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Articles: Sedevacantism Pope Issue

The Dissent of Faith
Most Rev. Donald J. Sanborn

Whether the papacy or non-papacy of John Paul II is a matter of opinion.

 

Question: How do you reconcile the individual conscience of the Catholic with the necessity of holding that John Paul II is not the Pope? Are you not raising to the level of dogma something that is only a theological opinion?

Answer: In the first place, let me state that I have no authority, and therefore whatever I say cannot take the place of the authority of the Catholic Church. It is impossible for me or anyone else who lacks authority to raise to the level of dogma anything at all, and it is likewise impossible for anyone who lacks authority to bind the consciences of others.

      The only function I can perform is to point out what the teaching of the Catholic Church, the true Faith, is, and even this I do not do with infallibility. The force in a Catholic’s conscience can only be the teaching authority of the Catholic Church; any substitution made for that authority constitutes the very spirit of heresy.

      When I say, therefore, that it is impossible that Wojtyla be pope, and that it is necessary for Catholics to reject him as pope, I am merely pointing out that there is a necessary logical connection between saying that he has altered the Faith, on the one hand, and that he is not the pope on the other. The argument may be put in syllogistic form in the following manner:

Major:      It is impossible that a man be pope and at the same time authoritatively promulgate doctrines of faith and morals which contradict the teaching of the Church, or to make general laws which are harmful to souls.

Minor:      But Karol Wojtyla has authoritatively promulgated doctrines of faith and morals which contradict the teaching of the         Church, and has made general laws which are harmful to souls.

Conc.:     It is impossible that Karol Wojtyla be pope.

      The major is de fide, for it is the very infallibility of the Catholic Church, namely, that in her official teaching capacity, whether through the ordinary or extraordinary magisterium, she cannot err. Nor can she err in making general laws for the Church, that is, they cannot be harmful to souls.

      The minor is de fide with regard to Vatican II, and from reason illumined by the faith with regard to the changes of Vatican II. It is de fide with regard to Vatican II itself, since Vatican II contradicted nearly word for word the teaching of Pius IX concerning religious liberty. But the teaching of Pope Pius IX has all of the hallmarks of, at least, the universal ordinary magisterium, to which the assent of faith is owed. But if the assent of faith is owed to the teaching of Pope Pius IX, then the dissent of faith is owed to Vatican II.

      For example, it is defined that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven. The Catholic owes the assent of faith to this doctrine. He automatically owes the dissent of faith to its contradictory: Mary was not assumed body and soul into heaven.

      This dissent is not an act of reason but of faith, so much so that one would have to give up his life in order to manifest this dissent.

      Since, therefore, we owe the assent of faith to the teaching of Pope Pius IX concerning religious liberty, we owe the dissent of faith to its contradictory, viz. the teaching of Vatican II on the same subject. It is not an act of reason, but of faith.

      On the other hand the judgment that the New Mass, the new sacraments, and the New Code of Canon Law are evil and non-catholic is a judgment of reason, but reason illumined by faith, for these things are repugnant not to reason, but to the Faith. While not in word for word opposition to the teaching of the Church, nevertheless these changes are so obviously opposed to it, that resistance is immediately given to them by those who retain the Faith.

      The Church, however, has not officially and expressly condemned these, as it has religious liberty, and therefore the judgment involves the intervention of reason. The resistance which the faithful give to them is a resistance of faith. The assertion, then, that the changes of Vatican II are false and harmful to souls proceeds from reason illumined by faith, which means that this assertion is theologically certain.

      What is even more important is that this assertion is the very basis of resistance to the changes of Vatican II. For if the changes of Vatican II are not an alteration of the Faith, or not harmful to souls, then it would be a grave mortal sin of disobedience, if not schism, to resist them. In other words, why do we carry on this resistance, if the changes are Catholic? The only justifying reason for the unauthorized apostolate of traditional priests is that the “authority” has promulgated doctrines and laws which are harmful to souls. But if that “authority” has promulgated doctrines and laws which are harmful to souls, then it is impossible that it be the Catholic authority.

      For if you admit that Catholic authority, the authority of the Church which is the authority of Christ, is the author of Vatican II, the New Mass, the new sacraments, and the New Code of Canon Law, then you must accept these reforms as Catholic, free from error, and conducive to eternal salvation.

      Another way of putting it would be to say that there is a necessary link between papal authority and the catholicity and intrinsic goodness of the doctrines and laws which it promulgates. The assertion of one demands the assertion of the other, that is, if a doctrine is authoritatively taught by the pope, it must be Catholic; if a general law is promulgated by the pope, it must be good. This is DE FIDE, which means that if a Catholic were to deny this essential link, he would cease thereby to be a Catholic, since this link is the very charism of the infallibility and indefectibility of the Church.

      I therefore point out to the faithful, to their Catholic consciences, that if they are undertaking the resistance to Vatican II, the New Mass, and the New Code of Canon Law because these are not Catholic and are harmful to souls, then they cannot, by the logical link which I have just explained, maintain that the authority which promulgated these things is the authority of the Church.

      If they do maintain that it is the authority of the Church, they implicitly fall into heresy, since they maintain that the Church has promulgated error and evil, which is against the promises of Christ and the teaching of the Church. If, on the other hand, they think that Vatican II, the New Mass and Sacraments and the New Code are Catholic, then they have no sufficient reason to resist them, in fact their resistance would be a mortal sin. The only way out of this dilemma is to maintain that it is impossible that Wojtyla be pope.

 

What If You Are in Doubt?

      What of the case of the person who is in doubt about the harmful nature of the changes of Vatican II, and/or in doubt about the papacy of Wojtyla?

      In the first place, doubt is something which exists only in the mind, and not in reality. Either the changes are harmful or they are not; either Wojtyla is the pope or he is not.

      One must first distinguish between doubt about the evils of Vatican II and its reforms, and doubt about Wojtyla’s personal orthodoxy, for these are two different things.

      In the case of doubt concerning the evils of Vatican II and its reforms, the same conclusion of the non-papacy of Wojtyla must be drawn, since even doubt destroys the necessary link between the papacy, which is the supreme authority of the Church and of Christ (one single authority), and the truth of the doctrines taught and intrinsic goodness of the laws promulgated. For doubt admits the possibility of the non-catholicism of the changes, and possibility is the contradictory of impossibility.

      One cannot say, for example, with the certitude of faith, that it is impossible for a pope to authoritatively teach false doctrines, or to promulgate general laws harmful to souls, and at the same time hold that it is possible that a pope has authoritatively taught false doctrines, and/or has promulgated general laws harmful to souls. These two statements are textbook contradictories.

      Yet doubt admits this possibility, for doubt is the wavering of the mind between two judgments which each have some probability, i.e. some evidence of their truth. But the virtue of faith cannot bear even this possibility that its opposite be true, since judgments of the faith are necessary judgments.

      Thus we cannot say, on the one hand, that we believe by faith that Christ is God, but on the other hand see some probability in the statement that Christ is not God. Such a statement would be heretical since it destroys the necessary link between Christ and God, which link is guaranteed by the authority of God Himself.

      Likewise we cannot say that we believe by faith that it is impossible for a pope to teach false doctrines and promulgate evil laws, and at the same time say that there is a certain probability that a pope has taught false doctrines and promulgated evil laws. Such a statement would be heretical, since it would destroy the necessary link between the authority of the pope and the truth of his teachings and the goodness of his laws, which link is guaranteed by the authority of God Himself.

      Using the same syllogism as before, we may express this reasoning in the following manner:

Major:      It is impossible that a man be pope and at the same time authoritatively promulgate doctrines of faith and morals which contradict the teaching of the Church, or to make general laws which are harmful to souls.

Minor:      But it is possible that Karol Wojtyla has authoritatively promulgated doctrines of faith and morals which contradict the teaching of the Church, and has made general laws which are harmful to souls.

Conc:      It is impossible that Karol Wojtyla be pope.

      Notice that the conclusion is not that it is possible that Wojtyla be pope, but that it is impossible that Wojtyla be pope, since the conclusion must always follow the “worse” part of the antecedent, and impossibility is “worse” than possibility.

      Common sense tells you the same thing: possibility of Wojtyla’s substantial alteration of the Faith ruins the impossibility of papal authority doing such a thing. Hence one would have to either conclude that:

(1)  papal authority was capable of defection (which is against the Faith) or

(2)  it is impossible that Wojtyla be pope.

What cannot follow is that it is possible that Wojtyla be pope. This conclusion is at the very least attached to the Faith, that is, logically deduced from something which is de fide.

      You might then argue that the certitude of the conclusion that Wojtyla is not the pope rests on the certitude of the assertion that Vatican II is erroneous, that the New Mass and sacraments are harmful to souls, and that the New Code of Canon Law has promulgated evil laws.

      My response is concedo — granted. But I add that this assertion is based partially on the dissent owed by the Faith to assertions which contradict it, and partially on reason illumined by the Faith and is, therefore, absolutely certain, and, what is more important, is the moral basis for carrying on the traditional apostolate.

      A priest could not possibly be justified in saying the traditional Mass, distributing the sacraments, establishing churches and schools, preaching and hearing confession without the jurisdiction of the bishop, unless it were true that Vatican II and its subsequent reforms constitute a substantial alteration of the Catholic Faith. It is, furthermore, the only moral basis which would justify a layman’s approaching a traditional priest for sacraments. The traditional apostolate becomes schismatic without this moral basis.

 

Doubt About the Personal Orthodoxy of Wojtyla

      But what about the person who is in doubt about the personal orthodoxy of Wojtyla?

      By general principles of law, one would have to hold to John Paul II’s innocence unless there were proof of his guilt, and hence the doubt would have to be resolved into a moral certitude of his innocence.

      In this case, one would be obliged to recognize him as pope and mention his name in the canon. For if one could cease to recognize the pope as pope, because of a personal doubt about his orthodoxy, the Church would be reduced to chaos.

      Suppose someone entertained a doubt about the orthodoxy of Pope Pius XII, or better yet, of Pope John XXIII? Could he legitimately cease to render him obedience, and publicly withdraw from communion with him? Of course not. He would have to wait for the Church to declare him guilty and the see vacant. For this reason, Cardinal Billot says that the attempts to establish the non-papacy of Alexander VI, due to a supposed public heresy, were schismatic, since the whole Church recognized him and obeyed him as pope.

      If, on the other hand, there is a juridical doubt, i.e. one which concerns the validity of his election, one cannot give such a pope the benefit of the doubt, for the Church cannot live with a doubtful pope. The pope is the principle of unity of the Mystical Body, and is the proximate norm of belief and obedience in the Catholic Church. Hence assent to his teachings, as well as submission to him and communion with him are necessary for membership in the Catholic Church, which is, in turn, necessary for salvation.

      One cannot say, therefore, he is probably the pope, and I will therefore give assent to his teachings, submit myself to him, and profess communion with him. If he is only probably the pope, then the Church of which he is the head is only probably the Catholic Church. But one cannot, in good conscience, join or adhere to what is only probably the Catholic Church, for one cannot use probabilism with regard to those things which pertain to eternal salvation.

      But adherence to the true Church pertains to eternal salvation, and therefore one must follow the pars tutior — the safer course — with regard to a doubtful pope, just as one would have to follow the pars tutior with regard to a doubtful church. Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia, and therefore, Ubi Petrus dubius, ibi Ecclesia dubia. For Peter is the principle of unity of the Catholic Church, which means that union with him is union with the Catholic Church. If one is in union with a doubtful pope, then he is doubtfully in union with the true Church, and is therefore risking his eternal salvation.

      Furthermore, in accepting a doubtful pope, the Church could defect, that is, the Church would be admitting the possibility that it had a false pope, was professing false doctrines, was promulgating evil laws, and would thus cease to be the pillar of truth as St. Paul describes it.

      The certainty of the identity of the pope is necessary for the Church’s indefectibility, since otherwise it reduces the Church’s teaching to mere probabilities. For if he is only a probable pope, then his teachings are only probably true.

      If Pope Pius XII had only probably been the pope, then the doctrine of the Assumption is only probably true, which means that it could be false! This is absolutely incompatible with infallibility and indefectibility, which are divine guarantees of truth and of the Church’s perseverance to the end of time with the same nature with which God endowed it. What would happen to the apostolicity of the See of Rome if the Church admitted a few “probable popes?”

      For this reason, Cardinal Billot speaks of the principle of convalidation of a papal election, which means that, no matter what defects or cloudiness should exist concerning the pope-elect, he would be pope if the whole Church should recognize him as pope. This is true because the Church, by virtue of indefectibility, cannot err concerning the identity of the pope.

      The theologians Cappello , De Groot , and Cajetan all uphold the principle that a dubious pope cannot be recognized as a true pope. “Papa dubius, nullus papa.”

      This doubt, however, must exist from the very moment of the election, since, once the election is conceded by the whole Church, one cannot call it into doubt later. Once the Pope possesses the power, he cannot be deposed by a later doubt raised about his election.

      One cannot apply the same principle, however, to a public and universal doubt of the Church about his orthodoxy, since a true and valid pope could fall from the already possessed papacy if he fell into heresy. It would be a tacit resignation from the Mystical Body, and therefore a tacit resignation from any jurisdiction enjoyed in it, especially the universal jurisdiction of the Church as Vicar of Christ.

      Hence a public and universal doubt on the part of the whole Church concerning the orthodoxy of a pope would oblige the Church to reject him as a doubtful pope, just as the public and universal doubt on the part of the whole Church concerning the election of a pope would oblige the Church to reject him as a doubtful pope. For if the principle holds true for election, a fortiori would it hold true for doubt regarding his orthodoxy.

      Lack of orthodoxy is a far greater obstacle to the papacy than a dubious election, for through lack of orthodoxy a candidate is intrinsically incapable of assuming or continuing to possess the papacy, whereas a dubious election is only an extrinsic obex. If, therefore, a candidate would emerge from an election whose orthodoxy was in serious and insoluble doubt, he would have to be rejected by the Church, for it is unthinkable that the infallible and undefecting Church would ever accept as pope someone who might be a heretic.

      But it is important to understand that this principle of the impossibility of his papacy is the logical effect even of doubt about the orthodoxy of Vatican II or the goodness of the general laws of the reformed religion.

      It prescinds from Wojtyla’s personal orthodoxy, for no matter how many heresies he pronounces, or snakes he worships, someone can always say that he is in good conscience, and therefore not a formal heretic, and therefore still a Catholic, and therefore still the pope.

      The fact that John Paul II has publicly upheld Vatican II and upheld the legality of the New Mass, and promulgated the New Code of Canon Law, is sufficient to prove that it is impossible that he be pope, since papal authority, by Divine assistance, cannot do such things, i.e. promulgate error as the ordinary magisterium of the Church, or promulgate laws which are harmful to souls.

 

A Choice Must Be Made

      For if you think that Vatican II is orthodox, and the New Mass, new sacraments, and New Code are not harmful, then you must accept them. Thus the choice which must be put to the lay people when they come to the traditional Mass, is this: either to accept John Paul II and his reforms, or to reject John Paul II and his reforms, but the third possibility is impossible, that is, to accept John Paul II as Pope but to reject his reforms as evil, for this would destroy the indefectibility of the Catholic Church.

      The lay people have a tendency to worry only about valid and traditional sacraments, and they do not realize that it is necessary to receive the sacraments from the Church. The Greek Orthodox, for example, have valid and traditional sacraments, but they are not the Catholic Church, and it is wrong to receive sacraments from them, for in so doing you are giving a sign of adherence to them as if they were the true Church.

      So also the traditional sacraments must be distributed by the Catholic Church and received from the Catholic Church. But to distribute traditional sacraments against the will of him who is the Head of the Catholic Church, the Vicar of Christ, is to “set up altar against altar” and to break from the communion of worship of the Catholic Church.

      To receive sacraments from those who are in communion with Wojtyla and the new church, is not to receive sacraments from the Catholic Church, but to receive them from a non-catholic sect. For this reason the Indult Mass is wrong, not because it is not the traditional Mass, but because it is not the Catholic Church which is offering the Mass. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is an ecclesial act of the whole Catholic Church, offered principally by Jesus Christ the eternal High Priest, the Invisible Head of the Roman Catholic Church. To even actively attend a Mass which is not in union with Him — Whose authority is a single authority with that of the Roman Pontiff — is to attend a schismatic, non–catholic service, objectively sacrilegious and blasphemous.

      Because the lay people have a tendency to neglect this most important aspect of Catholic worship, it is the duty of the clergy to emphasize all the more the necessity of rejecting Wojtyla, pointing out that it would be schismatic either:

      (1)  to carry on the traditional apostolate if he is the pope, or

      (2)  to recognize him as pope if he is not.

They should also point out that even doubt about the changes draws them necessarily to the non-papacy of Wojtyla, for the papacy of Wojtyla purely and simply demands that Vatican II be necessarily orthodox, the New Mass and sacraments be necessarily Catholic, and the New Code of Canon Law be necessarily free from error and conducive to eternal salvation.

      In other words, either the doubt has to go or Wojtyla has to go, but Wojtyla’s papacy cannot coexist with doubt about the orthodoxy, catholicity, and goodness of his magisterium and laws.

      With regard to the consciences of the faithful, it is clear that they should be informed in the manner I described. Not to so inform them would be to leave them in a spirit of schism.

      With regard to individual cases, however, i.e. those in which this reality of Wojtyla’s non-papacy is too difficult to understand, all of the usual rules would apply of invincible ignorance, of common error, and of leaving someone in good conscience. But one cannot make these cases the norm of one’s teaching. A confessor may find it prudent to leave a scrupulous person in material error about a certain moral obligation, but he cannot, due to this particular exception, alter the general moral teaching, fail to preach about it, or say that it is merely a matter of opinion.

      I do believe that there may be cases in which certain simpler people may find the fact of Wojtyla’s non-papacy too hard to understand, and may be left in good conscience over it.

      But one cannot, without damaging the Church and her doctrine, remain silent about the Wojtyla issue, for fear of offending people. One cannot say, for example, “Since Wojtyla’s non-papacy is too difficult for some to understand or to bear, we will simply keep silent about it and say, when asked, it is a matter of opinion.” For a theological opinion is only legitimate if it does not conflict with the teaching of the Church. We have seen, however, that the theological opinion that Wojtyla is Pope cannot coexist with the refusal of divine and catholic faith that is due to the teaching of Vatican II.

      For it is not a “legitimate theological opinion” that a pope can authoritatively teach false doctrines or promulgate evil laws; on the contrary, it is against the Faith. Nor is it a “legitimate theological opinion” that the changes of Vatican II are not a substantial corruption of the Faith, for if that were true, it would mean:

      (1)  that one could be a perfectly good Catholic while at the same time assenting to the reforms of Vatican II and the new church, and

      (2) that its opposite—that the reforms are unorthodox and evil—would also be merely a “theological opinion.”

      But if one can be a perfectly good Catholic and accept the reforms of Vatican II and the new church, then why don’t we accept them? And if our fight against Vatican II and its reforms is based merely on a theological opinion, then we are no better than Luther and Calvin, for we are then adhering to our “theological opinions” in opposition to the teaching and practice of the universal Church.

      Therefore if it is not a legitimate theological opinion that the pope can teach false doctrines and promulgate evil laws, and if it is not a legitimate theological opinion that the reforms of Vatican II are orthodox and good, then how could it possibly be a legitimate theological opinion that Wojtyla could be the Pope? On the contrary, it is impossible, since his non-papacy is necessarily linked to the evil of the Vatican II reforms.

 

A Probable Opinion?

      There are many who say that the non-papacy of Wojtyla is a probable opinion, i.e. an opinion which has certain motives of assent, but which motives do not overcome the motives of assenting to the opposite opinion. In other words, the mind, while adhering to the non-papacy of Wojtyla, nevertheless sees some strong reasons for saying that he is the Pope. Or, vice versa,the mind may adhere to the papacy of Wojtyla, all the while entertaining strong reasons for saying that he is not the Pope.

      If the matter of Wojtyla’s papacy is considered from the point of view of his personal orthodoxy, it is impossible to break out of probability, at least in the speculative order, since his lack of possession of the papacy would depend on the formality of his heresy, that is, the pertinacity with which he adheres to the heresies which he has expressed, and which he has confirmed by his absolutely apostate praxis (e.g. snake-worship). Without the intervention of authority in this case, it seems impossible to arrive at the point where one could exclude any possibility that he was not pertinacious in his errors.

      In any case, even if one were to say that it is impossible that he be only a material heretic, one could not, without a declaration of the Church, find any authority by which to make everyone observe one man’s judgment about him over another’s. This, I believe, is the position of the Fr. Kelly group, that is, while they all have personal certitude of the non-papacy of Wojtyla, they feel that they cannot impose their judgment upon others as if they had ecclesiastical authority.

      But there are a number of serious problems with this position. In the first place, the question here is not one of a private individual, like Hans K√ľng, for example, but rather of the Pope or would-be pope. But the pope is the principle of the unity of faith, government, worship, and communion of the Roman Catholic Church. Hence, as I said above, the Church cannot remain in doubt about him, but must resolve the doubt to either submission to him or rejection of him.

      As I have already pointed out, if the whole Church were in doubt about him, the pars tutior would have to be chosen in this case, and John Paul II would have to be rejected, even in the speculative order:“papa dubius, nullus papa”; if, on the other hand, the whole Church accepted him, and someone entertained merely private doubts about him, then he would have to follow the judgment of the whole Church, and accept him. But the Church, and therefore individual members of the Church, cannot submit to an objectively doubtful pope.

      It would therefore be seriously harmful to the Church to say, “Since there are two legitimate theological opinions—two opinions which have a certain probability—about this question, it does not matter, in the practical order, what you think about it, or how you act toward Wojtyla.” For such an attitude wreaks havoc with regard to the unity of the Catholic Church, its very identity, the truths of the Faith necessary for salvation, its unity of faith, government, and worship.

      The practical consequences of this “freedom of conscience” approach to the subject was seen in the September, 1990 ordinations of Frs. Greenwell and Baumberger, in which the ordaining prelate offered the Mass of ordination in union with John Paul II, while the two new priests, on the other hand, skipped the name of Wojtyla in the Canon. This is an ecclesiological nightmare, for at one and the same Mass, the central act of worship of the Mystical Body of Christ, the ordaining bishop declared Wojtyla to be the principle of unity of the Mystical Body, while the two new priests declared, by the skipping of the name, Wojtyla not to be the principle of unity of the Mystical Body. This means that, while the two new priests consider Wojtyla to be an impostor pope, they nonetheless consider it to be a legitimate theological opinion that Wojtyla is the principle of unity of the Catholic Church, and that union with Wojtyla is therefore necessary for eternal salvation. They also apparently consider it to be a legitimate theological opinion to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in union with Wojtyla.

      But if it is a legitimate theological opinion to recognize Wojtyla as pope, then automatically it becomes a legitimate theological opinion to recognize as Catholic everything which Wojtyla officially approves as Catholic. Hence it would be a legitimate theological opinion to recognize Vatican II, the New Mass, the new sacraments, the New Code of Canon Law as Catholic.

      But if it is a legitimate theological opinion that these are Catholic, then to oppose them becomes a mere legitimate theological opinion. And this is the second serious problem with this position, which is that it ruins the basis of opposing the reforms of Vatican II, since to oppose the entire hierarchy of the Church over a “theological opinion” is heretical and schismatic , and if I ever thought that my rejection of the reforms was not based on the Faith, but on some “theological opinion,” which sees its contradictory opinion as having some weight, I would, without hesitation, submit to Wojtyla as Pope and function in a diocese. As we say in America, “It’s all one big ball of wax.”

      But this entire approach, that is, of the personal orthodoxy of Wojtyla, is incorrect. Rather his non-papacy is clearly necessary when seen in the light of the faith’s rejection of Vatican II.

      The virtue of faith cannot, logically, reject Vatican II and accept Wojtyla as pope. For the pope’s proposition of the truths of the Faith is the proximate norm of what is to be believed by Catholics.

(Sacerdotium 2, Winter 1992).

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