Bishop Schneider: On the question of a heretical pope

HisExcellencyAthanasiusSchneider — AuxiliaryBishopofthe Archdiocese of Saint Mary in Astana

Note: We urge everyone to reprint, post and share this important Op-Ed — published first here at Rorate Caeli — far and wide. And we urge you to keep reading beyond the “Read more” link as His Excellency lays out a plausible case for future binding canonical norms to address a “heretical or a manifestly heterodox pope”:

By Bishop Athanasius Schneider

Special to Rorate Caeli

March 20, 2019

On the question of a heretical pope

The issue of how to handle a heretical pope, in concrete terms, has not yet been treated in a manner which approaches anything like a true general consent in the entire Catholic tradition. So far, neither a pope nor an Ecumenical Council has made relevant doctrinal pronouncements nor have they issued binding canonical norms regarding the eventuality of how to handle a heretical pope during the term of his office.

There is no historical case of a pope losing the papacy during his term of office due to heresy or alleged heresy. Pope Honorius I (625 – 638) was posthumously excommunicated by three Ecumenical Councils (the Third Council of Constantinople in 681, the Second Council of Nicaea in 787, and the Fourth Council of Constantinople in 870) on the grounds that he supported the heretical doctrine of those who promoted Monotheletism, thereby helping to spread this heresy. In the letter with which Pope Saint Leo II (+ 682 – 683) confirmed the decrees of the Third Council of Constantinople, he declared the anathema on Pope Honorius (“anathematizamus Honorium”), stating that his predecessor “Honorius, instead of purifying this Apostolic Church, permitted the immaculate faith to be stained by a profane treason.” (Denzinger-Schönmetzer, n. 563)

The Liber Diurnus Romanorum Pontificum, a miscellaneous collection of formularies used in the papal chancery until the eleventh century, contains the text for the papal oath, according to which every new pope, upon taking office, had to swear that he “recognized the sixth Ecumenical Council, which smote with eternal anathema the originators of the heresy (Monotheletism), Sergius, Pyrrhus, etc., together with Honorius.” (PL 105, 40-44)

In some Breviaries until the 16th or the 18th centuries, Pope Honorius was mentioned as a heretic in the lessons of Matins for June 28th, the feast of Saint Leo II: “In synodo Constantinopolitano condemnati sunt Sergius, Cyrus, Honorius, Pyrrhus, Paulus et Petrus, nec non et Macarius, cum discipulo suo Stephano, sed et Polychronius et Simon, qui unam voluntatem et operationem in Domnino Jesu Christo dixerunt vel praedicaverunt.” The persistence of this Breviary reading through many centuries shows that it was not considered scandalous by many generations of Catholics, that a particular pope, and in a very rare case, was found guilty of heresy or of supporting heresy. In those times, the faithful and the hierarchy of the Church could clearly distinguish between the indestructibility of the Catholic Faith divinely guaranteed to the Magisterium of the See of Peter and the infidelity and treason of a concrete pope in the exercise of his teaching office.

Dom John Chapman explained in his book … [Read on at RORATE CAELI]

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8 Responses to Bishop Schneider: On the question of a heretical pope

  1. If you are a baptized Catholic male and you want to be a heretic and also immune from all discipline, the only way for a Catholic to do this is to get a bunch of heretical cardinals, who somehow escaped being removed, to elect you as pope.


  2. Crow says:

    That is a wonderful article and absolutely correct. I had a sense that this Pope could not be forced to resign, despite the demand by my hero, Archbishop Viganò (AKA Zorro). My sense was that this would treat the Church as a parliamentary body and the ex-Pope would be similar to an ex-Prime Minister. We have a particularly unfortunate example of an ex-PM who undermines the current PM and makes unwarranted statements. That would be a truly terrible situation for the Church. However, His Lordship put the real reason into the correct context – Holy Mother Church is the body of Christ on earth and is not a political entity. It endures events from the perspective of eternity, not the lifetime of a reigning Pope.
    We must bear our cross with the current papacy and witness the legacy – young people flocking away from the modernist version of the Church and rushing to the traditional faith. If the modernists keep going the way they are, it will eventually strengthen the faith, not dilute it. Counterintuitive, I know, but like Christ said to Peter, ‘your ways are the ways of man’…


  3. I liked the article and I get what he is saying. But what if he is not the pope? We have a unique situation of a God ordained living pope who supposedly relinquished office; except he can’t really relinquish office. He will remain pope until he dies. That’s tradition itself. Let no-one add to that. However for the sake of unity, and preventing schism, I understand why they don’t depose Francis. The fact is that Pope Benedict is unwilling or at least partially ‘unable’, to exercise his office. By ‘retiring’, as if it was a job, he confused the world and created a ‘situation’. Really he could have remained the nominal head and not done any appearances or speeches or travelling. Then anyone else’s heretical words, even if made 2IC and the Pope’s right-hand man, even if talking for the pope, would have been rejected by most fairly quickly and ignored.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You won’t escape immunity from God’s discipline though, if you are a Catholic manifest obstinate heretic.


  5. “However for the sake of unity, and preventing schism, I understand why they don’t depose Francis.” RemnantchildofMary says:
    March 21, 2019 at 11:20

    This is exactly the reason given to the faithful for many decades for not removing heretical clergy,
    thus far it does not seem to have been an effective method of dealing with clerical heresy.


  6. True Maureen. It’s not an effective method of dealing with clergy who are heretical in terms of the individual. However I am willing to consider, after having read what Bishop Schneider said, that it is at least a method of preventing schism in Christ’s Bride: His mystical Spouse, Holy Mother Church. Also I am also willing to consider the theory that Bishop Schneider proposes of possible consequences: how deposing a pope could lead to major future problems.
    What I think should have happened was that the College of Cardinals and the Bishops should have refused to accept Pope Benedict’s resignation and instead supported him in his ill health, stress and pressure by not making so many demands on him. You are still pope if you are on your deathbed as far as I’m concerned! It’s the same for me- if I am sick, or incapacitated- I’m still the mother.
    What did you think of the article, Maureen?


  7. “What did you think of the article, Maureen?”
    RemnantchildofMary ,
    March 21, 2019 at 19:53

    I think the article is a nice try, but I do not agree that Francis and Co. should be left in office.


  8. I would like to share this article presenting an alternate view of papal history:


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