My friends, it is disappointing to see the Opinion No. 3 of the Five Opinions expounded upon by St. Robert Bellarmine is gaining adherents. I have shown in previous posts that His Excellency Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Fr. David Hewko, and the Catacombs Forum all hold essentially to this opinion. This opinion states the following:
That a pope who is even a manifest heretic is not deposed ipso facto and cannot be deposed by the Church.
I discovered recently that Fr. Gerald Murray, Canon Lawyer, also holds to Opinion No. 3 (see video below). To put it bluntly, Fr. Murray is wrong. He is looking at the situation from a purely canonical perspective. But there is something higher than Canon Law, and that is Divine Law (see pyramid low). Divine Law teaches us that the public sin of manifest formal heresy by its very nature separates the heretic from the Church. Therefore, the heretic separates himself by his own act. The Church authorities just then need to declare that fact for the putative pope to be deposed. To think that Our Lord did not provide His Church with the means to detect and eradicate in real time a heretical putative pope from its midst is not giving Him credit.
This is a portion of what St. Robert Bellarmine wrote about Opinion No. 3:
“The third opinion is on another extreme, that the Pope is not and cannot be deposed either by secret or manifest heresy. Turrecremata in the aforementioned citation relates and refutes this opinion, and rightly so, for it is exceedingly improbable…..Add, that it would be the most miserable condition of the Church, if she should be compelled to recognize a wolf, manifestly prowling, for a shepherd.”1
Why do those who hold Opinion No. 3 go against a Doctor of the Church who called it “exceedingly improbable”? Furthermore, Opinion No. 3 was never even remotely the common opinion among theologians. In his well known study titled “Can the Pope Go Bad“, the lay theologian Arnaldo Vidigal Xavier Da Silveira wrote the following about Opinion No. 3:
“This third opinion – which Saint Robert Bellarmine classifies as ‘very improbable’ – is defended by one sole theologian, among 136 ancient and modern theologians whose position on this matter we could verify. We are speaking of the French canonist d. Bouix (+ 1870)…..”2
“Despite the great efforts expended by Bouix in defense of this third opinion, it seems to us that one ought to qualify it, with Saint Robert Bellarmine, as ‘very improbable’. Indeed, it has against it the practically unanimous Tradition of the Church; it does not agree with numerous texts of the Sacred Scripture; it does not seem to give due importance to the extreme evil which a Pope heretic could do to the Church; and it is so much a minority opinion among the theologians, that Cardinal Camillo Mazzella, S.J., goes so far as to affirm that no author of those who admit the possibility of a Pope heretic, denies or puts in doubt that he would be removed from his charge ‘ipso facto’, or at least must be removed.”3
My friends, you can clearly see that Opinion No. 3 has no place in this discussion. It belongs in the trash can.
- Da Silveira, Arnaldo Vidigal Xavier. Can the Pope Go Bad. Translated from the Portuguese by John Russell Spann. Green Acres, WA: Catholic Research Institute, 1998, p. 31
- Ibid. p. 36