EWTN Catholic Q&A
A Pope May Unfortunately Defect from the Faith
Question from Raymond Antonini on 10-16-2001:

Dear Dr. Caroll,

In your response to me on October 14th you stated: "The Pope has taught NO HERESY, and will not ever do so." http://www.ewtn.com/vexperts/showmessage.asp?Pgnu=4&Pg=Forum3&recnu=78&number=224317

Unfortunately it is possible for a pope to commit the sin of heresy and defect from the Faith, just as he may commit any other sin. In such he would in his obstinancy **choose** to abandon the protection of the Holy Spirit that is given to the **Magisterium** of the Papacy and not to him personally. Confer the citation from the First Vatican Council in my previous posting.

He would have to freely, publically, knowingly and obstinantly hold a heresy in order to be a manifest or formal heretic. It is however only necessary to commit just one act to remove himself from the Faith and from the Church.

The gates of hell will never prevail against the Church as Christ promised but you should also remember Jesus' warning, "When the Son of Man returns will he find any still faithful?"

Here is the teaching of the Church, citations by three Doctors of the Church and two Popes which state that it is unfortunately possible for a pope to defect from the Faith, and thus **by his own action** leave the Church and **remove himself** from the Papacy.

St Robert Bellarmine, "De Romano Pontifice", liber II, caput 30:

Est ergo quinta opinio vera, papam haereticum manifestum per se desinere esse papam et caput, sicut per se desinit esse christianus et membrum corporis Ecclesiae; quare ab, Ecclesia posse eum judicari et puniri. Haec est sententia omnium veterum Patrum, qui docent, haereticos manifestos mox amittere omnem jurisdictionem.

"Therefore, the true opinion is the fifth, according to which the Pope who is manifestly a heretic ceases by himself to be Pope and head, in the same way as he ceases to be a Christian and a member of the body of the Church; and for this reason he can be judged and punished by the Church. This is the opinion of all the ancient Fathers, who teach that manifest heretics immediately lose all jurisdiction,

Fundamentum hujus sententiae est. quoniam haereticus manifestos nullo modo est membrum Ecclesiae, idest, neque animo neque corpore, sive neque unione interna, neque externa.

"The foundation of this argument is that the manifest heretic is not in any way a member of the Church, that is, neither spiritually nor corporally, which signifies that he is not such by internal union nor by external union.

St. Alphonsus de Liguori on the fate of a heretical pope:

"Del resto, si Dio permettesse che un papa fosse notoriamente eretico e contumace, egli cesserebbe d'essere papa, e vacherebbe il pontificato."

--"Verita della Fede", part 3, ch. 8, no. 10. In: Opere dommatiche di S. Alfonso de Liguori (Torino, G. Marietti, 1848), p. 720. (Opere di S. Alfonso Maria de Liguori, v. 8)

"For the rest, if God should permit that a Pope should become a notorious and contumacious heretic, he would cease to be Pope, and the pontificate would be vacant."

St. Francis de Sales on papal infallibility and heresy:

"En l'ancienne loy le grand pretre ne portait pas le rational si non quand il estoit revestu des habits pontificaux et qu'il entroit devant le Seigneur. Ainsi ne disons nous pas que le pape en ses opinions particulieres ne puisse errer comme fit Jean XXII, ou etre du tout heretique comme peut etre fut Honorius. Or quand il est heretique expres *ipso facto* il tombe de son grade hors de l'Eglise et l'Eglise le doit ou priver comme disent quelques uns, ou le declarer prive de son siege apostolique et dire comme fit St. Pierre: Episcopatum eius accipiat alter. Quand il erre en sa particuliere opinion il le faut enseigner, adviser, convaincre comme on fit a Jean XXII le quel tant s'en faut qu'il mourut opiniatre ou que pendant sa vie il determina aucune chose touchant son opinion, que pendant qu'il faysoit l'inquisition requise pour determiner en matiere de foy, il mourut, au recit de son successeur en l'Extravagante qui se commence *Benedictus Deus.*"

St. Francis de Sales, The Catholic Controversy (Tan Books), p. 388 (part II, art. VI, ch. 14)

"Under the ancient law the High Priest did not wear the Rational except when he was vested in the pontifical robes and was entering before the Lord. Thus we do not say that the Pope cannot err in his private opinions, as did John XXII; or be altogether a heretic, as perhaps Honorius was. Now when he is explicitly a heretic, he falls ipso facto from his dignity out of the Church, and the Church must either deprive him, as some say, or declare him deprived, of his Apostolic See, and must say as St. Peter did: Let another take his bishopric (Acts I). When he errs in his private opinion he must be instructed, advised, convinced; as happened with John XXII, who was so far from dying obstinate or from determining anything during his life concerning his opinion, that he died whilest he was making the examination which is necessary for determining in a matter of faith, as his successor declared in the *Extravagantes* which begins Benedictus Deus." (Ib. p. 305-306)


Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio, Apostolic Constitution of His Holiness Pope Paul IV, February 15, 1559.(ROMAN BULLARIUM VOL. IV. SEC. I, PP. 354-357)

6. In addition, [by this Our Constitution, which is to remain valid in perpetuity We enact, determine, decree and define:-] that if ever at any time it shall appear that any Bishop, even if he be acting as an Archbishop, Patriarch or Primate; or any Cardinal of the aforesaid Roman Church, or, as has already been mentioned, any legate, or even the Roman Pontiff, prior to his promotion or his elevation as Cardinal or Roman Pontiff, has deviated from the Catholic Faith or fallen into some heresy: (i) the promotion or elevation, even if it shall have been uncontested and by the unanimous assent of all the Cardinals, shall be null, void and worthless;


Pope Innocent III (1198), Sermo 4:

"The Roman Pontiff has no superior but God. Who, therefore, could cast him out or trample him under foot – since of the pope it is said ‘gather thy flock into thy fold’? Truly, he should not flatter himself about his power, nor should he rashly glory in his honor and high estate, because the less he is judged by man, the more he is judged by God.

"Still the less can the Roman Pontiff glory [Minus dico] because he can be judged by men, or rather, can be shown to be already judged, if for example he should wither away into heresy; because he who does not believe is already judged.

"In such a case it should be said of him: ‘If salt should lose its savor, it is good for nothing but to be cast out and trampled under foot by men'."

Perhaps you were unaware of the Church's teaching on this subject, a regrettable one to be agreed, but now you are.

Raymond Antonini

Answer by Dr. Warren Carroll on 10-16-2001:

Whatever may be the theory, the historical fact is that no Pope has ever taught heresy. I have personally investigated each alleged case of this, and believe I have proved that it never happened. If you want to ask me about any particular instance when you think a Pope has taught heresy, I will disprove it. - Dr. Carroll