View Full Version : Can a Heretic be Pope?

Thursday, November 4th, 2004, 10:34 AM
Holywar.org claims that:

What is Heresy?

"Heresy consists in a stubborn denial of truths which have been defined an proposed by the Church as divinely revealed doctrines." (Canon 1324-1325 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law).

What must we believe?

"By the divine and Catholic Faith, all those things must be believed which are contained in the written Word of God and in tradition, and those which are proposed by the Church, either in a solemn pronouncement or in her ordinary and universal magisterium, to be believed as divinely revealed." (Vatican Council I, Denzinger 1792)

Who does not believe all those things taught by the Magisterium of the Church?

"Any baptized person who … obstinately denies or doubts any of the truths proposed for belief by divine and Catholic faith, is a heretic." (C. 1325)

Can a heretic be a valid Pope of the Roman Catholic Church?

No. The Papal Bull Cum ex apostolatus officio of Pope Paul IV teaches that: if anyone was a heretic before the Papal election, he could not be a valid pope, even if he is elected unanimously by the Cardinals. Canon 188.4 (1917 Code of Canon Law) teachers that : if a cleric (pope, bishop, etc.) becomes a heretic, he loses his office without any declaration by operation of law. St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Antonius, St. Francis deSales, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and many other tehologians all teach that a heretic cannot be a pope: "If however, God were to permit a pope to become a notoriously and contumacious heretic he would by such fact cease to be pope, and the apostolic chair would be vacant." -- St. Alphonsus Liguori, Church Doctor: Verita bella Fede. Pt. iii, Ch.viii, 9-10.

[Source (http://www.holywar.org/101heres.htm)]
That would mean that

there have been no popes since the the late 50s or early 60s?
that, consequently, since then no valid cardinals have been appointed?
which will make all future elections of popes invalid as these votes are carried already predominantly by cardinals that have not been appointed with authority?
that the Catholic Church ruled itself out of existence?

Thursday, November 4th, 2004, 11:12 AM
Those who claim that there is currently no valid Pope are called Sedevacantists. It is the most extreme position within Traditional Catholicism and is by no means accepted by all Traditionalists.
For instance, the SSPX reject the Sedevacantist thesis as do the Feenyites such as the St Benedicts Centre.
According to them, the idea of a Pope automatically being removed from office by his heresy was only a belief held by certain theologians and was not dogma. They point to claims that the Pope must be publicly declared a heretic and refuse to recant his positions. In support, they mention statements by people such as Pope Adrian who said that we certainly have had heretical Popes in the past, but didn't mention anything about them not being the Pope due to it. Similarly, St Athanasius and St Cyprian both labelled the Popes of their time as heretics and heathens, yet never did they claim that they had lost their office due to this.
Non-Sedevacantist groups instead claim that we should obey heretical prelates in all that is lawful (that is what is in keeping with the eternal teaching of the Church) but we have a duty to resist those things which are unlawful. Even in the New Testament, we see that St Peter (first Pope) falls into error by trying to apply the laws of the Old Testament to Christianity.
St Paul condemns him "to his face" for falling back into old Jewish habits.
St Peter recants and accepts his mistake.
At no time though, did St Paul claim that St Peter had lost his position has leader of the Apostles through his temporary error.

In fairness, the Sedevacantists do trace legitimate Apostolic succession through validly ordained Archbishops, etc

I will try to find more on both Sedevacantist and non-Sedevacantist positions later

Thursday, November 4th, 2004, 11:21 AM

Whys and Wherefores

In the December 2000 – January 20001 issue of the periodical, Catholic, there appears a centre-page spread over which hovers the banner headline, "Finishing with Sedevacantism." Consisting of two articles and an editorial column, this spread evidently is intended to close off any discussion of the “pope” question by readers of Catholic. The editorial column is an abridged version of the journal's main editorial, so that the subject is dealt with in four separate places. There is a reason for this. What that reason might be is not at all apparent, however. The editorial contains what amounts to an admission that the case against “sedevacantism” is not likely to convince “sedevacantists”, followed by, "at least all will know where we personally stand, and all possible misunderstandings about this will be swept away." What misunderstandings have there been?

Having asked one of the Redemptorists (whose congregation publishes Catholic) what the reason was for this wholesale attack on “sedevacantists” and “sedevacantism” (for that is what it is, as will be seen), I was met with the response that he was unaware that the issue had been raised in that journal. He certainly did not think that anybody misunderstood the position taken by the Redemptorists and by Catholic. Furthermore, in an earlier issue of the journal the editorial had explained that the traditional Redemptorists (the Transalpine Redemptorists) are subject to the bishops of the SSPX, and do not take any major decisions without consulting them. It has always been abundantly clear that any traditional group affiliated with the SSPX is in professed communion with John Paul II. It goes without saying.

Why the Redemptorists felt that anybody misunderstood their position is therefore unknown, if indeed that is the reason for this “anti-sedevacantist smorgasbord.” But now that this material has been inflicted on the public, there is clearly a whole raft of new misunderstandings possible. For example, the editorial pretends to establish a moral obligation on Catholics to reject "the opinions of the sedevacantists." The case for this obligation is based on the principle that one may not act with a doubtful conscience. Which, for the Transalpine Redemptorists, is fine. If they are in doubt about the theology and law involved, then they ought not to join us. When has any “sedevacantist” asserted that those who doubt the principles involved in this question ought to act as though they were certain? Never.

But that is not all, as shall be seen shortly. But before embarking on an examination of just what these misunderstandings are, a word about this unseemly propensity for “non-sedevacantists” to launch broadsides at those of us who have formed the view that John Paul II is not the Vicar of Christ.

What will convince people of the truth, either way, is fact, law, theology, reason. It is what convinced many to leave the Novus Ordo, and it is what convinces people that John Paul II is not the Vicar of Christ. Broadsheet propaganda is not going to serve the purpose.

The question for the various “anti-sedevacantists” out there is therefore simple: Do you have Catholic authorities which show why our arguments are wrong? If not, then considering the overwhelming amount of evidence we have assembled in favour of our view, we are right.

The Editorial

Returning to the idea of doubt, the clear implication of the editorial is that good Catholics in general are obliged to avoid “sedevacantism,” for the reason that it is a doubtful position. That is, that all ought to doubt it, because of the reasoning presented in Catholic. That reasoning is as follows:

Even if John Paul II were a formal heretic (which is not conceded), theologians are split over the question of whether he would be pope, so that no clear consensus is present.

The theologians who have discussed this question never imagined a situation "as drastic as ours."

The law of the Church is that a public heretic maintains possession of an office and its associated jurisdiction until he is deposed by a superior.

Francisco Suarez maintained that a heretic pope must be deposed by a Council.

Therefore there is "great doubt and uncertainty."

Answer to #1: Leaving aside the proof that John Paul II is a formal heretic, theologians are not "split" over the question. There is an almost universal consensus, in fact, and there is perfectly clear papal legislation covering the matter. The law involved, that public heretics cannot possess ordinary jurisdiction, is theologically certain.

Answer to #2: It is true that the theologians did not envisage our circumstances. Readers may well ask, what do the theologians and canonists discuss? They discuss the possibility that a pope might become a heretic as a private person (that is, that a pope might fall into heresy, but not impose it on the Church). And nearly all of them say exactly the same thing - if he did, he would not be pope, for he would not be a Catholic. Not a single one of them was dealing with a putative "pope" who literally preached heresy to the world as official teaching, re-wrote the Code of Canon Law in accordance with his heresy, banned the true Mass and replaced it with a Protestant "communion service," and travelled the world committing violations of the First Commandment with every false religion available, whilst encouraging others to do likewise. No, none of them thought of that. And if they did, it hardly seems reasonable to suppose that they would have been less sure that such a man would not be pope. Undoubtedly any of them who had even considered such a situation as ours would have been utterly emphatic that such a man as John Paul II could not possibly be the Vicar of Christ.

Answer to #3: Canon Law not only fails to maintain the office and jurisdiction of a public heretic, but in fact it legislates the precise opposite, in Canon 188, §4. Nor do the canonists support the editorial position of Catholic. If any canonist does support the claim of Catholic then I, for one, would very much like to see what he has to say, for our only interest in this matter is truth.

Answer to #4: Francisco Suarez did in fact hold the discredited minority position that a public heretic would have to be deposed by the Church. But since his time the Vatican Council has decreed that the First See is judged by no one. Therefore Suarez's idea that the Church could act "juridically" against the pope, and "declare him a heretic" is completely indefensible. After all, what else is a "juridical determination" but a public judgement? Suarez's argument that in such a case there would be no violation of the principle, The First See is judged by no-one, is hardly convincing, and Bellarmine explicitly rejected it. This is, indeed, one of Francisco Suarez's famous distinctions - a distinction without a difference, as the scholastics say. Suarez, with this doctrine, places the bishops in council over the pope, a notion now condemned explicitly as heresy.

Furthermore, Suarez must have been relying upon a corrupt text as the basis for his view, for he asserts that, "it is gathered from the first epistle of Saint Clement I, in which one reads that Saint Peter taught that a Pope heretic must be deposed." Yet nothing of the sort is found in the first epistle of St. Clement I, and no other theologian seems to have discovered any text like this in any other patristic source, nor have they relied upon it.

If a non-existent text, mentioned by only one theologian, who was famous for making subtle and incomprehensible distinctions, is sufficient basis for introducing a genuine doubt into a matter considered perfectly clear by numerous others, then we can have no solid doctrine whatsoever, outside of solemn definitions.

Answer to #5: Therefore, considering the evident confusion of this editorialist on this question it is agreed, there is "great doubt and uncertainty" on his part. How could there not be? The meaning of Canon 188, which needs no interpretation, seems to be unclear to this editorialist, as do the works of the canonists who have commented upon it. The Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul IV, Cum ex Apostolatus, which defines that no manifest heretic can be pope, even if the entire Church adheres to him, seems likewise to be unclear. And, finally, the relative numbers and weight of the theologians who have discussed this matter and concluded one way or the other must be outside his ken as well. For hardly any take the view espoused by Suarez, and with good reason - it is founded on a mistake, and has been opposed by two Doctors of the Church, including the Redemptorists' own St. Alphonsus Liguori.

Doubts, and Doubts

A word on "doubt" in this context. A doubtful pope is no pope, as the theologians say. If John Paul II is doubtfully pope, then he can command no obedience whatsoever from good Catholics. For in the matter of subjection to the Roman Pontiff, only certainty is sufficiently safe. Now, it is granted that in their current state of doubt about the theology and law involved in this matter, the Redemptorists could not legitimately doubt John Paul II's claim. But if, on the other hand, their doubts about the teaching of the Church could be eliminated, then their clear suspicion that John Paul II is a heretic would place that matter on a whole different footing. Suddenly they would be faced with a doubtful pope, and a doubtful pope is no pope at all, and the obligation on Catholics is to refuse him. As “sedevacantists” do.

Consider the explanation to be found in the most authoritative post-Code (1917) commentary, Wernz-Vidal: "…jurisdiction is essentially a relation between a superior who has the right to obedience and a subject who has the duty of obeying. Now when one of the parties to this relationship is wanting, the other necessarily ceases to exist also, as is plain from the nature of the relationship. However, if a pope is truly and permanently doubtful, the duty of obedience cannot exist towards him on the part of any subject. For the law, 'Obedience is owed to the legitimately-elected successor of St. Peter,' does not oblige if it is doubtful; and it most certainly is doubtful if the law has been doubtfully promulgated, for laws are instituted when they are promulgated, and without sufficient promulgation they lack a constitutive part, or essential condition. But if the fact of the legitimate election of a particular successor of St. Peter is only doubtfully demonstrated, the promulgation is doubtful; hence that law is not duly and objectively constituted of its necessary parts, and it remains truly doubtful and therefore cannot impose any obligation. Indeed it would be rash to obey such a man who had not proved his title in law. Nor could appeal be made to the principle of possession, for the case in question is that of a Roman pontiff who is not yet in peaceful possession. Consequently in such a person there would be no right of command - i.e. he would lack papal jurisdiction." (Scholion 454).

Therefore if John Paul II is doubtful, which is at least the case, then the obligation on Catholics is to avoid him. A fortiori, upon those of us who have taken the trouble to do some serious reading on the question, so that no reasonable doubt remains, there exists an absolutely clear moral obligation to reject John Paul II as a patent fraud.

And this raises another set of considerations. It seems self-evident that since many prudent and learned men (I speak of others, not myself), including numerous priests - some who were ordained in the 'fifties - have concluded that John Paul II is not the pope, it seems perfectly evident that the case must have real merit. And since all good Catholics regard the question of whom the Holy Father actually is as being a matter of the first importance, since subjection to him is absolutely necessary for salvation, it follows that all good Catholics will want to investigate this question as well as their situation permits. Far from the situation being one in which good men will be satisfied to remain in doubt, it is notoriously a matter in which real effort ought to be expended in the endeavour of eliminating doubt.

But whatever else may be said about this “anti-sedevacantist” stance of the Transalpine Redemptorists, one thing is obvious. There is now yet another example of “anti-sedevacantist” polemic in the public forum, and it demands an answer, for the truth is at stake, and when the truth is at stake, souls are at stake. Furthermore, the nature of the second of the two main articles is such as to constitute a gross misrepresentation of those many informed, prudent, and good Catholics who have realised that the Holy See is at present vacant. That the author, probably one of the religious of the Transalpine Redemptorists, is innocent, is not being questioned. Indeed, I believe in his good will. But that his article misrepresents the typical “sedevacantist” is indisputable, as should become clear as it is critically examined.

Guilt by Association

The article mentioned is entitled, "Sedevacantism: Is it Catholic?" Opening such a question is sufficiently prejudicial, but the graphics create further doubt in the minds of readers. Included is series of pictures of claimants to the See of Peter, along with a boxed list of their "papal" names and real names. This box carries the heading, "Ten contemporary Sedevacantist Papal claimants - All with plans to be your pope!" For a moment one could be forgiven for thinking that instead of Catholic one had accidentally picked up a copy of one of Rupert Murdoch's less refined print organs. But sadly, no.

Curiously, one of the only claimants who is both certainly a heretic and a real and present danger to good Catholics, because of his acceptance by so many leading men in the Church, is entirely absent from this list. I refer, of course, to John Paul II, who does not even use a single Christian name for his papal title, but rather has adopted the double name system only ever employed by Oriental schismatic "Patriarchs."

And, even more curiously, one of those listed, the so-called "Little Pebble," an Australian "seer" and all-round lunatic, has not claimed to be pope, and in fact vehemently shares the opinion of the editors of Catholic that John Paul II is the present Roman Pontiff. One wonders whether guilt by association works both ways in this context?

The article is, to say the very least, not a careful presentation of the truth.

Thesis and Antithesis

The thesis of the article is essentially that it is perfectly reasonable to doubt John Paul II's claim, but that to form the judgement that he is not pope is to place oneself on a slippery-slide to schism. And the conclusion is arrived at most ingeniously. Firstly a straw man is set up - that all “sedevacantists” "itch for a pope" and are keen to see some uncanonical election take place to realise this desire. From there the case is made relatively easily that “sedevacantists” each desire their own pope, because, after all, they "place excessive value on their own private judgement." This is contrasted with those good Catholics who are "willing to hear the opposite point of view" and who do not "refuse correction."

And in the middle of all this character assassination (I speak objectively) is the assertion that "Holy Mother Church … teaches that only a pope is competent to judge another pope." This assertion is repeated at the completion of the "doctrinal" portion of the article. Clearly it is a key point.

The answer to this mess of pottage is simple. The facts it asserts are not facts. The reasoning employed is illogical. And the principles enunciated are false. And while no comment is made about the motives of writer who produced it, or the editor who published it, it is objectively slanderous of a large group of good Catholics.

Every “sedevacantist” Catholic rejects all of the usurpers who claim the Holy See. By definition, a “sedevacantist” is one who believes the See vacant. But even if we illogically and unfairly include as "sedevacantists" those who adhere to one or other of the false claimants, while excluding those who adhere to John Paul II, we arrive at the fact that almost every “sedevacantist” in the world rejects all of these claimants. Just to take two examples, Victor Von Pentz has several dozen adherents, at most. Michael Bawden has perhaps two dozen. And the core of these is his own family, who after all were the majority of the "electoral college" which raised him to his great dignity in the first place. None of these frauds has any great number of followers, and the most successful would probably be Fr. Pulvermacher, who boasts several hundred "faithful." By contrast, in Cincinnati, USA, alone there are two Mass centres served by clergy who really are “sedevacantists,” and these have between them around a thousand parishioners. It is simply not true to assert that “sedevacantists” are inclined to elect their own popes. Hardly any of them have done so.

To place this falsehood in its true context, however, let's examine what appears to be the strength of the case. And that is that only a “sedevacantist” would be drawn into an uncanonical election. Which is true (if, for the sake of the argument, we exclude uncanonical elections conducted in Rome). It is also true to say that “sedevacantists” desire that the interregnum be ended. (To describe this as "itching for a pope" is to employ coloured wording aimed at achieving a psychological effect rather than dealing soberly with facts. It is thoroughly objectionable.) So, is it right to draw the conclusion from this that “sedevacantists” are often drawn into uncanonical elections, or that this is in any way a common tendency? No. The facts prove otherwise.

Is it then a real fruit of “sedevacantism” that each group elects its own pope? No. Is there a real danger that Catholics who realise that the See of Rome is vacant will end up following some fruity home-baked "pope" in Kansas? No. If the danger was real, then it would have materialised in some substantial way by now. The fact that there are a number of pretend popes is not proof that "sedevacantists all want their own pope" any more than the number of bad traditional priests is proof that traditional priests all tend to be bad. The real question is how such behaviour is judged by the bulk of the group being studied. And in both cases, that of traditional priests and of “sedevacantists,” the answer is the same - utter repugnance to the evil. Indeed, a man who has formed the judgement that John Paul II is not pope is a man who at least knows how to form a judgement, and he is the least likely, in general, to be drawn into adhering to some other fraudulent claimant. Hence the reason for the abject failure of any of these "popes" to gather any serious number of followers.

However, it is notoriously and undeniably true that adherence to John Paul II tends to cause heresy. It is notoriously true that it was precisely the adherence to John Paul II by the SSPX, for example, which brought about the defection to heretical worship of the members of the Fraternity of St. Peter (John Paul II has recently imposed the Novus Ordo "Missae" upon them). I do not say that all adherents to John Paul II eventually end up involved in his heresies. But it is a plain fact that almost all of them have. Adherence to John Paul II is dangerous. “Sedevacantism”, by contrast, is safe.

Are “sedevacantists” generally "willing to hear the opposite point of view"? Yes, we are. However, I've yet to discover an SSPX priest, for example, who is willing to discuss the matter by reference to theological sources. It is notorious that “sedevacantists” are the very men who are interested in genuine research and discussion of the relevant principles. It is notorious that our opponents have signally failed to provide any real arguments, based on theological sources, against our position.

Do “sedevacantists” "refuse correction"? Interesting question! By whom is this "correction" offered, we ask? Is it asserted that we refuse sound theology and law, presented intelligently and moderately by “anti-sedevacantists”? No, because it is notorious that no such "correction" has ever been offered (although Fr. Maessen's article is cause for some hope in that direction). Instead we are offered utter nonsense like, "Holy Mother Church … teaches that only a pope is competent to judge another pope." We'll come back to that shortly. What, then, is the "correction" referred to by this anonymous writer? Accusations of schism? Yes, there have been a steady stream of those, from the likes of Michael Davies and Fr. Peter Scott, of the SSPX. All without the faintest shadow of support by the authorised pre-V2 canonists to whom “sedevacantists” turn to check these things. And indeed, even the SSPX has declared that these accusations are false, via Bishop Williamson and others, who have expressly stated that “sedevacantists” are not schismatics at all. When an “anti-sedevacantist” writer presents a genuine case against the “sedevacantist” thesis, based upon quoted authorities, we will welcome it with open arms. “Sedevacantists” want nothing more than truth, and treating us as though we arrived at our views by other than reasonable and careful means, is counter-productive. It also happens to be contrary to the Gospels.

Do “sedevacantists” "place excessive value on their own private judgement"? Probably. It is one of the most common of human failings, exhibited by almost all men, with the sole exception of those gifted with outstanding humility. The problem with employing it as an argument against “sedevacantists,” therefore, is that it fails to make a distinction between us and everybody else. One might as well accuse us of being sinners. Most of us are, if I can say that without undue scandal to those who don't know us. As are most SSPX supporters, I believe. It is lamentable, and lamentably common. Which is why priests expend such effort in the pulpit and the confessional in the attempt to make traditional Catholics less so. The truth is that “sedevacantists,” by the very fact of taking the step of forming a judgement about the most grave of matters, are acutely aware of the danger of inordinate attachment to our own views. In other words, we are at least aware of the danger. It is my own experience, having been accused rashly and falsely of the foul crime of schism by numerous defenders of the heretic John Paul II, that our opponents are not, generally, aware of the problem. Their attachment to their own judgement about John Paul II is positively scandalous.

Does Holy Mother Church teach that, "only a pope is competent to judge another pope"? No. She teaches, "The First See can be judged by no one" (cf. CIC 1556). The canonist Woywod comments, "The very idea of the trial of a person supposes that the court conducting the trial has jurisdiction over the person, but the pope has no superior, wherefore no court has power to subject him to judicial trial." Is another pope the superior of a previous Roman Pontiff? No. They are equals. So, on what grounds is it asserted that "Holy Church teaches" that "only a pope is competent to judge another pope"? I am not aware of what those grounds might be. The First See, after all, is judged by no one.

Of course, this assertion that "only a pope is competent to judge another pope" directly conflicts with the opinion of Suarez, championed in the editorial. Suarez held that the bishops could and should "act juridically" against a heretic-pope. Putting this as delicately as possible, it would be helpful if our opponents could at least work out which principle they would like to convince us of. Are we to believe what we are told "Holy Mother Church teaches," which according to them is that only a future pope can judge John Paul II, or are we to hold with Suarez that the bishops ought to act against John Paul II, and depose him? And, if the latter, what are they doing to ensure that this happens?

An entirely different question, of course, is whether the faithful are permitted to decide, for themselves only, whether or not a given claimant is the true pope. And by presenting negatively the various latter-day claimants from around the world the editor of Catholic is exercising that very right. Is forming a prudent judgement, about whether a particular man is the true pope or not, forbidden by the law? No. All canonists who address the matter are agreed, "Finally, one cannot consider as schismatics those who refuse to obey the Roman Pontiff because they would hold his person suspect or, because of widespread rumours, doubtfully elected (as happened after the election of Urban VI) or who would resist him as a civil authority and not as pastor of the Church." (Wernz-Vidal, Ius Canonicum, Rome, Gregorian, 1937, 7:398, Emphasis added.)

And, "Neither is someone a schismatic for denying his subjection to the Pontiff on the grounds that he has solidly founded ['probabiliter'] doubts concerning the legitimacy of his election or his power…" (de Lugo, Disp., De Virt. Fid. Div., disp xxv, sect iii, nn. 35-8)

One more authority ought to make this point clear, if it is not sufficiently clear already: "Is it not true that, confronted with such a danger for the faith, any subjects can by fraternal correction warn their superior [i.e. a heretic "pope"], resist him to his face, refute him and, if necessary, summon him and press him to repent? The Cardinals, who are his counsellors, can do this; or the Roman Clergy, or the Roman Synod, if, being met, they judge this opportune. For any person, even a private person, the words of Saint Paul to Titus hold: “Avoid the heretic, after a first and second correction, knowing that such a man is perverted and sins, since he is condemned by his own judgment” (Tit. 3, 10-11). For the person, who admonished once or twice, does not repent, but continues pertinacious in an opinion contrary to a manifest or public dogma - not being able, on account of this public pertinacity to be excused, by any means, of heresy properly so called, which requires pertinacity - this person declares himself openly a heretic. He reveals that by his own will he has turned away from the Catholic Faith and the Church, in such form that now no declaration or sentence of anyone whatsoever is necessary to cut him from the body of the Church. In this matter the argument given by Saint Jerome in connection with the cited words of Saint Paul is very clear: “Therefore it is said that the heretic has condemned himself: for the fornicator, the adulterer, the homicide and the other sinners are expelled from the Church by the priests; but the heretics pronounce sentence against themselves, excluding themselves from the Church spontaneously: this exclusion which is their condemnation by their own conscience”. (Pietro Ballerini, De Potestate Ecclesiastica…," pp. 104-105. Emphasis added.)

Fortunately the first of the two articles presented in Catholic is of a very different tenor to that of this one. And it deserves consideration, if only because of the gentlemanly and scholarly approach taken by its author, a priest of the SSPX. I have addressed it separately.

John Lane
Perth, Western Australia
Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, 2001

Thursday, November 4th, 2004, 11:24 AM


In this article we shall refute the sedevacantist claim that Pope John Paul II is not pope because of publicly committed heresy. We shall do so with reference to the canon law of the Church on this matter, particularly as interpreted by the approved canonists of the last century. First we shall see that the law of the Church allows an heretic to be elected to the papacy. Then we shall see that an heretical pope would not lose his office through heresy without an intervention of the Church. Then shall see that an heretical pope would retain his jurisdiction until or unless the Church should have intervened. Afterwards we shall consider the limited indefectibility of the Church and find that popes can teach heresy, can act such as to somewhat destroy the Church, and can legislate against the truth of the sacraments – wherefore none of the changes since “Vatican II” imply that there has not been any popes in this period. (We do not intend to imply that there has been any legislation contrary to the truth of the sacraments, but only to cover that scenario.) We find that the heretic John Paul II is pope, as were his recent predecessors popes. Finally we shall also add a note concerning the claims of Fr. Anthony Cekada with regard to the opinion of theologians of the 1940s and 1950s with regard to the theory of “baptism of desire”.

I recognise that Pope John Paul is not an orthodox Catholic and that we have the right and duty, as Faithful Catholics, to resist his errors and harmful policies. It is quite false to claim, as many sedevacantists do, that because he is pope, we are obliged to follow all of his policies and embrace all of his doctrines with an absolute and undiscerning obedience. We have already exhibited the traditional teaching of the Church on that point in order to refute that claim. It is wrong to blindly follow a pope when he is heretical and when he is somewhat destroying the Church, as is the case today. In conclusion: we reject sedevacantism as rash and erroneous and we dutifully resist the errors and harmful policies of Pope John Paul II.

The Law regarding Papal Elections

Some sedevacantists claim that John Paul II was an heretic before he was elected pope and that this would invalidate his office. They claim that the same is true of his predecessors, Popes John XXIII († 1963), Paul VI († 1978) and John Paul I († 1978). But they are ignorant of the law.

Some sedevacantists quote the bull issued by Pope Paul IV († 1559) at the time of the protestant apostasy, called Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio, which legislated that an heretic could not be elected pope. That bull was merely disciplinary, not doctrinal. It also contained legislation that heretics could occupy no social offices either, which was promulgated in just the same way as its legislation regarding the papal office. The formal language with which it ended, about the “wrath of Sts. Peter and Paul” for anyone who would go contrary to the bull, is of no significance and was the standard language used even for disciplinary measures during the period; the Roman Rite was said to be forever unchangeable by Pope St. Pius V († 1572) in the bull Quo Primum with just the same formal language but we know that a revised Roman Missal was issued by Pope Clement VIII († 1605) and by several other popes before John XXIII. As a disciplinary bull, Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio was not unchangeable as a dogmatic definition is. And indeed, the bull is archaic; more recent legislation has been in force. The Church has judged that it would be better for her to be validly governed by an heretic than to be invalidly governed by the same, with all of his acts void and giving no power.

The law governing papal elections which was in force for the elections of Popes John XXIII and Paul VI was that of Pope Pius XII († 1958) who legislated, on 8 December 1945, as follows:

“None of the Cardinals may, by pretext or reason of any excommunication, suspension, or interdict whatsoever, or of any other ecclesiastical impediment, be excluded from the active and passive election of the Supreme Pontiff. We hereby suspend such censures solely for the purposes of the said election; at other times they are to remain in vigour.” (Apostolic Constitution, Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis)

The original Latin of this text reads as follows:

"Nullus Cardinalium, cuiuslibet excommunicationis, suspensionis, interdicti aut alius ecclesiastici impedimenti praetextu vel causa a Summi Pontificis electione activa et passiva excludi ullo modo potest; quas quidem censuras ad effectum huiusmodi electionis tantum, illis alias in suo robore permansuris, suspendimus."

Now, to participate in an election “actively” means to vote in the election and to participate “passively” means to be elected to the office, to be the “passive” (acted upon) object of the election. Thus, no cardinal subjected to “any excommunication” was “excluded from the active and passive election of the Supreme Pontiff” and any of them could have become pope.

Let it be noted, that if Pope St. Pius V had defined dogmatically in Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio that no heretic could become pope, as many sedevacantists claim he did, then Pope Pius XII would have legislated heretically in his Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis when he stated that any cardinal subject to any excommunication could be elected pope; and according to the logic of the sedevacantists who say that a true pope could never legislate heretically, they would have to say that Pius XII was not pope either. Such are the extreme consequences of rash sedevacantist errors as popes are struck off one by one. Rather, that law governing papal elections is disciplinary and can be changed – and was changed – according to what the Church judges to be more prudent.

Hence, even if John XXIII and Paul VI had been subject to excommunications for any reasons whatsoever, due to heresy or Masonic membership or whatever, they would still have been validly elected to the papacy.

John Paul I and John Paul II were elected to the papacy under the substantially identical legislation which Pope Paul VI issued on 1 October 1975 and which reads as follows:

"Nullus Cardinalis elector, cuiuslibet excommunicationis, suspensionis, interdicti aut alterius ecclesiastici impedimenti causa vel praetextu, a Summi Pontificis electione activa et passiva excludi ullo modo potest; quae quidem censurae, ad effectum huiusmodi electionis tantum, suspensae putandae sunt" (Apostolic Constitution, Romano Pontifici Eligendo).

They too were validly elected popes.

It was quite necessary that this be so and the Church acted prudently in so legislating. It must be remembered that even a secret pertinacious heretical act known only to the perpetrator automatically effects an excommunication from the Church; so if the excommunicated were barred from office, the electors would have no guarantee that the candidate had been validly elected, and the Church could be left without any valid source of jurisdiction without knowing it. The invalidity would then destructively spread through the Church unknown:

Fr. Brian W. Harrison OS: “Thus, if the Church's law required that a Cardinal be free from all ecclesiastical censure in order to be eligible for the papacy, the voters in general would have no guarantee that any given candidate was not in fact ineligible because of some secret crime by which he had incurred excommunication. They might unwittingly carry out an invalid election, in which case the "Pope" they elected would not be true Pope. The invalidity of his acts would then be a kind of spiritual cancer, quietly destroying the Church's vital structures from within: the Bishops appointed by him would have no true right to govern their respective dioceses; no laws he passed would be binding on the Church; and in particular, the Cardinals named by him would not be valid electors of a future Pope. How, then, could a true Pope be restored, if at all? Who would be competent to decide? When the fact of this hidden excommunication finally came to light, the resulting chaos would be unimaginable. Nobody would know with certainty who, if anyone, still had any real authority in the Church, and schism - perhaps a series of schisms - would seem almost inevitable. The Church's law therefore foresees and avoids the possibility of this catastrophic situation by allowing that even a secret heretic or apostate, if elected as Pope, would ascend the Chair of Peter with full juridical rights over the universal Church on earth“ (A Heretical Pope Would Govern The Church Illicitly But Validly, in, Living Tradition, May 2000).

Hence though it may at first seem shocking, to those without a knowledge of the Church’s law on this matter, that even an heretic excommunicated from the Church can be elected to the papacy, upon reflection one can see that it is eminently sensible and prudent for the common good of the Church.

When Fr. Harrison pointed out the legislation that a cardinal who had been excommunicated for heresy could be elected pope, a couple of sedevacantists tried to object that Pius XII had not referred to those excommunicated for heresy, as such “could not be cardinals”, but had referred only to minor excommunications. However, minor excommunications had long been abolished, so the legislation could not possibly have referred to them, and obviously referred to major excommunications:

“Until recently excommunication was of two kinds, major and minor. […] But as this twofold category [of minor excommunications] was in modern times greatly reduced, but little attention was paid to minor excommunication, and eventually it ceased to exist after the publication of the Constitution “Apostolicae Sedis”. The latter declared that all excommunications latae sententiae that it did not mention were abolished, and as it was silent concerning minor excommunication (by its nature an excommunication latae sententiae of a special kind), canonists concluded that minor excommunication no longer existed. This conclusion was formally ratified by the Holy Office (6 Jan., 1884, ad 4).” (1907 Catholic Encyclopedia, Excommunication, A. Boudinhon)

Major excommunications sever one from the communion of the Faithful:

“At a late period, Gregory IX (1227-41), bk. V, tit. xxxix, ch. lix, Si quem, distinguishes minor excommunication, or that implying exclusion only from the sacraments, from major excommunication, implying exclusion from the society of the faithful.” (1907 Catholic Encyclopedia, Anathema, Joseph N. Gignac)

“The other is major excommunication which deprives a man of the sacraments of the Church and of the communion of the faithful.” (Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Supplement 23, 1)

So the only excommunications in force when Pius legislated were major ones, which severed from the Church. And hence it is obvious that Pius XII was legislating with a view to cardinals who were subject to major excommunications, such as for heresy, which sever one from the Church, when he said that cardinals subject to any excommunications could be elected to the papacy. This is also proof that the excommunicated can validly occupy the various ecclesial offices, as Pius referred to cardinals who could have been cardinals even while subject to a major excommunication.

Indeed, canon 2264 states that offices may be validly exercised by those who have been excommunicated, regardless of its cause, unless there has been a formal sentence issued by the Church, wherefore it is clear that heretics can be cardinals: "An act of jurisdiction carried out by an excommunicated person, whether in the internal or the external forum, is illicit; and if a condemnatory or declaratory sentence has been pronounced, it is also invalid, without prejudice to c. 2261, §3; otherwise it is valid". And again this is necessary and prudent, as one can be excommunicated for secret heresy and then ecclesial acts would be invalid and convey no power, no one would know and the Church would suffer destruction, if excommunicates could occupy no offices.

A couple of sedevacantists have responded to this by claiming that it is heresy to say that one who has been excommunicated can hold jurisdiction in the Church; but then, according to their rash logic, they would have to say that the papacy has been vacant since Pope Benedict XV († 1922) promulgated the Code of Canon Law in 1917; for that Code, which was upheld by every pope until it was replaced in 1983, said that the excommunicated could hold jurisdiction in the Church until or unless a declaratory sentence had been pronounced; but they say that that is heretical and that a pope who had upheld heresy would forfeit the papacy.

In conclusion, John Paul II would not have been barred from the papacy by having been an heretic prior to his election. We shall now consider that he has retained his office.

The Purported Loss of Papacy by Public Defection

Some sedevacantists are wont to argue that Pope John Paul II has lost his papacy under canon 188 §4 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which was in effect at the time, by a public defection from the Faith. The canon in question (which corresponds with canon 194 of the 1983 Code) reads as follows:

“Through tacit resignation, accepted by the law itself, all offices become vacant ipso facto [automatically] and without any declaration if a cleric: […] 4. Has publicly forsaken the Catholic Faith.”

It is argued that a lapse into heresy constitutes a defection from the Faith, from which they conclude that a public act of heresy is sufficient to remove a pope from the papal office.

In the following, we shall show that for a pope to lose his office in that way, a large proportion of the Church would; i) have to know not only of his heretical statement, but ii) also recognise it as heretical, and iii) recognise it as imputably heretical, that is, as pertinacious. In canonical terms, his heresy would have to be “notorious with a notoriety of fact” (which we shall explain) – which would in practice require an intervention of the cardinals.

But let us first see how sedevacantists tend to misuse canon 188.

Sedevacantist Illusions

When sedevacantists cite canon 188, it is customary for them to either not delve into the canonical requirements for a crime to be “public” in the canonical sense or else to fabricate those conditions. Either way, lay readers, being without any knowledge of canon law, tend to assume that the term “public” here applies as it would in common parlance, where any degree of publicity is termed “public”. This may be considered to be propaganda by stealth or by ignorance.

There are certain requirements in Canon Law for a crime to be “public”. Canonists tell us that a crime, such as an act of heresy, would have to be known by a large proportion of the people comprising the community in which it has its context for it to be “public” in the canonical sense.

Before we see what the canonists have said on this point, let us first hear what Fr. Cekada has said, in order to get a clear idea of what sedevacantists are claiming. He teaches canon law at the sedevacantist seminary in Michigan. Speaking specifically to the objection that “none of the post-Conciliar popes could be called guilty of heresy, because only a “tiny” minority of Catholics believed them to be so, and this would not constitute “public” heresy or defection from the faith”, he wrote in a letter to The Remnant newspaper as follows:

“This is also incorrect. First, no special number of witnesses is required for heresy to qualify as "public." The canonist Naz says simply: "External heresy is public if it is manifested before a sufficient number of witnesses; it is occult if it is manifested without witnesses, or before a small number of discreet persons." (Dictionnaire du Droit Canonique, [Paris: 1953], 5:1105). Second, even a few witnesses would suffice: "[I]f even only a few loquacious persons witnessed the defection from the faith, … the delict [crime] would be public in the sense of canon 2197.1." (McDevitt, The Renunciation of an Ecclesiastical Office, CU Canon Law Studies 218, [Washington: 1946], 139.)” (The Remnant, August 15, 2001)

Hence, Fr. Cekada told lay readers in a widely circulated “traditionalist” newspaper that an act of papal heresy is public even if it is simply witnessed by “only a few”, if those are talkative. The effect of this sort of statement is to impress the lay reader with quotes from canonists and to give an air of authority and knowledge – even though the statement may be recognised as quite openly bogus to anyone with even a little acquaintance with the Law and its commentators. He gives the impression that it is enough for a few talkative sedevacantists to know of papal heresy for a loss of office to occur. He is in telling the reader that John Paul II is not a pope, because he has publicly committed heresy; and he quotes canonists supposedly saying that it takes “even only a few loquacious persons” to witness an act of papal heresy and for it to be “public” according to the Code and for the office to be thereby vacated. But he has taken those canonists out of context and has misapplied them to a pope. We shall see how wrong this is as we see what the canonists actually say.

Anyway, that is, in essence, the general claim of sedevacantists, as it is obvious to all that only a tiny, tiny minority of the Church even claims that JPII has committed heresy.

Let us now begin to see the conditions which the canonists specify for a crime to be “public” in canonical terms.

Canonists on the Requirements for a Publicity of Crime

It is true that canonists teach that a crime can be public if witnessed by only a few people, but the point is that the number of witnesses required increases as does the size of the community in which the crime has its context. And even in a larger community a few talkative witnesses will suffice but only if they are such as to make it likely that the crime will become well known amongst the community at large. But Fr. Cekada said nothing of that, and by quoting as he did, he gave the impression that a few witnesses would suffice, even for a pope, regardless of his communal context, and regardless of how many people are likely to come to know of the crime – which is the exact opposite to what the canonists teach. That Fr. Cekada may have attempted to develop his argument elsewhere is besides the point: I am here concerned with the effect on lay readers of his statement of that particular letter to The Remnant.

Let us see what canonists commentating on the 1917 Code actually said on the matter.

“In the first place, the number of people who were witnesses to an offense and the number of inhabitants of the place where the offense was committed, must be taken into consideration to determine whether an offense may be said to be public. It is maintained by many canonists that at least six persons in a small town or community must know of the offense before it can be called public, and more persons in proportion to the greater number of inhabitants before it can be called public in larger places. However, canonists consider, not only the relative number in determining whether an offense is occult or public, but also the character of the perhaps few persons who witnessed the commission of the offense- whether they are reserved and taciturn or talkative and eager to make known what they have witnessed. The Code calls an offense public when knowledge of it has been spread among the people (divulgatum), or when it was committed under circumstances which make it practically impossible to keep the offense secret.” (A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, Woywod Smith (1943))

So a crime is public if it has been “spread among the people” of a community or it is “practically impossible to keep the offense secret”. According to the Code, all crimes are “secret” if they are not “public”: “Every crime which is not public, says our text, is occult or secret” (Augustine, A Commentary on Canon Law (1931)); and so when Woywod said that a crime is public if it is spread abroad or if it is “practically impossible to keep the offense a secret”, his latter condition means that it is at least in practice impossible to stop it from becoming widely known amongst the community.


"Classification as to Publicity. A crime is: 1. Public, if it is already commonly known or the circumstances are such as to lead to the conclusion that it can and will easily become so; [...] "Commonly known" (divulgatum) means known to the greater part of the inhabitants of a place or the members of a community; but this is not to be taken mathematically, but in prudent moral estimation. A crime may remain occult though known to a number of persons who are likely to keep it quiet, whereas it may be public though known to only a few who are sure to divulge it. (Bouscaren and Ellis, Canon Law: A Text and Commentary (1951))

So, a crime is “public” in canonical terms if it is “commonly known”, that is, “known to the greater part of the inhabitants of the place”, or is committed in circumstances in which “it will easily become so”, such as if a few witnesses would easily “divulge it” which we are told means that they would easily make it "commonly known (divulgatum)”.


“A delict [crime] is public when it is already known to the people of a community or, considering the circumstances of place and persons, will surely be divulged. The original witnesses may have been few, but if they are talkative, the fact will be made known to many.” (Ayrinhac, Lydon, Penal Legislation in the New [1917] Code of Canon Law (1944))

We are told that a crime is public only if it is “already known to the people of a community” or will “surely be divulged”, while “divulged”, in canonical terms, means “commonly known” to the community: it “will be made known to many.” Again: “Divulgatio is knowledge which has spread among the greater part [in maiore parte] of the town, neighbourhood, college, etc.” (Vermeersch & Creusen, Epitome Iuris Canonici (1928))

So, we see that, whereas Fr. Cekada gives his readers the impression that but a few talkative witnesses would simply suffice, the canonists tell us that the size of the community would have to be considered and that a crime is “public” only if it has already become commonly, or widely, known to it or it is practically impossible to stop it from becoming so. Quite different.

We shall now begin to see how the conditions for a crime to be “public” apply to a pope.

The Papal Community – “Public” as “Widely Publicised”

Now, as the Pope is, as such, the Universal Pastor of the entire Church and the teacher thereof, his communal context is not a tiny town or a small religious community, but the entire body of the Faithful. According to what the canonists have told us, for an act of papal heresy to be “public”, it would have to be either:

- already “spread among the people” of the universal Church; be “commonly known” to them, that is, “known to the greater part of the inhabitants” of the Church; be “already known to the people of [the] community” of the Church; or

- “it was committed under circumstances which make it practically impossible” to stop it from being “spread amongst the people” of the universal Church; “the circumstances are such as to lead to the conclusion that it can and will easily become” “commonly known” to them, that is, “known to the greater part of the inhabitants” of the Church; “considering the circumstances of place and persons, [it] will surely” “be made known”, that is, “known to the people of [the] community” of the Church.

So, according to the canonists, for an act of heresy by a pope to be “public”, the knowledge of it would either have to be either already widely spread amongst the people of the universal Church, being known to most of them, or at least such as that it will be in practice impossible to stop it from becoming so known and it certainly will. That is, it would have to be widely publicised.

Let us see what Corridan had to say on the matter. It is perhaps ironic that Fr. Cekada should have quoted him in his article, Sedevacantism: Have I rejected the Pope, being an earlier letter to The Remnant newspaper in which he sought to protest an implication that he had freely rejected the papacy of John Paul II. Fr. Cekada wrote as follows:

“This possibility [of a pope becoming an heretic and thus losing his papacy] is recognized even by an authoritative commentary on the 1983 Code of Canon Law:

“”Classical canonists discussed the question of whether a pope, in his private or personal opinions, could go into heresy, apostasy, or schism. If he were to do so in a notoriously and widely publicized manner, he would break communion, and according to an accepted opinion, lose his office ipso facto. (c. 194 §1, 2º ). […] ” (James A. Corridan et al. editors, The Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary commissioned by the Canon Law Society of America [New York: Paulist 1985], c. 333.)

“Now, one who opposes the sedevacantist position may care to argue that members of the modern hierarchy are not guilty of heresy, or that (pace Robert Bellarmine and commentators on the 1983 Code) a pope cannot fall from office through heresy. It is unfair and unreasonable, however, to assert that the sedevacantist - who merely puts two entirely defensible propositions together and draws a logical conclusion from them - has "rejected the authority of the Pope." Such is tantamount to calling the sedevacantist a schismatic.” (Sedevacantism: Have I Rejected the Pope? Letter, May 1992)

So, for a pope to lose his office, his heretical act would have to be “widely publicised”, that is, it would have to be commonly known across a wide section of the Church; that is the canonical meaning of “public” in this context. A pope’s contextual community is the widespread universal Church and so his heresy would have to be “widely publicised” – as well as “notorious” (which we shall come to in a moment) – in order to be “public” in canonical terms.

That being so, we can see how ridiculous it is to suggest that it is sufficient, for a papal act of heresy to be “public”, that only a handful of talkative sedevacantists, who are confined almost wholly to the US, and to whom hardly any one pays any attention, insists that John Paul II has committed heresy. One can hardly conclude from such “circumstances” that the knowledge of papal heresy will now “surely” become “known to the greater part of the inhabitants” of the Church, that it is now “practically impossible” to stop that from happening and that it now “will easily become“ “commonly known" and "widely publicised" to the universal Church.

The simple fact is that almost everyone in the Church would not normally even consider the possibility that a pope could be an heretic, let alone recognise one as actually being one on the say-so of a few sedevacantists. The Faithful have often been raised on a misunderstanding of the limits of papal infallibility and have been accustomed to a clericalist passivity of the people. Moreover, hardly any Catholics through the world are likely to even encounter talkative sedevacantists. For instance, here in England, which has a nominal Catholic population of some four million, I have encountered precisely four sedevacantists, and that only because I kept an ear open and went looking for them on the first lead, to see what they had to say for themselves. And those four keep themselves to themselves and have next to no influence upon the Catholic community. Way over ninety-nine per cent of English Catholics have never even heard of sedevacantists and their claims of papal heresy. The only reason why sedevacantism is even an issue to me is because I interact with Americans on the web. It is ridiculous to pretend that the crimes of John Paul II are “public” in the sense in which the Law demands for a loss of papal office.

We shall now begin to consider the need for papal heresy to be notorious for it to be “public” in canonical terms.

Canonists on Notoriety of “Public” Papal Crimes

We saw Corridan state that the law requires that a pope’s heresy would have to be “notorious” before it would be “public” and he would thereby lose his office: “If he were to do so in a notoriously and widely publicized manner …“ We may see that the various canonists commenting on the 1917 Code said the same, by looking at those places in which they have explicitly discussed the loss of the papal office through heresy.

We shall see the canonists speak of the required notoriety of papal heresy, in quotations which Fr. Cekada presented in his booklet “Traditionalists, Infallibility and the Pope” (1995). Their testimony makes his suggestion, in his August 15th 2001 letter to The Remnant, all the more inexcusable that we would be justified in rejecting the papacy of John Paul II due simply to that a few talkative sedevacantists claim that he has committed heresy. Of the ten canonists and dogmatic theologians whom Fr. Cekada quoted in his booklet, nine explicitly said that a pope’s heresy would have to be “notorious” before it would be canonically “public” and he would lose his office. The only exception is Serapius Iragui who wrote in his Manuale Theologiae Dogmaticae (1959) that “theologians commonly concede” that the heresy would have to be “manifest”, which we may understand to indicate notoriety, in the context of the writings of his peers.

Here are the statements of eight of the nine – the other, from Corridan, having already been quoted above – all of which appear in the booklet, and which show that a pope’s heresy would have to be “notorious”, which is the meaning of “public” in that context, for him to thereby lose office:

J. Wilhelm: "The pope himself, if notoriously guilty of heresy, would cease to be pope". (1907 Catholic Encyclopedia (1913))

Caesar Badii: "Cessation of pontifical power. This power ceases: […] (d) Through notorious and openly divulged heresy. A publicly heretical pope […] could no longer be its head." (Institutiones Iuris Canonici (1921))

Dominic Prummer: "The power of the Roman Pontiff is lost: […] (c) By his perpetual insanity or by formal heresy. And this at least probably. […] The authors indeed commonly teach that a pope loses his power through certain and notorious heresy, but whether this case is really possible is rightly doubted." (Manuale Iuris Canonici (1927))

Wernz-Vidal's: “Through notorious and openly divulged heresy, the Roman Pontiff, should he fall into heresy, by that very fact [ipso facto] is deemed to be deprived of the power of jurisdiction even before any declaratory judgement by the Church. […] A pope who falls into public heresy would cease ipso facto […] to be head of the Church.” (Ius Canonicum (1943))

Udalricus Beste: "Not a few canonists teach that, outside of 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. In the latter case, a pope would automatically fall from his power, and this indeed without the issuance of any sentence, for the first See [i.e. the See of Peter] is judged by no one." (Introductio in Codicem (1946))

A. Vermeersch, I. Creusen: "The power of the Roman Pontiff ceases by death, free resignation (which is valid without need for any acceptance, c.221), certain and unquestionably perpetual insanity and notorious heresy.

At least according to the more common teaching, the Roman Pontiff as a private teacher can fall into manifest heresy. Then, without any declaratory sentence (for the supreme See is judged by no one), he would automatically [ipso facto] fall from power". (Epitome Iuris Canonici (1949))

Matthaeus Conte a Coronata: "Loss of office of the Roman Pontiff. This can occur in various ways:[…] c) Notorious heresy." (Institutiones Iuris Canonici (1950))

Eduardus F. Regatillo: "The Roman Pontiff ceases in office: […] (4) Through notorious public heresy? Five answers have been given: […] 5. 'The pope loses office ipso facto because of public heresy.'" (Institutiones Iuris Canonici (1956))

So nine of the ten canonists and dogmatic theologians whom Fr. Cekada quoted on the question of a pope losing his office through heresy, explicitly said that the heresy would have to be “notorious” before it was canonically “public” and a loss would occur. The other used a term which we may consider to be equivalent to “notorious” when placed in its context.

We may also note that the doctor St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori († 1787) also taught that papal heresy would have to be “notorious” before a loss occurred:

"If, however, God were to permit a pope to become a notorious and contumacious heretic, he would by such a fact cease to be pope, and the apostolic chair would be vacant." (Verita della Fede)

We shall now consider the conditions which would have to be fulfilled before an act could be considered to be “notorious”.

“Notorious” as Widely Known to be an Imputable Crime

For a pope’s heresy to be “notorious”, not only would the heretical act have to be widely known of, as we have seen, but it would also have to be an act whose criminality had been legally recognised. But, for the criminality of a pope’s heresy to be legally recognised, such as that his heresy would be canonically “notorious”, not only would a knowledge of his heresy have to have spread widely through the Church, as we have seen above, but it would also have to have been widely recognised as a morally imputable crime. Indeed, the doubt or denial of a Catholic dogma is only an heretical crime at all if it is committed stubbornly, with knowledge and intent that one is not accepting a Catholic dogma (canon 1325 of the 1917 Code; canon 751 of the 1983 Code):

“Heresy consists in a stubborn denial of truths which have been defined and proposed by the Church as divinely revealed doctrines.” (A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, Woywod Smith (1943))

It would have to be so recognised because a crime is termed “notorious” in canon law only if it is either notorious with a notoriety in law or notorious with a notoriety in fact. It is notorious with a notoriety in law only if it has been judged by a competent judge or its guilt has been admitted in a juridical confession:

“Delicts [crimes] may be notorious in law or in fact. They are notorious legally after a judicial sentence rendered by a competent judge in a matter which has become adjudged (res judicata) in any of the three ways outlined in canon 1902; they are legally notorious also by a judicial confession of guilt according to the norm of canon 1750.” (Ayrinhac, Lydon Penal Legislation in the New Code of Canon Law (1944))

However, a pope has no superiors and no one has juridical competence to judge him; as the 1917 Code of Canon Law simply says: "The first see can be judged by no one" (Canon 1556 (Canon 1404 in the 1983 Code)). But neither has there been made a juridical confession of heresy, which is not to be confused with an ordinary sacramental confession. Hence any heretical crime of John Paul II cannot be notorious with a notoriety of law.

That being so, an act of papal heresy could be legally notorious only with a notoriety of fact. But for it to be so, it would have to be widely recognised as both heretical and morally imputable – as pertinacious. That is to say that it must be not only materially notorious, the heretical act being widely known, but also formally notorious, the act being widely recognised as a morally imputable crime of formal heresy. If the act is known but is not known to be morally imputable, then it is formally secret and not notorious with a notoriety of fact.

We may see this from the comments of the canonists:

“An offense is notorious by notoriety of fact, if it is publicly known and committed under such circumstances that it cannot be concealed by any subterfuge, nor excused by any excuse admitted in law (i.e., both the fact of the offense and the imputability or criminal liability must be publicly known); an offense is occult if it is not public; it is materialiter occult [materially secret], if the offense itself is not publicly known; it is formaliter occult [formally secret], if the offense is public, but its imputability is not public (Canon 2197). [...] In order that a crime may be called public, it is necessary that the fact be publicly known as a criminal or morally imputable act--in other words, that the act is known as a crime. Thus, if a person has been dangerously wounded or killed, it is not enough that the fact is known, but it must also be known that the act was a criminal one, and not committed by accident or in self-defence.” (A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, Woywod Smith (1943))

So a papal act of heresy would be notorious in fact only if both the act were “publicly known” – which would require the knowledge of it having been spread through the universal Church, as we have seen – and the “imputability or criminal liability” were “publicly known”: “both the fact of the offense and the imputability or criminal liability must be publicly known”; “it is necessary that the fact be publicly known as a criminal or morally imputable act”. There is no competent judge who could rule of a pope that guilt was involved, and so the guilt could be “notorious” only by being widely publicly known – it would have to be widely known that the act was morally imputable. And it would be necessary that it could not be excused by an appeal to an “accident”, some sort of “self-defence”, or some other legally admissible excuse; it would also be necessary that “no subterfuge”, no evasive device, could possibly conceal it.


“A crime is notorious notorietate facti [with a notoriety of fact] when it is publicly known and has been committed under such circumstances that it cannot be concealed by any artifice or be excused by any legal assumption or circumstantial evidence. […] The second clause refers to imputability, which may be lessened by extenuating circumstances, according to can. 2201-2206. Hence not only the fact itself must be notorious, but also its criminal character. […] Every crime which is not public, says our text, is occult or secret. The Code distinguishes a twofold secrecy, viz.: merely material (materialiter occultum), which exists when the fact is unknown, or known only to the perpetrator and a few reticent persons; and formal (formaliter occultum), when the moral and juridical guilt is unknown.” (Augustine, A Commentary on Canon Law (1931))

So for the act to be notorious with a notoriety of fact, it must be publicly known and have been committed in circumstances in which “it cannot be concealed by any artifice or be excused by any legal assumption or circumstantial evidence”: “not only the fact itself must be notorious, but also its criminal character”. Its “imputability”, its moral culpability and legal inexcusability must be notorious amongst the people of the Church. Otherwise it is not notorious with a notoriety of fact but is, canonically speaking, formally secret.

Thus it would have to be necessary not only that a knowledge had spread through the universal Church of that John Paul II had committed heresy – which obviously is not so, as only a tiny, tiny minority, far less than 0.1% of the Church, even claim that he has – but it would also be necessary that a knowledge of a guilt on his part of formal, of pertinacious heresy, had likewise spread through the Church. It would be necessary that no resort could conceal the act or the guilt: no appeal to dodgy translations of the original text or to camera tricks; no appeal to faulty speech writers; no appeal to old age; no appeal to ignorance of, or confusion as to, the doctrine in question; no appeal to an accident of writing or speech; no appeal to that his saying was “in some way compatible with the doctrine of the Faith if we understood his modern ‘philosophical’ speech”; no appeal to some kind of ecclesial self-defence in the present hostile liberal social or ecclesial climate. Even if the crime could not be covered up and there were no legally admissible defence or excuse for the act, nevertheless the greater part of the Church would still have to know of his moral guilt and that the act was legally inexcusable. It would be necessary that the priests and the Catholic press could not cover up the crime to the people in any way, by any device. The fact is that the Church is most resourceful and the Faithful are most docile and deferential and next to no one has recognised the heresy of the pope, let alone any moral culpability and legal inexcusability. And anyway, the priests and the people themselves have embraced the very same heresies as John Paul II and think that he is just fine, or even “the greatest pope ever”, as many have been heard to say. Even the vast majority of the comparatively very few who have not embraced all the same heresies as he do not see or accept that the pope is in heresy – and the tiny, tiny number who can see it tend to excuse it as not pertinacious but rather due to the overall situation in the Church, especially since “Vatican II”, which has blinded almost everyone to many of the true doctrines of the Faith. The heresy of John Paul II obviously is formally secret in canonical terms, regardless of how clear it might seem to the occasional “traditionalist”: his acts have been recognised neither as heretical nor as morally imputable and legally inexcusable. Hence, his heresy is not legally recognised as notorious in fact; accordingly it is not notorious; and the legal conditions have not been fulfilled which canonists have specified for a pope to lose his office by heresy.

One can envisage that before a pope would actually lose his office, a council of the cardinals or of the bishops would have to be convoked to instruct and warn him of his deviation from the Faith, so as to ascertain and then make public to the Church that he was pertinacious in his deviation even after having been given sufficient instruction and warning; they would establish and publicise that his heresy was morally culpable and legally inexcusable. The ordinary people of the Church would, of themselves, be in no position to ascertain whether an heretical act was morally imputable and legally inexcusable, and so such knowledge could not spread through the Church without the action of the cardinals. Thus the moral imputability and legal inexcusability would be made widely known – as is required before there could be any notoriety of fact – by those competent to establish and publicise it. The cardinals would not thereby judge the pope, sentencing him in a court as his superiors; they would not make his heresy notorious with a notoriety of law. Rather they would ascertain and widely publicise the moral culpability and legal inexcusability of his pertinacity and thus bring it to pass that his guilt be notorious with a notoriety of fact, being widely known to the Church. Then the conditions for the automatic loss of the papal office would have been fulfilled and the loss would have occurred. This is like unto the explanation of the famous theologians Cajetan, John of St. Thomas, Suarez and others, as we shall see below. It is not contrary to the canon law or the opinions of the others, but is rather a pursual of the canonical principles to their practical application: to be sufficiently “public” the heresy would have to be notorious in fact and that notoriety would be established by the wide publicity given to the heresy and its moral culpability and legal inexcusability by the action of the cardinals. But it is quite plain that such a convocation of the cardinals or bishops has neither happened today nor is it all likely to, as the cardinals and bishops are heretics right along with John Paul II, as are the priests and the Faithful, if only materially and inculpably.

One can easily see how far removed is the legal reality from the laughable claim of sedevacantists that “even a few witnesses [of the act] would suffice” for a loss of the papal office through heresy. We find it most incomprehensible that a teacher of canon law at the sedevacantist seminary would fail to notice, in his own booklet, that papal heresy would have to be “notorious”, would fail to ascertain the canonical meaning of the term and would tell the lay readers of The Remnant that: "even a few witnesses would suffice" (The Remnant, August 15, 2001), without any further explanation in that letter. We may also see how false it is to call past theologians or canonists “sedevacantists” as if they held to the modern “sedevacantist” position expressed in that claim or would have agreed that the present pope had lost his office through heresy even though next to no one knows that he is even a material heretic, let alone whether he is a formal, pertinacious heretic who is morally culpable and legally inexcusable.

We shall now refute some objections which sedevacantists have tried to maintain with regard to the above.

Some Objections Answered

Some sedevacantists have responded to the above by a most extreme claim. For a pope to lose his office, his heresy would have to be widely known to the Church as morally imputable and legally inexcusable, but the vast majority of those who are recognised as being Catholics do not claim to know of any such imputability or inexcusability: so in desperation, in order to make out that the required knowledge has spread through the Church, some sedevacantists claim that all of these Catholics are no longer members of the Church, because they have followed the pope into heresy and that only sedevacantists, or perhaps a few other traditionalists as well, who supposedly know of a pertinacity on John Paul’s part, now comprise the Church. But, as we pointed out above, it is an imputable crime of heresy only if a defined Catholic doctrine is stubbornly denied (canon 1325 of the 1917 Code; canon 751 of the 1983 Code): and the ordinary Faithful, who make up the broad mass of the Church, are not held to a full knowledge of the Faith, nor can they be considered to be stubborn in having followed the direction that the pope and his bishops have taken. There are cases where some of these have been challenged and may be suspected to be stubborn in their refusal to return to the traditional doctrine, but that cannot be said for the mass of the ordinary Faithful spread throughout the world. Hence the vast majority are not guilty of imputable heresy and have not been excommunicated from the Church; accordingly a knowledge of any pertinacity on the part of John Paul cannot be said to have spread through the Church. One can see excesses in such claims.

Again, some sedevacantists claim that the bishops and priests know that John Paul is an heretic, even though they follow him in their beliefs; but again this is to no purpose for the sedevacantists. Either the bishops and priests know he is an heretic or they do not, but either way they follow him; thus, either way their knowledge cannot be cited as proof of that a knowledge of his heresy has spread through the Church. For if they do not know that he is an heretic, then there is no knowledge that can be cited. And if they do know, even though they have followed him in their beliefs, then they are formal in their heresy, even if it is a secret heresy, and then they are excommunicated, are not members of the Church, and their knowledge cannot be cited as proof that such a knowledge has spread through the Church. They would have exited the Church one by one automatically and would never have comprised a sizable body within the Church who possessed the required knowledge. Even if they were excommunicated for knowingly following heresy and were no longer members of the Church, which is extremely unlikely and has not been established by anyone competent to do so, they would still hold their offices and possess their jurisdiction in the Church (canon 2264) and would also be eligible for elevation to the papacy, as we have already seen.

Some sedevacantists say that guilt is presumed in the external forum – that is, by an ecclesiastical court in session – when there has been an external violation of the law, according to canon 2200 of the 1917 Code, until the contrary has been proven, but this is irrelevant. We are not concerned here with a matter to be judged by a court, but with that the pertinacity of a pope’s heresy would have to be widely known to the people of the Church before an ipso facto loss of office – involving no court – would occur. Further, a court could assume nothing until the papacy had been vacated – as none may judge a pope – and therefore there could be no assumption by a court which would effect that loss (which is not effected by a court anyway, but ipso facto). Some sedevacantists tend to assume that they and others like them constitute the external forum of the Church, and that they have the right to make legal assumptions, which is nonsense; a legal assumption is made only by a court in session and not by private individuals. In conclusion, any guilt of pertinacity on the part of Pope John Paul II is not widely known to the Church, be it bogusly "assumed" or otherwise.

We shall now return to the matter of the declaration from the cardinals which would be needed before a pope’s heresy would be canonically “notorious”.

The Need for a Declaration from the Cardinals

We have said that a pope's heresy would become notorious in fact through an intervention of the cardinals, who would ascertain his pertinacity and then publicise it to the Church. This publication would not be a declaratory sentence - nor a juridical sentence rendering his heresy notorious in law - it would be a simple declaration of fact as to what they had ascertained and his heresy would then become notorious in fact. Hence this is not contrary to canon 188, which says that no “declaration” is required, as that refers to a declaratory sentence, not to the sort of simple declaration of fact to which we here refer; one should not be confused by a similarity of terms when the meanings are distinct.

A declaratory sentence is a sentence which declares a punishment which has already been effected ipso facto; it does not effect the penalty but makes it publicly known:

"In the declaratory sentence, the law itself has already inflicted the penalty on the breaking of the law, and the court in which the offender is arraigned merely declares that it has found the person guilty, and that therefore he has incurred a certain penalty of the law. These penalties are called latae sententiae (sentence already pronounced.)" (A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, Woywod Smith (1943))

"Censures latæ sententiæ (of sentence pronounced) are incurred ipso facto by the commission of the crime; in other words, the delinquent incurs the penalty in the very act of breaking the law, and the censure binds the conscience of the delinquent immediately, without the process of a trial, or the formality of a judicial sentence. The law itself inflicts the penalty in the moment when the violation of the law is complete. This kind of penalty is especially effective in the Church, whose subjects are obliged in conscience to obey her laws. If the crime be secret, the censure is also secret, but it is binding before God and in conscience; if the crime be public the censure is also public; but if the secret censure thus incurred is to be made public, then a judicial examination of the crime is had, and the formal declaration (declaratory sentence) is made that the delinquent has incurred the censure." (1907 Catholic Encyclopedia: Ecclesiastical Censures, Leo Ganz)

So a declaratory sentence merely makes public that a penalty has already been inflicted by the law. Canon 188 says that no such declaratory sentence is required. But that is not what we are speaking of here. We are not speaking of where a penalty has already been inflicted and must now be declared with a declaratory sentence. Rather we are speaking of where a penalty, the loss of the papal office, has not yet occurred, and can occur ipso facto only if a simple declaration of fact is first made by the cardinals or bishops of the pertinacity of the crime, that it might be notorious in fact.

Once the fact of pertinacious heresy had been declared, it would be notorious with a notoriety of fact; the heresy would then be a legally recognised criminal fact, as the law requires, and then the ipso facto loss of office would occur as the Code foresees. The Church would then issue a declaratory sentence to inform the Church that the papacy had been vacated - not that a declaratory sentence would be required to make the loss effective, but rather to make the loss known, for the good of the Church.

This is akin to the solution historically upheld by the famous theologians Tommaso Cardinal de Vio Gaetani Cajetan O.P. († 1534) in his De Auctor. Papae et Coro and Suarez († 1617), who wrote of the deposition of an heretical pope that, "by the consent of Christ, the Church would declare him a heretic and therefore unworthy of pontifical honours; he would be then, ipso facto, and immediately deposed by Christ, and once deposed he would become inferior and would be able to be punished." (De Fide, disp. X) Once the Church had declared his heresy, the loss would automatically occur and a declaratory sentence could then be issued to inform the Church: “he would then […] be able to be punished”.

Our solution has been stated clearly by more recent canonists and theologians:

Rev. S. B. Smith, D.D.: "Q. 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." (Elements of Ecclesiastical Law (1887))

The cardinals would declare his guilt, his heresy would then be notorious in fact, and the loss of office would occur: "he must at least be declared guilty of heresy by the Church - i.e., by an oecumenical council of the College of Cardinals."

Charles Journet, Professor at the Major Seminary of Fribourg wrote:

"Others, such as Cajetan, and John of St. Thomas, whose analysis seems to me more penetrating, have considered that even after a manifest sin of heresy the Pope is not yet deposed, but should be deposed by the Church, "papa haereticus non est depositus, sed deponendus". Nevertheless, they added, the Church is not on that account above the Pope. And to make this clear they fall back on an explanation of the same nature as those we have used in Excursus IV. They remark on the one hand that in divine law the Church is to be united to the Pope as the body is to the head; and on the other that, by divine law, he who shows himself a heretic is to be avoided after one or two admonitions (Tit. iii. 10). There is therefore an absolute contradiction between the fact of being Pope and the fact of persevering in heresy after one or two admonitions. The Church's action is simply declaratory, it makes it plain that an incorrigible sin of heresy exists; then the authoritative action of God disjoins the Papacy from a subject who, persisting in heresy after admonition, becomes in divine law, inapt to retain it any longer. In virtue therefore of Scripture, the Church designates and God deposes. God acts with the Church, says John of St. Thomas, somewhat as a Pope would act who decided to attach indulgences to certain places of pilgrimage, but left it to a subordinate to designate which these places should be." (The Church of the Word Incarnate: An Essay in Speculative Theology: The Apostolic Hierarchy (1955))

The cardinals would first admonish him to return to the integral profession of the Faith and if he were to persevere in heretical depravity, his pertinacity would have been ascertained; the Church would then declare his guilt – his moral culpability and legal inexcusability – with a simple declaration of fact and God would effect the deposition ipso facto, because the crime would then be notorious in fact: "The Church's action is simply declaratory, it makes it plain that an incorrigible sin of heresy exists; then the authoritative action of God disjoins the Papacy" from the heretic.

We may now draw our conclusion regarding that John Paul II has not lost his office through heresy.

Pope John Paul II has not Lost his Office

We see that according to canon law and its authorised commentators, a pope would lose his office through heresy only if his heresy were "public", and that for it to be public, it would have to be notorious in fact. We further see that for his heresy to be notorious in fact, both the heretical act and its pertinacity would have to be widely known to the Church, such as that no resort could obscure them; his heresy would have to be widely recognised as morally imputable and legally inexcusable. And we see that in order for his pertinacity to be ascertained and publicised to the Church, a council of the cardinals or bishops would have to offer him instruction and fraternal correction and to then issue a simple declaration of fact to the Church that the pope was a pertinacious heretic. The notoriety of his heresy would then be a legally recognised fact and he would fall from the papacy ipso facto, God disjoining him. The cardinals or bishops would then declare to the Church that the papacy was vacant and the cardinals would be able to proceed to a conclave to elect a new pope.

However, it is quite clear that none of this has occurred today. The heresy of Pope John Paul II is both materially and formally secret as neither the fact of his heresy nor any pertinacity has become known to the Church. Only a tiny, tiny minority of people even claim that he has heretically diverged from the Faith and most of those do not conclude that he is certainly pertinacious. Therefore he has not lost the papacy through heresy. The same may be said for his recent predecessors.

One or two sedevacantists claim that even Pope Pius XII vacated his office in 1951 over natural family planning, which they claim is contrary to what the Church had taught before. However, natural family planning has not been condemned infallibly, whether ex cathedra or through the ordinary and universal magisterium. It is doubtful that it has been explicitly condemned even once in the merely authentic magisterium, which is not infallible of itself, any way, and it is not heresy to contradict something so taught. Certainly the few partisans of that position have not as yet shown any explicit condemnation of it. Hence their claim that Pius XII thereby committed heresy is without foundation. Further, even if he had committed heresy, he would not have lost his office unless the pertinacity of his heresy had been notorious in fact, which would have required an intervention of the cardinals or bishops, as we have seen. And in fact it is unknown that anyone at all claimed that Pius had committed heresy, so the idea that he lost his office is blatant nonsense. Further, even if he had vacated his office in 1951 as claimed – which he did not – the legislation which he passed regarding the admittance of the excommunicated to papal conclaves was made in 1945, so the election of the following popes would have been valid anyway.

Some sedevacantists claim that the law governing the loss of ecclesiastical offices is of divine law, established by God rather than by the Church, but this makes no difference. Canon law contains both the divine and the ecclesiastical law and we have seen how the Church and her authorised canonists have explained the law.

We shall now consider a prefiguration of the above in holy Scripture.

The Solution Prefigured in the Scriptures

We may consider that our solution, whereby an intervention of the cardinals or bishops would in practice be required for a pope to lose his office, is prefigured in the narration of St. Peter’s denial of Our Lord. Of course, St. Peter was not an heretic, but frightened; nor was he yet pope until Our Lord commissioned him (St. John 21:17) and the Church was founded upon his first sermon on Pentecost day (Acts 2:14), upon which the Gospel was promulgated. Yet we may see the conditions for a loss of the papacy through stubborn heresy symbolised in the narration of his denial:

“69 But Peter sat without in the court: and there came to him a servant maid, saying: Thou also wast with Jesus the Galilean.

70 But he denied before them all, saying: I know not what thou sayest.

71 And as he went out of the gate, another maid saw him, and she saith to them that were there: This man also was with Jesus of Nazareth.

72 And again he denied with an oath, I know not the man.

73 And after a little while they came that stood by, and said to Peter: Surely thou also art one of them; for even thy speech doth discover thee.

74 Then he began to curse and to swear that he knew not the man. And immediately the cock crew.

75 And Peter remembered the word of Jesus which he had said: Before the cock crow, thou wilt deny me thrice. And going forth, he wept bitterly.” (St. Matthew 26)

The servant maids represent the cardinals, the servants of the pope, acting as a single body. St. Peter represents the pope, his successor. That he sat “without the court” (v. 69) represents that a pope is not subject to any court and that his loss of office for heresy can occur only ipso facto through the admonitions of the cardinals and their publicisation of his guilt. First the maid states the truth to him (v. 69), as would the cardinals state the true faith to an erring pope. She says: “Thou also wast with Jesus the Galilean”, which also represents the special union of the pope with Christ, Whose vicar he is; that it is put in the past tense represents that the union is being broken. In response, St. Peter “denied before them all” (v. 70) which symbolises the pope’s denial of the faith before the body of the cardinals who are convoked, at least morally, and before their representative. That he said, “I know not what thou sayest” (v. 70) perhaps represents that the pope would at that stage be attempting to deny that his position was heretical. He is then contradicted again with the truth (v. 71), by another maid, as the cardinals would persevere in their appeals to him, perhaps through another representative or physically together at that stage. We are told that this occurred, “as he went out of the gate” (v. 71) which represents that the papacy is being vacated and his jurisdiction in the Church is being lost through the intervention of the cardinals and his stubborn perseverance in heresy. The second maid states: “This man also was with Jesus of Nazareth” (v. 71), which again represents that the special union of the pope with Christ, as His vicar, is being broken through the procedure of the cardinals. That she said this, “to them that were there” (v. 71) perhaps represents that although the pope is being addressed by a representative of the cardinals, this is taking place before a convocation of them. That, in response, “he denied with an oath” (v. 72) perhaps represents that the procedure is becoming more solemn. That he stated: “I know not the man” perhaps represents that he is still denying the doctrine of the Faith and that he is yet claiming ignorance of any error. He is then appealed to a third time (v. 73). That we are told that this third appeal occurred when “after a little while they came that stood by” (v. 73) represents that the cardinals persevered with their exhortations to the pope to return to the doctrine of the Faith and did as yet forbear to conclude and declare pertinacity. That he is now addressed by them together (v. 73) perhaps represents that the pope would at this stage certainly be addressed by the physically convened body of the cardinals while he had before been addressed by representatives, the “maid servants”. That he is told: “Surely thou also art one of them; for even thy speech doth discover thee” (v. 73) represents that the cardinals are coming to their conclusion, stating that the doctrine of the Faith in question is clear and certain, and that they consider that he is certainly betraying himself as a pertinacious, stubborn heretic by his speech. That in response, St. Peter “then he began to curse” (v. 74) represents that the procedure of the cardinals is concluding and that the pope is abusive and his depravity is clear. That he also began “to swear that he knew not the man” (v. 74) represents that the pope is at this stage making solemn his rejection of the truth of the doctrine of the Faith, and that he is formally nullifying his special relationship with Christ as His vicar; he is separating himself from the papal office by stubbornly resisting the appeals of the cardinals and thereby manifesting his pertinacity for them to declare with a simple declaration of fact. Hence we are told that “and immediately the cock crew” (v. 74), which represents that upon the continued resistance of the pope and his clear manifestation of his pertinacious heresy, the cardinals make public, cry, his heresy to the universal Church. A cockerel merely announces the dawn, and here this represents that the cardinals are merely announcing papal heresy with a simple declaration of fact and are not issuing a juridical declaratory sentence, which is not required. That this declaration is given “immediately” (v. 74) may be taken to represent the ipso facto, automatic, aspect of the loss of the papal office upon an announcement of heresy by the cardinals. St. Peter then “remembered the word of the Jesus” (v. 75), which we may take as representing that the Gospel passage symbolically foretells with regard to a future pope who is losing his office, of which we are now attempting to give the exegesis. He remembered that the Lord had said that, “before the cock crow, thou wilt deny me thrice” (v. 75) which represents that it is foretold that before a council of the cardinals would declare a pope’s heresy, they would persevere in their appeals and he would persevere in revealing his heretical depravity. And finally, we are told that, “and going forth, he wept bitterly” (v.75); that he “went forth” represents that a pope would, upon a declaration of the cardinals, go forth from the papacy, losing it, by his own actions not by a judgement, his own heretical acts having merely become notorious in fact by the intervention of the cardinals; by the legally recognised fact of his own acts, he goes forth. That he then “wept bitterly” may be taken to represent that a pope would then be subject to sorrowful penance; having fallen from the papacy, he would be subject to the punishment imposed by the Church, and a declaratory judgement could be issued to inform the Church that the papacy had been vacated; a new conclave could then gather.

Who knows - perhaps this will happen one day with a future pope? What is clear is that it has not happened today.

We do not mean to imply that the above figurative exegesis is any proof of our solution but only that it is an interesting figurative illustration of it. We have cited the law of the Church and its commentators to see what the requirements are for a pope to lose his office through heresy. The early fathers of the Church tell us that only the literal word of Scripture may be taken as proof, as explained by the Church of course, while the figurative sense may be cited only as giving a degree of support or illustration. The devise of figure is used throughout the Bible, is much drawn upon by the fathers, and is highly revered by the Church.

We shall now return to the literal statement of the law and consider the situation that would prevail in the Church until, or unless, a pope’s heresy had become notorious in fact.

An Heretical Pope would Govern Validly but Illicitly

Now it is quite possible that Pope John Paul has automatically excommunicated himself through pertinacious heresy, as apostates and pertinacious heretics incur automatic excommunication (canon 2314, §1). But that would not effect a vacancy of the papacy. Only notorious heresy would do that. The law maintains the offices of those who have excommunicated themselves through heresy, unless their heresy is sufficiently public, as we have seen. This is only sensible, otherwise every time a cleric committed pertinacious heresy in his heart, which would effect his excommunication, his office would be vacant and all his acts would be without validity and no one would know. In the case of a pope, this would mean that all of his appointments and other acts would be invalid and would convey no power.

An heretical pope who had not been deposed through a notoriety of fact, by the intervention of the cardinals, would govern the Church validly but illicitly. This means that he would truly govern the Church but would do so immorally. (It is like if a priest were to celebrate Mass while in mortal sin: he would be forbidden to do so by law but the consecration would be valid.) This is stated in the Code of Canon Law. Canon 2263 of the 1917 Code states that someone who has been excommunicated “is forbidden to exercise ecclesiastical offices or duties”. So a pope who had been excommunicated for heresy would be forbidden by the law to exercise the papal office and govern the Church. But canon 2264 states as follows, as we have seen: "An act of jurisdiction carried out by an excommunicated person, whether in the internal or the external forum, is illicit; and if a condemnatory or declaratory sentence has been pronounced, it is also invalid, without prejudice to c. 2261, §3; otherwise it is valid". So, while it would be illicit for an excommunicated pope to continue to govern the Church, he would still be able to, as long as no juridical sentence had been passed against him, which could not happen as none may judge the first see, and his acts would be valid: “it is valid”. Only a declaration of pertinacity by the body of the cardinals or bishops could cause an heretic to ipso facto vacate the papacy and that could only happen these days when the hierarchy of the Church had returned to orthodoxy, which is itself unlikely at present until the papacy returns to orthodox hands. In the meantime we should be grateful that God has provided us with valid jurisdiction, so that the Church and its sanctifying ministry might continue.

Again, let it be noted that the sedevacantists who claim that it is heretical to say that an excommunicated pope could possess and exercise jurisdiction within the Church, would have to say that the papacy has been vacant since the 1917 Code, upheld by all the following popes, was promulgated by Pope Benedict XV, for that Code said that they can.

Faith is not absolutely necessary for the exercise of jurisdiction. Just as an heretical minister can be used as a minister of absolution by the Church, which requires jurisdiction on the part of the minister, such as at the point of death, even so an heretical pope can be used as a minister of papal jurisdiction. A pope is the head of the Church only vicariously and exercises his office as an instrument of Christ: Our Lord can continue to use him even if he should excommunicate himself through heresy.

So even if Pope John Paul II has excommunicated himself through heresy, he would still govern the Church as pope, illicitly but validly. However, as his heresy permeates his documents and his policies, we should habitually ignore his teaching; further, we have the right and the duty to resist him, as I have documented from tradition in another article. Catholics do not practice false and absolute obedience but true and discerning obedience. With the use of the virtue of equity, we reject and resist whatever commands are harmful. To do otherwise is a sin. The law is there for man, not man for the law. The pope’s acts are to be accepted in so far as they uphold the Church, not in so far as they contribute to its destruction.

We shall now consider that the indefectibility of the Church is no argument against John Paul II being pope.

The Indefectibility of the Church

Some sedevacantists claim that John Paul II and his recent predecessors cannot have been popes due to the indefectibility of the Church. They say that popes cannot err from the Faith, nor can they inflict such damage upon the Church as we have suffered since “Vatican II”, nor can they legislate such as to diminish the extent to which the sacraments are performed in a befitting manner. But, as the popes of the “Vatican II” orientation have done these things, they conclude, they cannot have been popes. However none of this is true we shall now show. We shall first consider the limits of papal infallibility, then that popes can somewhat destroy the Church, and then turn to the matter of the sacraments.

The Limits of Papal Infallibility

That John Paul II has taught heresy to the Church is no argument against him being pope for it is quite possible for popes to teach heresy.

Only two of the Church’s magisteria are infallible, namely the extraordinary (solemn) magisterium, which is ex cathedra definitions, and the ordinary and universal magisterium, which is what the Church has always believed and taught generally speaking. It is impossible that these should contain heresy. However the day-to-day teaching of a pope, as in encyclicals and speeches, is only part of the authentic magisterium, which is not infallible. Accordingly one is not obliged to believe its teachings with divine and Catholic faith, but only, normally, to give it religious adherence, and it can contain heresy, in which case it is not to be adhered to but resisted.

The object of faith, that is, the infallible teaching, was defined at Vatican I (1870):

“Wherefore, by divine and catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God as found in scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal magisterium.”

It has been taught by various popes that a pope can teach heresy against the Faith. Pope Adrian VI († 1523) stated that "it is beyond question" that a pope can "err in matters touching the Faith", he can "teach heresy" in decrees. He also stated that "many Roman Pontiffs were heretics":

"If by the Roman Church you mean its head or pontiff, it is beyond question that he can err even in matters touching the faith. He does this when he teaches heresy by his own judgement or decretal. In truth, many Roman pontiffs were heretics. The last of them was Pope John XXII († 1334)." (Quaest. in IV Sent.; quoted in Viollet, Papal Infallibility and the Syllabus, 1908).*

(* According to the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia, this work was published in 1512 from the notes of his students and without his supervision, but as it saw "many editions" it would appear that the pope did not repudiate the passage as not his own, in a work attributed to him.)

Venerable Pope Pius IX († 1878) recognised the danger that a future pope would be an heretic and "teach […] contrary to the Catholic Faith", and he instructed, "do not follow him". He said: "If a future pope teaches anything contrary to the Catholic Faith, do not follow him." (Letter to Bishop Brizen)

Pope Adrian II († 872) admitted that papal heresy "renders lawful the resistance of subordinates to their superiors, and their rejection of the latter's pernicious teachings":

"We read that the Roman Pontiff has always possessed authority to pass judgment on the heads of all the Churches (i.e., the patriarchs and bishops), but nowhere do we read that he has been the subject of judgment by others. It is true that Honorius was posthumously anathematised by the Eastern churches, but it must be borne in mind that he had been accused of heresy, the only offence which renders lawful the resistance of subordinates to their superiors, and their rejection of the latter's pernicious teachings".

Further, Pope Honorius I († 638) was not merely "accused of heresy" or "anathematised by the Eastern Churches": he was anathematised as an heretic by the ecumenical Council of III Constantinople (680) as follows, whose Acts were confirmed by Pope Leo II († 683):

"We foresaw that, together with them, also Honorius, before Pope of Old Rome, is cast out of the Holy Catholic Church of God and anathematized, for we have found by his writings sent to [the heretic] Sergius, that he followed the thinking of the latter in everything, and continued his impious principles. [...] To Sergius, the heretic, anathema! To Cyrus, the heretic, anathema! To Honorius, the heretic, anathema!"

So we see that popes have told us that "it is beyond question" that a pope can "err in matters touching the Faith", he can "teach heresy" in decrees; that "many Roman Pontiffs were heretics"; that a pope may be an heretic and "teach […] contrary to the Catholic Faith", in which case we are to follow the instruction "do not follow him"; and that papal heresy "renders lawful the resistance of subordinates to their superiors, and their rejection of the latter's pernicious teachings."

Now, all of this applies to John Paul II. He is an open heretic against the Catholic Faith and we are not to follow him. Rather we are to resist him and reject his pernicious "teachings", as the popes through the ages have told us, as have the fathers and doctors of the Church. But more to our present point, we find that a pope can teach heresy to the Church: hence that John Paul II has done so cannot be considered to be any proof by those who rashly and erroneously claim that he is not the pope. On the contrary, as we have seen all of the canon lawyers quoted above tell us, a pope can become a heretic and would remain pope until such time as the pertinacity of his heresy were notorious in fact, which would be facilitated by a council of the cardinals or bishops.

Moreover it should be noted that “Vatican II” (1964) was not an infallible dogmatic council. Both Pope John XXIII at its beginning, and Pope Paul VI at its end, stated that the council was not dogmatic but pastoral and that it defined nothing infallibly. The council was given only the authority of the non-infallible authentic magisterium. Hence that the council contained heresy is no argument against that there were popes during the period who promulgated it as a pastoral council.

We shall now consider that popes can somewhat destroy the Church.

Popes can somewhat Destroy the Church

Further, theologians have told us that a pope can destroy the Church with his policies, although obviously they did not mean that he could totally destroy it, but that he can inflict immense damage upon it, such as we have recently suffered. Hence we see that the catastrophe which beset the Church since “Vatican II” does not imply that the Church has been without popes during this time.

The theologian Sylvester Prieras, O.P. († 1523) discussed the resistance of a corrupt pope at some length. He asked, "What should be done in cases where the pope destroys the Church by his evil actions?" and "What should be done if the pope wishes unreasonably to abolish the laws of church or state?" His answer is as follows:

"He would certainly be in sin, and it would be unlawful to allow him to act in such a fashion, and likewise to obey him in matters which are evil; on the contrary, there is a duty to oppose him while administering a courteous rebuke. Thus, were he to wish to distribute the Church's wealth, or Peter's Patrimony among his own relatives; were he to wish to destroy the church or to commit an act of similar magnitude, there would be a duty to prevent him, and likewise an obligation to oppose him and resist him. The reason being that he does not possess power in order to destroy, and thus it follows that if he is so doing it is lawful to oppose him. It is clear from the preceding that, if the pope by his commands, orders or by his actions is destroying the church, he may be resisted and the fulfilment of his commands prevented. The right of open resistance to prelates' abuse of authority stems also from natural law." (Dialogus de Potestate Papae)

Cajetan declared: "It is imperative to resist a pope who is openly destroying the Church." (De Comparata Auctoritate Papae et Concilio)

The doctor of the Church, St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J. wrote a treatise on the Papacy which was used as a basis for the definition of the limits of papal infallibility which was made at Vatican I; he wrote: "Just as it is lawful to resist the pope that attacks the body, it is also lawful to resist the one who attacks souls or who disturbs civil order, or, above all, who attempts to destroy the Church. I say that it is lawful to resist him by not doing what he orders and preventing his will from being executed." (De Romano Pontifice, Lib. II, Ch. 29)

Hence it can come to pass that “the pope by his commands, orders or by his actions is destroying the church”, that there is “a pope who is openly destroying the Church”, “who attempts to destroy the Church”. This the doctors and theologians have told us. In such cases it would be a sin to obey him and rather we would have the duty to resist him and to stop his policies from being implemented. Such is the case today. However we see that such a situation is not incompatible with that John Paul II is the true pope and is no argument against him being so.

We shall now consider that the recent changes in the sacraments are no argument against John Paul II being pope.


The famous theologian Juan Cardinal De Torquemada O.P. († 1468) who was given title, "Defender of the Faith", by Pope Eugene XIV stated that a pope can “command against […] the truth of the sacraments”:

"Although it clearly follows from the circumstances that the Pope can err at times, and command things which must not be done, that we are not to be simply obedient to him in all things, that does not show that he must not be obeyed by all when his commands are good. To know in what cases he is to be obeyed and in what not, it is said in the Acts of the Apostles: 'One ought to obey God rather than man'; therefore, were the Pope to command anything against Holy Scripture, or the articles of faith, or the truth of the Sacraments, or the commands of the natural or divine law, he ought not to be obeyed, but in such commands, to be passed over." (Summa de Ecclesia, quoting St. Robert Bellarmine)

So a pope can enact legislation even against the truth of the sacraments. That would be far worse than anything which the “Vatican II” popes have done, although the sacraments are generally performed in a less fitting manner now.

Hence we see that the changes in the sacraments since “Vatican II” are no argument against John Paul II and his recent predecessors having been popes. The indefectibility of the Church does not mean that popes cannot teach heresy non-infallibly, nor that they cannot do serious damage to the Church or cause the sacraments to be offered generally in a less fitting manner than before. Rather we should think that the sedevacantists’ imagined scenario – in which there has been no pope for over 40 years, no bishops and no jurisdiction in the Church (not to mention outrageous theories about the sacraments) - is contrary to the indefectibility of the Church.

Let us now draw our conclusion regarding John Paul II being pope.


Hence, we find that Pope John Paul II was validly elected to the pontificate, he remains pope and will so remain unless his heresy becomes pertinacious with a notoriety of fact through an intervention of a council of the cardinals or the bishops. That he has taught heresy is no argument against this as it is widely admitted by theologians, doctors, canonists and even popes that a pope can teach heresy. Until the aforementioned condition were met, he would remain pope. Further, that the Church has been beset with immense turmoil and even destructive policies since “Vatican II”, and that the sacraments are now generally performed in a less fitting manner, is no argument against our conclusion. John Paul II is pope. However, we have the obligation to resist him, his heretical teachings and his destructive policies, as we have argued at length in another study.

We shall now add a final note regarding Fr. Cekada and his statements regarding the potentially heretical theory of “baptism of desire”.

A Final Note on Fr. Anthony Cekada and “baptism of desire”

We have seen how Fr. Cekada is liable to mislead the Faithful, even in the field in which he is supposedly knowledgeable, i.e., the teaching of canonists regarding the conditions required for a pope to lose his office. This was evident when he ridiculously told the lay readers of a traditionalist newspaper simply that: “even a few witnesses would suffice” for a pope to lose his office (The Remnant, August 15, 2001) without any explanation of the need for a notoriety of the crime, even though nine of the ten canonists and theologians whom he quoted in his booklet explicitly stated that it would have to be notorious.

It is worth briefly addressing that he has been telling the Faithful that it is a mortal sin to not agree with the “baptism of desire” theory because theologians of the 1940s and 1950s tended to hold that theory. Quite simply, times move on and Fr. Cekada needs to face that reality. All of the approved theologians of the Church today hold to untold errors such as: religious liberty; false ecumenism; a false ecclesiology which would include heretics and schismatics in the Church; the heresy of salvation for those who die as non-Catholics, and so on. So any delegated authority of theologians – they have none of themselves as God committed a teaching authority only to the pope and his bishops – is presently void in its exercise. And Fr. Cekada is in fact in agreement in that regard, as he too ignores present approved theologians. His error is to refuse the papacy of Pope John Paul II. Now, as we are not in any manner bound to adhere to the opinions of present theologians at the present time, one can obviously not be criticised for rejecting the opinion of “baptism of desire”. That a past batch of theological copyists tended toward the opinion is irrelevant, as no one has ever suggested that Catholics are bound to the opinions of theologians from a past period. And indeed, if Catholics were so bound, then Fr. Cekada would be bound – as indeed he is so bound – to reject his rash theory that a pope would lose his office if a few talkative sedevacantists claimed that he is an heretic. This is all the more evident from what Suarez said with regard to “the common opinion” of theologians in his day that a pope would not lose his office for heresy before the Church had intervened to declare him an heretic (De Fide disp. X) – which is contrary to what Fr. Cekada maintains. Wherefore he cannot claim to not be in disagreement with the common opinion of a previous time any more than those who reject the opinion of “baptism of desire” of the 1940s and 1950s so claim. What happened at “Vatican II” was a long time coming and we believe that the heresy of “baptism of desire” specifically for “pagans, jews, heretics and schismatics”, has been instrumental in bringing on the present collapse. Catholics have no business playing the possibly schismatic sedevacantist game of 1950s and are obliged to respond responsibly to the current crisis in the Church. In short, do not let this man intimidate you; considering his manifest tendency to mislead the Faithful, it is best to avoid him and his writings for one’s spiritual safety, lest we too should be lead into possible schism.

“Outside the Church, no one at all is saved” (Pope Innocent III, † 1216). Those sedevacantists who reject the papacy of Pope John Paul II wilfully and who refuse to undertake a sincere effort to critically examine their error cannot claim to be subject to the Roman Pontiff and are schismatics. Any adult who does not believe in the papacy is outside of the Church. The correct Catholic response to the present crisis in the Church is to submit with “true obedience” as Vatican I defined we must. True obedience is not false, absolute obedience; rather it is when we use the virtue of equity to discern when authority is being abused and when we resist abuses of authority. Hence, true Catholic obedience requires us today to recognise John Paul II as pope but also to openly resist his heresies and errors, as I have shown in another study