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Can the Pope Become a Heretic

Can the Pope Become a Heretic

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Published by David Bawden
Can the Pope become a heretic?
Can the Pope become a heretic?

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Published by: David Bawden on Feb 28, 2010
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02/28/2010

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Can the Pope Become aHeretic?
This has been an academic discussion among theologians and canonists for centuries.Some hold that since the Vatican Council in 1870, this is now considered an impossibility, whileothers hold that this possibility was not set aside by the Vatican Council. In doing the research,it appears that this is still considered a possibility. This discussion shall give the reasoning of those theologians and canonists who believe that it is possible for the Pope to become a heretic,as well as those who discuss it academically and then to make some observations based upon thecomments after the promulgation of the Code of Canon Law in 1917, which have a bearing onthis proposition.Pope Paul IV opens ‘Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio’ with the following statement:“We considering a matter of thiskind to be of so grave and perilous a naturethat even the Roman Pontiff, who is theviceregent of God and the Lord Jesus Christupon earth, having a plenitude of power overnations and kingdoms, judging all and beingudged of none in this present world, maynevertheless be reproved if he is founddeviating from the faith-and (consideringmoreover) that where there is greater dangerthere should be also a fuller and morediligent consultation, lest false prophets orothers having secular jurisdiction also,should entangle miserably the souls of thefaithful, and should draw down with theminto perdition and destruction theinnumerable peoples committed to theircharge and government in spiritual ortemporal matters, and so it might happenthat we should see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the Prophet,in the holy place.”“Cum ex apostolatus officio Nobis,meritis licet imparibus, divinitus credito,cura Dominici gregis Nobis immineatgeneralis, et exinde teneamur pro fideli illiuscustodia, et salubri directione, more vigilisPastoris, assidue vigilare, et attentiusprovidere, ut qui hac aetate, peccatisexigentibus, propriae prudentiae innitentesscientius, et perniciosius solito contraorthodoxae fidei disciplinam insurgunt, etsuperstitiosis, ac fictitiis adinventionibussacrarum Scripturarum intelligentiampervertentes, Catholicae Ecclesiae unitatemet inconsutilem Domini tunicam scinderemoliuntur, ab ovili Christi repellantur, necmagisterium erroris continuent, qui discipuliveritatis esse contemnunt.”This would appear to confirm the possibility of a Pope saying something heretical. Infact Pope John XXII did, was reproved and retracted his statements. He made a statement uponwhat was then an open question, which theologians considered a dangerous statement. In thecase of statements in a speech, one should give more latitude than in something more official,such as an Encyclical.
Has Any Pope Become a Heretic?
 
2Although some allege this has happened, Saint Robert Cardinal Bellarmine in his deRomano Pontifice went to great lengths to demonstrate that it had never happened in history anddisproved each and every allegation. More modern authors have also considered this question.In discussing resignation of the Pope, Abbo and Hannan in The Sacred Canons (1921)state: “Moreover, the jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff would cease if he should become insane,though only if this were established by incontrovertible proof, for insanity is juridicallyequivalent to death. According to the opinion of some canonists, it would cease also upon hisnotorious lapse into heresy. Neither of these two eventualities has occurred in the long history of the papacy.” Saint Alphonsus is also of the same opinion. Therefore as of 1921, no case of actual Papal heresy has occurred according to the opinion of theologians and canonists.
What Would Happen If the Pope Became a Heretic?
Dogmatic Theology: Christ’s Church by Van Noort (1957) teaches: “All theologiansadmit that the pope can make a mistake in matters of faith or morals when so speaking: either byproposing a false opinion in a matter not yet defined, or by innocently differing from somedoctrine already defined. Theologians disagree, however, over the question of whether the popecan become a formal heretic by stubbornly clinging to at error in a matter already defined. Themore probable and respectful opinion, followed by Suarez, Bellarmine and many others, holdsthat just as God has not till this day ever permitted such a thing to happen, so too He will neverpermit a pope to become a formal and public heretic. Still, some competent theologians doconcede that the pope when not speaking ex cathedra could fall into formal heresy. They addthat should such a case of public papal heresy occur, the pope, either by the very deed itself or atleast by a subsequent decision of an ecumenical council, would by divine law forfeit hisurisdiction. Obviously a man could not continue to be the head of the Church if he ceased to beeven a member of the Church.” This is a good summary of the thinking of theologians andcanonists on this important subject.What is most important is that all canonists who consider this possibility do so incommenting on two Canons of the Code of Canon Law.“If it should happen that the RomanPontiff wishes to resign his office, it is notnecessary for the validity of the renunciationthat the Cardinals or any other personsaccept the resignation.”“Si contingat us Romanus Pontifexrenuntiet, ad ejusdem renuntiationisvalidatatem non est necessaries Cardinalemaliorumve acceptatio.” (Canon 221)This is significant, because Canon 188 states:(Canon 188, paragraph 4) “”All offices shallbe vacant ipso facto by tacit resignation inthe following cases: 4. If a cleric haspublicly lapsed from the faith.”“Ob tacitam renuntiationem ab ipso jureadmissam quaelibet official vacant ipsofacto et sine ulla declaratione, si clericus: 4.A fide catholicus publice defecerit;
 
3Canonists have debated whether or not his also includes schism, but Pope Pius XIIappears to have settled this as the ‘lawgiven’ in the Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi: “For notevery sin, however great it may be, is such as of its own nature to sever a man from the Body of the Church, as does schism or heresy or apostasy.” (Paragraph 23) In the previous paragraph hehad stated; “Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have beenbaptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separatethemselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faultscommitted.” We know that heretics do not profess the true Faith.Now we should distinguish between an isolated incident, such as that of Pope John XXIIand persistent and notorious heresy. An isolated incident is most likely an accident, whichwould not have happened with more mature deliberation. However, persistent and notoriousheresy is another matter. This is a way of life and thus quite dangerous. In the case of anotorious and persistent heretic, the law is quite clear. They are excommunicated ipso factounder Canon 2314, become irregular under Canons 984, paragraph 5 and 985, paragraph 1 andresign all offices in the Church under Canon 188, paragraph 4 to mention a few results. PopePius IX states that they have suffered shipwreck in the Faith, and much more can be said.
Why Is the Case of the Pope Different?
If all Christians who become heretics immediately suffer shipwreck of the Faith and incurexcommunication and irregularity, why doesn’t the Pope? Why is there a reticence to ‘judge thepope’? The reason is simple. “Prima Sedes a nemine judicatur’ (Canon 1556) “The PrimatialSee can be judged by no one.” In fact this is a doctrine of the Divine and Catholic Faith. This iswhy canonists and theologians have debated the question of whether or not a Pope can become aheretic and more important, what can the Church do if such a catastrophe happened. Some holdthat an imperfect council of the Church would have to be called to declare the fact and then electa Pope or convene the Cardinals to elect a Pope. It is called imperfect, because only a Pope cancall an Ecumenical Council. Others hold that the Cardinals, as the ordinary electors of the Pope,could intervene to declare the papacy vacant and proceed to elect a Pope. Some hold that thepapacy does not truly become vacant until such declaration, while others hold that the papacybecome vacant by the act of heresy and all that is required is the declaration of this fact by theChurch.
Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio And a Possible Solution
Given the reasoning of the more modern canonists in light of Canons 188, paragraph 4and 221, the most likely event is that a Pope by committing an act of heresy resigns his office,which the Church accepts by the very fact of the heresy as it does in all other cases. It should benoted that the old law supporting Canon 188, paragraph 4 is Pope Paul IV’s Bull, ‘Cum ExApostolatus Officio. We have quoted paragraph 1 above. Let us consider that if a man is apersistent and notorious heretic after his apparent election as Pope, he might have been a hereticprior to his election. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that if this is true, that God would make thisable to be discovered by carefully reviewing a man’s speeches and writings prior to his electionas Pope?

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