A legitimately elected Roman Pontiff could never ‘become’ a heretic

© Copyright 2013, T. Stanfill Benns (All emphasis within quotes is the author’s unless indicated otherwise.)


The following is taken from J.S. Daly’s translation of De Summo Pontifice, as found in the Jus Canonicum authored by the Rev F. X. Wernz S.J. and the Rev P. Vidal S.J. (1938), Chapter VII. This translation includes Wernz-Vidal’s comments on St. Robert Bellarmine’s work. The translation will be used as the basis of a theological inquiry into whether or not a true and canonically elected pope can actually utter heresy, apostasy or schism — or anything approaching it — in his capacity as the teacher of all Christendom. This subject is being addressed because St. Bellarmine’s work has consistently been quoted without qualification to imply that the Roman Pontiff is capable of such departure from the faith, even though Bellarmine himself taught that the pope was not even able to depart from it as a private doctor.  The problem has been all along that St. Bellarmine’s works (and those of other theologians before and after him) have never been fully reconciled with the Vatican Council documents and subsequent papal teaching on the authority of the Roman Pontiff. Nor have they been properly integrated with the teachings of Pope Paul IV’s Bull, Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio issued in 1559, despite the fact that this bull was the basis for numerous Canon Laws on heresy, apostasy and schism in the 1917 Code and is the very law governing the situation today.

Daly has a track record where the matter of heresy is concerned. His liberal-leaning teaching on heresy, as expressed in his The History of Heresy not only does not attempt to examine the subject according to the rules laid down by Canon Law whenever doubt on the meaning of such laws exist, it entirely omits any testimony from the Roman Pontiffs, Saints, doctors or approved theologians on the subject. The quality of the proofs offered would not only shame any aspiring Catholic theologian, but falls far below those standards Daly himself temporarily held to as the basis for his earlier works. It is this very confusion concerning the nature of heresy itself, a confusion easy enough to remedy with the proper study, that has permitted Traditionalist clerics to operate as lawful pastors when they are not. All of them long ago lost their membership in the Church, and this has been demonstrated from the proper sources time and time again. It is therefore of paramount importance that the record be set straight according to the norms laid down by the Church Herself, since this misrepresentation of the issue is productive of so many errors. The comments in brackets following Wernz-Vidal’s comments are those of this author.

“(The power of the Roman Pontiff ceases…)

“453. By heresy which is notorious and openly made known. The Roman Pontiff should he fall into it [not, should he publicly teach it] is by that very fact even before any declaratory sentence of the Church deprived of his power of jurisdiction. Concerning this matter there are five Opinions of which the first denies the hypothesis upon which the entire question is based, namely that a Pope even as a private doctor can fall into heresy. This opinion, although pious and probable cannot be said to be certain and common. For this reason the hypothesis is to be accepted and the question resolved. [The Vatican Council documents themselves declare that in order for anything to be infallible, the pope must intend to teach the entire Church on a matter of faith and morals, something he cannot do in his private capacity. So why do these authors neglect to point this out?]

“A second opinion holds that the Roman Pontiff forfeits his power automatically even on account of occult heresy. This opinion is rightly said by Bellarmine to be based upon a false supposition, namely that even occult heretics are completely separated from the body of the Church… The third opinion thinks that the Roman Pontiff does not automatically forfeit his power and cannot be deprived of it by deposition even for manifest heresy. This assertion is very rightly said by Bellarmine to be “extremely improbable”. [Pope Paul IV’s Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio states that the laity can call on the secular power to force an heretical antipope to leave Rome.]

“The fourth opinion, with Suarez, Cajetan and others, contends that a Pope is not automatically deposed even for manifest heresy, but that he can and must be deposed by at least a declaratory sentence of the crime. “Which opinion in my judgment is indefensible,” as Bellarmine teaches. [This opinion is refuted by Cum ex…why not simply quote papal teaching?]

“Finally, there is the fifth opinion – that of Bellarmine himself – which was expressed initially and is rightly defended by Tanner and others as the best proven and the most common. For he who is no longer a member of the body of the Church, i.e. the Church as a visible society, cannot be the head of the Universal Church. But a Pope who fell into public heresy would cease by that very fact to be a member of the Church. Therefore he would also cease by that very fact to be the head of the Church.

“A pope who is a manifest heretic automatically (per se) ceases to be pope and head…wherefore he can be judged and punished by the Church. This is the teaching of all the ancient Fathers [a thing itself indirectly infallible], who teach that manifest heretics immediately lose all jurisdiction, ‘” (St. Robert Bellarmine, de Romano Pontifice II.30. [But as stated above, even the secular power may force his removal from Rome]).
“Indeed, a publicly heretical Pope, who, by the commandment of Christ and the Apostle must even be avoided because of the danger to the Church, must be deprived of his power as almost all admit. But he cannot be deprived by a merely declaratory sentence… [The fact of apostasy, heresy or schism itself, necessarily committed pre-election, deprives him of a valid and canonical ELECTION, which fact is made manifest by heresy taught publicly. Cum ex… says he must be forced from his throne.]

“Wherefore, it must be firmly stated that a heretical Roman Pontiff would by that very fact forfeit his power. Although a declaratory sentence of the crime which is not to be rejected in so far as it is merely declaratory would be such that the heretical Pope would not be judged, but would rather be shown to have been judged. [Because Pope Paul IV does not require the declaratory sentence.] (End of Daly translation.)

Opinions of other saints and theologians

• “Nobody among mortals dare to presume the Pope’s faults, because the one who has to judge everybody should not be judged by anybody, except if he be found to have deviated from the straight way of the faith,” (St. Boniface of Mainz, Decretum, Pt. 1).

• “Faith is so necessary to me that, being so, only God may judge me of all other sins, but if I commit a sin against faith, I could be judged by the Church,” (Pope Innocent III, Latin Patrology).

• “Because of a cause affecting all the Church, a Pope may be judged; but not because of causes affecting only one or a few persons…,” (Canonist Ruffin, 1164).

• “The power of the Roman Pontiff is lost… © By his perpetual insanity or by formal heresy …” (Rev. Dominic Prummer, Manuale Iuris Canonici).

• “Not a few canonists teach that, outside death and abdication, the pontifical dignity can also be lost by falling into certain insanity, which is legally equivalent to death, as well as through manifest and notorious heresy…” (Udalricus Beste, Introductio in Codicem).

• “The power of the Roman Pontiff ceases by…certain and unquestionably perpetual insanity and notorious heresy,” (A. Vermeersch, I. Creusen, Epitome Iuris Canonici).

• “Q. 466 — Is a Pope who falls into heresy deprived, ipso facto, of the Pontificate

A-1. There are two opinions: one holds that he is, by virtue of divine appointment, divested, ipso facto, of the Pontificate; the other, that he is, jure divino, only removable. Both opinions agree that he must at least be declared guilty of heresy by the Church — i.e., by an oecumenical council of the College of Cardinals.” [Yet Pope Paul IV’s Cum ex…, the old law, states that no declaration is needed and he may be removed by the civil power.]

A-2. “The question is hypothetical rather than practical. For although, according to the more probable opinion, the pope may fall into heresy and err in matters of faith, as a private person, it is also universally admitted that no Pope ever did fall into heresy, even as a private doctor.”

(Elements of Ecclesiastical Law, Vol. one I of III, 1887; 6th edition).

Msgr. Joseph C. Fenton on infallibility

Yet it is WHEN and HOW one appearing to be pope forfeits such power that is really the issue here, and all those above fail to address these issues of time and manner of commission.  Msgr. J.C. Fenton, in an article for the American Ecclesiastical Review (December 1946; “The Necessity of the Definition of Papal Infallibility by the Vatican Council”) relates that later in his work, St. Bellarmine teaches that:

1.)    “Under no circumstances can the Supreme Pontiff be in error when he teaches the entire Church on matters of faith.

2.)    “The Roman Church as well as the Roman Pontiff is exempt from the possibility of error in faith.

3.)    “The Roman Pontiff is incapable of error, not only in decrees of faith but also in precepts of morals which are prescribed for the whole Church and which deal with matters necessary to salvation.” (De Romano Pontifice, 1586; Lib. IV, cap. 5, col. 987).

4.)    Ergo, should it appear that a Roman Pontiff has publicly taught heresy, it must automatically be assumed that either there was some secret defect in the election that prevented or should have prevented the one elected from ever becoming pope, allowing him to reign only as a usurper, and/or that the heresy now made manifest existed prior to that election.

The manifest nature of any statement later judged heretical as contrary to an infallible statement would not need to be opposed to an ex cathedra pronouncement (especially when so many Traditionalists heretically teach today that there are only a few of these in the last century!) but could be opposed to a statement simply of the ordinary magisterium. This Msgr. Fenton makes clear in his article “The Doctrinal Authority of Papal Encyclicals,” Pt. II, (American Ecclesiastical Review, September, 1949). “The Church can teach infallibly by solemn judgment or by its ordinary and universal magisterium…” The Holy Father also is “capable of issuing infallible definitions on matters included in what sacred theology knows as the secondary object of the Church’s magisterium [i.e.,] … theological conclusions…dogmatic facts, approval of religious orders, canonization of saints,” and certain philosophical matters.

Msgr. Fenton demonstrates all this solely from the Vatican Council documents themselves. Here it is important to note that Daly seems to promote the opposite opinion concerning canonization, at least. This can be concluded from his distribution of Rev. Frederick Faber’s book on canonization, without any editorial note advising the faithful that Faber wrote before the matter of the secondary object of infallibility had been fully developed and presented by theologians. Msgr. Fenton also spends some time in this article admonishing certain theologians who have failed to grasp the true import of the Vatican Council teachings. He writes: “A great deal of the confusion and the minimism with reference to the doctrinal authority of papal encyclicals would seem to proceed from a misunderstanding of the Holy Father’s ordinary and universal magisterium…” Fenton accuses certain theologians of holding “an attitude toward papal encyclicals [and papal teaching in general] which can be productive of doctrinal evil and which can lead to a practical abandonment of their teaching. According to this attitude it is the business of the theologian to distinguish two elements in the content of the papal encyclicals.

“One element would be the deposit of genuine Catholic teaching, which, of course, all Catholics are bound to accept at all times. The other element would be a collection of notions current at the time the encyclicals were written. These notions, which would enter into the practical application of the Catholic teaching, are represented as ideas which Catholics can afford to overlook…This attitude can be radically destructive of a true Catholic mentality. The men who have adopted this mentality imagine that they can analyze the content of an individual encyclical or a group of encyclicals in such a way that they can separate the pronouncements which Catholics are bound to accept from those which would have merely an ephemeral value. They, as theologians, would then tell the Catholic people to receive the Catholic principles and do as they like about the other elements…It is very difficult to see where such a process would stop.”

How routinely do Traditional “clerics” do exactly what Msgr. Fenton describes, eviscerating papal teaching as it suits them in order to evade the truths they are unable to stomach, when none of them even remotely qualify as theologians! This has been one of the main concerns expressed in the articles that appear on this site from its inception.  As Msgr. Fenton observes, “The private theologian is obligated and privileged to study these documents, to arrive at an understanding of what the Holy Father actually teaches, and then to aid in the task of bringing this body of truth to the people. The Holy Father, however, not the private theologian, remains the doctrinal authority. The theologian is expected to bring out the content of the Pope’s actual teaching, not to subject that teaching to the type of criticism he would have a right to impose on the writings of another private theologianThe pronouncements of the Roman Pontiffs, acting as the authorized teachers of the Catholic Church, are definitely not subject to that sort of evaluation…This tendency to consider the pronouncements of [the teaching Church], and particularly the statements of the papal encyclicals, as utterances which must be interpreted for the Christian people, rather than explained to them, is definitely harmful to the Church.”

This is why, in previous articles, the importance of following Canon Law to determine what the Church truly teaches in any given matter and to determine the mind of the lawgiver, i.e., the Roman Pontiff has been so consistently stressed. As shown in these articles, Traditionalists have not followed this practice and refuse to accept the fact that they even have any obligation to consider it. This is especially true concerning the proper explanation of the Church’s teachings on heresy. And it does indeed rankle when it can be proven beyond doubt that these men have no orders to exercise and are supplying countless souls with stones rather than bread, all the while assisting them in committing sacrilege and communicatio in sacris. They offer damnation under the guise of salvation and even when they point their followers to the work of others, these are carefully pre-selected to reflect their own views.

Wernz-Vidal described as liberal theologians

It also should be noted that Rev. Francis Miaskiewicz takes Wernz-Vidal and other theologians to task in his Jurisdiction According to Can. 209 for their erroneous views on common error re the “interpretative theory” as regards supplied jurisdiction, a theory described by Miaskiewicz as “a liberal view,” that veers away from “the pre-Code understanding of this phrase” and ignores the fact that when there is a doubt concerning some law, one is to hold to the old law, and adopt its teachings and understanding, (Can. 6 §4).  Miaskiewicz calls others who believe that one can use subjective certitude to assume the validity of acts per this same theory “quite unjustifiably liberal and excessively radical.”  So in preferring Wernz-Vidal to other, more conservative canonists and in embracing their liberal views on jurisdiction, one must also wonder just how reliable their views on “papal heresy,” and heresy in general, truly are. This is especially true since Wernz-Vidal’s thinking seems to follow a pattern here. (For more on this subject see the article under Canon Law, “Traditionalists and the Interpretive Theory of Jurisdiction” on the Current Articles page.)

In promoting the interpretive theory, they ignore, as Miaskiewicz points out, the need to abide by the old law and its interpretation. Pope Paul IV’s Cum  Apostolatus Officio is the old law underlying almost every Canon Law governing heresy, and yet they assume there is no doubt concerning what they wrote and therefore no need to return to the mind of the lawgiver and the old law. Moreover, as Miaskiewicz demonstrates, they prefer their own opinion to that of the clear decisions handed down by the Roman Rota on the subject of common error. This error is repeated above in Daly’s translation, for Wernz-Vidal prefer the teaching of St. Bellarmine to that of Pope Paul IV in Cum ex…, not so much as even mentioning that this bull existed. Nor does Daly mention it, when he was one of the first Traditionalists to comment on this bull during the time he spent as an associate of Martin Gwynne and his Briton’s Catholic Library.

“The pope is the Antichrist” is a Protestant heresy

Yes it most certainly is a Protestant heresy, which is precisely why this matter must be addressed. No true Catholic would ever hold that the pope could commit a heresy in his official capacity. In his private capacity, perhaps this is possible; the Church has never decided officially on this subject. But the confusion must be dispelled here so that everyone is clear what is meant by the assertion that the Antichrist (or his system) now rules from Rome. St. Bernard could and did say this very thing when the uncanonically elected Anacletus II ruled from Rome, against the legitimately elected Innocent II, as proven from his own words: “Behold Innocent the Christ, the anointed of the Lord, is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many, (Luke 2: 34). For they that are of God willingly adhere to him, whilst opposed to him stand Antichrist and his followers. We have seen the ‘abomination of desolation standing in the holy place,’ (Matt. 24: 15) to obtain which the antipope ‘burned with fire the sanctuary of God,’ (Ps. 63: 7),” (from the Life and Teaching of St. Bernard, by Ailbe J. Luddy, O. Cistercian, Gill & Son, 1950). The Third Lateran Council condemned three antipopes as “heresiarchs…and schismatics” and the Council of Florence said of antipope Felix V, (one Amadeus): “the antichrist Amadeus should cease from acting any more and designating himself as the Roman pontiff.”

Here we clearly see that the Church only referred to antipopes illegitimately elected as antichrists. They were false popes, not true, and therefore qualified in every way as those hirelings Christ spoke of who came in through the window and not by the door. Clearly in Cum ex…, Pope Paul IV equates an invalidly elected man as pope with the Abomination of Desolation, synonymous from Old Testament language with Antichrist. And St. Bernard’s description of the antipope Anacletus II above references this very phrase. So centuries before Pope Paul IV wrote his bull, this tradition in the Church — that an invalidly elected pope could sit in Peter’s Chair and present as a true pope — was known to the ancient Fathers, St. Bernard being the last of that line. Henry Cardinal Manning, in his The Holy See Tested by Prophecy tells us that, “The apostasy of the holy city of Rome form the Vicar of Christ, and its destruction by Antichrist, may seem so new to many Catholics, that I think it well to recite the text of theologians in the greatest repute.” And here Manning tells us that Malvenda, in his “de Antichristo,” states as the opinion of Ribera, Melus, Viegus, Suarez, Bellarmine and Bosius,” (and here we also add Holzhauser), “that Rome shall apostasize from the faith, drive away the Vicar of Christ, and return to its ancient paganism.” Manning adds that Corenelius a Lapide, in his commentary on the 18th chapter of the Apocalypse, calls this belief “the common opinion of theologians.”

When Melanie of La Salette told people Our Lady had predicted that “Rome would lose the faith and become the seat of Antichrist,” she was saying nothing wrong, nor was she foretelling something that had not already happened before, (during Anacletus II’s time), or that was not upheld by the majority of theologians. It is amusing that today’s Traditionalist antipopes feel the need to so fiercely oppose this apparition, but in doing so they only tell tales on themselves. Everything from Holy Scripture, especially the Apocalypse and its commentaries clearly spells out the course of the Man of Sin and how he will come into power. St. Paul is quite specific about this. We are not saying, as the Protestants have said, that the popes represent the “line” of Antichrist, for we deny that any LEGITIMATE pope could ever be called an antichrist.  We are saying that Holy Scripture describes a certain time only when the Sacrifice will cease, the shepherds will abandon their flocks, and the Catholic faithful will accept false popes as true, owing to the many signs and lying wonders they present. Those who wish to destroy even the remaining vestiges of papal honor and power are anxious that all Catholics believe no pope could ever be trusted not to betray the faith. But truly devout and educated Catholics know better, and have never even come close to holding to this Protestant heresy, and never will.

Cum ex… the sole infallible determining factor

Msgr. Fenton confirms that St. Bellarmine supported as probable the opinion of Pighius in his day, that the pope could not even err in matters of faith and morals as a private person. Later, theologians attending the Vatican Council would specify that the privilege of infallibility does not reside in the pope personally, and exists only transiently when he speaks publicly on matters of dogma. In other words, he lacks the charisma of infallibility when speaking privately, for then he is not speaking to the whole Church and/or any heresy would remain occult. During the Vatican Council deliberations, the pope’s charism of infallibility was actually defined. We find this detailed in Philip Hughes, The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils, (1960; we cite this later work only because Hughes earlier works were generally accepted by the Church). Hughes writes that the Archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Guidi, a Dominican, “proposed to make the title of the decree [on infallibility] more exact, not to use in such a document the loose phrase, ‘the pope’s infallibility,’ which might be taken to mean a permanent quality in the pope. The divine assistance which preserves the pope as universal teacher from error is a transient divine act, he pointed out, making he pope’s act infallible but not his person. Therefore let the title be ‘The infallibility of the Pope’s dogmatic pronouncements.’” Hughes remarks in a footnote that Pope Pius IX was not particularly pleased with Guidi’s conduct, but allowed the distinction to stand, nevertheless. Cardinal Manning describes the distinction between personal infallibility and the charism of infallibility in almost identical terms in his work, The Vatican Council.

It should be noted that if the pope truly were free from error in his capacity as a private person, as St. Bellarmine initially taught, then the Vatican Council decree would not have taught that the pope speaks infallibly only when he speaks to the entire Church. But St. Bellarmine in his other teachings was right on the mark with papal infallibility. If we refer to Rev. Smith’s quote above, it explains that there has never been a pope who uttered heresy per se, even as a private preson, and this is true; the Vatican Council determined that Honorius was not making any ex cathedra statement or defining any doctrine to be imposed on the whole Church when he wrote what indeed appeared to be heresy, (Rev. Alban Butler quoting Dom Chapman, The Vatican Council, Vol. II, 1930).  And St. Bellarmine himself solved the case of Liberius below, in his De Romano Pontifice, lib. II, cap. 30, et al:

“Then two years later came the lapse of Liberius, of which we have spoken above. Then indeed the Roman clergy, stripping Liberius of his pontifical dignity, went over to Felix, whom they knew [then] to be a Catholic. From that time, Felix began to be the true Pontiff. For although Liberius was not a heretic, nevertheless he was considered one, on account of the peace he made with the Arians, and by that presumption the pontificate could rightly [merito] be taken from him: for men are not bound, or able to read hearts; but when they see that someone is a heretic by his external works, they judge him to be a heretic pure and simple [simpliciter], and condemn him as a heretic.”

This speaks to the old rule of law (concerning the law itself) that a doubtful law is no law, meaning that if there is doubt that it was legitimately made, or that it was not properly promulgated, it may be ignored. From this comes the like axiom, “a doubtful pope is no pope” used as a reflex principle in requiring the resignation of all papal claimants at the Council of Constance during the Western Schism. The presumption that St. Robert speaks of above is that stated in Can. 2200: “The evil will spoken of in Can. 2199 means a deliberate will to violate the law and presupposes on the part of the mind a knowledge of the law and on the part of the will freedom of action. Given the external violation of the law, the evil will is presumed in the external forum until the contrary is proven.” Revs. Woywod-Smith comment on this canon: “The rule here stated is evidently necessary for the public welfare.” Canon 1825 declares that a presumption of law is stated in the law itself, as is the case in Can. 2200.  And we find in Can. 1827: “He who has a presumption of law in his favor is freed from the burden of proof, which is thus shifted to his opponent. If the latter cannot prove that the presumption failed in the case, the judge must render sentence in favor of the one on whose side the presumption stands.”

The only answer that makes sense and avoids the error that the pope can indeed fall into such heresy publicly, confirming what the Vatican Council clearly taught, is the teaching of Pope Paul IV’s Cum ex Apostolatus Officio. This bull and only this bull addresses the problem. Yet Daly and many others deliberately refuse to consider it when trying to solve this most serious dilemma of how the pope can appear to become a heretic when the guarantee of infallibility says this can never happen. Already in the 1800s, Rev. Henry Ryder, nephew of Cardinal Manning was teaching concerning Cum ex : “It may be urged that there are certain irregularities, which, although secret, would invalidate a pope’s election, and so all his papal acts, such as simony (see Constit. Julii II in Lat. Counc.V, Sess. V), or heresy held at any previous time (see Constit. Pauli IV, Ex Apostolatus Officio, Bullar. Rom., 1559)…Whatever may have been the secret irregularity of a pope’s election or his previous unorthodoxy, it must be either made manifest to the Church, so that she perceives that he is not her legitimate pastor or if he define, he defines truly,” Catholic Controversy, 1882.  And in reality today it is only previous, pre-election heresy that would invalidate a papal election, lack of baptism in the one elected or failure to gain the two-thirds plus one vote of the cardinals, (Pope Pius XII’s constitution on papal elections, Vacante Apostolicae Sedis, 1945).

Also in Canon 3, Second Council of Lyons we find:

“That we may, so far as possible, put an end to malice in the matter of elections, postulations, and ecclesiastical collations, lest a prolonged vacancy prove dangerous to the Churches, or the collation of dignities and other ecclesiastical benefices be delayed…  7. {15} “We decree that nobody, after voting for someone whose election follows, or after giving consent to an election made by others, may oppose him concerning the election itself, except for reasons coming to light afterwards, or unless the elect’s evil character previously hidden from the objector is now disclosed, or the existence of some other hidden vice or defect, of which in all probability he could have been ignorant, is revealed. He is however to guarantee his good faith regarding this lack of knowledge by oath.”

Although we do not endorse any of Martin Gwynne’s other writings or practice, he was right when he observed in his 1985 work, Under the Laws of the Catholic Church the Papal See is Vacant: “The defection from the Church of a pope cannot happen, but it can appear to happen. And that is where Can. 188 no. 4 and the teachings of St. Robert Bellarmine and other theologians [that a pope who is a manifest heretic loses all jurisdiction] play their part.” He then notes that the infallible determination by the Vatican Council that the faith of Peter and his successors can never fail confirms Cum ex… and clarifies St. Bellarmine’s teaching.

“This See of St. Peter remains ever free from all blemish of error, according to the Divine promise of the Lord, Our Savior, made to the prince of his disciples: ‘I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not, and that thou being once converted confirm thy brethren,’ (Luke 22:32)…This gift, then, of truth and never-failing faith was conferred by Heaven on Peter and his successors,” (Vatican Council, Sess. IV, Chap. 1).

“If those words, which are nowhere qualified, do not mean that a pope will not apostatize or fall into pertinacious heresy, words have lost their meaning,” Gwynne commented. “…Since it is divinely revealed that the faith of a Pope will never fail, we can know with complete certainty that a pope who publicly and pertinaciously denies or doubts a definite truth of faith, was a heretic before his election and therefore never pope, even if direct evidence of his earlier heresy is lacking.” In other words, the act of heresy itself tells us that it existed pre-election, even if it is not in evidence. That the faith of St. Peter and his successors could never fail was always an article of Divine faith. It was clarified forever, however, when it was defined at the Vatican Council. All the controversies of previous ages then were resolved and all other papal pronouncements touching on infallibility must now be viewed in the light of the Vatican Council’s definition. Yet Wernz-Vidal sidestep this fact in quoting St. Bellarmine.

As Henry Cardinal Manning notes, “This [Vatican Council] definition, by retrospective action, makes all pontifical acts infallible, [when promulgated with the marks enumerated in the definition itself]…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,” (The Vatican Decrees in Their Bearing on Civil Allegiance, 1875). Manning explains this in relation to the fact that the Vatican Council never pronounced on the constitution of the Church itself, choosing rather to use the definition of infallibility and the primacy to hence determine what must be infallibly believed in reference to the make-up of the Church. All previous speculation, then, concerning “papal heresy” turns on this definition and must be adjusted accordingly. Hence Gwynne says that the Vatican Council only ratifies Paul IV’s Bull. This can be proven from the fact that the bull also was retained as a source in the 1917 Code of Canon Law following the Council decisions (see the Latin version of the Code, which lists Cardinal Gasparri’s Fontes or sources) for Canons 167 §3, 188 no. 4, 2314, 2315, 2316, 2317 and 2264,  all dealing with heresy. As evident from what appears below, there is no contradiction between the Council’s definition and Paul IV’s understanding of Peter’s never-failing faith.

In fact it is precisely because the censures and canons on heresy, apostasy and schism had not yet been collected, clarified and purged, as would happen during the codification of Canon Law during Pope St. Pius X’s pontificate, that so much confusion reigns to this day. One finds many Traditionalists rashly stating that Cum ex… was not retained in the Code, and was not infallible; that this is true because it was only disciplinary in nature and the circumstances of the law no longer apply, etc. Well we know from the teaching of Pope Pius IX at both the Vatican Council and elsewhere that disciplinary decrees can most certainly be infallible, and that anyone who says otherwise is considered a heretic. For Pope Pius IX, in Quae in patriarchatu teaches that: “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.” We also hear from Cardinal Manning above that Bulls such as Cum ex… were retroactively made infallible. And we see above how extensively Cum ex… actually was retained in the Code. In studying and EXPLAINING the import of Cum ex…, we can learn exactly what Pope Paul IV intended and why he wrote his bull. And we must also keep in mind that he stated in the bull itself that he called all previous condemnation of heresy back into its full rigor, a condition later verified personally by Pope St. Pius V in his Intermultiplices, where he confirmed Cum ex… in all its particulars. So let us read Cum ex… for ourselves.

Proofs from Cum ex… itself

Pope Paul IV states in paragraph one of Cum ex Apostolatus Officio: “Error in respect of the Faith is so grave and so dangerous that the Roman Pontiff, who is the representative on earth of God and our God and Lord Jesus Christ…who may judge all and be judged by none in this world, may nonetheless be contradicted if he be found to have deviated from the Faith… Also, it behooves us to give fuller and more diligent thought where the peril is greatest, lest false prophets (or even others possessing secular jurisdiction) wretchedly ensnare simple souls and drag down with themselves to perdition and the ruin of damnation the countless peoples entrusted to their care and government in matters spiritual or temporal; and lest it befall Us to see in the holy place the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, We wish, as much as possible with God’s help, in line with our pastoral duty, to trap the foxes that are busily ravaging the Lord’s vineyard and to drive the wolves from the sheepfolds, lest We seem to be silent watchdogs, unable to bark, or lest We come to an evil end like the evil husbandmen or be likened to a hireling.”

Regrettably such deviations from faith have occurred and they all center around the nature of vocation, the hierarchy, and the holiness of life the Church requires of Her priests. Before Paul IV’s Bull was even written, St. Thomas Aquinas also wrote: “If the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Gal. 2: 11: ‘Peter gave an example to superiors that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects,” [Q. 33, Art. 4, Pt. II-II] ). We now continue quoting from Cum ex…:

6. “Further, if ever at any time it becomes clear that any Bishop…Archbishop, Patriarch, or primate; or any Cardinal of the aforesaid Roman Church…or likewise if any Roman Pontiff BEFORE his promotion or elevation as a Cardinal or Roman Pontiff, [has strayed from the Catholic Faith or] fallen into some heresy, [or has incurred schism], then his promotion or elevation shall be null, invalid and void. It cannot be declared valid or become valid through his acceptance of the office, his consecration, subsequent possession or seeming possession of government and administration, or by the enthronement of or homage paid to the same Roman Pontiff, or by universal obedience accorded him, or by the passage of any time in said circumstances, [nor shall it be held as quasi-legitimate.] It shall not be considered to have given or to give any power of administration in matters spiritual or temporal, to such persons…elevated as Cardinals or as the Roman Pontiff. Rather, each and, every one of their statements, deeds, enactments, and administrative acts, of any kind, and any result thereof whatsoever, shall be without force and shall confer no legality or right on anyone. The persons themselves so promoted and elevated shall, ipso facto and without need for any further declaration, be deprived of any dignity, position, honor, title, authority, office and power…

“It shall be lawful for all and sundry who would have been subject to persons so promoted and elevated, had these not first strayed from the Faith or been heretics, or incurred or incited or committed schism; for clerics, secular or regular, and for laymen; likewise for Cardinals, even for those who participated in the election of one straying from the Faith, or of a heretic or schismatic to the Papacy, or who otherwise presented and pledged him obedience and paid him homage…to depart with impunity at any time from obedience and allegiance to said promoted and elevated persons and to shun them as sorcerers, heathens, publicans, and heresiarchs — though subjects of the same remain, nevertheless, bound in fealty and obedience to future Bishops, Archbishops, Primates, Cardinals and the canonically established Roman Pontiff. For the greater confusion of persons thus promoted and elevated, if they attempt to continue their government and administration, all may implore the aid of the secular arm against those so advanced and elevated. Nor shall they be liable to reprisal through any censure or penalty, as renders of the Lord’s robe, for departing, for the reasons set forth above, from fealty and obedience to said promoted and elevated persons…” (end of Cum ex… quotes — all emphasis added by the author).


As the decisions of the Vatican Council demonstrate, we can believe only that one presenting himself as pope, who publicly falls into heresy was a (secret) heretic pre-election, hence never became a pope; or was invalidly elected owing to some other defect, (insanity, failure to receive the necessary number of votes, lack of valid and licit baptism). This because the Church has commanded us to believe, with Divine and Catholic faith, that when Christ promised Peter’s faith could never fail, whether in his extraordinary or in his ordinary magisterium, His promise is to be taken as an absolute and irrevocable guarantee. In his above quoted work, Msgr. Fenton wrote: “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.”

First the act of heresy must be notorious or manifest. These two terms are equated by Donald Attwater in his “A Catholic Dictionary” definition of notorious as follows: “Acts or facts…so public or manifest as to require no proof in law,” (Donald Attwater; A Catholic Dictionary). Notorious is distinguished from public in Can. 2197, where public is defined as already divulged or “committed or attended by such circumstances that its divulgation may and must be considered prudently possible.” When all know that some crime has been regularly committed or one admits committing a crime freely for any length of time then it has become notorious. Canon 2197 defines notorious as something “committed under such circumstances that it cannot be concealed by any subterfuge nor excused by any excuse admitted in law.” Now the word manifest is defined by Rev. A. C. Cotter, S. J., as something not just obvious, but which truly stands out and is not able to be ignored, especially when contrasted to its opposite. And since we must follow Cum ex…, the old law, in this matter which has been so fraught with doubt all these years, it cannot be said that the heretical statement or act must be ex cathedra; any heresy will do and no manner of delivery is specified. As Rev. Cicognani teaches, wherever the law does not distinguish, neither should we. Nor, Pope Paul IV provides, is it necessary for anyone to issue a declaration declaring what is said a heresy and the one stating it outside the Church in order for the censure to be incurred automatically.

So when we recognize an act by one appearing to be pope as heretical, we must understand it not as an indication that a POPE has committed heresy, but an indication that we must investigate further the validity of his election and his conduct and utterances prior to that election. And we must consider that heresy as ipso facto separating him from the Church without any need of declaration by anyone regardless of whether sufficient evidence is found to indicate an invalid election, and even without any actual proof that it occurred. For Christ’s promise to us concerning Peter’s faith is enough; we know He cannot deceive nor be deceived. As Rev. Jean-Marie Herve teaches concerning ordination: “In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the public good demands that the unworthy applicant even if he be secret, be repelled even though his offense cannot be juridically proved. In this case the reception of the Sacrament is considered inferior in worth to the worthy exercise of the sacred functions and the public good of the Church. According to Pesch: ‘He who trenches on a public good thereby loses his right to a private good if the public good cannot effectively be defended without injury to the latter,’” (Sacraments, Dogmatic Theology, Vol. I).  This only confirms what St. Bellarmine said above about Pope Liberius. This same principal is found in Can. 2200, where guilt is presumed until the contrary is proven. This is a presumption of law; and he who has this presumption in his favor prevails. This canon and Herve’s principle must be applied to the election of a Roman Pontiff or the removal of one found to be a heretic, for as we have seen, nothing is more damaging to the public good of Catholics than the reign of false popes as true.

This directly refers to the presumption mentioned in Can. 2200, as explained earlier. But it would seem that only the remaining hierarchy themselves could make the judgment and remove a man for a presumption of heresy, as Rev. Smith indicates above; otherwise the heresy must be clear (evident or manifest — Casell’s Latin Dictionary) for the laity to presume to consider such a pope as having abandoned the faith. But that they can so consider him a heretic is clear from Cum ex… itself, also Can. 2200. The falsification of Christ’s words in the Consecration of the wine alone, promoted first by Roncalli in the approval of the English version of the People’s Mass and later by Montini in his official promulgation of the Novus Ordo Missae. None can contest the fact that if not actually heretical in and of itself, such a deliberate mistranslation is so intimately connected to heresy that it qualifies as directly opposed to an infallible statement. For as Msgr. Fenton explains above, not only can the Holy Father teach infallibly in his ordinary magisterium as defined by the Vatican Council, but he also is “capable of issuing infallible definitions on matters included in what sacred theology knows as the secondary object of the Church’s magisterium [i.e.,] … theological conclusions…dogmatic facts, approval of religious orders, canonization of saints,” and certain philosophical matters. It is a clear dogmatic fact that never has he Church contradicted Herself throughout the centuries, in either Her translations of Holy Scripture or Her translations of the Canon of the Mass, to indicate there was ever any doubt that the Consecration of the Wine should read “for many,” not “for all.” In fact even the non-Catholic translations of Holy Scripture render these words as “for many.”

The implication (read implicit as refers to the definition of heresy found in Can. 1325) that Christ died to save all indiscriminately, even each and every one of those who would not join His Church, mark this teaching as heretical. The weight of this heresy is especially compelling when coupled with the Conciliar antipopes’ public acceptance of those of other faiths as valid; also their public and world-televised participation in their non-Catholic services (communicatio in sacris). This is indisputably clear, evident and manifest proof that the intent was to falsify the Catholic faith, and that intent did not only involve heresy, but also apostasy and schism.  The preposterous claim that such heresy is only material not formal, and that as such it can be reversed and is not subject to judgment by the Church, denies the Church’s own definition of heresy and also contradicts the teachings of Cum ex…, the old-law basis for the Canons governing such heresy. For this reason it is heretical in itself, and as will be shown in a future article, is in no way tenable as a “theological position.”

Even the opinion that a true pope, validly and canonically elected, could become a private heretic, cannot be safely taught or held. For according to Pope Pius XII’s Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis, as all should know, during an interregnum nothing can be held as a certainty until the question is decided by a canonically elected pope. All the evidence necessary to conclude why the popes following Pope Pius XII were not Catholic upon their election, based on the principles outlined in Cum ex…, have been presented on this site, so there is no reason whatsoever to consider these same men heretics from the standpoint that they ever were true popes who publicly professed heresy and led Catholics into error. Those who teach such things, in this author’s opinion, only seek to demean and discredit the papacy and ensure the continuance of a headless Church. Therefore, the idea of an “heretical pope” must be rejected as an implicit denial of infallibility, and even the possibility that a pope could fall into heresy as a private person should be left in the hands of the future canonically elected Roman Pontiff.

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  1. T. Stanfill Benns

    In reading your article, I cannot help but advert to two points:

    1. Referencing St. Robert Bellarmine’s five opinions on presumptive papal heresy and the result of this supposed state is indeed an incomplete and misleading analysis as things are now, de fide, in light of Pope Paul IV’s Cum Ex and the Vatican Council. As your article aptly states, for the informed writer to insist on this is seriously inadequate. They are no doubt aware of this document. I have found it perplexing that even among so-called sedevacantists there is the tendency to state that this de fide definition was somehow invalidated by the Code.

    2. A question for me arises in reference to the binding nature of Cum Ex. Cum Ex states, “…if any Roman Pontiff before his promotion or elevation as a Cardinal [my emphasis] or Roman Pontiff, [has strayed from the Catholic Faith or] fallen into some heresy, [or has incurred schism], then his promotion or elevation shall be null, invalid and void.”

    How do we apply the above quote to adults who have converted from some heretical sect to the True Faith, then have gone on to receive Holy Orders, and then, like Newman and Manning in the 19th century, were promoted to the Cardinaliate? Wouldn’t their prior heretical state, existing after the age of 14, have barred them from such an elevation according to Cum Ex? In light of the fact that from an historical context Cum Ex was composed because of Pope Paul IV’s fears that a closet Protestant would be elevated to the papacy, isn’t this all the more compelling.

    I am at a complete loss which is why I ask you.

    It is a very good article, by the way. It is one that has given me much to think about.

    A reader

    • T. Stanfill Benns

      Manning and Newman were absolved and abjured of all their heresies and dispensed from any impediments, including infamy (if they had incurred it), by the pope, who is the only one who could do this. It is not like they were Catholics, left the faith, then decided to return. These guys didn’t hang on to these heresies then try to be promoted to bishop, cardinal or anything else. Paul IV anticipates someone deliberately trying to deceive the faithful and obtain some sort of benefit or advancement here (fraud). The culprit he pinpoints is heresy, apostasy or schism which was never identified, confessed and absolved; that is clear from Cum ex itself, otherwise such a one could never have been elected. Clear back to the earliest centuries, Canon Law forbade any heretic or schismatic to be advanced to the clerical or episcopal state; it is not just Cum ex. Notice that no Protestant convert has ever been elected to the papacy, and it is primarily the papacy that is addressed here, not anything else.

      We have to keep these things in a straight line and realize that anyone who is PENITENT, repents, and asks forgiveness can be forgiven these things and readmitted to the Church. It just can’t happen for us right now because there is no pope. However, the pope always has the right to refuse to readmit people who are guilty of infamy of law, for whatever reason. Manning and Newman were NOT raised or baptized Catholic; many of the Trads I am referring to were. It is an entirely different situation.

      T. Benns

  2. Rick

    Good article Teresa.

    My Catholic Sense has always felt that once a Pope is elected he can not commit heresy: heresy can only start before the election: most people, anyway, have committed to their beliefs early in life and seem to keep them. In addition, your other articles clearly show that all Vatican Usurpers (Roncalli, Montini, and even Wojtyla) were heretics before they usurped the thrones.

    One question: I am not quite sure what error the Trads have committed in the larger scheme of things: that is, what is the major consequence of thinking that A pope can become a heretic after he is elected. I assume that for the Trads, this erroneous thinking can lead to a vague and inconclusive opinion on the status of current Pope: the majority opinion being that they believe the current usurpers were validly elected, and although they fell into error later, this somehow didn`t invalidate their election. Is this the major consequence.

    I know that you write mostly to people who are already in the middle of a controversy and who therefore can understand the larger scheme of things, but being a newbie in many ways to many issues, it would help me understand certain issues if perhaps a small preface would be placed sometimes in some articles that would place the issue in its larger context.

    May God Bless

  3. Nancy

    This is what Jorge Bergoglio said, in regards to same-sex sexual relationships, and thus same-sex sexual acts, prior to his election as pope, on page 117 of his book, On Heaven And Earth, demonstrating that he does not hold, keep, or teach The Catholic Faith, and he continues to act accordingly:
    “If there is a union of a private nature, there is neither a third party, nor is society affected. Now, if the union is given the category of marriage, there could be children affected. Every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help shape their identity.”- Jorge Bergoglio, denying The Sanctity of the marital act within The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, and the fact that God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, Is The Author Of Love, Of Life, And Of Marriage, while claiming sin done in private is not sin.

    “1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”121
    1850 Sin is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.”122 Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,”123 knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.”124 In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.125“


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