Bishop Schneider And Heretical Popes
Bishop Schneider has published in Rorate Caeli an essay about what bishops and cardinals should do in case of heretical Popes.
He is, if you ask me, perfectly right in a couple of the points he exposes:
- Laymen cannot (obviously) decide who is Pope and who isn’t.
- If a Pope is a heretic, as many as possible among the clergy (of all ranks) must confirm the faithful in the faith.
However, I think that the good bishops errs massively (and is, actually, in sharp contrast with the talk of Cardinal Burke, though Burke himself never let the walk follow the talk) when he says that a heretical Pope cannot be deposed and one must wait for better times and allow the Holy Ghost to set things right.
When Marcellinus sacrificed at the altar of Pagan gods, did the clergy and bishops that could be gathered around him decide that the Holy Ghost would provide? Certainly not. They acted. They acted swiftly and decisively in what would, today, be called an extraordinary imperfect ecumenical council.
They did not stop to reflect what canon law says, or decide that hey, that’s our lot until Marcellinus dies. They clearly either threatened him with “deposition” (with a declaration that he had deposed himself) or actually did it. They reacted to extraordinary situations with the most logical extraordinary measures at their disposal. And they clearly, clearly were not ready to tolerate the continuation of Marcellinus’ behaviour or of the situation tout court. The famous phrase, “no one can judge the Pope. Therefore, judge thyself” should leave any reasonable person in no doubt that, had Marcellinus refused to do so, he would have been declared out of the Church out of his own factual, openly stated behaviour.
I do not think that John XXII was in a different situation. Also in that case, it is clear that the clergy was reacting to his heresies, and preparing a massive counteroffensive in case he would not retract. The delegation of, among others, Dominicans talking to him behind closed doors can, after the usual entreaties and supplications, only have prospected him one path: extraordinary ecumenical council courtesy of the the King of France’s coffers; trial; declaration of heresy; deposition; execution. I am, again, sure that every reasonable reader will agree that, though such threats were never made public, everything was in place and the Pope was certainly made aware of it.
The bishops states he wants to avoid schism. But what is more important, Truth or unity? Would you have allowed John XXII to go on with impunity because of the fear of schism?
Besides, when bishops speaks against bishop in most fundamental matters, a factual schism is already there. Better to have the bubo explode, then, and fight the good fight. Neither St Paul nor Saint Athanasius seems to have had any fear of public schism in the face of public heresy.
Bishop Schneider is well-intentioned but, I think, well short of the mark. Cardinal Burke understands the situation but has no courage to get the ball rolling. However, the Cardinal understands (at least in words) that the cardinals and bishops betray their flock and are in grave dereliction of duty if they see a heretical Pope and do not try to do what is in their power to stop and, if necessary, depose him.
Ecclesia supplet. When extraordinary times call, the Church should respond with extraordinary courage. This is what was made with Marcellinus. This is what Athanasius did.
The Holy Ghost works through men. Particularly those who are, actually, first called to do the work.