Rorate Caeli

The Article of the Week

Gesù, Rome
There are texts whose relevance at times is highlighted more by the violent reactions to them than by their very contents. When a simple, direct, apparently harmless article makes the unofficial American spokesman for Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, NCReporter's Michael Sean Winters, freak out, then you know it must be good.

First, let us take a look at the spokesman freaking out at NCReporter earlier today:

This morning, I see an article at The Catholic Thing by Jesuit Fr. James Schall on what I assume he considers the timely topic of "Heretical Popes." This is irresponsible and inflammatory. I hope every bishop in the U.S. will read it and recognize the danger Schall represents and recognize, too, that the only response to this danger is to seek even harder to embrace Pope Francis and his effort to renew the Church.

How quaintly and adorably and unexpectedly Ultramontane as the spokesman marks Fr. Schall with the scarlet letter!

OK, now let us take a look at the article, which proves that God will certainly save the modern Society of Jesus from destruction one day because, through Abraham's prayers, he has found some just men in that city, and one of those is Fr. James V. Schall. It is not dangerous, nor irresponsible, much less inflammatory, it is harmless and loving and thoughtful, and utterly theoretical, from the extremely tranquil and peaceful "The Catholic Thing". 

But the spokesman's explosive reaction must mean it has some gold nuggets in it:

By James V. Schall S.J.

[Concluding excerpts:]

Some writers hold that a pope cannot be a heretic. I had a professor of theology who held that, if a pope was about to sign an heretical document, he would be dead the next morning. Others maintain that if a heretic is elected to the papacy, he will automatically convert on accepting the Office of Peter.

The technical issue of an heretical pope goes back to Reformation discussions, led by the Jesuits, Robert Bellarmine and Francisco Suarez, among others. Jacques Maritain, Yves Simon, and John Courtney Murray brought up the issue in discussing the difference between political and ecclesiastical authority. We read in Romans that the authority of an emperor, as that of a pope, comes from God, but in differing ways.
John Locke’s opposition to the divine right of kings was an aspect of this issue. The divine right of kings was not a medieval doctrine, though it did go back to oriental despotism, to the divinization of Alexander the Great and the Roman emperors. Authority came directly to the king, not through the people, as the Aristotelian mind had it. Divine right was designed to protect the king from assassination by elevating him to a divine status.

Bellarmine and Suarez considered a de facto possibility of an heretical pope. They granted that the Church would have to depose him if he did not self-declare his heresy. They differed on the exact procedure that would be required. Basically, electors would de-designate the man chosen pope. But as such, they had no authority over the papal power itself, which is from God.

In recent discussions of an heretical pope, the term sedevacante shows up. It means that, if a pope is heretical, his chair is automatically vacant by divine law. Some hold that anyone can so pronounce this vacancy, which would logically make every man his own pope. Bellarmine and Suarez thought the Church, in the persons of a General Council or the assembled Cardinals would have to declare the pope a heretic and depose him. They differed a bit on the exact procedure.

Several writers imply that suddenly the institution, which seemed so solid over the centuries, appears shaky in its own order. “If the Church succumbs to modernity, will it still be a Church?” they wonder. The main issues, in the case of Francis, revolve around the indissolubility of marriage, the nature of the papacy itself, and the approval of gay life as normal. The first is a question of reason and revelation – Moses allowed divorce, Christ did not; the second of revelation; and the third, homosexuality, of reason.

Issues such as the pope’s understanding of the economy or his reading of Islam as solely a religion of peace can be disputed. They are not so close to doctrinal issues. Though they seem to diverge at times, doctrine and compassion do not exclude each other.

Heretical popes? The essence of Catholicism is that there be none. It is also its essence that, if necessary, the issue be faced squarely and judged fairly.