Rorate Caeli

Closing Remarks in My Debate with Dr. John Lamont - by José A. Ureta

Closing Remarks in My Debate with Dr. John Lamont
José A. Ureta

Much of what Dr. John Lamont includes in his response[1] to my previous replies[2] repeats what has already been seen. Thus, I will limit myself to some brief remarks.

1. For Dr. Lamont, the fact that bishops have a power of ordinary jurisdiction is incompatible with the fact that this power was granted to them directly by the pope. As he sees it, if bishops were to receive their jurisdiction from the pope it would turn them into papal delegates. Grounded in this perspective of supposed incompatibility, Dr. Lamont then attributes to the defenders of the traditional theological position (from St. Thomas Aquinas to pre-conciliar theologians) a position they do not hold, namely, that bishops do not enjoy an ordinary power of jurisdiction and are mere delegates of the pope. He calls this mischaracterization of traditional thought “the strong view of papal jurisdiction.” To build up this misrepresentation, he reinterprets what defenders of the traditional position state and he also forces a translation. But he does this in good faith, declaring it candidly.

For example, Palmieri maintains that the fullness of power belongs to the Roman Pontiff in the sense that the pope can, by his ordinary legal authority, carry out everything useful and necessary for the Church and the faithful “even though there are subordinate powers that, together with him and under him, exercise an authority that does not derive from him” (because it comes mediately from God). It could not be clearer. However, since Palmieri’s real opinion does not fit into Dr. Lamont’s “strong view” misrepresentation, Dr. Lamont stretches his thinking by claiming that, with this phrase, Palmieri is actually saying that the pope possesses at least this degree of power. However, the supposedly missing remainder of papal power cannot be found in Palmieri's writings.

Another example is the forced translation of the article from the Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, where Dr. Lamont translated “plénitude de pouvoir ecclésiastique” as “the whole of ecclesiastical power” instead of “the fulness of ecclesiastical power” or “the plenitude of ecclesiastical power.” He defends the mistranslation candidly, affirming that he used “the whole” because that term “is applied to the understanding of papal jurisdiction held by theologians who espouse the strong view of papal power.” In other words, since Dr. Lamont thinks that traditional doctrine corresponds to his misrepresentation of it, he adapts the translation to correspond to the idea he has in his mind, even if it cannot be found in the text. He sees E. Valton, the author of the Dictionnaire article in question, as “somewhat disingenuous.”

Francisco de Vitoria did not fare much better. He states that the apostles received their power of jurisdiction directly from Our Lord Jesus Christ and not from Saint Peter. However, Vitoria does not say that this continued to be the practice in the Church so that bishops today also receive their jurisdiction directly from God. (According to Vitoria, in the early Church, new bishops received jurisdiction from their predecessor.)

In my second reply, I quoted a passage from Cardinal Journet where he states, “It was by a special favor, as we have seen, that Christ Himself bestowed on the apostles a jurisdictional power which, normally, was to reach them through Peter as intermediary.” That is why “as time went on, the jurisdictional power would devolve differently on the pope and on the other bishops. On the pope it is bestowed immediately by Christ as soon as he is validly elected. To the bishops it is given mediately, through the pope.” Dr. Lamont does not refute Cardinal Journet. He doubles down by drawing from Vitoria's thoughts a consequence that Vitoria himself never drew.

2. Dr. Lamont attributes to the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium a degree of magisterial authority it lacks. Based solely on the presence of the adjective dogmatic in the conciliar document’s title, Dr. Lamont states that “the clear teaching of a dogmatic constitution of an ecumenical council concerning a matter of faith and morals is to be accepted by Catholics as final and binding.” Consequently, the doctrinal novelties of Lumen gentium would be, for him, irreformable teaching to which a final and binding assent of faith must be given. The paradox is that, in this case, we would be faced with a conciliar document that is rendered infallible against the express intent of its drafters and signatories, as well as the pope who confirmed it. As has been amply demonstrated, the Council Fathers and Paul VI decided not to exercise the charism of infallibility during the Second Vatican Council. In France, the poor Alsatians who were forcibly integrated into the German Army are known as the “malgré nous” [“despite ourselves”]. Similarly, if Dr. Lamont’s casting of Lumen gentium were correct, then this Council document would be magisterial dogma “malgré lui” [despite itself].

3. I am pleased to note that Dr. Lamont did not address Cardinal Journet's texts on the difference between the supernatural origin of the power of order and the power of jurisdiction. It would seem that, through this silence, Dr. Lamont has implicitly abandoned his thesis that ordinary jurisdiction is a gratia gratis data that can be granted only by God.

4. Dr. Lamont added something in his rejoinder that needs to be addressed: “The distinction between a valid act and a licit act makes sense when applied to exercises of the power of order. For example, a sacrament such as the Eucharist can be celebrated licitly but not validly. The distinction does not however apply to exercises of the power of jurisdiction. The power of jurisdiction just is a power to give legally binding orders or permissions. Its object is the law and what is governed by the law. The distinction between valid acts and licit acts thus has no application when it comes to exercise of the power of jurisdiction. If the exercise of such a power is valid, then it is licit” (my emphasis).

From the perspective of Canon Law this is incorrect. In the 1983 Code, canons 124–128 indicate the conditions for the validity and licitness (or lawfulness) of every juridical act (including jurisdictional acts). They rest on four principles:

Validity: the quality of the act that complies with the essential requirements that the legal system demands for its validity;

Nullity: of the act that does not meet these essential requirements;

Licitness: quality of the act that complies with all legal requirements and not just the essential ones;

Illicitness: an act that meets only some of the legal requirements.

Consequently, every lawful act is valid, but not every valid act is licit. If an act is illicit (unlawful), this does not necessarily mean it is invalid. It may be valid, even if triggering a sanction or a need for compensation.

From a canonical point of view, the principle that “If the exercise of such a power is valid, then it is licit” is positivism and leads to arbitrariness. From the perspective of moral theology, this principle is an aberration because the common good requires that a general law or a particular precept be just, morally good, possible, necessary or at least useful for achieving the common good. A law or precept that does not possess these qualities has no legal force.

I want to believe that Dr. Lamont was distracted when including this principle in his reply. As the old saying goes, “Quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus.”

By way of conclusion, I adapt Dr. Lamont’s good-natured invitation and append to it Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira’s lifelong counsel to TFP members: the reader is best advised to compare both my arguments and Dr. Lamont’s as to what the Church has always taught, then accept, love, and defend only those points that fully correspond to that traditional teaching.


[1] John Lamont, "In Defense of the Moderate Position on Papal Jurisdiction: A Reply to José Ureta,", Mar. 15, 2024,

[2] José A. Ureta, "‘On the Papal Deposition of Bishops’: A First Reply to John Lamont’s Study,”, Feb. 16, 2024,, and, "‘On the Papal Deposition of Bishops’—Second Reply to Dr. Lamont’s Study,”, Mar. 14, 2024,