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It Is Licit to Resist a Pope
Who Publicly Destroys the Church

Given the good reaction of our readers to a recent posting on the duty of Catholics to resist an unfaithful Pope, we continue to reproduce analogous statements by other respected theologians and Doctors of the Church on this topic.
Today we bring to the attention of our readers some considerations of Fr. Francisco de Vitoria, O.P., one of the great names in the Spanish Silver Scholasticism of the 16th century and a famous jurist from the School of Salamanca. He was one of the first experts in international law, defending the prominent and decisive role for the Pope as the arbiter of all Catholics Monarchs. Notwithstanding, he also studied the cases in which it is licit and necessary to resist a Pope. He affirms that Catholics are obliged to take a position of resistance against a Pope who openly destroys the Church and introduces bad customs.

Fr. Francisco de Vitoria, O.P.

Caietano, in the same work defending the superiority of the Pope over the Council, says in chap. 27: ‘Therefore, a Pope must be resisted who publicly destroys the Church, for example, by refusing to give ecclesiastical benefits except for money or in exchange for services; and with all obedience and respect, the possession of such benefits must be denied to those who bought them.’

And Silvestre (Prierias), in the entry Pope, § 4, asks: ‘What should be done when the Pope, because of his bad customs, destroys the Church?’ And in §15: ‘What should be done if the Pope wanted, without reason, to abrogate Positive Law?’ To which he answers: ‘He would certainly sin; he should neither be permitted to act in such fashion nor should he be obeyed in what was evil; but he should be resisted with a courteous reprehension.’

Consequently, if he wished to give away the whole treasure of the Church or the patrimony of St. Peter to his relatives, if he wanted to destroy the Church or the like, he should not be permitted to act in that fashion, but one would be obliged to resist him. The reason for this is that he does not have the power to destroy; therefore, if there is evidence that he is doing it, it is licit to resist him.

The result of all this is that if the Pope destroys the Church by his orders and acts, he can be resisted and the execution of his mandates prevented. ...

Second proof of the thesis: By Natural Law it is licit to repel violence with violence. Now then, with such orders and dispensations the Pope exerts violence, since he acts against the Law, as we have proven. Therefore, it is licit to resist him.

As Caietano observes, we do not affirm all this in the sense that someone could have competence to judge the Pope or have authority over him, but meaning that it is licit to defend oneself. Indeed, anyone has the right to resist an unjust act, to try to prevent it and to defend himself.

(Obras de Francisco de Vitoria, Madrid: BAC, 1960, pp. 486-487)

Posted on February 26, 2011

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