June 8, 2009
vol 20, no. 159

The Procedure

    The burning question as to determining the status of one who claims to be pope remains similiar to the age-old question: Which came first? The chicken or the egg? The feathers are sure to fly whenever the question arises between sedevacantist and sedeplenist because there is no set formula or procedure for fully answering the unprecedented circumstances Catholics find themselves in today thanks to something no saint or Doctor of the Church ever envisioned: conciliarism. The following is intended to help Traditional Catholics not end up with egg on their face or chicken out when syllogisms lead to the obvious. The standard always applies: Unity in things essential which includes the infrangible dogmas and doctrines of the Church, freedom to discuss speculative theology which this essay addresses, and in all things charity in arriving at what is best for the Mystical Body of Christ.

      "This is the fundamental 'Catch-22' that lies at the heart of the present confusion. How can he be "put on trial, judged, found guilty of heresy, deposed, and sentenced" unless we have already established that he is no pope and therefore someone who can be lawfully subject to such a trial? And how can he be established to be "not a pope" such that it would be lawful and valid to convene and begin this trial in the first place, without having somehow been already lawfully and validly 'put on trial, judged, found guilty of heresy, deposed, and sentenced'? You can't 'judge' him to be a heretic unless you already know him to be not a pope, and you can't 'conclude' him to be a non-pope unless you have already judged him to be a heretic. Each one requires the other one to have been already done first. It's Chicken or the Egg here, folks!"

    A few years ago there was a topic of discussion on the Fisheater's forum. The question had once been put to Professor Plinio Corręa de Oliveira: How should a person who seeks the truth act in a period when bad Popes are reigning, as, for example, during such a time in the Renaissance? Obviously, the question has become if anything far more germane today than it ever was even at the height of possible papal corruption during the Renaissance. Of course, today's question is not merely about a pope being "bad" as was then, such as by taking a mistress or selling diocesan sees for money and so forth, but "bad" in the far more serious realm of destroying Faith and mandating a loss of Grace and a separation from God in their formal and official teachings. So obviously, a vital distinction has to be made, between a merely BAD pope versus a possibly (or definitely) heretical one.

    When confronted with the merely bad, our instructions are clear. We do as Jesus taught regarding the equally bad Pharisees of His day: Do as they say, but do not do as they do, for they sit in the Seat of Moses (now Chair of Peter). So therefore, in such a case we must endure under their asininity, offering it all up for the Poor Holy Souls and in reparation for what sins of ours has brought on such a Judgment from God, and of course resist any specifically sinful commands.

    When confronted with the apparently heretical pope, I think we need to look at two possible basic categories:

  • 1. An otherwise orthodox pope, all by himself, teaching or allowing a single heresy in some unguarded moment (in this category would be John XXII, Honorious I, and perhaps some few others)

  • 2. A blatantly unorthodox pope, constructing a blatantly even more unorthodox hierarchy around him over time (today's situation).

    I know there are those who will claim that there is only a difference of degree here, but such is also the case with certain sins. Stealing a single dollar is a venial sin, but stealing a million dollars is a mortal sin, and somewhere in between there lies some admittedly rather arbitrary dollar threshold at which point the distinction between venial and mortal sin is made. In the same vein there exists the distinction between an "event" and a "pattern," between a single isolated instance where a person has a bit too much to drink one time in his whole life, versus the case of a habitual and confirmed drunkard.

    For (1), bear in mind that it took the Church centuries to sort out the canonical questions as to how such a situation could be reconciled with the guidance of the Holy Spirit over the Church (an early way of putting "the infallibility of the Pope"), and whether such who did so were even popes at all. As we know, the answers (with 20/20 hindsight) were that infallible declarations can be ambiguous, being both open to heretical and orthodox interpretations, as was Pope Honorius' letter to Patriarch Sergius, and then again, that the Pope as a man and mere private teaching capacity, is as capable of teaching error as any other man of comparable knowledge and training (John XXII's private heresy).

    So, what needs to happen when such situations arise? His closest aides and counselors, Curia, and suchlike can pull him aside and explain what he did wrong, as Paul resisted Peter, and hopefully he will respond in accord with the needs of the Church, as did John XXII who repented his heresy and was reunited to the Church before his death.

    For (2) however, we are now faced with an altogether unprecedented situation, one that seems intrinsically impossible, and yet just as indisputably lies before us.

    Unfortunately, there was no "procedure" written anywhere to tell us Catholics just what to do in such a situation, or even what to make of it. While those who have devoted themselves to the study of this questions (sedevacantists) have closely read St. Robert Bellarmine's treatise on the subject, it has to emerge as clear that, though he goes far further in exploring the question than any other known doctor or theologian or saint, let alone pope or council, he really has not even begun to even scratch the surface.

    He explores several possible ways to interpret the situation, finding five alternatives that he can think of (all five had been advanced by somebody at some point, even if in some cases some mere amateur lay theologian), and of the five positions concluding in favor of the fifth position, namely that a heretical pope is simply no pope at all. What in the world does THAT mean? In particular, what does it mean the Church is supposed to do when confronted with the situation, or in the event the Church elects to do nothing but simply go along with the situation, further spreading the error, what are the Faithful to do?

    The whole question was seen as so utterly theoretical to St. Bellarmine that he altogether failed to provide the Church with anything of a procedure of "what to do when a pope becomes a notorious heretic." By all evidences he seemed to have felt that he had already given the question far more attention than it deserves. If only he were alive today to see the present situation and give us his advice as to how to proceed! What would he think? More importantly: What would he say? What would he tell us to do? We don't know.

    It all comes down to the nub, the fundamental issue which lies at the very crux of the question between sedevacantist and sedeplenist: "The First See is judged by no one," for no one on earth possesses the necessary superior rank needed to perform this judgment. And it is not a valid claim to say that "Well, we are not judging the See itself, only its occupant who, in our expert consensus, does not appear to be seated in the seat itself anyway."

    This is the fundamental "Catch-22" that lies at the heart of the present confusion. How can he be "put on trial, judged, found guilty of heresy, deposed, and sentenced" unless we have already established that he is no pope and therefore someone who can be lawfully subject to such a trial? And how can he be established to be "not a pope" such that it would be lawful and valid to convene and begin this trial in the first place, without having somehow been already lawfully and validly "put on trial, judged, found guilty of heresy, deposed, and sentenced"? You can't "judge" him to be a heretic unless you already know him to be not a pope, and you can't "conclude" him to be a non-pope unless you have already judged him to be a heretic. Each one requires the other one to have been already done first. It's Chicken or the Egg here, folks!

    So the Sedeplenist simply takes the position that "We cannot judge him, so we have to accept him as pope, no matter how far outside the parameters for a pope he indeed functions." No sedeplenist who is a real Catholic would even think of claiming that these guys have been great and wonderful popes (maybe nice guys personally, but what has that got to do with how well or poorly they have functioned in ruling over the Vatican institution?), but merely argue that the things they have done are each somehow "not quite beyond the pale" for what a pope, at least a very bad pope, is capable of, doctrinally speaking. And the sedevacantist merely responds that "We are not claiming to judge him in any official or juridical capacity as though we were lawfully appointed judges performing a duty within our competence, but merely making a necessary private observation. If I saw a crazy man shooting people in the street, would I be morally obliged to wait for him to be caught, tried, and found guilty of murder, or attempted murder, before I am allowed to make that conclusion for myself on the spot that he is a murderer, and thereby defend myself against him?"

    While such private observations may indeed explain and justify our continuing on as if the present Vatican leadership simply doesn't exist, I am sure that the deficiency of such a position is also quite clear. For the Church to go on (or resume) functioning in any normal and official capacity, an official, juridical, and morally binding judgment must indeed be one day made, and the question is, Who can do this? How can they do it, legally speaking? For the Church cannot afford to become a "Cardassian court" where only the already-found-guilty are tried. Such a scenario may make for interesting stories on TV, but no seriously real court with the faintest claims to a valid jurisprudence could ever be run that way.

    This is why there is a need for a Procedure for the Church and the Faithful to follow when such a thing occurs. Granted, it stands to reason that the Church will eventually get past this crisis into which she ran headlong without adequate preparation (e. g. something very much along the lines of this much needed and utterly lacking Procedure). But eventually, when times are better, it will be time to formally address this question and produce the final and official Procedure. If we could have had it now already in place I don't doubt that decades, if not centuries of doubt and confusion and disorder could have been averted.

    But the way I see it, there was, without a doubt, intended a Providential reason that the Church would have to go through this struggle the hard way. Perhaps we Catholics had grown too secure, resting on our blessed assurance that the Church would never fail (It won't, but obviously that doesn't mean that things like what we see today are impossible), lax in our morals and prayer, caught up in a world that provides numerous and extraordinary diversions and creature comforts unthought-of in former eras. Never before has such information, entertainment, travel, and overall standard of living become so readily available to everyone, even the poor. The average welfare recipient enjoys more creature comforts, more sources of amusement, and far better medical care than even kings enjoyed only a couple centuries ago. Not even Pharaohs and Emperors ever did what many of us do today with scarcely a thought: ride in an airplane, see what the Moon and the far planets look like up close, see what lies miles deep in the bottom of the sea. How easily we are distracted from our sacred duties! (And don't forget how many of us were distracted from the disastrous Novus Ordo being promulgated by the then upcoming and about-to-happen Moon Landing! While the whole world stopped to watch Neil Armstrong take that "one small step for a man," a liturgical monstrosity was being forcibly imposed upon an unwilling and largely unnoticing populace.)

    A quick fix to the present situation, however useful it could have proved, may well have not been the best thing in the long term, as Providence did not provide it in our case. But in all practical prudence, the Church is bound to learn from the present situation in order to prepare for the next time. For now however, these Providential lessons can only be gained from our blind struggle through them. For we must both pray and act.

    And that certainly has to be the first part of any Procedure to be written, that it starts with prayer and action. But what do we mean by these things? Just recently the SSPX has committed to perform at least a million rosaries for our Lady to intercede with Benedict XVI and bring him back to the Faith, where no one would doubt that he could do a tremendous amount of good - if only he were a Catholic instead of a Novus ordinarian. Is this what we mean by prayer, however? Certainly it's a start.

    But a different prayer is also needed. True prayer should after all not merely be about what we say to God (and the saints), but also about listening to what God and the saints have to say to us. Catholic meditation is the highest prayer because it truly opens us up to understanding the mysteries of God and gaining a godly perspective on all that transpires, whatever that may come to be. However, meditation is an article for another day.

    Action also needs to be more directed and useful. Sometimes I get the impression that most of us have but a very crude blunt instrument with which to perform delicate heart surgery. What is that blunt instrument? Mere protest, but against what or who we cannot even agree. Complaining is easy; providing practical solutions and direction for actions to go with our prayers that will cure the present ills is quite something else. Long ago I vowed not to complain about what cannot be changed, but only what can, and even there, only where I am able to offer constructive and practical advice as to how the thing can be done right. I might not like the way a person does a certain thing. If there is a specific recommendation which I can make to the person to do it better, then I may make it, else I must keep silent.

    How many traditional Catholic writers have not at least on some occasions complained about the current situation with regards to the Church? Find me two if you can! On the other hand, how many traditional Catholic writers have proposed simple, clear, direct, and credible solutions to the situation and how to fix it, what each person can be doing from whatever their station in life to better the present situation, both for themselves as well as the Church at large? Find me two if you can!

    It will most likely be centuries before there ever exists any sort of a Procedure all written up and officially approved, long after the present situation has (somehow) righted itself and normalcy has returned. In short, we are all having to write our preliminary draft of it as we go. What I don't see as I scan the landscape is anyone even thinking so far ahead as to seek to draft such a Procedure. What I see instead are any of the following knee-jerk reactions to the present situation:

    1. Conclude that the pope is not infallible, and from there that all of religion (or at least the Catholic religion) is only a hoax and not to be taken seriously. (loss of faith approach)

    2. Conclude that if a pope decides to make abortion the eighth sacrament, or even any other such comparable evil or absurdity, and so promulgates, then that is our religion now. Submit to it and accept it and obey it. (Novus Ordo approach)

    3. Cut a deal with him and his cronies to be permitted to retain the true practice of the Faith (or as near an approximation as can be reasonably attained and agreed to), and of course agreeing to avoid condemning the evil that is going on (Indultarian/Motarian approach)

    4. Try to explain each and every thing away in terms of the previous precedents of papal error, resisting (and hopefully getting on with the Church's business, albeit under supposedly questionable auspices) the present Vatican leader while still regarding him as "pope" in some technical or figurehead sense. (Resistance/Remnant/SSPX approach), or

    5. Lash out at the Vatican leader, judging him, deposing him, or writing him off as some sort of Antichrist of Biblical prophecy, etc. (sedevacantist approach).

    Obviously, approaches (1) and (2) each constitute a loss of the Catholic Faith. Approaches (3) (4) and (5), though also each plainly deficient in various respects, at least have allowed various communities of individual Catholics to find some way to muddle through the present situation so far with their Catholicism intact.

    What response would not be inadequate? Let's see what basics we can learn from each:

    3. Diplomacy is certainly one approach, one that has worked with lesser situations of papal error or ill-advised actions (think of St. Catherine of Sienna writing to the Pope to please return the Papacy from Avignon back to Rome where it rightly belongs). Such deal-cutting may also serve as providential means of preserving some physical structures and assets of the Church, and also show that we Catholics are not unreasonable but merely insistent upon asking for the Faith and actually being given it (as is our right to receive it) instead of some cheap and tawdry imitation.

    4. Resistance (and also the going forward with feeding the flock of God) is strength, something that serves a most important role even in diplomacy, and in applying external pressure to try to get these guys to do the job of Catholics and abandon their useless and vain V-2 irreligion. It is also important to be concerned with seeking the continued hierarchy of the Church as something living and visible. These issues are important and cannot be simply ignored. I also notice that those who oppose the sedevacantist finding (that recent and current Vatican leaders are not popes) don't argue from the standpoint of what great guys they are and how sterling their orthodoxy, but rather from the fact that the sedevacantists argue their finding and then seem altogether unconcerned about where that places the living hierarchy and visibility of the Church, especially in the framework of God's promises, to say nothing of how we are to get a pope again.

    5. The sedevacantist finding (not a thesis, not a theory, not an explanation of anything, not some end-all be-all thing that if we can just convince enough people of the central truth of things will just come out alright) is after all based on taking a calm, level-headed and objective look at what has been going on. If Montini, Wojtyla, or Ratzinger were to have told their childhood catechism teachers the sorts of nonsense they have all since spoken from the balcony over St. Peter's square (and elsewhere), they would never have made it through catechism class. We all know that. We cannot afford to ignore or reject a finding merely because it seems impossible to reconcile with other things we also know to be true.

    In particular, we need to resolve the above-stated Chicken and the Egg problem. In addition, while present events are in some ways precedented by the Arian crisis, the various extended papal vacancies, the fall of the Church of England, the First Great Western Schism, dual election (one invalid, one later valid) of Vigilius, the ambiguity of Pope Honorius, the errant private teaching of Pope John XXII, and other lesser known events, there remains much of the present situation which has never been seen before.

    In particular, even what rare and few commentaries of the saints and doctors about heretical popes have all assumed that a more or less sound Cardinalate or Bishopric nevertheless remains capable of discerning the event with a clear consensus and of taking the necessary action. But look what we have today. When Kasper and Lehmann were trying to get John Paul II either to resign or else be declared senile and incompetent, not a single sedevacantist applauded their efforts. Why? Because their plan was to replace him with someone more to their liking, someone so bad he could even make John Paul II look almost like a Catholic, if only by comparison.

    Whatever Procedure which is come up with must address the situation as though the Church is reduced to its barest minimum necessary to restore Her, namely at least one bishop, and hopefully at least some congregation of laymen in families who truly raise their children in the Faith. From such families can come the sheer bodies needed to comprise the Church and from bishops can come everything ecclesiastically needed from a Pope down to priests and every manner of spiritual blessing. Such a Procedure must also address the fact of gradualism, of things just so gradually getting worse and worse that many cannot agree as to when precisely the threshold was passed beyond which such desperate action would come to be needed and legitimate instead of merely schismatic or the agenda of some individual or few fallen bishops and laymen.

    I realize that I am just a nobody who has nothing but the truth (as a Catholic) and an idea about this in particular. All I can do at this point is put this idea on the table. Even now (let alone in the future) I don't doubt that others can and will find much that could be improved or clarified, general canonical procedures and principles integrated, terms corrected, alternative scenarios imagined and dealt with, and so forth. However it does help to have a starting point, something we can take and critique, change, correct, amend, and perhaps one day something that started with what I present here may find its way to being the officially promulgated Procedure for What to do When the Pope is a Heretic:

    1)  One must first review the parameters within which a pope is capable of functioning within as pope, even a bad, weak, or criminal one, and the person must be examined in a non-juridical sense and giving him the greatest possible benefit of the doubt. Charity and justice both require no less from us than to ascertain that the man is indeed a heretic and not merely falsely accused, misunderstood, misrepresented, and so forth. Then also there are quite a host of "heresy-like" things a pope could be while still being pope, and if each and everything he is found to have indeed done can be mapped to be one or more of the below, then we have no basis to question his hold on the papacy. Church history documents popes who, as popes, have:

      a. Been gravely sinful and scandalous in their personal life, with mistresses, murder, espionage, simony, and so forth

      b. Given or approved of ambiguous formulas which admit heretical (but always also orthodox) interpretations

      c. Taught heresy even from the pulpit, albeit without any intent to bind the Church to his heretical opinion nor anathematize those who do not accept his heresy

      d. Performed highly visible public acts which may be open to heretical interpretation and scandal (but with a legitimate explanation always possible)

      e. Imposed evil commands to perform sins (a "command" is a one-shot direction given to one individual, e. g. "You there, I command you to sacrifice a pig on this altar.")

      f. Imposed imprudent (but sincere and/or reasonable) laws which may work for the disadvantage of the Church (a "law" is an ongoing requirement imposed on the society through its official organs and binding on all, e. g. "Let it be known that henceforth, pigs only, and not lambs, shall be sacrificed here at the Temple upon the altar. All who attempt to sacrifice a lamb shall be put to death."

      g. Created, changed, deleted significant disciplinary aspects no one imagined to be changeable

      h. Ruled the Church incompetently, petulantly, strictly, laxly, even stupidly

      i. Shown a significant disinterest in performing any Papal duties instead of indulging in various recreations

      j. Interiorly believed various heresies, though unable or unwilling to express them officially

      k. Conspired with various criminal elements to sell off Church assets

      l. Decided difficult and controversial questions in a manner which is not popular or readily accepted by the world or even the Church at large

      m. Been physically forced (coercion) into doing practically anything (coercion provides a valid excuse for just about anything, but to continue the aberrant behavior after the coercion is no longer present is quite another matter)

      n. Transfer items long assumed to be merely disciplinary over to the realm of Faith and/or Morals

      o. Institute a discipline in such a manner that it is ambiguous whether the new discipline is meant to transfer an item of Faith and/or Morals to the realm of discipline (itself impossible) or merely as a bulwark to protect the related article of Faith and/or Morals

      p. Etc. (it is possible this list may be added to)

    However, just as there are so many things a pope can do as pope, on the other hand there are limits to what he is capable of doing, parameters beyond which he cannot pass, if he is truly pope. A "smoking gun" proof of any one of the following things would be proof positive that the man doing them is no pope. Many Catholics, especially certain sedevacantists, seem to picture a pope just "deciding" to teach a heresy, and thereby losing his office at that moment. That is an untenable picture of events, for thus it would always be possible for a very subtle heresy to thereby secretly remove a pope from office, and from there further heresies could also occur and no one could ever possibly be certain. Such a claim totally dismantles the teaching of the Infallibility of the Pope. It must therefore be categorically rejected no matter how many sedevacantist writers have presented just exactly that picture of events. Here are the things a real pope can never do, even should he wish:

      a. Teach a heretical doctrine using the official organs or channels of official Church teaching, such as encyclicals, bulls, motu propria, or any other documentary candidate for the Acts of the Apostolic See and make the error binding, with or without anathemas for those who do not go along with it

      b. Make any change to the content of Catholic belief, make or mandate changes to the content of the prime sources (scriptural, liturgical, church fathers) upon which the sources of revelation are based

      c. Promulgate or authorize the use of liturgies of doubtful or no sacramental validity

      d. Perform highly visible public acts which are only open to heretical interpretation and scandal, no way to explain or "legitimize"

      e. Transfer items long assumed to be Faith and/or Morals over to the realm of the merely disciplinary

      f. Etc. (it is possible this list too may be added to)

    Unless we can find proof positive of any one or more of the above "impossible acts" being done by a putative pope, there is no basis for even the faintest ghost of a suspicion against him.

    2)  If we have indeed found proof of any clear action that falls utterly beyond the acceptable parameters, then there exists only a "legitimate suspicion" in the private arena of the one(s) making this observation. Note that such suspicions have no official bearing on the question of whether the man is or is not a pope, and of course it is not as yet possible to take any formal action against him. Since such actions are not and cannot ever be done by a pope, therefore no pope is ever removed from the papacy thereby. We must instead ascertain how it is that he was already not pope.

    3)  Such actions are to be viewed as corroborative evidence of some PRIOR loss of the papacy, or else of a failure to obtain it. An election may be invalid. Or else, a pope, validly elected, must subsequently lose his office. One or the other is necessary before he will become capable of such acts. For the case of losing an office once legally obtained, there are exactly two ways a pope loses office. One of them is by dying. Obviously if he is dead no one need question that fact. The other is by resigning. This puts us down to exactly two ways for a putative pope to in fact not be pope: Not to have been validly elected, and to have been validly elected but then subsequently resigned. Only after either of these events can the heresy have followed.

    4)  The validity of his election must be explored. There appear to be two known ways that a papal election can be invalid or questioned:

      a. A previous pope may still be gloriously reigning, still alive and not having relinquished his See (resigned)

      b. An election may be disputed by one or more of the lawful electors either during or immediately after who may challenge it for any of a small group of several reasons (we were coerced, there were not enough of us present, votes were falsely counted, the man so elected was already tried and convicted of heresy, directions for the next election were not followed, etc.).

        There is a third way that some Catholics, especially certain sedevacantists seem to believe that a papal election can be invalid, and that is if the one elected is a heretic (perhaps even actually wrong on any doctrinal point), though having never been found guilty, nor having confessed guilt, nor even there having been enough evidence against them to have warranted at least the beginnings of proceedings against him. There is some problem with using that claim in the present situation. For one thing, this comes from a document promulgated by Pope Paul IV titled Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio which also goes on to define a heretic (such as to be excluded from ecclesiastical office) to be “detected to have deviated from the Catholic Faith, or fallen into any heresy, or incurred schism, or provoked or committed either or both of these, or who have confessed to have done any of these things, or who have been convicted of having done any of these things.” All of these things entail that an official ecclesiastical recognition of the fact of these events, as such, needs to have occurred. Furthermore, there is much within this document of a plainly disciplinary nature which has been superseded any number of times by successive disciplinary rulings and mandates, leaving for sure only those limited portions of it as have their basis in Divine Revelation.

        A bigger problem is that several popes, long accepted by the Church, would have to have been regarded as antipopes and the Church erroneous in continuing to list them as successors to the Chair of Peter. There was Pope Callistus who had been sympathetic to the heresy of Monarchianism (the teaching that God is only one Person who manifests Himself as all and each of Father and Son and Holy Spirit) and to the dedicated Monarchianist, Sabellius, even to the defending of the heretic before popes coming before him. Once pope however, he condemned the heresy and the heretic. Then again there was Pope Vigilius who, as antipope (during the reign of his predecessor Pope Silverius) and previous had been a supporter of the Monophysite heresy, and promoter of monophysite clerics, but again who as pope repudiated the heresy and deposed the heretical clerics he had formerly installed while he was antipope. Finally there was Pope Pius IX who was thought to be a "Mason's man" (he must have done something to make people think that), but who upon his election stood firmly against the whole Masonic agenda and Masons themselves. Ergo, the former heresies of Roncalli, Montini, etc. do not count, as they would have relinquished their heresies upon truly becoming pope.

    5)  If no cracks in the validity of his election can be identified, then there must be sought evidence of his resignation. As it is however, the subject of papal resignations has never been explored by any canonist, theologian, or Church doctor, in any detail. When Pope Celestine V desired to resign, the experts had to do some research into the whole question (no doubt they located the instance of Pope Pontian who also resigned). Even then, his successor Boniface VIII was sufficiently suspicious of having an "ex-pope" around that he conspired to former Pope Celestine's demise.

    6)  If no obvious cracks seem to be found in either his election or any point of resignation found then one is either put back to inventing yet some new category which a pope is capable of, or else of exploring the issues of invalid election or resignation further, thus refining any or all of these teachings (doctrinal development). As with any doctrinal development, no previous established teachings may be contradicted, but ambiguous and unresolved questions may be found and resolved as needed, on a provisional basis. If such a situation without any clear cut advantages to one approach or another arises, the decision must be made along the lines of which of the options tears the least at the fabric of the Faith and in particular, doctrinal beliefs about the Church Herself and Her functioning. In other words, which possibility would do the least damage to our ecclesiology as we know it, carving out yet another niche within which a pope may err as pope, inventing another way to invalidate a papal election, or discovering yet another way for a pope to resign. Let camps come forth advancing the "cause" of each alternative, and then let the relative damage of each alternative be assessed in unison and the least damaging alternative be taken.

    7)  If it is ascertained that his election was invalid, the man is therefore established to be not a pope and therefore subject to official juridical examination. Since the man is now established to be not a pope, there is no danger of "judging the first See" as we have now already ascertained his lack of a hold on the See. This is what gets us past the above mentioned "Catch-22."

    8)  If his resignation can be discovered, it must predate all truly "beyond the pale" actions, though it may follow any number of "bad things" a pope can do despite being pope, and again man can be subject to official juridical examination. This addresses the "gradualism" issue as it enables the Church to discover an arbitrary point in time beyond which it is not necessary to try to "explain away" his actions. After all, there does exist one man who does have the authority to remove a pope, and that is… himself. I believe one can count on Divine Providence to see to such a "self-removal" of one who is truly unworthy and furthermore interiorly not a Catholic and who has non-Catholic designs on the Church. As with the case of an invalid papal election, the man is now established to be not a pope, so there is no danger of "judging the first See" as we have now already ascertained his lack of a hold on the See, and also again avoiding the above mentioned "Catch-22."

    9)  Let him be juridically examined formally, charged with heresy, and given a chance to recant or be excommunicated in accordance with existing canonical procedures for such actions. He may repent or not. Even if he repents that does not make him pope, though it would be basis to welcome him back to communion with the Church, albeit stripped of all clerical offices (or otherwise censured) again in accordance with existing canonical procedures for such things. Ordinarily, the Holy Office should be charged with conducting this trial, however if said office is populated with persons appointed by the false "pope" and sharing his known errors, other qualified clerics (the most qualified available in terms of doctrinal orthodoxy and canonical jurisprudence available) must serve instead. Retired members of the man's undisputed predecessor(s) if surviving must be the first place to look for such qualified clerics for the conduction of such a trial.

    10)  A delay may ensue before it is appropriate to convene a conclave. The main reason for such a delay would be where it takes some time for events to prove out to the general run of knowledgeable and concerned Catholics that the loss of the papacy has indeed occurred, and for the necessary clerics for the preceding and following steps to be performed officially. It is important however that things are not to be rushed. The necessity and validity of taking such a drastic course can only become gradually more and more known to those who have the necessary importance and office needed to carry out this action together. In the meantime, forbearance with those who need more time to work this out in their own minds is the key. They will come around one day. As God promised to be with His Church until the end of time, they eventually must and in the meantime we must trust in that.

    11)  A new conclave is to be convened. If such a delay has ensued or ensues since the invalid election that all electors have died off, election may devolve to the bishops of the Church, or to any other clerical members of the Diocese of Rome, but the electors must be clerical (validly ordained or established monastic religious) and must be of unassailable orthodoxy, as judged against the teachings as crystallized in all previous Tradition. Laymen can organize, fund, coordinate, and even be permitted to speak exhortations and recommendations at such an event, however the vote is to be performed by clerics, either bishops (and above if any surviving) alone or bishops (and above if any surviving) and priests.

    Next week, I will explore the details of papal resignations throughout the history of the Church and the following week, in part three, as regards the present situation. As I indicated above, I have no doubt that much of what I have will no doubt admit of some room for improvement, and attempts to provide constructive criticism so as to improve it are more than welcome. Of course I also realize that there will be those "critics" who will merely want to say "just scrap the whole thing" and so forth, and in anticipation of such "critics" I already have my response: What can you offer instead of this? If you have something suchlike of your own to offer, do please share it. Otherwise, be silent!

Griff L. Ruby

Griff's book is available from Books for $26.95 or can be read on-line at We at The Daily Catholic strongly urge you to share it with all you can for that could be the gentle shove that moves your friends back to where the True Faith resides forever, rooted in the Truths and Traditions of Holy Mother Church as Christ intended and promised.

Griff Ruby's STRAIGHT STUFF Monday, June 8, 2009, Volume 20, no. 159