“And when [Jesus] entered into the boat, His disciples followed Him: And behold a great tempest arose in the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves, but He was asleep. And they came to Him, and awakened Him, saying: Lord, save us, we perish. And Jesus saith to them: Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith? Then rising up He commanded the winds, and the sea, and there came a great calm.”
~ Matthew 8:23-26
“Men are always tempted to think the times in which they live eventful and pregnant beyond any other…”
So spoke Henry Cardinal Manning over 100 years ago. The immediate response to this thought from today’s Catholics is likely to be, “Sometimes – such as now – this instinct is correct.”
And so it is, in a sense. Yet, it is also true that, in a general sense, the problems that beleaguer the Church and Catholics today are nothing new.
Material heresy out of the vast majority of the hierarchy? Sixteen centuries ago, according to the best authorities on the subject, 75-95% of the Church’s bishops denied the divinity of Christ. St. Athanasius, the virtual sole strong defender of orthodoxy among the episcopate, was outcast and later excommunicated.
However, despite this, and other such events (such as the corruption in the human element of the Church at the time of the “Reformation”), this author, like most Traditionalists, personally believes this crisis to be the worst in the history of the Church. Unlike any specific error, even one so grave as to deny the divinity of the Son of God, the scourge of Modernism attacks Truth itself, the foundation of the Church. A heresy with a foundation so broad embedding itself within the hierarchy is bound to have enormous and disastrous consequences, and so it has.
People are confused, losing faith, and erring to both sides in terms of obedience and fidelity to churchmen. This has been true generally since the Revolution began, but has accelerated markedly under the current, disastrous pontificate.
It is human nature to “overcorrect” in a crisis (to either side). And, if there’s one thing Catholicism teaches us in general, it is that the most popular position is rarely the correct one. It may feel good for some to refuse to acknowledge a bad pope as the pope, but such solutions will never satisfy the properly informed intellect.
The answer to the crisis is not to despair, nor to lose faith in the Church (which is divine in form), nor to break formal unity with the See of Peter, which is generally necessary for salvation. The answer is still what it always has been: Recognize and Resist.
We will proceed to show here that we can have moral certainty that Francis really is Pope; that nothing he has done is “impossible” in terms of what the Church teaches about her nature; that this crisis was predicted, and thus should hardly be seen as “impossible”; that the proper response of orthodox, faithful Catholics is, as always, to “Recognize and Resist”; and, finally, that the Church still gives the faithful everything they need to be at peace and to secure their salvation (with the level of certainty that is possible in general).
A Crisis Foreseen
“The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church.” – Our Lady of Akita, Church-Approved Marian Apparition
Let’s go back to the beginning, as the current papacy is little more than the natural continuation of the Modernist revolution. Though we cannot pick a specific date where Modernism established a hold in the Church, everyone is aware that Vatican II was the watershed moment – the “French Revolution in the Church” (Leo Jozef Cardinal Suenens) – where Masonry’s triple errors of religious liberty, collegiality, and “fraternity” (ecumenism) were enshrined (albeit vaguely and in a nonbinding fashion).
What may be most stunning about this internal conquest of the Church is that orthodox, holy churchmen saw it coming for over a century, yet still were unable to stop it. (That is surely because this is a divine chastisement.)
The late, great John Vennari, in his seminal work, The Permanent Instruction of the Alta Vendita, wrote the following concerning the documented plans of Masonry for the Church:
“The Instruction called for the dissemination of liberal ideas and axioms throughout society and in the institutions of the Catholic Church so that laity, seminarians, clerics and prelates would, over the years, gradually be imbued with progressive principles… Eventually, a Pope would be elected from these ranks who would lead the Church on the path of ‘enlightenment’ and ‘renewal.’ They stated that it was not their aim to place a Freemason on the Chair of Peter. Their goal was to affect an environment that would eventually produce a Pope and a hierarchy won over to the ideas of liberal Catholicism, all the while believing themselves to be faithful Catholics.”
The fact that two popes (Pius IX and Leo XIII) urged the publication of this discovered Masonic document is strong testament to its authenticity and to the danger the plan posed to the Church.
John asks, “Is it possible?” and answers with this: “For those who may believe the scheme to be too far-fetched – a goal too hopeless for the enemy to attain, it should be noted that both Pope Pius IX and Pope Leo XIII asked that the Permanent Instruction be published, no doubt in order to prevent such a tragedy from taking place.”
Just such a tragedy, however, is actually prophesied in Sacred Scripture. Apocalypse 12:4, which refers to stars being cast from heaven, has long been interpreted as referring to the apostasy of clergymen, in both a general and some specific sense (the time of Antichrist):
“And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads, and ten horns: and on his head seven diadems: And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered; that, when she should be delivered, he might devour her Son.” (Apoc. 12:3-4)
In 1921, the eminent 20th-century theologian, Rev. E. Sylvester Berry, produced a commentary on the Book of the Apocalypse; here is his commentary on the above verses:
“The dragon is seen in heaven which is here a symbol of the Church, the kingdom of heaven on earth. This indicates that the first troubles of those days will be inaugurated within the Church by apostate bishops, priests, and peoples – the stars dragged down by the tail of the dragon.
The tale of the dragon represents the cunning hypocrisy with which he succeeds in receiving a large number of people and pastors – a third part of the stars. Arianism led away many bishops, priests and peoples. The pretended Reformation of the sixteenth century claimed still larger numbers but these cannot be compared to the number seduced by Satan in the days of Antichrist.” [Emphasis added]
We are not now in the time of Antichrist, but Fr. Berry’s words certainly apply to the current crisis as they apply to material apostasy by churchmen in any context. The phrase cunning hypocrisy brings to mind Our Lady of Fatima, and Her prediction of “diabolical disorientation” among the upper hierarchy.
Indeed, the suppressed Third Secret of Fatima is evidence enough for any Catholic to accept the fact that a material apostasy of the upper hierarchy of the Church was not merely possible, but impossible to avoid.
The Passion of the Church
Sedevacantists tend to complain most bitterly regarding the material condition of the Church (rather like the Protestant “Reformers” did); it seems they simply refuse to accept that the Church could ever appear “ugly.” It doesn’t suit them. But the fact is that the Fathers of the Church were preaching nearly 2,000 years ago that one day she would undergo trials that would leave her wounded and disfigured in a manner analogous to what Christ suffered during His Passion.
Cardinal Manning expressed the mind of the Church on this subject:
“The history of the Church, and the history of our Lord on earth, run as it were in parallel. For 33 years the Son of God Incarnate was in the world, and no man could lay hand upon Him. No man could take Him, because ‘His hour was not yet come.’ There was an hour foreordained when the Son of God would be delivered to the hands of sinners. He foreknew it; He foretold it. He held it in His own hand, for He surrounded His person with the circle of His own Divine power. No man could break through that circle of omnipotence until the hour came, when by His will He opened the way for the powers of evil.
In like manner with His Church. Until the hour is come when the barrier shall by the Divine will be taken out of the way, no one has power to lay a hand upon it. The gates of hell may war against it; they may strive and wrestle, as they struggle now with the Vicar of our Lord; but no one has the power to move him one step, until the hour shall come when the Son of God shall permit, for time, the powers of evil to prevail. That He will permit it for a time stands in the book of prophecy.
It shall happen once more with some, as it did when the Son of God was in His Passion – they saw Him betrayed, bound, carried away, buffeted, blindfolded, and scourged; they saw Him carrying his cross to Calvary, then nailed upon it, and lifted up to the scorn of the world; and they said, ‘If He be the king of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross and we will believe Him.’ So in like manner they say now, ‘See this Catholic Church, this Church of God, feeble and week, rejected even by the very nations called Catholic…’ And so, because the Church seems weak… therefore we are scandalized, therefore we turn our faces from her. Where, then, is our faith?”
The themes of prophecy play themselves out time and again throughout history. Since the Fathers and theologians teach that the Church must suffer as Christ did, crises such as the present are not shocking – even if the boundaries of what Christ will allow regarding attack from within are being tested.
Christ was so disfigured in His Passion that his own sinless Mother could barely recognize Him. Should we be surprised that the Church is now difficult to recognize, on the surface? Yet, just as Christ’s divinity was ever completely intact, so that of His Bride. The dogmas of the perpetual visibility and indefectibility of the Church remain undisturbed, as is readily apparent: not one jot or tittle of formal doctrine has changed. The Vatican II popes have refrained completely from using their power to bind.
John Vennari summed up the present situation perfectly – his words are just as true today as when he wrote them, several pontificates ago:
“Thus, the passion that our Holy Church is presently suffering is of no great mystery. By recklessly ignoring the Popes of the past, our present Church leaders have erected a compromised structure that is collapsing upon itself. Though Pope Paul VI lamented that ‘the Church is in a state of auto-demolition,’ he, like the present pontificate [at the time, John Paul II], insisted that the disastrous aggiornamento responsible for this auto-demolition be continued full-steam.” [Emphasis added]
Yes, Virginia, the Pope Is the Pope
We will now explore the arguments that are made towards the thesis that Francis, the man elected by and recognized by the Catholic Church as Pope, is not actually the Pope.
First, we will touch briefly on why this is indeed important. It seems that many people, even many intelligent and holy people, do not properly consider the import of their position when they claim that Francis is not the Pope (or even doubt it). If we cannot have moral certainty of the identities of the popes throughout Church history, we cannot have certainty in anything the Church teaches. This is so because all of the Church’s formal teaching – all formal dogma – comes, either implicitly or explicitly, via a pope. The former (implicit) is the reigning pope’s ratification of an ecumenical council, without which its declarations are not universally valid or binding, and the latter (explicit) ex cathedra pronouncements.
Consider Pope Pius IV, who ratified the Council of Trent (via the papal bull Benedictus Deus, on January 26, 1564). What if, unbeknownst to all at the time or since, there was some canonical impediment to his election, rendering it invalid? He was never the Pope, and the dogmas and anathemas of Trent are actually null (at least, not formal dogma).
If the Church worked this way, it would be no divine, infallible institution at all. It would be nothing, and speculation over which popes were really popes would be as pointless as discussion of dogma.
This is one of the reasons, perhaps the main reason, that the theologians teach that public knowledge of popes’ identities is necessary. Only when there are multiple public claimants – a true schism – is that not the case. But in such a situation it is already a public fact that the Pope cannot be identified. (As we will see below, when exploring the problems that arise from papal denial in more detail, it is unanimous theological teaching that Christ will not allow the Church at large to follow a false pope.)
Doubts About Francis
With that preamble, we will discuss how we can have moral certainty that Francis is the Pope. We will cover both of the arguments that are used to deny the reality of his papacy:
That he was never Pope because Benedict XVI’s resignation was invalid.
That he lost the papacy due to heresy.
In the chapter titled, “All Bishops Receive Jurisdiction from the Pope” in his classic, On the Roman Pontiff, St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church, begins with the following: “We are going to prove the fact that all ordinary jurisdiction of bishops comes down immediately from the pope.” And so he does, and this is not contested. He adds that, “[t]he ecclesiastical government is a monarchy… consequently, the authority is in one and is derived from him to others. For all Monarchies are constituted in this way.”
One implication of the above is that the power of universal jurisdiction is intimately intertwined with the form of the papacy; the two are inseparable. This is one reason why the notion that the papacy could be split into some kind of diarchy, with an “active” member and a “contemplative” one, as suggested by some, is nonsensical.
The papacy is a divine institution, created by Jesus Christ, and cannot be modified by men. This means that whatever wishes Pope Benedict XVI may have had to that end upon submitting his resignation are irrelevant.
(It should be noted that Benedict himself has dispelled rumors that he lacked the proper intent to resign the papacy, and that this is the public record on the matter: “The only condition for the validity is the complete freedom of my decision. Speculations about the invalidity of my resignation are simply absurd.”)
The eminent historian and writer, Dr. Roberto de Mattei, addressed the confusion of Pope Benedict’s resignation at the 2018 Catholic Family News conference in his speech titled, “Tu es Petrus: True Devotion to the Chair of Saint Peter,” in which he addressed errors to both extremes. He notes, first, that jurisdiction cannot be separated from the papacy, and also that the office of the pope is quite distinct from the person occupying it:
“The Pope is a person who occupies a chair, a cathedra: there is no cathedra without a person, but the danger exists that the person will lead others to forget the existence of the chair, that is of the juridical institution which precedes the person.” [Emphasis added]
He goes on to speak of
“the existence of a false premise, accepted by all: the existence of a sort of papal diarchy, in which there’s Pope Francis who carries out its functions, and then there’s another Pope, Benedict, who serves the Chair of Peter through prayer, and if necessary, with counsel. The existence of the two Popes is admitted as a done deal: only the nature of their relationship is argued. But the truth is that it is impossible that two Popes can exist. The Papacy is not dis-mountable: there can be only one Vicar of Christ.”
Dr. de Mattei quotes Walter Cardinal Brandmüller to emphasize that the notion of the papal diarchy is nonsensical, impossible, and thus irrelevant: “A two-headed Pope would be a monstrosity… Canon Law does not recognize the figure of a Pope Emeritus… The resignee, consequently… is no longer Bishop of Rome, not even a cardinal.”
Many who question the validity of Benedict’s resignation freely acknowledge that he has no power to change the form of the papacy. However, they are incorrect to believe that this defect in intention would nullify his resignation, since apart from anything else he clearly did intend to resign the juridical aspect of the papacy, which is its essence.
Dr. de Mattei then went on to reference the theology of dogmatic fact as settling any questions of uncertainty regarding Benedict’s resignation. That it does, in and of itself, and we will examine that theological teaching now.
Rev. E. Sylvester Berry was an eminent, early-20th-century American theologian. In The Church of Christ, his dogmatic treatment of ecclesiology, he summarizes the common theological teaching on the subject:
“A dogmatic fact is one that has not been revealed, yet is so intimately connected with a doctrine of faith that without certain knowledge of the fact there can be no certain knowledge of the doctrine. For example… Was Pius IX a legitimate pope? Was the election of Pius XI valid? Such questions must be decided with certainty before decrees issued by any council or pope can be accepted as infallibly true or binding on the Church. It is evident, then, that the Church must be infallible in judging of such facts, and since the Church is infallible in believing as well as in teaching, it follows that 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.” [Emphasis added]
There is no question that “the practically unanimous consent of the bishops and faithful in accepting…a Roman Pontiff as legitimately elected” existed upon the election of Francis. In fact, every bishop and cardinal in the Church recognized him as Pope, from the time of his election and introduction to the whole Church. This includes even the bishops and cardinals that have opposed him materially, such as Cardinals Burke and Sarah, and the bishops of the Society of St. Pius X (who, despite their vigorous material resistance, have never severed formal unity with the supreme pontiff).
Another eminent, modern theologian, Louis Cardinal Billot, has an even stronger, more specific statement:
“…the adhesion of the universal Church will be always, in itself, an infallible sign of the legitimacy of a determined Pontiff, and therefore also of the existence of all the conditions required for legitimacy itself. It is not necessary to look far for the proof of this, but we find it immediately in the promise and the infallible providence of Christ: ‘The gates of hell shall not prevail against it,’ and ‘Behold I shall be with you all days.’… As will become even more clear by what we shall say later, 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.” [Emphasis added]
Note that this quote appears to very specifically address the subject of possible canonical irregularity – its point is that we can know that there were no canonical impediments to a papal election by the fact that the public acceptance of the Pope as Pope is proof that he is Pope. There is an element of cause and effect here – general papal acceptance is the visible effect that gives us certainty of the cause: the existence of a pontificate, an infallible dogmatic fact.
We could spend much time on this subtopic, but we will examine only one more quote, this time, from St. Alphonse de Liguori, Doctor of the Church:
“It is of no importance that in past centuries some Pontiff was illegitimately elected or took possession of the Pontificate by fraud; it is enough that he was accepted afterwards by the whole Church as Pope, since by such acceptance he would have become a true Pontiff.” [Emphasis added]
For the good of the Church, the Church must know its head – this is so important a precept that even a fraudulent election produces a true pope if said pope is accepted by a moral unanimity of the Church.
Because, after all, we need to have confidence in Trent’s infallible declarations, don’t we?
We will discuss the implications of the dogma of the Church’s perpetual visibility in the next installment. For now, we will simply note the following:
The Church was instituted by Christ as a visible, hierarchical society.
Every hierarchy has a head.
The hierarchy cannot be visible (materially) and known (formally visible) if its head is not known.
Thus, as St. Ambrose says, “Where Peter is, there is the Church.”
The teaching regarding dogmatic fact in general is classified by some as theologically certain and by others as de fide. The denial of a teaching in the first category is a mortal sin (against the virtue of Faith), and to deny a de fide teaching is, of course, heresy (likewise, mortally sinful).
Taught the great 17th-century theologian, John of St. Thomas:
“Whoever would deny that a particular man is pope after he has been peacefully and canonically accepted, would not only be a schismatic, but also a heretic; for, not only would he rend the unity of the Church, just as those do who from the beginning elect two popes, so that it cannot be known which is the true one; but he would also add to this a perverse doctrine, by denying that the man accepted by the Church is to be regarded as the pope and the rule of faith. Pertinent here is the teaching of St. Jerome (Commentary on Titus, chapter 3) and of St. Thomas (IIa IIae, Q. 39, A. 1, ad. 3), that every schism concocts some heresy for itself, in order to justify its withdrawal from the Church. Thus, although schism is distinct from heresy, in most cases it is accompanied by the latter, and prepares the way for it. In the case at hand, whoever would deny the proposition just stated would not be a pure schismatic, but also a heretic, as Suarez also reckons.” [Emphasis added]
Francisco Suarez, one of the most illustrious theologians in the history of the Church, taught that rejecting a pope acknowledged by the Church at large is an act of heresy.
It is my experience that most individuals who refuse to acknowledge or doubt Francis’ papacy are not aware of this theological teaching. Once becoming aware of it, there is simply no legitimate, Catholic rationale for denying or doubting the reality of this papacy. That Pope Francis does evil, or teaches material error, cannot justify refusing to acknowledge him as Pope.
Again, this teaching is either theologically certain or de fide. Thus, there are no contrary opinions expressed by the theologians; this is not a matter regarding which dissent exists. There is no source of equal (much less greater) authority that contradicts the teaching that someone might cling to; no Catholic in good conscience can reject it. To do so would at the least be objectively mortally sinful.
Archbishop Lefebvre himself referenced dogmatic fact in explaining why he recognized the post-conciliar popes. He said,
“Does not the exclusion of the cardinals of over eighty years of age, and the secret meetings which preceded and prepared the last two Conclaves, render them invalid? Invalid: no, that is saying too much. Doubtful at the time: perhaps. But in any case, the subsequent unanimous acceptance of the election by the Cardinals and the Roman clergy suffices to validate it. That is the teaching of the theologians.” [Emphasis added]
That a man such as Francis is the Supreme Pontiff of the Church is terribly tragic. But, the fact that we can know he is the Pope is objectively good. Our faith in the formal unity of the Church cannot be shaken; truly nothing, including the gates of hell, will ever prevail against her.
In the next installment, we will refute the argument that Francis has “lost” the papacy due to manifest heresy and discuss further the perpetual visibility and indefectibility of the Church, and the dangers of formal separation from Peter.
 Henry Cardinal Manning, The Present Crisis of the Holy See (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2010), p. 12.
 Whether or not Pope Liberius was coerced into this action, we will not treat here.
 John Vennari, The Permanent Instruction of the Alta Vendita (TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., 1999), pp. 2-3.
 Ibid., p. 4.
 Rev. E. Sylvester Berry, The Apocalypse of St. John (St. Pius Xth Press, 2018), p. 123.
 The triumph of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart, and subsequent period of peace, will precede his arrival, according to Our Lady of Fatima.
 For an excellent treatise of this topic, see Christopher A. Ferrara, The Secret Still Hidden (Good Counsel Publications, 2006).
 Manning, The Present Crisis of the Holy See, pp. 90-93.
 Ven. Anne Catherine Emmerich, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., 1983), p. 187: “He would have been perfectly unrecognizable even to her maternal eyes, stripped as He was of all save a torn remnant of his garment, had she not instantly marked the contrast between His behavior and that of His vile tormentors… as He approached, she was unable to restrain herself any longer, but exclaimed in thrilling accents: ‘Alas! is that my Son? Ah, yes! I see that it is my beloved Son.”
 Vennari, The Permanent Instruction of the Alta Vendita, p. 30-31.
 St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J., Doctor of the Church, On the Roman Pontiff (De Controversiis: Tomus I) (Mediatrix Press, 2015), p. 589.
 Rev E. Sylvester Berry, STD, The Church of Christ: An Apologetic and Dogmatic Treatise (Wipf and Stock, 2009), p. 290.
 Bishop Rene Henry Gracida has since withdrawn allegiance from Francis. This is not relevant to the dogmatic fact theology, which requires only moral unanimity, and that only at the time of the election. Dogmatic facts, once established, cannot be undone.
 Cardinal Billot, Tractatus de Ecclesia Christi, Vol. I, pp. 612-613, as quoted by John Salza and Robert Siscoe in True or False Pope? (St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, 2015), pp. 382-383.
 For an extremely thorough treatment, see True or False Pope? (Chapter 12 – “Peaceful and Universal Acceptance of a Pope”).
 St. Alphonse of Liguori, Doctor of the Church, Verita della Fede, vol. III, 720, n. 9 as quoted by Arnaldo Xavier de Silveira in Can a Pope be… a heretic? (Caminhos Romanos, 2018), pp. 144-145.
 John of St. Thomas, Cursus Theologicus, Tome 6, Paragraph 26.