Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Dealing With the Madness over the So-Called “Pachamama”

time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.” 
—St. Anthony, Abbot

One of my pet peeves is when people who, for whatever reason, when disagreeing with the stance I take in defending the Pope and the Church tell me to “open my eyes.” (It reminds me of St. Anthony’s quote above). While the people who use it probably thinks they’re clever, it’s merely an ad hominem attack that tells the target that if he doesn’t see things the way the accuser does, it means that the person must be at fault for refusing to “look at the facts.” The problem is, that attack doesn’t refute anything, and it serves as a distraction from the fact that their claims are refutable. 

In fact, the more I study the claims (I’ve seen the video, I’ve researched the accusations) of those who attack the Pope and the Synod, the more I am convinced they are falsehoods on par with those spread by Luther in the 16th century when he grossly misrepresented the Church to push his own agenda. 

It’s a tale that grows more ridiculous, more exaggerated as it spreads across social media. In the beginning, the speculation was that the Pope didn’t read his speech because he was “furious.” Now his critics make him into an apostate. It seems to me that these people are being led astray as the devil turns them into “useful idiots” who do his will while thinking they serve God. 

Please note: I’m not defending idolatry or syncretism. I’m rejecting those accusations as false. I think people should remember this: anti-Catholics routinely accuse us of worshiping statues based on our postures and their falsely labeling statues as “idols.” Catholic critics would be wise to consider the possibility that they are at risk of behaving in the same way. They should ask themselves whether Catholics In Amazonia behave differently than Catholics in the United States or Western Europe.

The Vatican didn’t “admit” it was an idol, let alone Pachamama. The image was a carving that was brought to the synod was chosen as a symbol of life made by an indigenous carver. Different people attribute it to being Our Lady of the Amazon or Pachamama. Meanwhile the statement of the Vatican reflects what those who brought the image intended. If one wants to argue that it is “Pachamama,” or that the rites are “pagan,” they need to prove that these images are used as idols and worshipped in this manner. They need to prove that the people involved were in fact pagan.

But this is exactly what they don’t do. They assume bad will on the part of the Pope and the synod and everything that is unfamiliar or uncomfortable to them, they assume has a bad cause behind it. But where is the research? Where are the peer-reviewed studies? Where are the investigations into the people that they accuse of worshiping idols to determine it is as they think?

There are none. There are only hostile interpretations and rumors building on those interpretations. At the least, this is rash judgment, if not outright calumny. Both are sins against the prohibition on bearing false witness.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

You’re not Helping

I’ve spent a lot of time writing about the anti-Francis movement within the Catholic Church, who often—whether out of ignorance or malice—make false accusations about the Pope, misrepresenting what he says or intends to do. They are responsible for a lot of confusion in the Church. Unfortunately, this is not the only problem group in this dispute. 

The other side are those Catholics who also (and just as wrongly) believe that the Pope is changing Church teaching on a subject or becoming more lenient with something the Church once strongly condemned. The difference is this second group either thinks this “change” is a good idea (and accuse those standing up for what the Church teaches as “rejecting” the Pope) or else is misusing what the Pope actually said to push an agenda, thinking they can pressure the Church into changing a teaching§. They are also responsible for a lot of confusion in the Church.

If we are to properly support the Pope, we must not attribute to him things that he did not say or do. If we do, we will cause double confusion:
  1. By falsely encouraging those Catholics at odds with Church teaching to think their sins are not sins.
  2. By giving the anti-Francis Catholics “proof#” that the Pope is a heretic.
Obviously, we can’t do anything about what the “other side” does except trying to charitably try to explain how and why they went wrong. But we can also cause scandal by misrepresenting what the Pope says and does just because it benefits our causes.

And charitably is a key word here. I’ve seen certain Catholics use abusive language against those who politically disagree with them, committing rash judgment and/or calumny. Then, when they face consequences for their rhetoric, they complain that they are being “targeted.” That does not help defend the Pope from false accusations. Yes, guilt by association is a logical fallacy. But the Pope is still harmed by our bad behavior if we who champion him are behaving shamefully in our defense of him, or if we treat those who attack the Pope in the same way that we condemn when they act the same towards us.

If we profess to be Catholics, especially if we think those opposed to us have gone the wrong way, we must behave in a charitable way in our defense. Otherwise, we’re not helping.


(§) People have been anticipating the overturning of Humanae Vitae for over 50 years. It hasn’t and will not happen.

(#) You might laugh, but the media misrepresented the Pope’s “Who am I to judge” to mean that homosexuality was okay. The anti-Francis Catholics still believe this while those with same sex attraction felt “betrayed” when the Pope later said things confirming he opposed “same sex marriage.”

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Are You So Certain That You’re on the Right Side?

675 Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh. (769)

(Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Back in the days when the Left Behind and other series was popular, I wrote a few blogs about how Christians had a dangerous tendency to conflate their political views with their theology. Their view of the Antichrist was someone who appealed to the liberal left and hedonism. They would interpret the actions of those politicians and members of the Church as symbols or conspirators of a coming apostasy*. The problem is, that kind of Antichrist is not likely to deceive the faithful, and deception of the faithful is exactly what the final trial is about.

The temptations to justify immoral behavior has always been with us. People who argue that the popular sins are not really sins have always been with us. The Church combats them in every age, and the faithful listen to the Church. But, if people should refuse to listen to the Church, trusting in themselves or people who say that the Church cannot be trusted, then we have a situation where the faithful risk apostasy by making their own preferences of right and wrong replace the teachings of the Church which God empowered to teach in His name.

If we follow those Catholics on the basis of their previous defense of the Church but they now argue that the Church is going astray, we will follow them to ruin if we insist on trusting them instead of those tasked with leading the Church.

The common argument is that the Pope is only infallible when he teaches ex cathedra but can err when he doesn’t§, implying that whether or not we obey depends on whether we think the teaching is true or false.

That is to misunderstand the nature of Church teaching. An infallible teaching cannot be reformed. We won’t ever see the Church edit the teaching of The Immaculate Conception in a way that changes how it is understood. We do see things in Rerum Novarum that have been modified to address changes in society#. People invent loopholes to get around previous teachings; new problems emerge and must be solved. The encyclicals of Pius XI, St. Paul VI, and St. John Paul II neither mean that Rerum Novarum was in error nor that his successors committed error by “contradicting” Leo XIII.

But whether from ignorance or a willful act, these Catholics are promoting error by claiming that only the ex cathedra statements are binding on the grounds that the ordinary magisterium can “Err.” What this boils down to is the de facto denial of Christ’s promises to guide and protect His Church. They still view Christ as God, but they reduce His role in the Church to handing down laws from on high and judge the Church for not interpreting those laws in the way they think the laws should be interpreted.

That certainly is a religious deception. It allows those who use these tactics to deny that God leads the Church whenever they happen to disagree with it. Those who fall into this error can certainly be led astray by an Antichrist who can give them what they want: A “Church” that agrees with them so they don’t have to listen to the Church under the visible headship of the Pope. Such an Antichrist will tell them that they can reject the Church when they like because the Church obviously “errs” when it teaches against them.

That’s an Antichrist who can deceive Catholics regardless of their preferences. If we would be faithful to Christ and oppose the Antichrist, we must listen to the Church which teaches with His authority and protection.


(*) For example, when the novel Father Elijah came out in the late 90s, we saw a thinly disguised Cardinal Martini as actively working to corrupt the Church.

(§) It should be noted that the Catholic Church has consistently taught this is an error. See Pius IX (Syllabus of Errors), Pius XII (Humani Generis #20), Vatican II (Lumen Gentium #25) and the Code of Canon Law (#752). So why do people give credence to Catholics who promote that error?

(#) The Church teaching on the death penalty falls into this category. The fact that conditions may have made the DP tolerable in previous centuries does not mean it is right in all times and circumstances. St. John Paul II taught that those past conditions do not exist today, and Pope Francis confirms it.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Faithful Who Forgot to Believe?

Your words are too much for me, says the Lord. 
You ask, “What have we spoken against you?” (Malachi 3:13)

Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me. (Luke 10:16)

As I watch the antics of those anti-Francis Catholics that inflict confusion on the Church while accusing the Pope of causing confusion, I think we have a curious case: Catholics who claim to be faithful while forgetting one of the important elements of that faith. That element is faith in God to protect His Church from teaching error. For whatever motive§, they say that the Pope is teaching error. But God protects His Church from teaching error. If He did not, we could never know what to obey and what not to obey.

Some might claim that the Pope can err and it’s up to the Church to correct him when he does. They cite canon 212 §3 while ignoring §1 (not to mention 752, 1373, and 1404)# or by applying the wrong definition to “inasmuch.” They cite St. Paul rebuking Peter or the “correction” of Pope John XXII. But neither case involved teaching error. St. Paul rebuked St. Peter for his personal conduct, not his teaching. John XXII did not teach at all. He merely gave an opinion on an undefined (at this time) subject@. While the critics cite these cases to argue that Pope Francis can err, these cases can’t be used to justify the rejection of Pope Francis, who is intending to teach on faith and morals. 

If what they claim about this Pope was true, then we would effectively be conceding the claims of the Orthodox and Protestant denominations and merely disagreeing over when a Pope did teach errors. The problem is, if the Pope can teach errors, we have no way of proving when any Pope& has taught correctly. I say that the Pope taught rightly on X while you disagree. I say the Council of Chalcedon in 451 was right. Another might say that the Robber Synod of 449 was right. If we do not have a final visible authority who has the final say on what is and is not proper teaching*, we have nothing to confirm who teaches rightly or when? How can we profess to be a Church which the gates of hell will not prevail against (Matthew 16:18) if we consistently claim the gates of hell sometimes do prevail when we disagree?

If we insist on holding to our interpretation of a council while refusing obedience to the Popes and Councils we dislike, we do not act as Catholics, but as Eastern Orthodox. If we insist on holding to our interpretation of the Scripture, rejecting the authority of the magisterium under the headship of the Pope, we do not act as Catholics but as Protestants.

But this is what we have in this situation: a group who claims to be faithful Catholics but refuse obedience to the Church under the current visible head. This obedience is not ultramontanism or papolatry. It is the behavior that the faithful were expected to give to the Pope when he taught. This obedience was required when the Pope intended to teach. The concept that the Pope only had to be obeyed when he taught ex cathedra was consistently condemned. For example, Pius IX in his Syllabus of Errors condemned the proposition that:

22. The obligation by which Catholic teachers and authors are strictly bound is confined to those things only which are proposed to universal belief as dogmas of faith by the infallible judgment of the Church. — Letter to the Archbishop of Munich, “Tuas libenter,” Dec. 21, 1863.

Yet those Catholics who claim they are justified in rejecting Amoris Laetitia or Laudato Si are doing exactly what the Church condemns. Incredibly, some critics say Amoris Laetitia can be rejected because it is “only” an Apostolic Exhortation that differs from Familiaris Consortio. That traps these critics in a dilemma. If an Apostolic Exhortation is not binding, then Familiaris Consortio is not binding either. But if Familiaris Consortio was binding, then Amoris Laetitia is binding because, CCC #85 (see footnote * below) tells us that authentic interpretation comes from the magisterium in communion with the Pope.

While the critics argue that Laudato Si is an opinion and not binding, #15 specifically identifies the encyclical as “now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching”. Under canon 752 (see footnote #, below) the teaching of the Pope—even when not infallible—requires the religious submission of intellect and will. This canon references Lumen Gentium #25 which tells us:

This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

There is no way a Catholic can refuse obedience to the teaching of the Pope and still be considered faithful.

And this brings us back to the point I gave at the beginning. Some Catholics who profess to be the true believers by opposing the Pope have stopped believing one part of the faith. That part is the belief that the successors of Peter teach with the same authority and protection that Jesus Christ gave to the original rock on which He built a His Church (Matthew 16:18)^. The Catholic who forgets this belief can put faith in himself instead of the Church, believing that the Church can err but he cannot. But such a Catholic is not accurately professing the Faith because he forgot what to believe about the authority and protection by which a Pope teaches.


To understand the origin of the meme, see here:

(§) As always, I want to make clear I neither name nor presume the culpability of individuals. I leave it to God and their confessors to assess that. I merely write on the dangerous attitudes that I believe dangerous to the faithful while (per canon 752) giving religious submission of intellect and will to the Pope when he acts as Pope.

(#) The relevant canons:

can. 212 §1. Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church.
§2. The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.
§3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

can. 752 Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

can. 1373 A person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry or provokes subjects to disobey them is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties.

can. 1404 The First See is judged by no one.

(@) The modern equivalent of St. John XXII might be when Benedict XVI, in the book interview Light of the World, where he mentions “a male prostitute with AIDS” as an example of moving from a premoral outlook to starting to think about the consequences of actions. Many inside and outside the Church wrongly thought this was a teaching. The outcry against John XXII was based on people wrongly thinking he was teaching.

(&) Or, given the hostility towards Vatican II, any Council. If one won’t obey Vatican II, thinking it “errs,” such a one has nothing to say to another who claimed Trent was wrong.

(*) From the Catechism:

85 “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.” This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome. (888–892; 2032–2040)

(€) Lumen Gentium #25 references the same source cited by Pius IX.

(^) Some claim Christ is the rock, denying this verse gives any primacy to Peter, but in making this statement, He makes Himself the Builder.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Realm of the Bizarre

Once again we have a synod in progress and once again we have all sorts of claims about the evils it is supposed to promote. The problem is, when we look at the critics’ accuracy, they have been consistently wrong.

Do you remember, during the synod on the family, the critics were warning about the Church being prepared to allow divorce/remarriage, contraception#, and “same sex marriage”? None of them happened of course. Unfortunately, the accuracy rate of 0% does not stop the usual critics from continuing to accuse the Pope of promoting ”errors.”

These accusations don’t have any basis of fact behind them. They are based on the assumption that Pope Francis is a “heretic.” The critics use circular reasoning—using what has to be proven in the first place as a given—to interpret what he says and does. When the critics don’t understand or don’t agree with what the Pope says, they assume that he must mean it in a heretical way… because he’s “proven” to be a heretic. The result is a string of “proof” that have no basis—the critics simply cling to to their interpretations that presuppose the belief that he must be a heretic.

I find it ironic that these critics—who frequently claim that the Pope is trying to make the Pope Protestant—actually act like Luther or Calvin. When I say this people seem to miss the point. I’m not saying these critics hold to a Lutheran or Calvinistic theology. I’m saying that the critics are making the same errors that these two men made: Misstating the positions of the Pope, making it sound as if evils committed by some within the Church were officially sanctioned by the Pope, making gross errors about what was being taught and misrepresenting their error as if it was the only possible meaning. Even when they are refuted, the critics claim that the Pope is to blame because he “teaches in a confusing manner.” The problem is, it was the critics who claim to be the arbiters of error who did the misunderstanding. So how can we trust them to assess? I don’t just mean in misunderstanding Pope Francis. We also have to ask whether they have misunderstood the teachings they set in “opposition” to the Pope.

We must realize that we can’t set our favorite priest, bishop, or cardinal in opposition to the Pope when he acts as Pope. Canon 1404 points out that the Pope is judged by no one. If Father X or Cardinal Y should argue that the Pope is teaching error, we have to ask whether the Pope is acting as Pope. If he is teaching or acting as head of the Church, we must give religious submission of intellect and will (canon 752). That includes the members of the clergy who are cited in “justifying” disobedience. Remember, Luther was a priest. Donatus was a bishop. Photius and Michael Cerularius were patriarchs. They all rejected the authority of the Pope and wound up in schism. I’m not saying that the popularly cited current clergy are just waiting for to emulate these infamous characters. But I am saying that those who refuse to give submission to the Pope when he acts as Pope do wrong.

What I call “the realm of the bizarre” is the attitude of some Catholics that would have shocked and appalled those saints who fought against heresy and schism. They saw that—regardless of the personal behavior of a Pope—when a Pope taught, he was to be obeyed. Those “Super Catholics” who claim to be the true Catholics while rejecting the visible head of the Church are behaving like every other schismatic throughout history. They all claimed they were justified to reject the Pope. But they wound up outside of it.

We must be cautious lest we wind up the same.


(#) People have been predicting this since the invention of the Pill. 

(†) Many critics try to treat Laudato Si as an opinion when the Pope expressly said in his encyclical that this was teaching.

(∞) When the Pope is simply giving a Press Conference, interview, or a homily, that’s not teaching. Catholics used to know this. But since Benedict XVI’s Light of the World interview, they seem to have forgotten the distinction.

(¶) I won’t accuse specific individuals here. Just as the critics misreport on the Pope, it’s entirely possible that those popularly quoted clergy are also taken out of context. If any of them should (God Forbid) reject the Pope, I leave it to him to take action. But until that happens, I won’t accuse them.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Reflection on the Making of Schism

In fire safety classes, we’re told about the four1 conditions necessary for a fire to start: Fuel, Heat, Oxygen, and Flashpoint or Ignition. They call it a fire tetrahedron. Without all four conditions, you don’t have a fire. I bring this up because, as I study ecclesial history and the writings of those who wound up separated from the Catholic Church, I’ve noticed that the schismatic movements have similar things in common that brought them about, regardless of what era they took place in. Like a fire, there needs to be four conditions to set a a schism rolling. Using the tetrahedron as an analogy, these things seem to be*:

  • (Fuel) Some sort of real or perceived scandal that angers a large percentage of the Catholic population in the region where the schism occurs.
  • (Heat) Some sort of demagogue or symbolic figure who is at odds with the Church on one or more issues.
  • (Oxygen) A misrepresentation or misunderstanding of what the Catholic Church teaches.
  • (Combustion or Flashpoint) A point that causes the break in trusting the Church.
Let’s look at each of these:

(Fuel) A Real or Perceived Scandal

The Church, which Our Lord entrusted to sinful human beings, will always have scandals that anger the faithful. Some of these are real scandals. Others are things perceived to be scandals, but are not. The difference between the two is, with a real scandal, the Church needs to clean it up—justly—the sooner the better. The perceived scandal is when the Church has done nothing wrong, but people in some part of the Church think she is to blame for something that has gone wrong. The tricky part is understanding the difference. The Church must discern the two, and deal with it appropriately.

A real scandal is something like the current clerical abuse scandal. It needs to be cleaned up. A perceived scandal is not a scandal, but some people wrongly attack the Church over it. Fr. Adrian Fortescue describes how Photius stirred up a schism in the 9th century by an admixture of condemning differing customs (points 1-2) and stating falsehoods about the disciplines of the Latin Rite which were never imposed on the East (points 3-5):

There are five points: 1. The Latins make the Bulgars fast on Saturday (so they do: that was then the universal custom in the Roman Patriarchate). 2. They eat butter, milk, and cheese during the first week of Lent (that is: we do not begin Lent till Ash Wednesday, whereas the Byzantines do on Quinquagesima Monday). 3. They despised married priests and thereby show themselves to be infected with Manich√¶an error. 4. They do not acknowledge Confirmation administered by a priest. 5. They have changed and corrupted the Creed by adding to it the Filioque. The doctrine that the Holy Ghost proceeds from God the Father and God the Son he described as “godless, atheistic, and blasphemous.” Photius then declares: “We, by the decree of our holy synod, have therefore condemned these forerunners of apostasy, these servants of Antichrist who deserve a thousand deaths, these liars and fighters against God … and we have solemnly excommunicated them.”

(Fortescue, Adrian. The Orthodox Eastern Church, p. 153)

While the Church must avoid laxity in scandals (the corruption scandals that were fuel for the Protestant Revolt were tragically neglected until they became one of the rallying points), she must also avoid scapegoating or surrendering acts of teaching and governance. If it turns out that the public outrage is directed at something that is not the fault of the Church (usually, this comes over a misperception over what the real problems are), the Church needs to oppose the mob.

(Heat) A Demagogue

Every schism has a leading figure people look to who is at odds with the Church and refuses to admit error when challenged. Some of these demagogues are heretics who obstinately reject what the Church teaches, claiming that she fell into error and until she follows the heresiarch, the Church will remain in error. Others accept the teachings of the Church but reject those who shepherd her, denying their authority or sacramental validity, giving authority to their preferred leaders instead. Patristic era heresies include the Arians and Nestorians. Patristic era schisms include the Novatians and Donatists. 

Both heretical and schismatic demagogues provide the heat to go along with the fuel of real and perceived scandal, and the oxygen of misinformation, raising the danger of schism. The more of the other conditions exist in the Church, the more influence the demagogue is likely to have. Luther probably wouldn’t have gotten far if resentments hadn’t made him seem like a potential cure. He wasn’t, but the fact that he was speaking against abuses led people to accept his claims that they existed because of “errors” in Church teaching.

Here we need to make a distinction between a demagogue and a legitimate reformer in the Church. The former eventually rejects the Church (whether by formal schism or simply refusing obedience) if the Church should say something they propose is wrong, and tries to lead others to follow their vision. The latter accepts and obeys the Church when she says a proposal is incompatible with the Church teaching and proposes reform while obedient in response.

(Oxygen) The Misinterpretation/Misrepresentation (or Rash Judgment/Outright Lies)

I should start by warning against taking an analogy too far. In the literal sense, Oxygen is something essential for life. In the sense of this analogy, it is only used as one of the things needed for a fire to exist.

The oxygen the fire of schism needs is misinformation# that leads people to think it is an unjust institution instead of the Body of Christ. When there is a movement aimed at undermining the teaching of the Church, it’s not enough for those who lead the movement to say, “this is what we believe.” They have to undermine the Church which tells the demagogue and his followers that their view is false. They don’t do this by saying “the Church teaches X this way, but we think X should be taught that way. You decide for yourself.” Instead, they tend to describe the Church teaching in the worst way possible, accusing the Church of holding errors because the Church doesn’t side with them. In the schisms that exist (Orthodox, Protestant, etc.), the Catholic teaching is misunderstood or misrepresented in such a way that makes us look diabolical while the Catholic reading their claims can only say “what in the hell are you talking about?”

One example is Martin Luther. It was not enough for him to say that he disagreed with the Catholic Church and thought our teaching on the Mass and the Sacrament of Penance was wrong. He had to misrepresent them as purely human institutions invented for corrupt purposes2—saying things the Catholic Church never believed, taking documents out of context to “prove” his point.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of nonsense of this type among Catholics too. When we see Catholics state that a Pope or Council intended to “make the Church Protestant” (actual Protestants I have talked to are puzzled by that claim, recognizing that our teachings and the Ordinary Form of the Mass are nothing like their beliefs and practices), it shows that misinformation is more widely believed than the actual teaching of the Church. Pope Francis is widely accused of “reversing” Church teaching and welcoming “pagan practices” when both claims are based on misinformation. 

One can see a lot of this online. I routinely encounter Catholics who tell me to “open my eyes” or say that I’m refusing to consider the “truth” of their position. The problem is, what these Catholics cite as “proof” is misinformation. What they describe is a distortion of the truth. I don’t know what percentage has read but misunderstood what the Pope has taught, what percentage has decided to misrepresent what they dislike, and what percentage is merely “the blind following the blind.” This is why I try to avoid assuming bad will on the part of those I encounter. But the accusations are false. There are a lot of these falsehoods out there, regardless of the motivation. They lead the people astray. Combined with the other aspects discussed, it can cause a dispute to become a conflagration.

(Combustion) Refusal to Believe that the Church teaches with God’s authority and protection

The above three points will always be found in different ways and times in the Church. We’ll always have to deal with scandal, with people at odds with the Church, and with Catholics believing falsehoods about the Church. But the fuel, heat, and oxygen are not enough to have a fire, although if all three are present, we are in grave risk of the fire of schism if the flashpoint is introduced to the mix. That flashpoint is the refusal to accept the Church under the visible head, the Pope, as teaching with the authority given by Christ and protected by error. They might try to argue that they support “the Papacy, but not this Pope” (as Hans Urs von Balthasar warned against3) but Pius XI reminds us:

22. Faith in the Church cannot stand pure and true without the support of faith in the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. The same moment when Peter, in the presence of all the Apostles and disciples, confesses his faith in Christ, Son of the Living God, the answer he received in reward for his faith and his confession was the word that built the Church, the only Church of Christ, on the rock of Peter (Matt. 16:18). Thus was sealed the connection between the faith in Christ, the Church and the Primacy. True and lawful authority is invariably a bond of unity, a source of strength, a guarantee against division and ruin, a pledge for the future: and this is verified in the deepest and sublimest sense, when that authority, as in the case of the Church, and the Church alone, is sealed by the promise and the guidance of the Holy Ghost and His irresistible support.

(Pius XI, Mit Brennender Sorge, #22)

We need to make a distinction here. Having a difficulty understanding how something the Church teaches fits in with what actions one sees or with what one thinks Scripture or Church documents say is not the problem if he strives to recognize where he got it wrong. It’s when we say “I’m not wrong, the Church is wrong,” refusing to trust the authority of the Church that comes from the Catholic Church being the Church established by Christ and protected by Him when the Church goes against what we think it should  do. If one reaches that point, they risk making a shipwreck of their faith.

We certainly have evidence of bad men becoming Popes in history yet, upon becoming Popes, suddenly refused to carry out the errors they were inclined to do before their election. Consider the case of Pope Vigilius who actually helped get his predecessor exiled and killed with the understanding that when he became Pope, he would return heretical bishops to their sees. But once he became Pope, the Liber Pontificalis tells us he stood up for the Church and would not carry out his task:

But Vigilius replied: “Far be this from me, Lady Augusta. I spoke beforetime wrongly and foolishly; now I do assuredly refuse to restore a man who is a heretic and under the anathema. Although unworthy, I am the vicar of blessed Peter, the apostle, as were my predecessors, the most holy Agapitus and Silverius, who condemned him.”

People trying to discredit Pope Francis by claiming a Pope can teach error should consider this case. In a real case of corruption with the intention to enable heretics, God appears to have prevented him from going ahead with his pre-papal plan, even though he was imprisoned for his refusal. If God should prevent this, isn’t it foolish to think that He would permit a Pope to teach errors?

What these critics don’t seem to consider is that while Popes can change discipline depending on the needs of the Church in a certain time (so a successor could change a discipline enacted by Pope Francis) the Church in communion with the Pope is protected from teaching error. If truth was sometimes found in Rome, sometimes in Constantinople, sometimes in Econe, we could never know for certain when THE CHURCH was teaching truly in any instance. If one would reject Pope Francis when he teaches, why not St. Pius V? If one would reject Vatican II, why not Trent, or even Nicea?

I call this part the flashpoint because of how it interacts with the other elements. This element views the scandals with hopelessness and treats the magisterium as an enemy instead of approaching scandals something to pray about. It looks at the demagogue and thinks “maybe he has a point in his attacks on the Church.” It assumes that the false information about the Church must be true. The person who loses sight of the fact that the Catholic Church, under the Pope as visible head, teaches with Christ’s authority and protection will be tempted to view whatever problems that exist in the Church as places where “the Church is wrong and I am right.”

The Fire of Schism

Each of these conditions are serious and the Church needs to work to eliminate them—the sooner the better. But the existence of up to any three of conditions will not cause a schism. There have always been scandals in the Church or people who wrongly believe that something they don’t understand is a scandal. There have always been demagogues at odds with the Church. There have always been misunderstanding and falsehoods about Church teaching. And there have always been people who lost faith in the Church. But it seems that schism is usually present only when all four conditions are present. The demagogue exploits real scandals or invents false ones. The faithful misunderstand or fall for misrepresentation about the Church. And, even though we have the obligation to trust and obey the Church, under the the headship of the Pope (see canon 752), some of the faithful, facing these problems decide they can’t trust the Church anymore until it becomes what they think the Church should be.

And then you get a schism. Schisms have happened throughout Church history. We need to prevent them and heal those that do start. Not because the Church will fail without those who leave (the Church survived previous schism, and will survive any future schism). But because Jesus doesn’t want us to be satisfied with the 99 sheep who didn’t stray. We need to bring back the 100th. Moreover, the efforts of the Church to go out to the whole world is hampered by the division as she must expend effort to bring back to the fold those who strayed.

Final Thoughts: Whither the Church today?

Since I’ve been speaking out against anti-Francis Catholics since 2013, and have on occasion expressed concern about schism, you may wonder how I view the state of the Church today under these categories. My opinion is we have three of the four conditions present: the fuel (scandal), the oxygen (falsehoods), and the flashpoint (a loss of belief in what the Church is). What I think we lack is a demagogue. Yes, there are people who refuse obedience to the Church, insisting the Church errs. But we don’t have an Arius or a Nestorius. We don’t have a Luther or a Calvin. We don’t even have a Lefebvre. We do havegrossly irresponsible websites that are run by disgruntled Catholics who might have the will, but their influence is small. We do have4 some highly placed Churchmen who might have the following and have (in my opinion) used rhetoric I think is imprudent to the point of recklessness, but these Churchmen don’t seem to will an all out conflict with the Pope (though some of their followers from the irresponsible websites seem willing to follow them if they would give the word, thinking it only a matter of time5).

If a schism should come from this quarter, I don’t think it would happen during the pontificate of Pope Francis (though I could be wrong). I think it would happen in the pontificate of his successor who upheld Pope Francis and moved forward on the same path. This would be the end of their false hope that the Church would “go back” to the way that they prefer. If they would not recognize their own error, they might be led to abandon the fiction of “just the Pope’s erroneous opinion,” “prudential judgment,” or the like, but instead of repenting, they risk outright denying that God protects His Church. And then they are in grave danger.

So, that being said, what should we do? First, I think we should look at ourselves. Are we in any danger of making a shipwreck of our faith? We might think not, but I suspect nobody ever joined a schism unless they harbored resentment and defiance that rose from these conditions. We should pray and study that we might understand and remain in full communion with the Church—which means giving religious submission of intellect and will to the Pope, even in the darkest of times. Second, I think we can’t be silent when misinformation, perceived scandals or demagogues shake the faithful. And third, we should pray for those who are struggling, that they might not become demagogues or fall into the traps. After that, we need to have faith in God to protect His Church, come what may.


[*] Assigning these categories to specific elements needed for fire is largely arbitrary. I could have just as easily applied “oxygen” (for example) to scandal as to misinformation. So please don’t draw more from these classifications than convenient illustrations.

[1] There used to be three. I remember in the Cub Scouts, they used an image of a tripod needing three sides to stand. Modern safety classes now include “ignition” as a fourth condition. It kills the analogy, but is more accurate. That’s why you see signs warning about fire danger in the summer: three out of four conditions are present, waiting only for the ignition.

[#] To clarify the interchangeable usage: The unintentional spread of misinformation can be classified as misunderstanding or misinterpretation. The deliberate spread of misinformation is misrepresentation. But whatever the intent, if what someone spreads is false, it’s misinformation.

[2] For one example, see (though I don’t recommend it) The Babylonian Captivity. I leave it to God to judge what Luther’s culpability might be, but whether from misunderstanding or misrepresentation, his charges were falsehoods, tragically still believed by anti-Catholics.

[3] from The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church:

“The papacy but not this pope” is a further step. Beginning with Gerson, Gallicanism attempted this step (with the best of intentions, theologically) by trying to differentiate between the sedes, which is indefectible, and the sedens, who is not. This approach was mistaken and impracticable from the outset, as de Maistre pointed out. Gasser, in his final address at Vatican I, emphasized that infallibility is not a prerogative of an abstract papacy but of the pope actually reigning.

[4] As usual, no names in these cases. I leave it to God to assess the culpability of individuals. I just try to point out dangers.

[5] This is why I am cautious about joining in on the attacks some defenders of the Pope make against these high ranking Churchmen. Since some supporters of the Pope misrepresent him to bolster their own ideology, it’s possible that these Churchmen’s supporters are doing the same. I might say on my blog Facebook page that I fear that Cardinal X’s words are dangerous, but I try to avoid violating the Golden Rule in doing so. 

That doesn’t mean I give a free pass to what they do say. I recall favoring one cardinal to become Pope in 2013 (I had never heard of Cardinal Bergoglio then), but the experience of the past six years leads me to believe he would not have been a good choice.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

You Can’t Claim Fidelity to the Church Without the Pope

It’s obvious by now that a perennial problem in the Church has taken root in an unexpected region. I’m not talking about the usual SSPX and sedevacantist critics who look at every Pope after Pius XII as heretical. Nor are these critics necessarily radical traditionalists. I’m talking about certain Catholicswho hitherto defended the authority of the Papacy but now have turned against it when the Pope insisted on those teachings which ran against their views on how the Church should teach. Because these latest dissentersestablished a reputation for orthodoxy in defending the Church against attacks from without, they lead the Catholics—who looked to them to explain “true” Catholicism—astray by accusing the Pope of errors or offering fallible opinions3.

In the process of rejecting the authority of a specific Pope while claiming to support the Papacy in general, they have invented a theology based on speculative writing of Church Fathers and Doctors. For example, St. Robert Bellarmine speculatedon whether a Pope could hypothetically be deposed if he hypothetically became a formal heretic. Some foes of the Pope have turned that speculation into a “doctrine” and scrutinized his actions to determine which one “proved” he was a manifest heretic. But his speculation (written in defending the authority of the Church under the Pope in the face of Protestant denial) was never adopted as a formal teaching by the Church. One might think of it as having no more authority than the books then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote on theology while he was head of the CDF.

But from that misused theory comes the arguments that the Pope can be deposed by a Council or by Cardinals. This is despite the fact that the Pope is judged by nobody (see canon 1404), that appealing to a Council against the Pope is an censurable offense (see canon 1372), and there is no historical precedent to justify such claims (Councils have declared antipopes deposed, which is a different matter entirely). Such claims do nothing but disrupt the faithful and encourages hotheads to hostility against the Pope (cf. canon 1373, that’s also a censurable offense).

Moreover, these accusations of heresy or of being mistaken depends on the interpretation of the accuser, when the accuser has no authority to make the accusations. The accuser treats what he thinks documents mean in the same way that a Biblical Literalist treats the Bible: they point to words, never realizing that whether the words can be meant in a different context than the so-called “plain sense” they claim to see. The dissenters argue that the Pope is to blame, because otherwise “people” wouldn’t keep misunderstanding him. The problem is, the people doing the misinterpretation are the usual suspects—people who are antagonistic to the Pope or the people who want the Church to change her teachings. Given they have consistently been wrong in their accusations, faithful Catholics need to start asking at what point do we recognize that they’re no longer defending the faith but are merely blind guides. And we know what Our Lord said about following blind guides (Matthew 15:14).

When faced with the insistence that when the Pope teaches—even in the ordinary magisterium—we are bound to obey, these dissenters accuse us of “papolatry” or “ultramontanism.” They claim that we have invented an excessive obedience that was never taught by the Church, and claim they can be faithful even when “disagreeing” (which means “rejecting”) what the current Pope teaches. But that is false. Pope Leo the Great makes clear that separation from solidarity with Peter is to separate from the Church:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, desired to have the observance of divine religion shine out through God’s grace unto all nations and races. He established it in such a way that truth, previously contained only in proclamations of the Law and the Prophets, might proceed from the Apostles’ trumpet for the salvation of all, as it is written: ‘Their sound has gone forth unto all the earth: and their words unto the ends of the world.’ Now, the Lord desired that the dispensing of this gift should be shared as a task by all the Apostles, but in such a way that He put the principal charge on the most blessed Peter, the highest of all the Apostles. He wanted His gifts to flow into the entire body from Peter himself, as it were from the head. Thus, a man who had dared to separate himself from the solidity of Peter would realize that he no longer shared in the divine mystery. The Lord wanted Peter, taken into a companionship of inseparable unity, to be named from what he really was [the rock], saying: ‘Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church’; so that the building of the eternal temple, by a marvelous gift of God’s grace, might stand on the solidity of Peter. 

(St. Leo I. Letter 10, To the bishops presiding in Vienne. [c. AD 445])

Almost 1500 years later, another Pope (Pius XI) would point out something similar:

22. Faith in the Church cannot stand pure and true without the support of faith in the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. The same moment when Peter, in the presence of all the Apostles and disciples, confesses his faith in Christ, Son of the Living God, the answer he received in reward for his faith and his confession was the word that built the Church, the only Church of Christ, on the rock of Peter (Matt. 16:18). Thus was sealed the connection between the faith in Christ, the Church and the Primacy. True and lawful authority is invariably a bond of unity, a source of strength, a guarantee against division and ruin, a pledge for the future: and this is verified in the deepest and sublimest sense, when that authority, as in the case of the Church, and the Church alone, is sealed by the promise and the guidance of the Holy Ghost and His irresistible support.

(Pius XI, Mit Brennender Sorge, #22)

In other words, if one wants to claim fidelity to the Catholic Church, the first fruit to know them by (cf. Matthew 7:16-20) is whether they show fidelity to the Pope. Indeed Fulton J. Sheen would make the same point in Treasure in Clay:

Another year when granted an audience, I seated myself in an outer room very near the Holy Father’s private office. During a wait of about fifteen minutes, I made a quick re-view of my life, asking: “Have I really served the Church as well as I should? Have I used the many talents the Lord has given me? Have I cast fire upon the earth as the Lord asked His bishops to do?” I finally came to a negative conclusion. I had done little. At that moment the door was opened; I was ushered before His Holiness. I said: “Your Holiness, I have just discovered how easy Judgment is going to be.” “Oh,” he said, “tell me, I would like to know.” “While I was waiting to come into your presence I had come to the conclusion that I had not loved the Church as much as I should. Now that I come before Your Holiness, I see the Church personalized. When I make my obeisance to you, I make it to the Body and to the invisible Head, Christ. Now I see how much I love the Church in Your Holiness, its visible expression.” He said: “Yes, Judgment is going to be that easy for those who try to serve the Lord.”

I could have cited many more. But the fact is that the past Popes did not see this as a new teaching or an error. They saw this as part of the Church beliefs.

Sometimes Catholics object to something that is really a problem with how the media misreports his words, treating it as if the misrepresentation is his intended meaning. When debunked, they say that the Pope speaks “unclearly.” Then they lament that this has never been a problem before. But it has. The problem of the unethical misrepresenting of a Pope’s words goes way back. For example, St. Leo, in a letter (letter 131) written to Bishop Julian in AD 454, said: 

They [the Eutychians] are said to have corrupted the letter I sent to Flavian of blessed memory by an erroneous translation and then passed it around to certain simple-minded or untrained persons; the result is that certain passages seem to agree with the heresy of Nestorius. 

Like today, the correct reports received much less attention and circulation than the false reports5. Or, I could cite St. John Chrysostom (On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, Homily 9.8):

Men must believe what they hear only after they have first made an exact search and considered well the proof in the light of the facts. And this is why God said in another Scriptural passage: “Believe not every word.” For nothing is so destructive of men’s lives as for a person to give quick credence to whatever people say.

But the critics who rush to repeat every false accusations against the Pope are guilty of exactly that.

There’s the issue of Catholics accusing the Pope of talking about issues “not related” to Church teaching. But these seem to really be issues that certain Catholics don’t want the Pope to discuss since they’re in opposition to him. Much is made about Laudato Si being an innovation, something that Pope Francis shouldn’t have written. But he’s not inventing anything new. He’s taking the words of past Popes. For example, St. John Paul II, audience, 4/23/86:

Man is called to “subdue the earth.” But note well—to “subdue” it, not to devastate it, because creation is a gift of God and, as such, it must be respected.

Pope Francis merely removed any excuse for self-deception by making clear this was a teaching and not an opinion 

It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face.

(Laudato Si, #15. Emphasis added)

Yet, instead of giving the religious submission required (canon 752), Catholics argue it can effectively be rejected as a “prudential judgment,” even though the term really applies to how to best obey, not whether to obey.

Then there’s the matter of accusations that don’t involve Papal authority at all. When a Pope gives a homily, makes a speech, gives an interview, expresses an opinion, writes a letter, or acts as the civil ruler of Vatican City, these are not teachings that bind the faithful and they are not useable as proof of teaching error. For example, Benedict XVI, in a book length interview, gave an example of a “gay prostitute with AIDS” using a condom as an example of moving a person from a pre-moral state to thinking about morality in some way. Unfortunately, some people thought he was “changing Church teaching” on homosexual acts and condom use. 

Or I could mention attempts to argue that when a person who a Pope spoke favorably about later turned out to have a scandal, it’s proof of the wrongdoing by the Pope.

Certain critics would argue that, because Pope Francis spoke favorably about someone (in a limited context) who later was revealed to have a problem, it’s “proof” he’s a heretic or involved in a coverup. But under that argument, they would also have to admit that Leo the Great, who wrote a letter(#20) to Eutyches—who would establish the Monophysite heresy—praising his opposition to Nestorianism. So, if one wants to condemn Pope Francis for praising a member of the Church when it was later discovered the person had a skeleton in his closet, one must condemn Leo the Great as well7Mistakes do happen without malice, and people can fail to report crucial things to the Popes (through accident or sin of omission). But these things are not proofs of heresy or moral laxity on the part of the Pope.

What about matters of discipline? Things long practiced can be changed by the magisterium. This is not a theological opinion. It is in the Catechism (#83):

83 The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus’ teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition. (1202, 2041; 2684)

Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical, or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church’s magisterium.

People who have grown attached to certain practices might resent the change or abolition of them. But they are wrong to to accuse the Pope who changes them of heresy.

Take the current anger over the whether the Church should ordain married men in limited circumstances. Certain Catholics act as if the Pope is heretical for even considering it. But, if we read the letters of Leo the Great, we see that there were married priests during his pontificate (AD 440-461), and it was not a scandal. Of course, the discipline at this time also held that priests were expected to live in continence, it had to be a first marriage for the man ordained a priest, and his wife could not have been previously married either (not even a widow). But it shows that the Church can make a change in discipline if seen as necessary, as she did by later deciding to only ordain those who would live celibate lives. If the magisterium determines that conditions warrant it, the Pope or his successor could choose to reinstate celibacy or even adopt the practice of the Eastern rites. 

Perhaps one might try to argue the widespread rejection of Church teaching as “proof” of the leadership in Church teaching being defective. The assumption is that if the Church only spoke out “more firmly ” against an error, there would be no rejection and therefore the Pope is to blame. Such critics should consider the words of Pius XI in Casti Conubii, #110:

110. Even the very best instruction given by the Church, however, will not alone suffice to bring about once more conformity of marriage to the law of God; something more is needed in addition to the education of the mind, namely a steadfast determination of the will, on the part of husband and wife, to observe the sacred laws of God and of nature in regard to marriage. In fine, in spite of what others may wish to assert and spread abroad by word of mouth or in writing, let husband and wife resolve: to stand fast to the commandments of God in all things that matrimony demands; always to render to each other the assistance of mutual love; to preserve the honor of chastity; not to lay profane hands on the stable nature of the bond; to use the rights given them by marriage in a way that will be always Christian and sacred, more especially in the first years of wedlock, so that should there be need of continency afterwards, custom will have made it easier for each to preserve it.

In other words, if Catholics refuse to hear the Church, merely becoming vehement about the teaching will be of no avail. But, contrary to the claims of the anti-Francis critics, Amoris Laetitia sets forth a plan along these lines to help married couples understand and live according to God’s commandments.

At this point, the dissenters are left with nothing except pointing to some of the bad Popes in history, arguing that their evils could not be condoned. Therefore we have to speak out against this Pope. That’s a fallacy of false analogy

First, the cases of morally bad Popes along the line of John XII do not apply. Thus far, even the most vile accusations against the Pope have not reached that level yet. Second, among those accused of being doctrinally bad Popes, none of them publicly taught error. Liberius and Honorius I were suspected of privately holding error but it can’t be proven8. In the case of a John XXII, he offered a private view in a homily on a subject that was under dispute and not even defined until after his death. He wasn’t “corrected.” He was convinced that the opposing opinion (which would later be defined as the true view) was superior. Critics should remember if they want to use John XXII as an argument, they must also condemn St. Thomas Aquinas because he (before it was defined in 1854) denied the Immaculate Conception. Remember, it was an unsettled matter (unlike Berengarius who rejected the consistent Church teaching on the Eucharist, leading to a formal definition in AD 1215).

The fact is, whenever a Pope has received a challenge along the lines of St. Paul in Galatia, it involves the personal behavior, not diverting a Pope from error. For example, the embarrassing case of John XIX.

The Emperor Basil II (the Bulgar-slayer, 963–1025) sent Pope John XIX (1024–1033) a sum of money in 1024 to persuade him at last to acknowledge the title “Ňícumenical Patriarch.” John took the money, and seems to have been ready to do so. But a wave of indignation over the West (the title had so long been the watchword of the anti-Latin party in the East) and a stern letter from Abbot William of Dijon made him change his mind.

(Fortescue, Adrian, The Orthodox Eastern Church, p. 167)

If accurately reported, it is a shameful case of corruption that could have stirred up additional problems with the Eastern Church as it struggled between the Photian schism and the schism of 1054. But it wouldn’t have been a case of heresy if John XIX had not changed his mind. The title of the Patriarch of Constantinople is not a doctrine, after all. It would have simply been another embarrassing story during the nadir of the Popes (AD 872-1046). But remember. Even in these worst of times, the Church never taught error under the worst of the Popes. And Pope Francis is not among the worst of Popes, morally or doctrinally. 

Every charge is based on the animosity certain Catholics have for the Pope, made to sound serious but not having any substance when studied. Ultimately, what we have with the arguments of these dissenting Catholics is a loss of faith in the promise of God to protect His Church and a forgetfulness that individuals who would judge the Pope can and do err. Whatever good they have done for the Church previously, at the present they are leading people astray. Until they come to their senses, it would be foolish to follow them on the basis of their past service.


[1] We should be clear on something: the Church makes a distinction between those rejecting authority from within the Church and those who were never Catholics to begin with. Catholics who reject the Pope are guilty of committing schism. Those who were never Catholics (e.g. Eastern Orthodox, Protestants) are not. Those in the first group disrupt unity in the Church. Those born into the second were never aware of the obligation to unity to begin with, believing that their denomination was right in rejecting the Catholic Church.

[2] You may notice that I don’t like naming living individuals in my article. That’s because I think it’s more important to point out the dangerous attitudes than to accuse specific people of holding them. If I point out the dangerous attitude, the reader might recognize it and seek to avoid it. But if I accuse X of holding it, the reaction will probably be a fight between “how dare you accuse X?” vs. “I never liked X to begin with!” That doesn’t help anybody.

[3] It’s remarkably like reading Calvin or Luther attack the Church, taking prior Church teachings and the words and actions of the current Pope out of context and interpreted in the worst possible light. These two also claimed to be defending the “true” Church from error.

[4) It should be noted, he listed a few different options. One, which he called easily defended, was that the Pope cannot be a manifest heretic. The popular one, mentioned in this article, is misrepresented by those who misunderstood his term “true opinion.” A “true opinion” is not synonymous with “proven fact.” It means an opinion formed on the basis of reasoning, not “because I said so!” There’s a good and reasonably priced translation of his On the Roman Pontiff on Kindle if you don’t want to take my word for it.

But even considering his arguments, there’s another consideration that indicates that Bellarmine’s theory doesn’t work as the modern critics claim. (Because the authenticity of the account is disputed, I left this for the end of the footnote). One might bring up the case of Pope Marcellinus (reigned AD 296-304) who—according to the Liber Pontificalis:

At that time was a great persecution, so that within 30 days 17,000 Christians of both sexes in divers provinces were crowned with martyrdom.

For this reason Marcellinus himself was haled to sacrifice, that he might offer incense, and he did it.

And after a few days, inspired by penitence, he was beheaded by the same Diocletian and crowned with martyrdom for the faith of Christ in company with Claudius and Cyrinus and Antoninus

It should be noted that the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia considers this account to be based on a fraudulent document. If it was true, it would be a point against those citing St. Robert Bellarmine, because the Church didn’t think it could judge him.

[5] I find that, when a mainstream media report on something that the Pope says makes us go “WTF???”, we would be wise to find the full text of his address. Ten times out of ten, it’s misreporting.

[6] Text of letter #20:

Bishop Leo, to his dearly beloved son, Eutyches the priest [June 1, 448].

Your Charity’s letter has brought to our attention the fact that, through the efforts of certain persons, there has been a revival of the Nestorian heresy. We reply that your concern in this matter has pleased us, for the letter we received is an indication of your attitude: it shows that there is no doubt in your mind that the Lord, the Author of true faith, will be with you in everything. When we have been able to learn more fully through whose perversity this is happening, we must with God’s help see to it that the heinous poison, and one condemned long ago, is completely eliminated. May God keep you safe, dearly beloved son.

Issued on the first of June in the consulship of the most illustrious Posthumianus and Zeno.

[7] Six months later (December, 448), Eutyches would write to St. Leo I, trying to justify his error. The Pope rejected his arguments. Two months after that (February, 449), St. Leo I wrote to Flavian, asking why he wasn’t previously informed about Eutyches’ error. Judging by the letters, St. Leo seemed just as appalled and embarrassed by this omission as Pope Francis would be over 1500 years later about the Barrios case. But neither case involved supporting error or wrongdoing.

[8] Pope Leo II refused to confirm the decree of the Sixth Ecumenical Council condemning Honorius. So it cannot be said to be an infallible condemnation. The condemnation appears to be more of a dispute based on the growing alienation between East and West. Some reports indicate that the charges against Liberius also stem from that alienation.