Robert Siscoe answers NovusordoWatch and Steven Speray

Answering a Sedevacantist Critic

By Robert Siscoe

(NOTE: This was written in response to an article by Steven Speray that was posted on Novus Ordo Watch. After Mr. Speray read the following refutation of his piece, he entirely re-written his original article and reposted it on his website. He provided his readers with no indication that he made any changes. In fact, he retained the original date. The completely revised article is now posted on Novus Ordo Watch with the original title and original date. Thisis this sort of dishonest tactic that causes many to doubt the sincerity and honesty of the Sedevacantists. The original version was saved by this author and is available upon request.)

I was asked to respond to a recent blog post by Steven Speray, titled “Robert Siscoe and The Remnant’s Latest Canon Law Fiasco,”[1] which was posted on the sedevacantist website,

Let me preface this response by saying I am acquainted with Steven Speray from dozens of telephone conversations we’ve had over the past few years. I’ve never known anyone as obsessed with any single issue as Steve is with “proving” sedevacantism by any means possible. It is the main focus of his life, and he will stop at nothing to prove it. Any citation he can find from a theologian that he can twist to support his position is treated like a papal decree, and his own private interpretation of the “proof-text” is considered to be infallible. When he is presented with quotations from theologians of equal or greater authority, which directly and explicitly contradict his private interpretation, he will either ignore them, or, when they can’t be ignored, he will declare “they’re wrong”. His obsession with proving something that cannot be proven, since it involves 1) opinions that have not yet been resolved by the Church, [2] and 2) judgments that he does not have the authority to make, [3] would serve as an interesting case study in fanaticism.

As of late, I have become one of the principle objects of Steve’s obsession. He has posted a series of articles attempting to refute various articles I’ve written on sedevacantism and related topics. Previous objects of Steve’s obsession have been Chris Ferrara, John Salza, Fr. Brian Harrison, and Robert Sungenis. It seems that anyone who writes against sedevacantism will become an object of attack. He even creates phony facebook accounts using aliases (e.g. “Brian Corrigan”) which he uses to promote himself and attack others. Over the last several months, Steve, as Brian Corrigan, has posted in the comments section of various articles I’ve written, telling the world that I am dishonest and that I have already been refuted by – guess who - Steve Speray. [4]

On January 30th, I received a voice mail message from Steve’s brother (who is not a sedevacantist), asking me to call. Apparently Steve had located yet another proof-text for sedevacantism and had gone to his brother’s house, along with a friend, to confront him with it. I returned the call, and Steve, his brother and I, had a brief discussion.

Steve’s Latest

On February 3rd, four days after the telephone conversation, Steve posted a response on his website to my recent Remnant article titled, “Can the Church Depose an Heretical Pope?” [5] His response included several points that had been discussed over the telephone, but they were entirely misconstrued and misrepresented.

The Remnant article, which Steve attempted to refute, was a systematic treatment of the question of whether a pope can lose the pontificate due to heresy, and, if so, how the loss of office would occur. It contained dozens of quotations from some of the Church’s greatest theologians who have written on this very difficult and complex question since the 16th Century. The portion of the article dealing with the deposition itself followed the general course of events and explanation of John of St. Thomas, who wrote one of the most erudite and complete treatise on the question that has ever been penned.

Steve’s response contained a “refutation” of four alleged errors. Reading his response clearly demonstrates that he either did not carefully read the article he attempted to refute, or is simply unable to understand the material, since the answers to all four points he raised were explained at length. It should also be noted that Steve himself formulated the “errors” that he attempted to refute. In other words, he did not directly quote from the Remnant article and then attempt to refute what was written. Instead, he wrote the “errors” himself – using his own words - and attempted to refute them. Had he quoted the article directly, one could have more easily found the answers to all of the alleged errors.

Alleged First Error: “A true pope can be deposed, since a true pope remains pope despite being heretical.”

Steve replies to this “error” (that he himself formulated) by saying: “true popes can’t be deposed”. He then quoted a paragraph taken from an article found in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia that he believes supports his position (but which, as we will see later, directly contradicts it). He also provided a citation from Fr. Charles Augustine, an early 20th Century canonist, which he claims proves that “John of St. Thomas is wrong on every point.”

Now, let’s pause here for a moment and think about something. Firstly, there is no contradiction between what Fr. Augustine wrote and what John of St. Thomas wrote, but if we suppose there was an actual contradiction between the two, why would Steve immediately assume John of St. Thomas was wrong “on every point”, rather than Fr. Augustine? After all, John of St. Thomas is one of the greatest Thomists the Church has ever produced, and his treatise on the deposition of a heretical pope is one of the most thorough that has ever been written. In fact, Cardinal Journet, who studied this difficult question at length, said he thought John of St. Thomas’ treatise was better - “more penetrating” - than that of both Suarez and Bellarmine. And I suspect that anyone who honestly reads what Bellarmine, Suarez, and John of St. Thomas wrote on this question would agree. Yet Steve finds a single quotation from a 20th Century canonist, which he imagines to be in contradiction with this brilliant professor of Thomistic philosophy and theology, and claims that it proves that John of St. Thomas was wrong on every point.

In reality, there is no contradiction between the two quotations he provided and what John of St. Thomas wrote, when the proper distinctions are made. For example, regarding the question of whether the Church can depose an heretical Pope, Steve wrote:

“Relying on John of St. Thomas Siscoe’s answer to the question was yes, the Church can depose an heretical pope by a “general council.”

Had Steve paid closer attention to the Remnant article, he would have seen that neither myself nor John of St. Thomas taught that the Church, via a general council, “deposes” an heretical pope. In fact, this was explicitly rejected in the article as being a variant of Conciliarism. Here’s what was written in the section of the Remnant article discussing the Four Opinions:

“The first [opinion] maintains that a Pope does not have a superior on earth unless he has fallen into heresy, in which case the Church would be superior to the Pope. This is a variant of Conciliarism and is therefore rejected. This leaves the second middle opinion which holds that the Pope has no superior on earth, even in the case of heresy, but that the Church does possess a ministerial power when it comes to deposing a heretical Pope. This opinion avoids the error of Conciliarism by affirming that the Church has no authority over a Pope, nor does the Church herself depose the pope, but only performs the ministerial function required for the deposition.[6]

The deposition of a heretical pope is a complicated matter, and there is some disagreement on precisely how he would lose his office. Several opinions were discussed in the article. The more common opinion, which is shared by John of St. Thomas, is that the Church oversees the deposition, and has a ministerial function, but it does not actually cause the heretical pope to fall from the Pontificate. Since deposition is an act proper to a superior, and since the pope has no superior on earth, the Church does not actually depose a heretical pope. Because Steve apparently doesn’t understand the subtle distinctions John of St. Thomas makes regarding this difficult and complex issue, he sees contradictions where they do not exist.

The idea that the Church actually causes the deposition of a heretical pope was discussed in the article, and it was presented as a minority opinion (see the section on Two Opinions). When the term “deposed” was used in a broad sense to refer to both the minority opinion (that the Church caused the deposition of a pope) and the majority opinion (that the Church only performs a ministerial functions in the deposition) a footnote was included clarifying the broad sense in which the term was being used. [7] So Steve’s first point – namely, that the Remnant article defended the position that the Church “deposes” a heretical pope - is a strawman argument resulting from his failure to carefully read the article.

Quotation from Fr. Augustine

The citation Steve provided from the canonist, Fr. Augustine, begins by saying “the first See is judged by no one,” and ends by concluding that a “general council could not judge the Pope”. Note that this quotation pertains to “judging” the Pope, not “deposing” the pope, which are two distinct issues.
Fr. Augustine defends the Church’s teaching that a pope cannot be “judged” by referring to the historical case of the Council of Rome and Pope Symmachus, who was accused of various offenses. The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia article on Pope Symmachus explains that he was accused of celebrating Easter “on 25 March, following the old Roman cycle, while the Byzantines and others observed the feast on 22 April” and “squandering the property of the Church and other matters.” Notice that Pope Symmachus was not accused of heresy.

Steve is obviously not aware that there is a difference between a pope accused of the grave sin of heresy, and a pope accused of lesser sins, as in the case of Pope Symmachus. It is difficult to see how Steve would be unaware of this difference, since the Remnant article included the following quotations from St. Bellarmine (his favorite theologian for defending sedevacantism), Pope Innocent III, and the famous decree ‘Si Papa’ - all of which teach that a pope can be judged by the Church in the case of heresy. Here are the three citations Steve missed (or conveniently ignored). We’ll begin with Bellarmine:

“Firstly, that a heretical Pope can be judged is expressly held in Can. Si Papa dist. 40, and by Innocent III. Furthermore, in the 8th Council, (act. 7) the acts of the Roman Council under Pope Hadrian are recited, in which one finds that Pope Honorius appears to be justly anathematized, because he had been convicted of heresy, which is the only case in which inferiors are permitted to judge superiors.” (St. Bellarmine, De Romano Pontifice, Bk II, Chapter 30)

Is Steve going to disagree with his favorite theologian? After all, Fr. Augustine explicitly stated that “the first see is judged by no one,” while Bellarmine explicitly stated that “a heretical Pope can be judged”. If Steve fails to distinguish between a pope accused of heresy and one accused of lesser crimes, how will he reconcile the two? And if Steve says “we can most assuredly conclude from Rev. Augustine’s commentary that the Siscoe/John of St. Thomas ship has been torpedoed,” does Rev. Augustine’s commentary also torpedo Bellarmine’s ship? If not, why? And what is Steve going to do with the following citations from ‘Si Papa’ and Pope Innocent III, both of which also teach that a pope can be judged for heresy:

Si Papa: “Let no mortal being have the audacity to reprimand a Pope on account of his faults, for he whose duty it is to judge all men cannot be judged by anybody, unless he should be called to task for having deviated from the faith.” (Si Papa)

Pope Innocent III: “For me the faith is so necessary that, whereas for other sins my only judge is God,
for the slightest sin committed in the matter of the faith I could be judged by the Church.’ (propter solum peccatum quod in fide commititur possem ab Ecclesia judicari) (Serm. Consecrat. Pontif. Rom., P. L. CCXVII, col. 656, translation provided byAbbé de Nantes).

In fact, even the well-known sedevacantist priest, Fr. Cekada, concedes that in the case of heresy a pope can be judged. Fr. Cekada wrote, “defection from the faith is the one sin of a pope we are permitted to judge.” [8] (See footnote 9 for further clarification regarding “judging” a pope in the case of heresy. [9])

Had Steve paid closer attention to the Remnant article, he would have realized that there is no contradiction between the teaching of Fr. Augustine and that of John of St. Thomas, when the proper distinctions are made, and consequently he would not have rashly impugned the good name of John of St. Thomas by such foolish statements as the “John of St. Thomas ship has been torpedoed.”

Quotation from the Catholic Encyclopedia

Steve’s second “proof-text” brought forward against John of St. Thomas is taken from an article out of the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia. This particular quotation does not pertain to “judging” the pope (as did the previous one from Fr. Augustine), but to “deposing” a pope. Here is what Steve wrote about the question, “Can a council depose a pope”:

“True popes can’t be deposed. The Catholic Encyclopedia (CE) asked the same question nearly a hundred years earlier, ‘Can a council depose the Pope?’ The encyclopedia’s answer quotes canon 21 of the Fourth Council at Constantinople, ‘If a universal synod be assembled and any ambiguity or controversy arise concerning the Holy Church of the Romans, the question should be examined and solved with due reverence and veneration, in a spirit of mutual helpfulness; no sentence should be audaciously pronounced against the supreme pontiff of the elder Rome’ (can. xxi. Hefele, IV, 421-22).”

Steve concluded by saying:

“Explaining that the Council of Constance had no authority to oversee the deposition of true popes, the CE’s view is opposed to John of St. Thomas.”

Now this is quite an interesting conclusion Steve draws for his readers, since the very same CE article he cited states that the Council of Constance teaches that a council can depose a heretical pope. [10] And it is simply not possible to believe that Steve missed this, since it is located directly above the citation he himself quoted. Here’s the part Steve failed to quote in the body of his article: [11] Under the same heading, “Can a council depose the Pope”, the CE article says,

“The Councils of Constance and Basle, and Gallican theologians, hold that a council may depose a pope on two main grounds:

ob mores (for his conduct or behaviour, e.g. his resistance to the synod)

ob fidem (on account of his faith or rather want of faith, i.e. heresy).

“In point of fact, however, heresy is the only legitimate ground.

So the very article Steve cites to refute the position that a council can oversee the deposition of a heretical pope, explicitly teaches that “heresy is the only legitimate ground” for a council to oversee the deposition of a pope. And the CE article explicitly states that this is the teaching of the Council of Constance, even though Steve “interpreted” it as saying the exact opposite.

What the CE article did say about the Council of Constance, which Steve once again failed to include in the body of his article, is the following (which is located at the beginning of the very same paragraph Steve cited):

“Not even John XXIII could have been deposed at Constance, had his election not been doubtful and himself suspected of heresy.” (Catholic Encyclopedia)

Notice the two exceptions mentioned to justify the deposition: 1) suspect of heresy and 2) a doubtful election. In the Remnant article, these were listed as the only two cases in which an “imperfect council” could be gathered to oversee the deposition of a pope. As an example, Cajetan was cited as saying:

“there are only two cases that have occurred or can ever occur, in which, I declare, such a council should be summoned. The first is when the pope must be deposed on account of heresy; (…) The second is when one or more Popes suffer uncertainty with regard to their election, as seems to have arisen in the schism of Urban VI and others.” (Cajetan)

So the very article Steve cited to refute the idea that the Church can oversee the deposition of a heretical pope, explicitly states that the Church can oversee the deposition of a pope in the case of heresy. And the article Steve cited also lists the very two cases mentioned in the Remnant article, as the instances in which a general council can be gathered without the approval of a pope. So on both accounts, the CE article that Steve cited confirms what was written in the Remnant article and contradicts his own position.

Mystici Corporis Christi

Steve provided one additional “proof-text” to refute the first alleged error. The proof-text comes from Pope Pius XII’’s encyclical, Mystici Corporis Christi, which says: “For not every sin (admissum [12]), however grave it may be, is such as of its own nature to sever a man from the Body of the Church, as does schism or heresy or apostasy.”

This citation is intended to show that if a pope commits the sin of heresy (and loses the virtue of faith), he automatically ceases to be pope. Sedevacantists often cite this quotation to justify their position. They imagine that if they personally judge that a pope has committed the sin of heresy, then, based on this quotation from Pius XII, they are justified in proclaiming publicly that he is not the pope.

What they have failed to realize is that this quotation is referring to the nature of theses sins (heresy, schism, apostasy) which sever a man from the Body of the Church with no further sanction attached to them. These sins differ from other offenses, such as striking a cleric or procuring an abortion, which sever a person off from the Church, not by their nature, but due to the additional penalty attached to them by the Church. But in saying heresy of its nature severs a person from the Body of the Church does not eliminate the need for the proper authorities to render a judgment that the crime has actually been committed – especially when the individual in question is a cleric who continues to present himself publicly as a member of the Church (as opposed to one who openly left the Church, which would be different situation).

John of St. Thomas addressed this very point, and he even applied it to the case of a heretical pope. Commenting on the famous citation from St. Jerome, who said “heretics exile themselves and separate themselves by their own act from the body of Christ,” he wrote:

“Jerome, when he says that a heretic cuts himself off from the body of Christ, does not exclude the judgment of the Church in such a grave matter as that of the deposition of the Pope, but he instead refers to the nature of the crime, which, of itself, cuts one off from the Church without any other further added censure of the Church, provided, that is, that he be declared guilty by the Church.”[13]

A person can certainly sever himself from the Church internally [from the “Soul” of the Church to use Bellarmine’s terminology] by an internal act of heresy, but he will not lose the rights and privileges of a member of the Church in the external forum by the sin of heresy alone. Neither will a bishop or pope lose their office by the internal sin of heresy and loss of faith, without a judgment by the Church. If internal heresy alone caused a pope to lose his office, the faithful would have no way of knowing for sure which of the past popes were true popes and which were not – that is, which were true believers, and which were only pretenders.

Msgr. Van Noort answered the same objection by explaining that the internal sin of heresy (and loss of faith) only separates a person from the Body of the Church dispositively, but not formally. He wrote:

“internal heresy, since it destroys that interior unity of faith from which unity of profession is born, separates one from the body of the Church dispositively, but not yet formally.”[14]

In other words, the sin of heresy disposes a person to be separated from the visible Church, but the actual separation does not take place until the Church itself renders a judgment (unless, of course, the person himself rendered the judgment by openly leaving the Church [15]). Because the Church, itself, does not judge internals (de internis ecclesia non judica), for the sin to be judged, it must be public; and needless to say the judgment of the public sin must proceed from the proper authorities, not from the individual Catholic in the pew, as sedevacantists imagine.

The position that the sin of heresy alone (and loss of faith) causes a pope to lose his office is directly contrary to the teaching of Bellarmine himself, who taught that a pope who is an occult heretic (i.e. a guilty of the internal sin of heresy), retains his office. [16]

Monsignor Joseph Clifford Fr. Fenton wrote an article in the March 1950 issue of American Ecclesiastical Review to defend Bellarmine’s teaching on this point, in light of the teaching of Pius XII in Mystici Corporis Christi. The purpose of Monsignor Fenton’s article was to show that the passage from Mystici Corporis Christi (the very one Steve cited) was in no way contrary to the teaching of Bellarmine, who held that one who loses the faith internally does not, for that reason alone, cease to be a member of the Church. [17]

One of the points Monsignor Fenton made in his article is that in chapter four of his book, De Ecclesia, Bellarmine himself taught precisely what Pius XII did in the encyclical – namely, that the sins of heresy, schism and apostasy, of their nature, sever a person from the Body of the Church. Fenton wrote:

“In the encyclical, the Holy Father speaks of schism, heresy, and apostasy, as sins [admissum] which, of their own nature, separate a man from the Body of the Church. He thereby follows the traditional procedure adopted by St. Robert himself in his De Ecclesia Militante.

Yet Fenton goes on to explain that in chapter ten of the same book, Bellarmine taught that those guilty of the internal “sin” of heresy alone remained “members” of the Church, in spite of their loss of internal faith. Fenton concluded by saying:

“In writing what St. Robert [Bellarmine] included in his fourth chapter, the Holy Father must not be considered as denying what the same great Doctor of the Church taught in the tenth chapter of the same book.”[18]

So, when Pope Pius XII said heresy, schism and apostasy sever a person from the Body of the Church, he was referring to the nature of these particular sins, which sever a person from the Church without any additional penalty attached to the offense. But, as John of St. Thomas said, the actual separation from the visible Church does not take place before the Church herself renders the necessary judgment, especially, as he noted, “in such a grave matter as that of the deposition of the Pope.”

Another point about this “interpretation” of Mystici Corporis Christi – namely, that the internal sin of heresy, and consequent loss of faith, causes a loss of membership in the Church - is that it actually approaches heresy, since it logically denies the dogma of the visibility of the Church. If those who lost the faith interiorly ceased to be members of the Church, the Church would not be a visible society, but an “invisible Church of true believers known to God alone,” which is a heresy of Protestantism. This was condemned by Pope Leo XIII said, those who “conjure up and picture to themselves a hidden and invisible Church are in grievous and pernicious error...” [19] Hence, those sedevacantists who privately interpret this excerpt of Mystici Corporis Christi (or any other citation they manage to dig up) as teaching that the sin of heresy alone severs a person from the Body Church (without the Church judging the matter), are logically forced to embrace this “grievous and pernicious error.”

Alleged SECOND ERROR: “Popes can be heretical without loss of office until deposition.” Steve then added:

“Siscoe cited John of St. Thomas: ‘The Church must render a judgment before the pope loses his office. Private judgment of the laity in this matter does not suffice’.”

Steve’s reply to this second alleged error (that he himself formulated), once again serves as evidence that he did not carefully read the Remnant article, since the quotation that he attributed to John of St. Thomas was written by me. Even if he only skimmed the article, you would think he could at least get the quotations correct by attributing them to the correct person. But in his hasty and superficial reading he didn’t even get that part right.

Quotation from Fr. Smith

Steve wrote the following:

“Another Siscoe go-to-man is Rev. Sebastian Bach Smith, who Siscoe thinks supports his opinion. Siscoe writes:

‘Fr. Sebastian B. Smith, professor of Canon Law. In his classic work, Elements of Ecclesiastical Law (1881), which was meticulously reviewed by two canonists in Rome, we read the following:

Question: Is a Pope who falls into heresy deprived, ipso jure, of the Pontificate?

"Answer: There are two opinions: one holds that he is by virtue of divine appointment, divested ipso facto, of the Pontificate; the other, that he is, jure divino, only removable
. Both opinions agree that he must at least be declared guilty of heresy by the Church - i.e., by an ecumenical council or the College of Cardinals.” (Siscoe cites Elements of Ecclesiastical Law, Rev. SB Smith DD (Benzinger Br., New York, 1881), 3 rd ed., p 210, my version is vol. 1. p. 240)’ (End)

In response to this explanation from Fr. Smith, Steve wrote:

“Smith doesn’t say that a declaration is needed to make the deposing of the pope happen, as Bellarmine taught no declaration is needed. In fact, a declaration to make it so wouldn’t be an ipso facto loss of office.

The quotation from Fr. Smith could not be more clear, and Steve’s inability to understand it speaks for itself. Fr. Smith begins by giving both the minority opinion (that the Church actually causes the deposition of a heretical pope), and the majority opinion (that the heretical pope loses the pontificate ipso facto), and then explains that both opinions agree that the Church must at least declare the crime before a heretical pope falls from the pontificate. So, we have a minority opinion, a majority opinion, and a unanimous opinion – the unanimous opinion being that the Church must declare the pope guilty of the crime of heresy. The sedevacantists accept the majority opinion, but reject the unanimous opinion.

The reason for Steve’s confusion on this point is that he is unable to understand how the Church can issue a declaratory sentence of the crime, before the pope loses his office, without this declaration “causing” the pope to fall from the Pontificate. Steve believes that if the Church declares a pope to be a heretic before he loses his office, this declaration must necessarily “cause” the pope to fall from the Pontificate. This point was explained at in the Remnant article in the section titled Two Opinions. Had Steve read that part closely, he would have found the answer to his question. And he would have also seen a quotation from Suarez explaining the sequence of events and how the loss of office takes place.

Suarez explains that the Church does not actually “depose” the heretical Pope. Instead, the Church issues a declaratory sentence of the crime, at which time Christ Himself deposes the Pope – since Christ alone is superior to the Pope. But because the Church is a visible society, Christ will not deprive the Pope of his office without the Church knowing about it or being involved in the process. This explains why the ipso facto loss of office does not occur until after the Church renders the judgment. In the following quote we will see that the Church 1) issues a declaration of the crime; 2) Christ himself deposes the pope, and; 3) the Church punishes the former pope. Suarez explains:

“Therefore on deposing a heretical Pope, the Church would not act as superior to him, but juridically and by the consent of Christ she would declare him a heretic and, therefore, unworthy of Pontifical honors; he would then ipso facto and immediately be deposed by Christ, and once deposed he would become inferior and would be able to be punished."

Notice the last part, where he says: “once deposed, he would become inferior [to the Church] and would be able to be punished.” This final punishment is the excommunication that Bellarmine himself referred to when he said a manifestly heretical pope is depose ipso facto, “before any excommunication or judicial sentence” (which is a quotation sedevacantists often cite). The excommunication and juridical sentence is the human punishment inflicted on the former pope by the Church, which follows the ipso facto loss of office. And the ipso facto loss of office follows the declaratory sentence of the crime, as Suarez explained. Again, this was all explained at length in the article.

Now, the precise moment in time in which God severs the bond that unites the man to the Pontificate, thereby causing the fall from the Pontificate, is certainly an interesting question (and for an interesting answer, see the section of the Remnant article titled “The Effect of the Warning and Declaration”), but suffice it to say, since the Church is a visible society, a pope is not going to lose his office without the Church herself knowing about it. For this reason, even if a sitting pope falls into heresy, he will not lose his jurisdiction before the Church herself performs the ministerial functions necessary to establish the crime. And, according to the erudite and beautifully Thomistic explanation of John of St. Thomas, it will not take place until the Church also declares to the faithful that the man must be avoided (Title 3:10).

In the famous quotation from Bellarmine about the ipso facto loss of office for a heretical pope, which is found on every sedevacantist website, Bellarmine does not directly address the issue of the declaratory sentence of the crime. He only states that the manifestly heretical pope is deprived of the Pontificate ipso facto, before being excommunicated, which is what Suarez also taught. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Bellarmine’s writings have not been translated into English, but according to John of St. Thomas, who studied Bellarmine at length regarding this question, and who spoke Latin fluently, Bellarmine was in agreement with Suarez that the pope must be declared incorrigible (declaratory sentence) by the Church before he loses his office. John of St. Thomas addressed this point in his treatise on the deposition of a heretical pope. He wrote:

“without qualification, the Lord Christ is the only superior with respect to the pope. And for that reason, Bellarmineand Suarez judge that the pope, by the very fact that he is a manifest heretic and has been declared incorrigible, is deposed immediately by the Lord Christ, not by some other authority of the Church.” [20]

So John of St. Thomas, who himself was a young contemporary of both Bellarmine and Suarez, and who wasn’t limited to reading a few quotations from Bellarmine posted on sedevacantist websites, states that Bellarmine agrees with Suarez in holding that a manifestly heretical pope must be “declared incorrigible” before being deposed immediately by Christ.

This, of course, makes perfect sense. After all, if a pope was able to fall from the pontificate without the Church being aware of it, we would never know for sure which popes in the past were true popes, and which had crossed the line into heresy and fallen from the pontificate. Hence, we would have no way of knowing if the decrees of the various councils had been ratified by a true pope, or by one who had secretly fallen from the pontificate. Consequently, the object of the Faith itself (the dogmas that must be believed) would be uncertain, and everything would be left to the private judgment of individual Catholics in the pew to decide. With fallen human nature as it is, such uncertainly would lead quickly to confusion and division – just like we see in Protestantism, where everything is based on each person’s private interpretation. For this reason, Billuart explains that the common teaching of theologians is that:

“Christ by a particular providence, for the common good and the tranquility of the Church, continues to give jurisdiction to an even manifestly heretical pontiff until such time as he should be declared a manifest heretic by the Church”- Billuart, De Fide, Diss. V, A. III No. 3, Obj. 2.

Fr. Paul Laymann, one of the greatest canonists of his time, explains that if a pope falls into heresy, he will retain the pontifical power as long as the Church continues to recognize him as pope.

“Observe, however, that, though we affirm that the Supreme Pontiff, as a private person, might be able to become a heretic and therefore cease to be a true member of the Church, (…) still, while he was tolerated by the Church, and publicly recognized as the universal pastor, he would really enjoy the pontifical power, in such a way that all of his decrees would have no less force and authority than they would if he were truly faithful.”

Who is and who is not a member of the hierarchy is not a matter of personal opinion to be decided by each individual Catholic based on private judgment, as sedevacantists imagine. When such a question is treated as a matter of personal opinion, we end up with the following, which was written recently by a sedevacantist author:

“As of January 2014, I have discovered conclusive evidence that all the so-called popes and cardinals from Innocent II (1130-1143) onward have been idolaters or formal heretics and thus were apostate antipopes and apostate anticardinals.” (…)

“Also all of the theologians and canon lawyers from 1250 onward have been apostates. (See RJMI article and audio “No Popes or Cardinals since 1130.”) Hence all their teachings, laws, judgments, and other acts are null and void. Therefore, all of the ecumenical councils, canon laws, and other acts from Apostate Antipope Innocent II onward are null and void.” [21]

This is where the Protestant method of private interpretation and private judgment leads. It is interesting to see that the same method (private judgment) leads to the same end: division, confusion, and finally a denial of the visibility of the Church.

Alleged THIRD ERROR: “The automatic penalty of excommunication for clerics is in the internal forum only.”

Let me begin by saying that the above “error”, when properly understood, correctly reflects my position, and on the telephone conversation with Steve, I referenced a youtube video from Canon Hesse in which Steve could watch him explain this very point (more on Steve’s thoughts about Canon Hesse in a minute). This is one of the points Steve misunderstood over the telephone, since he believed it was a reference to a particular canon from the 1917 Code. Since Steve revised his original article by removing the part he misunderstood, it is not necessary to clarify the point here

Suffice it to say that what I explained to Steve over the telephone is the distinction between an occult excommunication and a public excommunication. The reason for this explanation is because Steve recently dug up what he imagines to be another “proof-text” for sedevacantism. In fact, this is what Steve rushed to his brother’s house to confront him with the day I received the telephone call. Steve’s latest proof-text is a quotation from Pope Pius IX, who said “the law-breaker incurs the censure [of excommunication] in the very act of breaking the law,” which is no great revelation. In fact, if Steve had read the Remnant article he attempted to refute more carefully, he would have seen where I myself said, ”the censure of excommunication is incurred automatically by one who knowingly commits any offense that carries the penalty…”, which is virtually identical to the what Pius IX wrote.

The reason Steve believes this quotation from Pope Pius IX is “proof” for Sedevacantism, is because he personally believes the post-Vatican II popes have incurred an automatic excommunication. Therefore, since he personally believes this, he considers it “proof” that they are not true popes. No need for the Church to issue a judgment. If Steve personally believes the post-Vatican II Popes have incurred an automatic excommunication (for the sin of heresy), it must mean they are not true popes. That is his line of reasoning and he apparently sees no problem with it. Based on his reasoning, Steve believes that all he needs to do to “convert” others to sedevacantism is to convince them that the Pope has incurred the censure of excommunication. Again, no need for the Church to follow the necessary procedures to render the judgment, since, according to Steve, private judgment suffices.

Now, without even discussing whether or not the post-Vatican II popes incurred the censure of excommunication (which is unlikely since excommunication is part of the positive law of the Church, which has no coercive power over the Pope, as Cajetan explains), what Steve is simply incapable of grasping is that it is possible for a cleric to incur a personal excommunication (in the internal forum), yet retain his office in the external forum, since a cleric is not presumed to be excommunicated in the external forum without a declaration. Pope Benedict XIV teaches that "a sentence declaratory of the offence is always necessary in the forum externum (external forum) since in this tribunal no one is presumed to be excommunicated unless convicted of a crime that entails such a penalty." [22]

This is what I attempted to explain to Steve on the telephone. I provided him with a source where he could read more about this, [23] and referenced a Canon Hesse video where he could hear him explain the same point. But Steve didn’t bother reading the source I provided, nor is he concerned with what Canon Hesse taught. And since Steve always attempts to discredit the real theologians and canonists who disagree with him, in his attempted refutation of my Remnant article, he publicly impugned the good name of the late Fr. Hesse by calling him a “quack”.

Now, since Canon Hesse (RIP) is no longer here to defend himself, I think a quick comparison of the credentials of Canon Hesse and Steve Speray should tell us all we need to know. On the one hand, we have Canon Gregory Hesse, a priest of royal descent with a Ph. D from the Pontifical University in Rome in both canon law and Thomistic theology. He spent fifteen years in Rome, was best friends with a Cardinal, and served for two years as the secretary for Cardinal Stickler. Canon Hesse had all the necessary training and credentials to teach on these subjects.

In the other corner we have we have Steve Speray, a layman with no formal training who mows lawns and delivers pizzas for a living. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly nothing wrong with mowing lawns and delivering pizzas for a living, but wouldn’t you think Steve might consider that, perhaps, a priest with a Ph. D in canon law and Thomistic theology might know just a little more about these weighty and complex issues than himself? Apparently not. But you can rest assured that if Steve ever discovers anything Canon Hesse said that he can “interpret” as supporting his position, suddenly Canon Hesse will be treated as an infallible authority, and anyone who disagrees with him will be treated as one who refuses to face the facts.

Now, for the sake of accuracy I need to say that I don’t think Steve delivers pizzas any more. I say this because one of the last times I spoke with him he told me that he had read Apocalypse 13, and concluded that the Mark of the Beast (666) is “working for a female boss”. That was Steve’s private interpretation of that verse. And even though no one has ever taught such a thing, nevertheless, based on this private interpretation, and given the fact that Steve had a female boss, he had no choice but to quit his job. I’ll let the reader draw their own conclusion over Steve’s private interpretation and practical application of this verse.

Now, there’s another point that needs to be addressed. On his website, Steve said he spoke to a canon lawyer, and, needless to say, he claims that the canon lawyer agreed with him. No details of the conversation were given, nor are we told what it is that the canon lawyer allegedly agreed with. All we are told is that the canon lawyer agreed with Steve and not me. Now, while I was not privy to the discussion between Steve and the canon lawyer, I did happen to be included on an e-mail exchange in which Steve’s brother related what the very same canon lawyer (apparently a personal friend) had just told him. His brother had contacted the canon lawyer to find out if the story Steve was spreading online was accurate. Here is what his brother wrote in the e-mail, which I cite with permission:

“I talked to [Dr. … ], and as I suspected, she doesn't agree with Steve's understanding of the office held by clerics, or the perpetuity of the papacy and indefectibility of the Church. I asked her if the pope would automatically excommunicate himself by materially heretical statements made publicly [which is what Steve believes] and she said no. Then I asked her if he [the pope] had to be warned if he did that [made a materially heretical statement], and she said yes, she believed so, and the way it would probably work is about eight cardinals would discuss it, and would send him a warning first. I asked her if the pope retained his office physically, could he lose his office spiritually and lose jurisdiction. [this is one of Steve’s new theories] She said there was no such separation of a spiritual and physical office, and no, he wouldn't lose jurisdiction if he retained office. So no, contrary to what he told me at the house, she isn't worried she'll lose her job if she has to admit the pope is a heretic, because she doesn't believe he is one. Yet Steve is inaccurately posting on his website he talked to two canon lawyers that supposedly agree with him.” [24]

So, either Steve misunderstood the canon lawyer, just as he misunderstood me over the telephone, or Steve is not being truthful.

Alleged FOURTH ERROR: “Defection from the Faith is only established by warnings and a declaration.”

To counter this alleged error, Steven wrote:

“Canon 188 states: Any office becomes vacant upon the fact and without any declaration by tacit resignation recognized by the law itself if a cleric: 4. Publicly defects from the Catholic Faith.”

This particular Canon (188.4) is cited regularly by sedevacantists in support of their position. The canon pertains to tacit resignation from office. One of the ways this can take place is by a public defection from the Faith. Since the sedevacantists believe that the post-conciliar popes have publicly defected from the Faith, this canon is cited as “proof” that the lost their office automatically.

Canon 188.4

The first point is that the “tacit resignation recognized by law” that Canon 188.4 speaks of does not take place if a cleric merely says something heretical (which is what Steve believes). The “public defection from the Faith” that constitutes “tacit resignation”(Canon 188.4) takes place when a cleric publicly joins a non-Catholic sect, either formally (sectae acatholicae nomen dare) or informally (publice adhaerere). This is explicitly mentioned in Canon 2314.3, which says:

“Canon 2314: (3) if they have joined a non-Catholic sect or publicly adhered to it, they are ipso facto infamous, and clerics, in addition to being considered to have tacitly renounced any office they may hold, according to canon 188.4, are if previous warning proves fruitless, to be degraded.

Since none of the post-Vatican II popes have publicly joined a non-Catholic sect, Canon 188.4 does not apply to them. It is a simple as that.

Fr. Augustine explains what is meant by formalpublic defection from the faith (sectae acatholicae nomen dare) and informal public defection (publice adhaerere), referred to by Canon 188.4. Here is Fr. Augustine’s explanation:

“The vindictive penalties are rendered more severe in two cases, which may be distinct, but may also occur by one and the same act: sectae acatholicae nomen dare or publice adhaerere.

“A sect means a religious society established in opposition to the Church, whether it consist of infidels, pagans, Jews, Moslems, non-Catholics, or schismatics. To become a member of such a society (nomen dare) means to inscribe one s name on its roster. …

“The text also provides for cases of informal membership. Publice adhaerere means to belong publicly to a non-Catholic sect. This may be done by frequenting its services without any special cause or reason, or by boasting of being a member, though not enrolled, by wearing a badge or emblem indicative of membership, etc. Those guilty of such conduct, whether laymen or clerics, render themselves infamous (infamia iuris latae sententiae) and consequently can. 2294, must be applied to them. (…).
This is tacit resignation recognized by law (Canon 188.4) and therefore the vacancy is one de facto et iure [by fact and by law]."

So “tacit resignation recognized by law” takes place when a cleric publicly defects from the Faith by joining a non-Catholic sect, which does not apply to any of the post-concilair popes. Therefore, the argument based on Canon 188.4, which has been used by sedevacantists for years, fails entirely.

Furthermore, Steve contradicts himself when he attempts to use canon law to defend his position, and then, in the very same article, claims that canon law does not apply to a pope. For example, he wrote:

“Can. 2314.1 n. 1 states that heretics, ‘incur ipso facto excommunication.’ This automatic censure refers to the external forum, and happens without warnings. Excommunicated persons can’t hold office since they are not members of the Church in the external forum.”(Steve Speray)

Now, without even mentioning that Canon 2314.2 explicitly states that a warning is required for clerics to lose their office, and a second warning before they are deposed, look what Steve wrote in the very same article about the very same canon (Canon 2314), when the canon does not help his position:

“Popes and cardinals don’t fall under the penalties of canon law. Therefore, canons 2314.1 n.2, 2223.4, and 2232, which require superiors, trials and condemnations, can’t be applied anyway.”[25]

So, on the one hand Steve cites Canon 2314.1 to support his position, and then in the very same article he says the penalties of Canon 2314.1 don’t apply to a pope. Incredible!

The Case of Nestorius

In an attempt to prove that a heretical prelate automatically loses his office, Steve goes back 16 centuries to the historical case of Nestorius. He cites a quotation from Bellarmine and then, once again, provides us with his “private interpretation”. He wrote:

“Siscoe also contradicts Pope St. Celestine I and St. Robert Bellarmine who both taught that warnings are not necessary to prove defection of faith. Bellarmine put it this way:

‘And in a letter to the clergy of Constantinople, Pope St. Celestine I says: ‘The authority of Our Apostolic See has determined that the bishop, cleric, or simple Christian who had been deposed or excommunicated by Nestorius or his followers, after the latter began to preach heresy shall not be considered deposed or excommunicated. For he who had defected from the faith with such preachings, cannot depose or remove anyone whatsoever’.”

Steve then concludes with his private interpretation:

In other words, Nestorius lost his office immediately after he began preaching heresy, which is why he had no authority to depose or remove anyone. It happens by Divine law, not by sentence of Church law.”

“In other words, Nestorius lost his office immediately”? That might be what Steve would prefer Bellarmine to have said, but that’s not what he said. What he did say is that the excommunications and depositions pronounced by Nestorius, after he began preaching heresy, were later declared to be null and void. There’s nothing about him losing his office anywhere in the citation. But Steve, who is apparently incapable of making distinctions, “interprets” this as meaning that Nestorius lost his office, as if it’s not possible for unjust acts of a prelate who holds office to be rendered null by the Church at a future date.

The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia article on Nestorius explains that after preaching heresy, Nestorius “had been handed over by the pope to the tender mercies of his rival, Cyril; he had been summoned to accept within ten days under pain of deposition, not a papal definition, but a series of anathemas drawn up at Alexandria …”. So Nestorius was not deposed ipso facto the moment he began to preach heresy, as Steve imagines, but was instead provided an opportunity to renounce his errors before being deposed. Once again we see that Steve’s private interpretation does not square with the facts.

The Case of Liberius

Steve has now come up with a new argument for his position. Possibly realizing the difficulty in “proving” that the post-conciliar popes have been heretics, he now claims that a pope does not have to be a heretic at all to lose his office. All that is required, according to Steve, is that he appears to be a heretic. And, needless to say, a pope only has to appear to Steve to be a heretic for him to fall ipso facto from the Pontificate. Steve bases this novel position on his own private interpretation of Bellarmine’s explanation of the case of Pope Liberius, who caved into pressure after two years of exile, during the Arian crisis, and signed a semi-Arian formula. While Liberius was still alive, the priests of Rome (who were charged with electing a pope in those days) judged him to be a heretic and elected Felix to take his place. The following is Bellarmine’s explanation of the events:

“Then indeed the Roman clergy, stripping Liberius of his pontifical dignity, went over to Felix, whom they knew to be a Catholic. From that time, Felix began to be the true Pontiff. For although Liberius was not a heretic, nevertheless he was considered one, on account of the peace he made with the Arians, and by that presumption the pontificate could rightly be taken from him: for men are not bound or able to read hearts; but when they see that someone is a heretic by his external works, they judge him to be a heretic pure and simple, and condemn him as a heretic.” (On the Roman Pontiff, 29)

Based on this explanation of Bellarmine, Steve says, “the fact is a pope must simply appear to be a heretic” to lose his office. Now, without even addressing the confusion that was discovered in recently centuries over Anti-Pope Felix (elected to replace Liberius) and Felix the Martyr, who was mistaken for the Anti-Pope for centuries (including during Bellarmine’s day), there are a number of problems with Steve’s reasoning here. I will address just two.

Firstly, the judgment that Liberius was a heretic, and the subsequent election of Felix, was made by those within the Church who had the authority to do so, not by an individual Catholic in the pew. Secondly, Liberius had been banished by Emperor Constantius to Bearea in Thrace, which means the Papal See, at the time, was in a state of Sede Imdedite, which is defined as:

“the condition of the total impossibility of exercising the function when, by reason of captivity, banishment, exile, or incapacity a diocesan bishop is clearly prevented from fulfilling his pastoral function in the diocese...” (Sede Vacante in History and Canon Law, Manuel Jesus Arroba Conde).

This was clearly the situation of Pope Liberius during the time of his exile. Now, in the early years of the Church, when the papacy itself was in a state of Sede Impedita, the pope was considered to have resigned, and hence his See was vacant. Therefore, the electors – who, at the time, were the priests of Rome - could move to elect a new Pope without having to judge and depose the exiled pope (since he was already considered to have resigned).The following is taken from The Church of the Word Incarnate, by Cardinal Journet:

“The Pope was considered as having resigned when he was so placed that he could not possibly exercise his powers: ‘It appears that in those times, when a bishop was removed from his see by a capital sentence (death, exile, relegation) or by an equivalent measure emanating from the secular authority, the see was considered as vacant. It was under these circumstances that the Roman Church replaced in the third century Pontianus by Anteros, in the sixth century Silverius by Vigilius, in the seventh Martin by Eugenius" (L. Duchesne, The Early History of the Church, vol. III, p. 160, note 1).” [26]

So, the answer to Steve’s argument is that Pope Liberius was in a state of exile. In the early years of the Church, when a pope was in a state of exile, he was considered to have resigned his office. Therefore, the proper authorities could, if they so wished, elect a new pope without having to depose the former pope. In light of this, Steve’s private interpretation of Bellarmine’s explanation of this controversial historical case fails completely. Bellarmine never said that if a layman in the pew believes a pope “appears” to be a heretic, it means he is not the pope. Pope Alexander VI appeared to Savanarola to be a heretic, [27] yet this subjective judgment did not mean Alexander was not the pope. Furthermore, Bellarmine himself explicitly taught that heretical bishops can only be deposed by the proper authorities. [28] If this is true for other bishops, how much more necessary is it for the Church to be involved in the deposition of a heretical pope? Again, according to the more common opinion, the Church itself would not “depose” the Pope, but the Pope would not be deposed (by Christ) without the Church knowing about it.

No Popes Since 1958?

Steve then brings forward yet another argument for sedevacantism. Possibly realizing the inherent weakness of his claim that if a pope merely “appears” to be a heretic (according to private opinion) he falls ipso facto from the Pontificate, Steve then says that none of this matters. Why? Because, according to Steve, all of the popes since 1958 were public heretics before their election, and since a public heretic cannot be elected, their elections were all null and void.

Now, let’s think about this for a moment. How could John XXIII have been a public heretic without any of the Bishops or Cardinals knowing about it? And keep in mind that this was in 1958. Pius XII had just died and the crisis in Church had not yet erupted. If John XXIII was a public heretic in 1958, why didn’t any of the bishops or the Cardinal in the conclave know about it, and if no one knew about it, how can Steve claim he was a public heretic?

John XXIII was elected pope by the College of Cardinals, he was presented to the Church by the Cardinal protodeacon as the newly elected pope, and he was peacefully accepted by the universal Church - just like Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI after him. This, in and of itself, provides infallible certitude that they were all legitimate popes, since the peaceful and universal acceptance of a pope is an infallible sign – an “infallible effect” [29] – of their legitimacy. The peaceful and universal acceptance of a determined pontiff also heals in the root any defect in the election itself, as Cardinal Billot explains:

“Finally, what one may think of the possibility or the impossibility of an heretical pope, there is at least one point absolutely clear which no one can put in doubt, and it is that the acceptance, the adherence, of the Universal Church to a pope will always be, by itself, the infallible sign of the legitimacy of such-and-such a pontiff; and consequently of the existence of all the conditions required for legitimacy itself. God can permit that at times a vacancy in the Apostolic See be prolonged for a long time. He can also permit that doubt arise about the legitimacy of this or that election. He cannot however permit that the whole Church accept as Pontiff him who is not so truly and legitimately. Therefore, from the moment in which the Pope is accepted by the Church and united to her as the head to the body, it is no longer permitted to raise doubts about a possible vice of election or a possible lack of any condition whatsoever necessary for legitimacy. For the aforementioned adhesion of the Church heals in the root all fault in the election and proves infallibly the existence of all the required conditions.

Notice that the universal acceptance of a Pope is not only an infallible sign of the legitimacy of a determined Pope, but it is also an infallible sign of the conditions required for his legitimacy (such as “membership” in the Church). And notice, Cardinal Billot explains that God might permit an extended papal vacancy, but he will not permit the entire Church to accept a false pope as a true pope. The Cardinal then goes on to apply this teaching to the case of Pope Alexander VI, who, as discussed above, “appeared” to Savonarola to be a heretic:

“Let this be said in passing against those who, trying to justify certain attempts at schism made in the time of Alexander VI, allege that its promoter [Savanorola] broadcast that he had most certain proofs, which he would reveal to a General Council, of the heresy of Alexander. Putting aside here other reasons with which one could easily be able to refute such an opinion, it is enough to remember this: it is certain that when Savonarola was writing his letters to the Princes, all of Christendom adhered to Alexander VI and obeyed him as the true Pontiff.

For this very reason, Alexander VI was not a false Pope, but a legitimate one. Therefore he was not a heretic at least in that sense in which the fact of being a heretic takes away one’s membership in the Church and in consequence deprives one, by the very nature of things, of the pontifical power, [30] and of any other ordinary jurisdiction.”

The peaceful and universal acceptance of a pope falls into the category of a “dogmatic fact”, which is a secondary object of infallibility. This is the same category that the infallibility of canonizations falls in. The following is taken from the dogmatic manual of Monsignor Van Noort:

“The Church’s infallibility extends to dogmatic facts. This proposition is theologically certain. A dogmatic fact is a fact not contained in the sources of revelation, [but] on the admission of which depends the knowledge or certainty of a dogma or of a revealed truth. The following questions are concerned with dogmatic facts: ‘Was the [First] Vatican Council a legitimate ecumenical council? Is the Latin Vulgate a substantially faithful translation of the original books of the Bible? Was Pius XII legitimately elected Bishop of Rome? One can readily see that on these facts hang the questions of whether the decrees of the [First] Vatican Council are infallible, whether the Vulgate is truly Sacred Scripture, whether Pius XII is to be recognized as supreme ruler of the universal Church.” [31]

If there are multiple claimants to the papacy, such as during the Great Western Schism, the “infallible effect” necessary for infallible certitude would not be present. The infallible effect would also not be present if a determined pope was, for some reason, not peacefully and universally accepted by the Church. For example, the case of Boniface VII, who was hastily elected following the murder of the former pope (of which Boniface’s associates were suspected), and who was run out of Rome less than two months later (and who stole money from the treasury on the way out) would be an example of a pope who was not accepted peacefully and universally accepted by the Church. Hence, the infallible effect necessary for certitude was clearly not present in the extraordinary case of Boniface VII. I mention this because Boniface VII is the sole example cited by Steve as “proof” that a pope can be “peacefully and universally accepted’ by the Church, yet later be declared to have been an antipope. But a worse case could hardly be imagined, since if there was ever a “pope” who was not peacefully and universally accepted, it was Boniface VII. But this shows the lengths to which Steve is willing to go to “refute” any argument against the sedevacantist position.

But it should also be pointed out that the universal acceptance does not have to be absolutely unanimous, but only morally unanimous, or “practically unanimous.” Fr. Berry explains:

“The practically unanimous consent of the Bishops and faithful in accepting a council as ecumenical, or a Roman Pontiff as legitimately elected, gives absolute and infallible certainty of the fact”.

If such a fact (the legitimacy of a determined pope) could not be known with infallible certitude, the Church would never know for sure if a particular dogma had been defined by a true Pope or a false Pope. Without this certainty, a Catholic who rejected a particular dogma could simply cast doubt on the Pope who defined it in order to justify his heresy. Hence, everything would be cast into uncertainty and confusion and left to the fallible judgment of each to determine.

As Providence would have it, in the December 1965 issue of the American Ecclesiastical Review, Fr. Francis Connell, CSSR, applied the teaching of the peaceful and universal acceptance of a pope to the Papacy Paul VI himself. In a Q&A that appeared in the publication in the same month that Paul VI ratified the doctrines of the “pastoral council” of Vatican II, Fr. Connell explained that, since Paul VI had been elected pope and accepted by the universal Church, it provided infallible certitude of the legitimacy of his Pontificate. Here is the Q&A from the publication:

Question: What certainty have we that the reigning Pontiff [Paul VI] is actually the primate of the universal Church – that is, that he became a member of the Church through valid baptism, and that he was validly elected Pope?

Answer: Of course, we have human moral certainty that the reigning Pontiff was validly elected in conclave and accepted the office of Bishop of Rome, thus becoming head of the universal Church. The unanimous consensus of a large group of Cardinals composing the electoral body gave us this assurance. And we also have human moral certainty that the reigning Pontiff was validly baptized, since there is a record to that effect in the baptismal register of the church in which the sacrament was administered. We have the same type of certainty that any bishop is the true spiritual head of the particular See over which he presides. This type of certainty excludes every prudent fear of the opposite.

“But in the case of the Pope we have a higher grade of certainty – a certainty that excludes not merely the prudent fear of the opposite, but even the possible fear of the opposite. In other words, we have infallible certainty that the present Sovereign Pontiff has been incorporated into the Church by a valid baptism and has been validly elected
head of the universal Church. … This is an example of a fact that is not contained in the deposit of revelation but is so intimately connected with revelation that it must be within the scope of the Church’s magisterial authority to declare it infallibly. The whole Church, teaching and believing, declares and believes this fact, and from this it follows that this fact is infallibly true. We accept it with ecclesiastical – not divine – faith, based on the authority of the infallible Church.”

Steve’s claim that “no true pope has been validly elected since 1958” is a denial of the Church’s infallibility. There is no getting around it – especially since the acceptance of a pope does not have to be a mathematical unanimity, but only a practical, or moral unanimity, which was certainly present at least up to Benedict XVI. [32] And as Van Noort noted in the citation quoted above, the infallibility of dogmatic facts is qualified as “theologically certain”. If one knowingly rejects a theologically certain proposition, he might not be guilty of heresy (since it is not de fide), but he is guilty of a mortal sin against faith. [33]

All of these citations, and more, were provided to Steve in the past, along with the citation explaining that denying a theologically certain teaching is a mortal sin. But Steve didn’t care. In response to multiple citations from numerous authoritative sources, who merely expressed the common teaching of the pre-Vatican II manuals, Steve said: “your theologians and canonists are proven wrong by history.” [34] (The “history” he was referring to is the case of Boniface VII, mentioned above) And why would Steve refer to these authorities as my theologians? Especially since one of them (Cardinal Billot) is a theologian that Steve himself often cites; and needless to say, when Steve cites Cardinal Billot, he is presented as an authority who cannot be questioned. Yet when Steve is presented with a teaching of the Cardinal that he cannot square with his own position, he completely rejected him, which is exactly what I would expect from Steve. Neither did Steve accept the exact same teaching from the “famous” Van Noort, as Monsignor Fenton called him, but instead replied: “I have found several errors in Van Noort. So I don’t care what he states when it contradicts facts” [35] (once again, the “facts” refers to the historical case of Boniface VII). Steve considers his private interpretation of the “facts” to overrule the common teaching of all the Church’s theologians who have been formally trained in the science, and who possess the necessary credentials to actually teach on these complex matters.

It is interesting to see the lengths to which Steve will go to defend sedevacantism, especially when one considers that doing so requires that he reject the unanimous teaching of the pre-Vatican II theologians. It is truly a form of fanaticism which requires that he places himself, and his private interpretation of the “facts,” above the authority above all others, which he apparently does without the least scruple. This calls to mind the complaint of Luther himself upon seeing the rotten fruits of his doctrine of “private interpretation”. Luther wrote:

"Noblemen, townsmen, peasants, all classes understand the Evangelium better than I or St. Paul. They are now wise and think themselves more learned than all the ministers. … How many doctors have I made by preaching and writing? Now they say, Be off with you. Go off with you. Go to the devil. … No Yokel is so rude but when he has dreams and fancies, he imagines himself inspired by the Holy Ghost and must be a prophet".

It is interesting to witness how the same method of private judgment has lead to the same end: individual Catholics in the pew – “townsmen, peasants” - who imagine themselves to be “more learned than all the ministers,” who have “dreams and fancies,” imagining themselves to be “inspired by the Holy Ghost and must be a prophet”. This Protestant mindset has born fruits on the Right, and they are found in sedevacantism and other modern errors. One thing is for sure: the current crisis in the Church has many victims, and they are certainly not all on the Left.

The errors of sedevacantism will be thoroughly addressed in an upcoming book co-authored by myself and John Salza, titled: “Against Sedevacantism, and other Modern Errors”, which will be out later this year.

[1] The title has since been changed to “The Remnant’s Canon Law Fiasco”
[2] The speculative questions pertain to when and precisely how a heretical pope loses his office.
[3] St. Thomas explains that public judgments must come from public authority. See: S.T. Pt II-II, Q 60, A
[4] It appears that Steve removed the “Brian Corrigan” facebook account the very day he read this piece.
[6] ‘Can the Church Depose an Heretical Pope’, Siscoe, Remnant Newspaper, online (11-18-14)
[7] For example, footnote 23 says: The term “deposed” is here being used to express both of the “two opinions’ discussed later in this article - see explanation in Journet, L’Eglise…, vol. 1, p 626
[8] Fr. Cekada, “Sedevacantism and Mr. Ferrara's Cardboard Pope”, Aug. 2005
[9] Now, it should be noted that Pope Innocent clarified matters further when he said that the Pope is not, strictly speaking, “judged” by the Church, but rather “shown to be judged”: "[T]he Roman Pontiff … should not mistakenly flatter himself about his power, nor rashly glory in his eminence or honor, for the less he is judged by man, the more he is judged by God. I say ‘less’ because he can be judged by men, or rather shown to be judged, if he clearly loses his savor to heresy, since he ‘who does not believe is already judged’.” This point further addressed in the article by a citation from Wenz-Vidal, which that when the Church declares the pope a heretic, the declaratory sentence “does not have the effect of judging a heretical pope, but of demonstrating that he has already been judged,” just like Pope Innocent III said.
[10] Keep in mind that the word “deposed” is sometimes used broadly to refer to the act of deposing a pope, or only to performing the ministerial functions pertaining to the deposition (such as establishing that the pope is guilty of the crime).
[11] The following was included in a footnote, which makes it even more difficult to believe he was unaware of it.
[12] Definition of admissum: “a wrong done, a trespass, fault, crime.” - Lewis and Short, A Latin Dictionary; Founded on Andrews' edition of Freund's Latin dictionary (Trustees of Tufts University, Oxford, 1879).
[13] Cursus Theologici II-II, John of St. Thomas, De Auctoritate Summi Pontificis, Disp II, Art. III, De Depositione Papae, p. 139.
[14] Van Noort, Christ’s Church, (Westminster, Maryland: Newman Press, 1961), p. 242. Using Thomistic terminology, we can say the separation from the Body due to internal sin alone is in potency, but not in act.
[15] In which case he would be notorious with a notoriety of fact (Code of Canon Law, Canon 2197.3) see:…/Is_That_Chair_V…
[16] Bellarmine: "And in his seventh affirmation, he maintains that in those who turn away from the Church [openly leave the Church?], there remains absolutely no spiritual power over those who are in the Church. Melchior Cano says the same (lib. 4 de loc., cap. 2), teaching that heretics are neither parts nor members of the Church, and that it cannot even be conceived that anyone could be head and Pope, without being member and part (cap. ult. ad argument. 12). And he teaches in the same place, in plain words, that occult heretics are still of the Church, they are parts and members, and that therefore the Pope who is an occult heretic is still Pope. This is also the opinion of the other authors whom we cite in book I De Ecclesia.” (De Romano Pontifice)
[17] See: Fenton, “Status of St. Robert Bellarmine’s Teaching about the Membership of Occult Heretics in the Catholic Church”, American Ecclesiastical Review, Vol. CXXII, No. 3, p. 219
[18] Ibid.
[19] Satis Cognitum, No. 3, June 29, 1896.
[20] Cursus Theologici (Theological Courses), II-II, De Auctoritate Summi Pontificis, Disputatio, Disp II, Art. III, De Depositione Papae.
[21] Richard Joseph Michael Ibranyi, “No Popes or Cardinals since 1130,” January 2014.…/tr37_no_popes_c…
[22] De synodo, X, i, 5, cited in Volume V, Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913, p 680
[23] Volume V, Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913, (on Excommunication), p 680
[24] Permission was given to cite this publicly
[25] Ibid.
[26] The Church of the Word Incarnate, Cardinal Jornet, Chapter VII
[27] In a letter to the Emperor Charles, Savonorola said: “I declare that he [Pope Alexander VI] is not a Christian, that he does not even believe in the existence of God, which surpasses all the limits of incredulity…” (Victim of the Borgia Pope: Jerome Savonarola, pg. 106)
[28] “…if the pastor is a bishop, they [the faithful] cannot depose him and put another in his place. For Our Lord and the Apostles only lay down that false prophets are not to be listened to by the people, and not that they depose them. And it is certain that the practice of the Church has always been that heretical bishops be deposed by bishop’s councils, or by the Sovereign Pontiff.” (De Membris Ecclesiae, Lib. I De Clerics, cap. 7. (Opera Omnia, Paris: Vives, 1870) p 428-429)
[29] Wernz-Vidal, Ius Can., II. p. 520. Note 171, cited in: ‘The Theological Hypothesis of a Heretic Pope’, De Silveira, p.185.
[30] In other words, he might have lost the faith internally, and he might have appeared to be a heretic externally, but he had not publicly left the Church or been declared a heretic by the proper authorities.
[31] Christ’s Church, Van Noort (Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland, 1961), p. 11
[32] One could question whether or not the “infallible effect” is present with Francis, since there are so many within the Church who publicly question the validity of Benedict XVI’s resignation.
[33] See:
[34] “Robert Siscoe of Catholic Family News Comments on My Blog”, by Steve Speray
[35] Robert Siscoe of Catholic Family News Comments on My Blog”, by Steve Speray