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When Does a Heretical Pope
Become an Invalid Pope?

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Regarding Dan O'Connell's article on Sede-vacantism,

I want to thank Dan for expressing his thoughts so well on sede-vacantism. It certainly lays out the thoughts of many on the question of the current situation in the Church.

But, I think Dan overlooked a key point. He points out the arguments of sede-vacantists which they use to justify their position. He questions the point at which a Pope might fall into heresy and lose his office, making the situation seem improbable. Have the Popes committed heresy? Did John Paul II commit manifest heresy when he prayed with non-Catholics at Assisi? Did he not encourage them to worship false gods, while neglecting to speak to them clearly about the necessity of joining the Catholic Church in order to be saved? Did he not do these things in public before the whole world?

Dan may be confident that the men who hold the Papacy in our time have been real Popes, but I am unsure. And I am unsure for the very reasons that he uses to minimize people who, like me, look at the public actions and words of these men and wonder if they are even Catholic.

Now, here is the point that Dan overlooked: I am not in a position to decide the question of whether the Chair is vacant or not and neither is he. I do not have the intellectual capacity to decide such questions, nor the charism, nor the authority. At one time there was a clear and decisive authority who could decide such questions to which we could turn with confidence. That authority was the Church. To whom can we turn with confidence today to assure us that all is well in Rome? How do we decide the question? We cannot! That is our terrible dilemma.



P.S. One can't help but wonder why St. Robert Bellarmine gave us all those warnings about heresy in the Papacy, when none of the Popes of his time ever uttered a heretical thought. Do you think they might have been given for some future age?

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The Editor responds:

Mr. G.N.,

Independent of the piece of Mr. O’Connell, TIA’s position regarding the possible heresies of the Conciliar Popes is as clear as it can be in these confused times in which we are living. Several times it has been expounded on this website, although without the pretension of resolving every difficulty. You may read it here, here, here and here. We have also printed a booklet Resistance vs. Sede-Vacantism, which you can purchase here.

Given that all the Conciliar Popes have stood behind the heresy of universal salvation - that a man can be saved in any religion - we believe that those Popes may be – and most probably are – heretics, and therefore, illegitimate Popes. But they still remain valid authorities of the Church until a new Pope will declare their heresy, or until the ensemble of the faithful will make their authority lose its effectiveness.

Let me deal with this last case. In considering when an authority loses its validity, one is dealing with a social-political problem. Since the Church is a visible society, for an authority to lose its validity, the error that causes such loss must be known and rejected by a considerable number of its members or the more influential.

Here are some analogies that may illustrate the loss of authority in visible societies:

  • When a father is a drunkard and destroys the family life, the children stop following his orientation and try to prevent him from this bad behavior;

  • When a captain is a traitor, his troops stop obeying him to prevent him from a dishonorable surrender or delivering their banners to the enemy;

  • When a governor is corrupt, the public make his faults known to create an atmosphere of general opposition so that his own subordinates will oppose him;

  • Also, if there are two strong opposite parties fighting inside a kingdom, and one denies obedience to the king, he may lose control of the country.
The loss of authority does not occur at the moment when the children realize that their father is morally wrong, but when they make his authority lose its effectiveness. Since we are dealing with validity of an authority, we are facing a social phenomenon, not a moral one. The moral fault of the father is at the base of the loss of authority, but it only becomes effective when the members of the family resist the father’s orders to the point that he can no longer exercise his authority.

Now let me apply this to the case of the Church: For a Conciliar Pope to lose his authority, we have to resist him, expose his errors as much as we can so that more people become aware of his errors and enter into resistance against them. The larger the number of persons who know his errors and do not follow them, the more his government becomes ungovernable, and the more the validity of his authority is questioned.

If, during this process of spreading resistance, God intervenes and a holy Pope enters the scene, he will have all the means to judge and declare those Conciliar Popes heretics and be followed by a large number of Catholics.

Summarizing our position:

  • When a Pope becomes a pertinacious heretic, God knows it. Therefore, he loses the pontificate before God. He becomes an illegitimate Pope.

  • However, given that he has all the appearances of a Pope – duly elected by a College of Cardinals, followed by a hierarchy of Bishops, and accepted by the Church as such – he is still a valid or a de facto Pope. To stop being a valid Pope, a considerable part of the members of this visible society called the Catholic Church should resist his authority and make it inefficacious.
This is what occurs to me at the moment to explain how our position of resistance is correct. Only by uniting all traditionalists in this position will we be effective. In passing, it is sad to notice that those who are dividing our ranks are unconsciously perpetuating the validity of the progressivist authority they pretend to oppose.

In your post-scriptum you asked about the possible reason why St. Robert Bellarmine analyzed the problem of a bad or even a heretical Pope. I believe that, without names, he was analyzing the Renaissance Popes who lived prior to him: St. Robert Bellarmine lived from 1542-1621; Alexander VI was Pope from 1492 to 1503.

I hope this may help to clarify some of the serious concerns we share.


     A.S. Guimarães

Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted on October 9, 2008

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