permission to reprint this
defining work was personally granted by
Father James F. Wathen, O.S.J. in 2001.
Chapter Two

Part One

See EDITOR'S NOTE for an explanation of this work.

        But, let everyone understand well that nothing has been changedin the essence of our traditional Mass. Some perhaps will have gotten the idea that by the introduction of such and such a ceremony, or such and such a rubric being added, that such things constitute or hide alterations orminimizations of defined truths or ideas sanctioned by the Catholic Faith…But there is nothing to this idea, absolutely. First, of all, becauseritual and rubrics are not in themselves a matter of dogmatic definition. 2

      2.Allocution of Paul VI on November 19, 1969.La Documentation Catholique. 7 December 1969, No. 1552.
   Thus, Paul VI says that there is nothing essentially new in the "New Mass," that the changes are only "ritual," and therefore not subject to a "de fide pronouncement." On the basis of this statement alone, there seems to be no further need to mention Papal Infallibility with regard to the "New Mass," and we may move on to the next phase of the argument.

    It is not so simple as that, however, though it really ought to be, for the obvious reason that most priests act as if they think that the issuance of the "Novus Ordo" obligates them in the same way as they are obligated to the most solemn definitions of the Church, if not more so, and they have led most of the faithful to believe the same thing. I cannot say it was ever preached explicitly that, if one does not accept Pope Paul's "New Mass," he is a heretic and monstrously disobedient. However, that inference was implanted, generally and firmly, throughout the world. An open debate was never allowed. Regardless, at least for now of how the idea became so ineffaceably fixed, the clergy generally imagine it highly virtuous to yield on this matter to their superiors (all the way up to the Pope), and trust that, eventually, God will make everything all right. (Whether they believe this in their heart of hearts I would not be able to say.)

    We are safe in saying that Catholics believe the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, even though they do not know what it means. Or perhaps it would be better to say, they believe it, but do not know how it applies. For this reason, I feel I must prepare the ground for my main argument by laying to rest this Infallibility bugbear.

    In order to focus on the subject, the first thing necessary is to recall the familiar distinction between papal authority and Papal Infallibility. There is nothing abstruse in this, but it must not be forgotten.

    As Cardinal Journet points out, both papal authority and Papal Infallibility are included in the Pope's supreme and all-inclusive jurisdictional power. 3

    3. The Church of the Word Incarnate. Charles Journet, Sheed and Ward, London, 1955 Vol. 1 pp. 156-157.
    Whereas the Supreme Pontiff's authority is co-extensive with his jurisdiction, his Infallibility is not. In fact, Papal Infallibility covers a most rigidly and specifically circumscribed area, the most narrowly-defined, I might add, of all the areas of his sovereignty.

A. Papal Authority

       The Roman Pontiff, the Successor of Blessed Peter in primacy, hasnot only the primacy of honor, but also supreme and plenary powerof jurisdiction throughout the universal Church, both in matterswhich pertain to faith and morals, but also in those which have to dowith the discipline and order of the Church.
       This power is truly Episcopal, ordinary and direct, both over all andeach of the churches of Christendom, over all and each of the pastors and faithful, and independent of all human authoritywhatsoever.4

      4. Codex Iuris Canonici. Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland, 1954. Canon 218, Paragraphs 1 & 2.

    This is to say that all Catholics, from cardinals to newly-baptized converts, are bound to obey the Holy Father in all religious matters, except a command to do something sinful. 5

    5. If there is no point of religion involved, we would not be bound to obey a command which was not sinful, as for instance, a command to vote for a certain person. However, for a religious reason, we might be commanded not to vote for someone.
There is no suggestion in the law quoted above that the Pope is infallible in the exercise of this plenipotentiary authority. Nor is there anything in Divine Revelation or ecclesiastical law which guarantees that the Pope will never make an unwise law, or repeal a wise one; appoint an inept bishop, or a bad one; impose an unjust interdiction, or refuse to impose a necessary one; teach erroneous notions (even rank heresy) and say and do things which lead to mistaken conclusions, or permit his subordinates to do so. Nothing-except Divine Providence, if He so chooses-prevents there being a totally incompetent, or imprudent, or immoral Pope. Indeed, forbidding as such a thought may be, it is not inconceivable (i.e., out of the realm of possibility, or, the same thing, contradictory to the doctrine here under discussion) that there ascend the Throne of St. Peter a malicious Pope, one bent on the total destruction of the Church, he being faithless enough to thing such a thing possible! That even such a one, with such unrestricted and unrestrictable power, with all the help of his similarly-minded appointees, would be unable to succeed in such an effort is guaranteed by the doctrine of the Church's Indefectibility. And the reason even such a one would not be able to succeed is, in fact, Papal Infallibility itself, as we shall see a little later.

    There is at the same time nothing in the definition of the Papacy which guarantees that the Supreme Pontiff could not give sinful commands and permit, or even encourage, the gravest abuses, or raise wicked and conspiratorial men to the episcopacy and the Cardinalate, to give them free reign to teach every kind of error and command or permit every kind of misdeed. In a word, there is no divine promise that the Pope will not be permitted to use his great authority in the most wicked and destructive ways.

    Such a Pope would not, despite any and all manner of unholy action, lose his own legitimacy, all his all-comprehensive jurisdiction, nor the divine prerogative of Infallibility; so that, should an avowed conspirator become the Roman Pontiff, were he converted, he might immediately set about repairing the damage he himself had helped to inflict on the Church, without needing to be re-elected and re-instated or re-confirmed in his Office; only his private confession and absolution from any censure he might have incurred would be required. 6

    6. The widespread notion that anyone who incurs "ipso facto excommunication" is thereby out of the Church (i.e., no longer a member) and therefore loses all ecclesiastical office, dignities, etc., is based on a fundamental misconception. "Once a Catholic, always a Catholic" is a valid principle. "Anathema sit" does not mean that the Church thereby excludes a person altogether; but the subject may not participate in the life of the Church, that is, receive any of the Sacraments of the Living, or participate in liturgical ceremonies, take part in Church functions, etc. As regards any offices, they are lost through a canonical condemnation only. Loss of an ecclesiastical office occurs immediately upon a declaration of "excommunicatus vitandus" ("excommunicated and to be avoided") by the Pope himself. Obviously the Supreme Pontiff cannot incur this censure. (Cf. Codes Iuris Canonici. Nos. 2256-67.

        Cardinal Journet explains that the Church cannot depose a Pope, no matter how wicked he may be because there is no authority above the Papacy. God Himself must do it. (Journet. Op. cit., Vol 1 pp. 425-26). If he is a heretic, the Church can declare him "worthy of deposition." "The Church's action is simply declaratory; it makes the fact plain that an incorrigible sin of heresy exists; then the authorative action of God disjoins the Papacy from a subject who, persisting in heresy after admonition, becomes in divine law, inapt to retain it any longer." (Ibid. p. 484). These words do not mean that the Church, i.e., the bishops in council, have the power to deprive even an heretical Pope of his office and jurisdiction. They mean that the Church may use every moral means to force his abdication or prevent his acts from causing too great confusion and scandal. The defenders of the Faith in such a case would have to urge the people to pray, either for the Pontiff's conversion or for his direct removal by God, while they warned the people that his teachings were pernicious. From all this it can be seen that an individual Catholic or group of Catholics cannot decide that the Pope is "worthy of deposition," let alone already deposed.

    Obviously then, there is no imagining what a terrible source of scandal either a morally bad or a doctrinally careless Pope can be to how many millions of souls. Nor is there any way of describing the satanic glee in the camp of the Church's inveterate enemies should they ever be able to infiltrate one of their own into his position, or subvert or subdue the Supreme Roman Pontiff to their service.

    The doctrine of Papal Infallibility by stating in what respect the Pope cannot err, admits, in effect, that in all other areas of his vast prerogatives the Pope is completely fallible. And since this papal fallibility is as certain a fact as the holy doctrine which we are here discussing, Catholics must be convinced of the following most important principle, a principle which has a special relevance in the context of this present writing. It is this: No matter what may happen, since no one may justifiably command another to sin, and since no one is permitted to obey such a command, no one may ever blame another - even an errant Pope - for his sins. Conversely, the failure of any person - even the Pope - to keep God's law or to preserve his own faith does not excuse any other person for his failure to do the same. Ignorance of the law or ignorance of the Faith is never an excuse for sinning; one is bound to know when he is being commanded to sin. The notion is abroad that one may always simply follow the Pope and the bishops and thus be sure of salvation. Ordinarily this is a reliable norm. But it is so only because ordinarily the Pope and the bishops are more zealous for and more perfectly instructed in the Faith than their subjects.

    Neither can anyone get permission to sin through the erroneous teaching of the Pope or any of his other spiritual superiors, nor through their failure to teach what they ought. Everyone is bound to keep God's law and the Faith. The obligation to do that which is good and avoid that which is evil and to believe the truths of Catholicism does not arise from the Hierarchy of the Church, nor from the Papacy, but from the intrinsic nature of things and the commands of Christ, Who is Lord of all. 7

    7. The principle is given no notice at all by those who reject the teaching of Pope Paul VI on contraception and/or that of Pope Pius XII on rhythm, on the ground that the specific papal statements on these moral questions were not ex cathedra definitions.
When religious superiors officially and explicitly propound and explain our moral obligations and the truths of the Gospel, we are assisted thereby (both personally and collectively); and it is not only their right to do so, it is their grave duty (and to see that we fulfill them besides); that is what their jurisdiction is for. But whether they do so or not in no way alters our relationship to God, from whom ultimately our duty derives.

    And, lest the point be missed, just as we must perform our duties, whether or not we are commanded and compelled to do so by those whom God has charged with the task, likewise, we must perform our duties should we be commanded not to do them, or to do something wrong instead. In the Church, no individual is the standard of perfect virtue or purity of doctrine - only Christ Our Lord.

    And, lest anyone think these things are spoken lightly, let him reflect: it is a true saying that if anyone denies so much as one doctrine of the Faith, he is, morally speaking, denying it completely. And if he denies his Faith, he will lose his soul. Even if he denies his Faith implicitly, though knowingly, he is still denying it, none the less. If we may not disavow the revealed teachings of Christ at the command of a pagan government, neither may we do so if our religious superiors command it. "But he that shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father Who is in Heaven" (Matthew 10:33).

    No more does the great holiness and shining orthodoxy or the faultless rule of one Pontiff assure any Catholic of his salvation than does the wickedness of another Pope cause anyone's perdition. The Papacy is not a Sacrament! Nor is the personal faith of any one Pope the touchstone of Orthodoxy; rather, it is the solemnly defined doctrines of the Church and all those teachings and norms which flow logically from them. It is the traditional Faith of Catholicism we must adhere to - the Faith of the Saints - no matter what happens during any given period of the Church's history.

      The Great Sacrilege by Father James F. Wathen