Catholics Have a Duty to Resist the Pope When he is In Error
"Just as it is licit to resist a Pontiff that aggresses the body, it is also licit to resist one who aggresses the souls or who disturbs civil order, or, above all, one who attempts to destroy the Church. I say that it is licit to resist him by not doing what he orders and preventing his will from being executed. It is not licit, however, to judge, punish or depose him, since these are acts proper to a superior." Saint Robert Bellarmine
Atila Sinke Guimarães
Unhappily the Holy Catholic Church is passing through difficult days today. One hundred years ago she was enjoying one of her more glorious periods. After the proclamation of the dogma of Papal Infallibility (1870), the influence of the Papacy reached a new high point in history. Even though the dogma applied exclusively to the infallibility of certain extraordinary pontifical teachings, this infallibility understandably radiated into other fields of papal activity. The common teachings of the Pope were regarded with much more respect. Their acts of government took on characteristics of perennial laws. Their liturgical, exegetic, and canonical decisions came to be considered as almost perfect or holy. The proclamation of Papal Infallibility shed a kind of golden aura on the Papacy thereafter. This caused joy among Catholics, especially those turned toward the counter-revolutionary fight, that is to say, those who understand that there is a centuries-old conspiracy to destroy the Church and Christendom, and who thus dedicate their lives to defend them from this.
In a secondary refraction, the light of Papal Infallibility cascaded over the whole Church Hierarchy. With different intensities, Cardinals, archbishops, bishops and priests came to participate in the same aura that radiated from the Supreme Pontiff. Thus, at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, the Spouse of Christ saw the concept of a Monarchical Church splendidly established.
The natural consequence of this process was obedience. All hierarchical institutions proceed from obedience and generate obedience. This also happened in the Catholic Church.
These three characteristics - the exaltation of the Papacy, an increased respect for the Hierarchy and the obedience of the faithful - represented a victory for the Counter-Revolution. A victory against the Protestant Revolution that denied the Papacy. A victory against the French Revolution that launched itself against the Monarchy in the State and in the Church. A victory against the liberal Catholic movement of the first half of the 19th century. These victories have thus enthused what there was of the best and most healthful among Catholics. Because of this enthusiasm, these elements remained a lively presence up to the vespers of Vatican II.
By a curious irony of history, after the de facto installation of progressivism in the directive bodies of the Church with Vatican Council II, these same characteristics came to play a role that, in practice, worked in an opposite sense. They came to serve the self-destruction of the Church.
John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II used this acquired prestige to spread principles different from the perennial teaching of the Magisterium. Mater et Magistra, Pacem in terris, Ecclesiam suam, Populorum progressio, Sollicitudo rei socialis, Mulieris dignitatem, Ut unum sint, Tertio millennio adveniente are some pontifical documents in which one notes this new teaching. In Vatican Council II as well, the express thinking in the principal documents clashes with earlier ordinary and extraordinary pontifical teaching. Written in a deliberately ambiguous language, such documents are founded on the same Nouvelle Théologie previously condemned as heterodox, especially Lumen gentium, Gaudium et spes, Unitatis redintegratio, Dignitatis humanae, Nostrae aetate.
Thus, by a kind of "wave of the magic wand," the Church radically changed her appearance. What was wrong came to be right, what was certain came to be uncertain. Today there is talk of abolishing Quanta cura and the Syllabus of Pius IX; the Encyclical Pascendi is called outdated; so also with the Decree Lamentabili and the anti-modernist Oath. The dogmatic constitutions of the Council of Trent and the anathemas against liberalism are set aside. Pardon is asked for the age-old dogmatic teaching against the errors of the Jewish religion.
What was the secret force that led almost the whole body of Catholics to the relative acceptance of this enormous change, certainly the greatest ever witnessed in history? It was due primarily to the action of the three aforementioned factors: papal prestige, the strength of the Church Hierarchy and the obedience of the faithful
Paradoxically, for more than a century, counter-revolutionary Catholics were the principal artisans who established these three factors on an institutional level. However, after John XXIII was raised to the Pontifical Throne, they were the ones who suffered most from the application of these elements. The choir of progressivists, permissivists, the pusillanimous, and the mediocre even today launch against these Catholics the epithets of being "against the Pope," "disobedient to the Hierarchy," "outside the Church."
Thus, they see themselves in the sad circumstance of defending the Papacy but resisting the progressivist teachings of the conciliar Popes, of loving with ever increasing ardor the monarchic characteristic of the Church, of venerating the chains of dependency that link those below to those above them. At the same time, they do not hesitate in denying their obedience to the Hierarchs who are promoting the auto-demolition of the Church.
The situation of these Catholics is delicate and paradoxical. Faced with the dilemma: "Fidelity to principles or to persons? Orthodoxy or obedience?" they adhere to the principles and resist the unorthodox authority.
From this the question necessarily arises: By acting in this way, do they place themselves outside the Church? The answer is no, positively no. They are one of the most precious parts of the faithful. They are following the divine example of Our Lord, Who obedient to the Synagogue authorities in everything that was possible, nonetheless did not fear to disagree with them in discussions and deny them obedience in all that opposed true doctrine. This attitude does not imply either placing oneself outside the Church or of standing in judgment of the Pope.
Such a conclusion, however, is not only mine. Many great Saints and Doctors of the Church have spoken on this matter and recommended this attitude. The doctrine on the right of the faithful, even the most simple, to resist decisions of ecclesiastical authorities that are dangerous to the Faith and objectively erroneous, was expounded by Saints and Doctors of the Church, as well as by famous theologians.
St. Thomas Aquinas, in many passages of his works, upholds the principle that the faithful can question and admonish Prelates. For example:
"There being an imminent danger for the Faith, Prelates must be questioned, even publicly, by their subjects. Thus, St. Paul, who was a subject of St. Peter, questioned him publicly on account of an imminent danger of scandal in a matter of Faith. And, as the Glosa of St. Augustine puts it (Ad Galatas 2,14), 'St. Peter himself gave the example to those who govern so that if sometime they stray from the right way, they will not reject a correction as unworthy even if it comes from their subjects.'"
Referring to the same episode, in which St. Paul resisted St. Peter "to his face," St. Thomas teaches:
"The reprehension was just and useful, and the reason for it was not trivial: there was a danger for the preservation of evangelical truth .... The way it took place was appropriate, since it was public and open. For this reason, St. Paul writes: 'I spoke to Cephas,' that is, Peter, 'before everyone,' since the simulation practiced by St. Peter was fraught with danger to everyone."
The Angelic Doctor also shows how this passage of the Scriptures contains teachings not only for Hierarchs, but for the faithful as well:
"To the Prelates [was given an example] of humility so that they do not refuse to accept reprehensions from their inferiors and subjects; and to the subjects, an example of zeal and liberty so they will not fear to correct their Prelates, above all when the crime is public and entails a danger for many."
In his Comments on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, St. Thomas teaches how respectfully correcting a Prelate who sins is a work of mercy all the greater as the Prelate's position is higher:
"Eccl. XVII: 12 says that God 'imposed on each one duties toward his neighbor.' Now, a Prelate is our neighbor. Therefore, we must correct him when he sins. .... Some say that fraternal correction does not extend to the Prelates either because a man should not raise his voice against heaven, or because the Prelates are easily scandalized if corrected by their subjects. However, this does not happen, since when they sin, the Prelates do not represent heaven and, therefore, must be corrected. And those who correct them charitably do not raise their voices against them, but in their favor, since the admonishment is for their own sake. .... For this reason, …. the precept of fraternal correction extends also to the Prelates, so that they may be corrected by their subjects."
Fr. Francisco de Vitoria, O.P. states:
"A Pope must be resisted who publicly destroys the Church. What should be done when the Pope, because of his bad customs, destroys the Church? What should be done if the Pope wanted, without reason, to abrogate Positive Law?"
His answer is:
"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 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 so, it is licit to resist him. The result of all this is that if the Pope destroys the Church by his orders and actions, he can be resisted and the execution of his mandates prevented."
Fr. Francisco Suarez, S.J., also defends this position:
"If [the Pope] gives an order contrary to good customs, he should not be obeyed; if he attempts to do something manifestly opposed to justice and the common good, it will be licit to resist him; if he attacks by force, by force he can be repelled, with a moderation appropriate to a just defense."
St. Robert Bellarmine, the great paladin of the Counter-Reformation, maintains:
"Just as it is licit to resist a Pontiff that aggresses the body, it is also licit to resist one who aggresses the souls or who disturbs civil order, or, above all, one who attempts to destroy the Church. I say that it is licit to resist him by not doing what he orders and preventing his will from being executed. It is not licit, however, to judge, punish or depose him, since these are acts proper to a superior."
Fr. Cornelius a Lapide, S.J., argues:
"Superiors can, with humble charity, be admonished by their inferiors in the defense of truth; that is what St. Augustine, St. Cyprian, St. Gregory, St. Thomas and others declare about this passage (Gal. 2:11). …. St. Augustine wrote (Epistula 19 ad Hieronymum): 'By teaching that superiors should not refuse to be reprehended by inferiors, St. Peter gave posterity an example more rare and holier than that of St. Paul as he taught that, in the defense of truth and with charity, inferiors may have the audacity to resist superiors without fear.'"
Applying these teachings to our days, the conclusion is very grave and very simple: Catholics who truly love the Church have the duty to resist the doctrines, laws, norms and orders coming from an ecclesiastical authority, especially if it be the Pope, which favor progressivism. Such resistance should be courteous and charitable. It does not mean that one is placed outside the Church by this. Also, it does not mean that the Catholic who takes this position has the power to judge the Pope.
For past columns by Atila, see Archives of On the BattleLine
Monday, March 4, 2002
volume 13, no. 41
STANDING WITH THE CHURCH MILITANT
ON THE BATTLELINE