Chris Ferrara’s Position on the Pope and Heresy Most Closely Resembles Opinion No. 3

Fr. Paul Kramer states in his first volume of To Deceive the Elect that Chris Ferrara’s position regarding the pope and heresy is essentially Opinion No. 3.  Wow!  This opinion of the Five Opinions expounded upon by St. Robert Bellarmine seems to have gained much traction in this age, whereas it has historically never been even remotely close to being so popular.  This is surely a time of disorientation even amongst Traditionalists.

“At the opposite extreme to the error that a pope can be judged by his subjects, is the opinion that even a manifestly formal heretic intruding onto the papal throne cannot be removed by any power on earth. This was the opinion of the nineteenth century Jesuit trained canonist, Marie Dominique Bouix, and it is also the opinion adopted by Christopher A. Ferrara. According to St. Robert Bellarmine’s classification of the opinions on the deposition of a heretic pope, Mr. Ferrara’s opinion is the Third Opinion: ‘The third opinion thinks that the Roman Pontiff does not automatically forfeit his power and cannot be deprived of it by deposition even for manifest heresy. This assertion is very rightly said by Bellarmine to be extremely improbable.’ [Jus Canonicum by Franz Xavier Wernz S.J. and Pedro Vidal S.J. (1938) Chapter VII; and, Jus Canonicum, Roma, Gregoriana, 1943, vol. II, p. 517]”

“There has been no theologian of repute subscribing to the third opinion since Marie Dominique Bouix, a French canonist who died in December 1870. As I mentioned above, Bouix was the last to hold this opinion, and is only one out of 137 authors listed by Arnaldo Xavier da Silveira as having held this opinion. Yet, it is precisely this untenable opinion which is at present becoming popular among lay Catholic writers who seem unaware of the theologically problematic difficulties that beset this opinion. In his article, A Defector Pope?, Chris Ferrara writes, ‘While the possibility of an heretical Pope falling from office is certainly entertained by theologians, there is no mechanism by which the universal Church could be assured that such an event has occurred during the reign of a Pope accused of heresy.’ The statement is absurd on its face, since, if there is no means by which the Church can arrive at certitude in judging that a pope is a formal heretic, then neither is there any means by which any other baptized person can be judged with certitude to be a heretic without a solemn ex cathedra judgment. Mr. Ferrara argues, ‘Not even the idea of an imperfect council of cardinals to declare that an heretical Pope has deposed himself would provide the necessary surety because it would probably be contested by that Pope’s loyalists should he refuse to resign, leading to something like the Great Western Schism with rival claimants to the papal throne.’  This statement erroneously assumes that without a unanimous or nearly unanimous consensus, a judgment made by the College of Cardinals would not provide ‘the necessary surety’ – as if the probability that the judgment would be contested somehow renders such a judgment uncertain.”

“Mr. Ferrara then states his conclusion: ‘Thus, whether a given Pope has lost his office on account of heresy remains essentially an academic question while that Pope is reigning. Only a future Pope or council presided over by a Pope could declare that a predecessor Pope had fallen from office due to heresy — a declaration that has never occurred in Church history.’ The statement is a hypothetical proposition founded on a false premise.”

“The question of whether or not a particular claimant is a heretic, who therefore is an incapable subject of the papacy, would not be a hypothetical question, but a simple question of fact — a fact that can be determined with certitude. Hence, the false premise: ‘Only a future Pope or council presided over by a Pope could declare that a previous claimant to the papacy had fallen from any office he may have held due to heresy.’ It would also be false to assert that such a declaration that has never occurred in Church history, because precisely such a declaration was made by the Council of Constance in the thirty-seventh session. Thus, Chris Ferrara’s prescription for the present crisis in the papacy is essentially the Bouix prescription, according to which, if the putative pope falls into heresy, he presumably retains the pontificate, but the faithful must not remain passive, but should manifest the error to the pope so that he may be corrected, without, however, being able to declare him depositus or to be deposed deponendus. This opinion has been unanimously rejected for good reason by theologians for the last one and a half centuries.”

Kramer, Paul. To deceive the elect: The catholic doctrine on the question of a heretical Pope . Kindle Edition.

The article to which Fr. Kramer is referring can be found here (see pdf version here).

To purchase the two volumes of To Deceive the Elect, please see the following links:

Hardcover versions: see here.
Softcover and electronic versions: see here and here.

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