of the Catholic Church for the attainment of eternal salvation… In the writing of men like St. Robert Bellarmine, the teaching on the necessity of the Church for the attainment of eternal salvation was treated primarily for the sake of showing that a man could be ‘within’ the Church in such a way as to achieve salvation without actually being a member of the Church. And it is in line with this same tendency that the thesis appears in many of the contemporary seminary manuals of scholastic theology. This teaching, of course, is accurate. It is likewise a necessary part of the Catholic explanation of the divinely revealed teaching that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church.”

This last paragraph above is the conclusion of Msgr. Fenton’s 1956 article for AER. In this final paragraph, he refers to Pope Pius XII’s infallible teaching in Mystici Corporis that: “Under certain circumstances, salvation can be attained when the Church itself is used or entered by way of longing or desire,” where the individual “wishes his will to be conformed to the will of God.” As stated in Suprema Haec Sacra (Aug. 8, 1949), an instruction from the Holy Office that is part of the ordinary magisterium, “It is necessary [that this] desire…be animated by perfect charity… Nor can an implicit desire produce its effects unless a person has supernatural faith.” Msgr. Fenton completes his observations on membership in the Church by desire in his July 1961 article for AER. Quotes from this article will be examined next in the companion piece to this article, “Are Traditionalists Members of the Mystical Body?” supplemented by this author’s comments.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Joseph W Mecca

    Hi T—is it a type-o or am I reading it wrong? I refer to the statement–“while a person under age 14 is excused, and those under 14 liable ? ? then further down ” basically all Catholics under 14 when Pope Pius XII died were raised in the N.O.—? ? can you clarify? I was born in 45 and by 57 age 12 received Conf… how do you mean what you said ? clarify please so I can forward the article to people and be sure they can read it and comprehend it correctly…Thank you

    • T. Stanfill Benns

      If we once acknowledge that those reigning as pope since Pius XII’s death are usurpers, we are excused of all censure under the bull of Pope Paul IV, Cum ex Apostolatus Officio. This bull says we may leave at any time without fearing any censures if we denounce the usurper(s). The age 14 rule applies to Traditionalists who fail to recognize these popes are invalidly elected.

      If you were 14 when Pius XII died and your parents kept attending the Novus Ordo, then technically you were a material heretic, although this would not be viewed strictly by the Church now owing to the element of deception. involved with Vatican 2 and the false popes. But Traditionalists who have everything they need to figure these things out would still be guilty of at least material heresy for rejecting the known truth.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.