Archive for September, 2018

from Novus Ordo Watch

An old heresy rears its ugly head again…

No, a True Pope CANNOT be Deposed:
Reply to Br. Alexis Bugnolo


As the heresies and scandals of “Pope” Francis are reaching a fever pitch, people are once again scrambling for ways to rid themselves of the man but without having to accept the sedevacantist position, which is that he was never a true Pope to begin with because, for one thing, he is quite simply a public non-Catholic and thus unable to be the head of the Catholic Church. Refusing the only possible position — that Francis has been an impostor from the beginning — they are looking for ways to deposea Pope, by which they typically mean remove him from office against his will. The only trouble is: The idea that a valid Pope can be removed from office is heresy (Gallicanism).

One of the most persistent promoters of this heresy is Br. Alexis Bugnolo (pictured left), a recognize-and-resist Franciscan friar of private vows who lives in Rome, Italy. He is the editor of the Franciscan Archive web site and the founder, quite ironically, of a group that calls itself Veri Catholici (“true Catholics”). Above you can see their logo, with a few minor corrections made by us to reflect the reality. Bugnolo blogs at From Rome and is active on Twitter (where he has blocked Novus Ordo Watch).

In a brief blog post published on Sep. 7, Bugnolo claims that a validly reigning Pope can be legally removed from the Papacy, and he thinks he has found a historical precedent for this idea in the Synod of Sutri in 1046:

Clerics can be canonically, that is legally, removed from office by their superiors, generally speaking. But since the Pope has no superior on earth, being the Vicar of Christ, many think he cannot be canonically removed from office.

That argument sounds valid on the face of it, but the Synod of Sutri in 1046 argues against it. In that Synod, which the Church to this day considers canonically valid, the Clergy of the Diocese of Rome, at the invitation of the German King, Henry III, met to decide the fate of Pope Benedict IX and two other anti-popes (rival claimants).

The Synod deposed all three. Benedict IX made no objection, nor did he validate or accept the Synod’s decision by any document that we know of today. But the Church has always accepted his deposition as valid.

(Br. Alexis Bugnolo, “Yes, a Pope can be canonically deposed”From Rome, Sep. 7, 2018)

This is wrong on a number of counts, as we will demonstrate shortly. For now, we merely note that Bugnolo provides zero evidence for what he says concerning the Synod of Sutri and the case of Pope Benedict IX. Perhaps his mere assertion of fact suffices for his readers, but it will not do if we wish to engage in a serious discussion of such an important matter. [Please note: We were notified on Sep. 11 that Bugnolo has updated his post since its original publication and has added some light documentation. Either way, the remainder of this rejoinder roundly refutes Bugnolo’s claims.]

At the end of his post, Bugnolo does ask that “[i]f I have any facts wrong”, to please let him know. We are happy to oblige.

Although the term “deposition” is not strictly synonymous with removal from office, for the purposes of this post, we will treat it as having this meaning for now. To answer Br. Bugnolo, we will quote the dogmatic teaching of the First Vatican Council (1869-70) and then show that what happened at the local synod at Sutri does not contradict this doctrine.

The Catholic Church teaches as follows:

And since the Roman Pontiff is at the head of the universal Church by the divine right of apostolic primacy, We teach and declare also that he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all cases pertaining to ecclesiastical examination recourse can be had to his judgment; moreover, that the judgment of the Apostolic See, whose authority is not surpassed, is to be disclaimed by no one, nor is anyone permitted to pass judgment on its judgment. Therefore, they stray from the straight path of truth who affirm that it is permitted to appeal from the judgments of the Roman Pontiffs to an ecumenical Council, as to an authority higher than the Roman Pontiff.

(First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 3; Denz. 1830; underlining added.)

In fact, the 1917 Code of Canon Law punishes with an automatic excommunication anyone, including cardinals, who appeals from the judgment of the Roman Pontiff to an ecumenical council, and such a person is considered suspect of heresy (see Canon 2332). What heresy? The heresy of Gallicanism.

In canonical terms, the dogma of Vatican I is rendered as follows: “Prima Sedes a nemine iudicatur” (Canon 1556) — “The First See is judged by no one.” What this means is spelled out by canonist Fr. Charles Augustine in this way:

The first or primatial see is subject to no one’s judgment. This proposition must be taken in the fullest extent, not only with regard to the object of infallibility. For in matters of faith and morals it was always customary to receive the final sentence from the Apostolic See, whose judgment no one dared to dispute, as the tradition of the Fathers demonstrates. Neither was it ever allowed to reconsider questions or controversies once settled by the Holy See. But even the person of the Supreme Pontiff was ever considered as unamenable to human judgment, he being responsible and answerable to God alone, even though accused of personal misdeeds and crimes. A remarkable instance is that of Pope Symmachus (498-514). He, indeed, submitted to the convocation of a council (the Synodus Palmaris, 502), because he deemed it his duty to see to it that no stain was inflicted upon his character, but that synod itself is a splendid vindication of our canon. The synod adopted the Apology of Ennodius of Pavia, in which occurs the noteworthy sentence: “God wished the causes of other men to be decided by men; but He has reserved to His own tribunal, without question, the ruler of this see.” No further argument for the traditional view is required. A general council could not judge the Pope, because, unless convoked or ratified by him, it could not render a valid sentence. Hence nothing is left but an appeal to God, who will take care of His Church and its head.

(Rev. Charles Augustine, A Commentary on the New Code of Canon Law, Vol. VII [St. Louis, MO: Herder, 1921], pp. 11-12; italics given; underlining added.)

Fr. Stanislaus Woywod, another authority on canon law, gives the following explanation:

The Primatial See can be judged by no one (Canon 1556). The Supreme Pontiff has the highest legislative, administrative and judicial power in the Church. The Code states that the Roman Pontiff cannot be brought to trial by anyone. The very idea of the trial of a person supposes that the court conducting the trial has jurisdiction over the person, but the Pope has no superior, wherefore no court has power to subject him to judicial trial.

(Rev. Stanislaus Woywod, A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, rev. by Rev. Callistus Smith [New York: Joseph F. Wagner, 1952], n. 1549, p. 225; underlining added.)

These are crucial points to understand, for in his heresy-promoting post, Br. Bugnolo says: “A legal deposition, would be where the Church by trial and in Synod or Council removes [the Pope] from office” (underlining added). This sounds more like an illegal deposition, what the Franciscan friar has in mind here.

But what about the historical evidence which Br. Bugnolo cites?

We note, first of all, that he doesn’t cite anything, he simply makes unsupported assertions [please take into consideration previous caveat]. To know that his thesis is false, it suffices to realize that it contradicts Catholic dogma. Since Catholic dogma expresses truth as it really is (cf. Denz. 2022, 2026), we know Bugnolo doesn’t have a leg to stand on. But the Franciscan friar is not only wrong theologically, he is also quite wrong with regard to the historical record, which we will now examine at some length.

What are the facts about Popes Benedict IX (1032-1045) and Gregory VI (1045-1046) and the synod or council at Sutri?

We must acknowledge, first of all, that Benedict IX was one of the most immoral Popes of history. As we know, however, an immoral Catholic is one thing; a non-Catholic (immoral or otherwise) is quite another. A Pope can be an immoral Catholic (i.e. commit many sins but still adhere to the true Faith; see Denz. 838); he cannot, however, be a “non-Catholic Catholic”. Therefore, any public non-Catholic cannot be Pope, for a “non-Catholic Pope” is a contradiction in terms, much like a “married bachelor”. All this is explained and proved in our post, “The ‘Bad Popes’ Argument.”

For an overview of the tumultuous events involving Popes Benedict IX and Gregory VI, we first turn to the work of Church historian Fr. Fernand Mourret (1854-1938), who writes as follows:

The dignity of the supreme power did not alter the morals of the newly elected Pope. In his private life the pursuit of pleasures and the love of wealth remained his great passions; in his public life he became the willing tool of his family’s greed and the Emperor’s despotism. But, as in the case of John XII, we should observe that Benedict IX never tried to give doctrinal approval to his conduct. His official teaching was the condemnation of his life. God, to make conspicuously clear that sinister consequences follow when the civil power interferes in the choice of His pontiffs, allowed corruption to reach even to the throne of St. Peter in the person of an unworthy pope. But He did not permit that a single line of such a pope’s bullarium should bring the least discredit upon the Church.

Twice (in 1036 and 1044) he was driven from Rome by popular uprisings; he returned at the head of the vassals of Tusculum. The second time he barricaded himself and his followers in Trastevere, while the city was in the power of the rebels. The old dissensions, which formerly had led to clashes between the house of the Crescentii and the house of Tusculum, were revived. The resort to arms at first favored Benedict. But his foes, by their profuse gifts of money, succeeded in having an antipope elected, Bishop John of Sabina, who took the name of Sylvester III. Benedict’s party then invested Rome on all sides and, on April 10, 1044, forcibly reinstated him in the Lateran Palace. Sylvester, after forty-nine days of ephemeral power, returned vanquished to his diocese of Sabina.

A year later (May 1, 1045) Benedict IX, fearing a fresh revolt, abdicated in favor of his godfather, the archpriest John Gratian, who is spoken of by all contemporaries as commendable. He was accepted by the clergy and people and took the name of Gregory VI. Benedict, however, withdrew only after stipulating with his successor that he should receive a large sum of money by way of indemnity, which Gregory, to avoid excessive evils and to end the shame of the Church, agreed to pay. This simoniacal contract did not prevent Benedict, two years later, after the death of [Pope] Clement II [1046-1047], from again seizing the power and holding it from November, 1047, to July 16, 1048, when Emperor Henry III drove him from Rome by force. The circumstances of his death are clouded in mystery. Some writers hold that he was moved by repentance and took the religious habit in the Abbey of Grottaferrata, where he died shortly afterward; others think that he died impenitent and that his premature end was a consequence of his dissolute life.

(Rev. Fernand Mourret, A History of the Catholic Church, vol. IV [St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1947], pp. 122-124)

With regard to the Synod of Sutri, which was called by Pope Gregory VI at the behest of King (later Emperor) Henry III, Fr. Mourret tells us:

A short time after this, King Henry III and Pope Gregory VI held a conference at Piacenza. Together they went to Sutri, eight leagues from Rome, and there, in conformity with the King’s desire, Gregory convoked a new council, over which he presided in person, on December 30, 1046. This wish of the King was a trap, which neither the Pope nor his confidential secretary Hildebrand was able to discern at the very first. Only later, through the experience of life, did Hildebrand learn to mistrust men’s words, and even then excessive confidence in his enemies always remained the noble weakness of this grand character. The King’s purpose in having this council assembled was to have it pass judgment, according to his own views, upon the question of the lawfulness of Gregory’s election and to place Gregory, in the assembly over which he would officially preside, in the position of one accused.

First, the election of Sylvester III was declared null. The case of Benedict IX, who had refused to attend the council, was reserved. Then they came to the election of Gregory VI. Says the chronicler Bonizo:

The Pontiff, a simple and unsuspecting man, without any evasions set forth the account of his election. He enjoyed a large fortune, which he was willing to employ for the welfare of the Church. Seeing how the party of the nobility was disposing of the Holy See in utter contempt for the canonical regulations, he considered he was performing a good work in purchasing and in restoring to the clergy and people of Rome the right to elect the pope. The members of the council told him that such subtlety had been dictated to him by the serpent and that what could be bought should not be considered holy. Gregory replied: “God is my witness that, in acting as I did, I believed I was meriting the pardon of my faults and the glory of God.” To this the bishops answered: “It would have been better for you to be poor as Peter than rich like Simon Magus. Pronounce your own condemnation.” Then Gregory pronounced against himself the following sentence: “I, Gregory, bishop, servant of the servants of God, judge that, having made myself guilty of the shameful crime and heresy of simony, ought to be deposed from the Roman bishopric.” [Footnote 104]

After such a sentence, Henry III should have been satisfied. This pretended defender of the canons and of morals, who for seven years had remained silent in the presence of the scandals of Benedict IX, at length broke the power of a pope who was animated by the purest intentions; but Henry had imposed his wishes in the matter of a papal election. In an assembly held at Rome on December 23 and 24, 1046, Benedict IX was also deposed. On December 24, Henry informed the Roman clergy and people of the candidate of his choice, Suidger, bishop of Bamberg, who was consecrated the next day under the name of Clement II. That same day the new Pope at Rome crowned Emperor Henry III and Empress Agnes. The German monarch also received the title of Roman patrician. Gregory was sent to Germany with his chaplain Hildebrand and was treated as a state prisoner in the custody of the Archbishop of Cologne.

Henry had accomplished his purpose: he took the place of the counts of Tusculum and was ready to play the part which that family had so long filled in the elections to the papacy. We shall see four transalpine popes, one after the other, imposed on Rome: the bishops of Bamberg, of Brixen, of Toul, and of Eichstatt: Clement II, Damasus II, Leo IX, and Victor II. But in all truth we must say that none of these popes repeated the scandal of the popes that sprang from Tusculum; on the contrary, more or less effectively, all labored for reform. But the principle of the imperial supremacy remained a danger which the sharp mind of a Hildebrand did not lose sight of and from which he later attempted to free the Church of God. When, on April 22, 1073, Hildebrand was raised to the supreme pontificate, he took the name Gregory VII as a protest against the removal of Gregory VI from the list of the popes and against the decision of the Council of Sutri.

(Mourret, A History of the Catholic Church, vol. IV, pp. 131-133.)

Clearly, these were very tempestuous, scandalous, and confusing times. But we must not lose sight of the fact that however sinful it was to purchase or sell the Papacy, to bargain with it, etc., such wicked activity did not mean that the pontificate so obtained was invalid.

What do we make of the testimony of the chronicler Bonizo, according to whom, as quoted above, Pope Gregory VI conceded that he “ought to be deposed”? Looking closely at the words reported, Gregory only said, in light of the evidence against him, that he is worthy of deposition, not that he can bedeposed by any of his inferiors. Who can depose a Pope unworthy of being Pope? Only the Pope himself can, by resigning the office, and this is exactly what Gregory VI did — he deposed himself.

Notice that at the end of Bonizo’s testimony, Fr. Mourret places a reference to “Footnote 104”. This footnote is essential because it clarifies this very important point of Pope Gregory’s resignation. It reads as follows:

104. Jaffé, Monumenta gregoriana, pp. 626 f. A sharp controversy has arisen among historians over the question whether Gregory VI was deposed at the Council of Sutri or whether he abdicated. Bonizo’s simple account seems to furnish the solution. Gregory abdicated, as in the course of the ages many kings have abdicated, bowing before a successful rebellion. In this sense we can understand the words of St. Peter Damian, who was present at the council, and who, thinking of the substance of things rather than the form, says that Gregory “was deposed.”

(Mourret, A History of the Catholic Church, vol. IV, p. 132, fn. 104; italics given.)

That Gregory VI was not deposed but resigned, properly speaking, is also attested to by Archbishop Francis P. Kenrick in The Primacy of the Apostolic See Vindicated (7th ed., Baltimore, MD: John Murphy & Co., 1875): “Gregory VI. obtained from Benedict the reunciation of his claims in 1044, and sat two years and eight months, but resigned in the Council of Sutri” (p. 435).

It is important to understand, when perusing works of history, that sometimes terms are used in an imprecise way, especially in older literature, where a word may not have the exact sense it eventually came to acquire. With regard to deposition specifically, canon law professor Fr. Henry Ayrinhac notes that “the language of councils or ecclesiastical writers when treating of this subject often lacks precision” (H. A. Ayrinhac, Penal Legislation in the New Code of Canon Law [New York: Benziger, 1920], p. 145).

In addition, we must remember that the issue of whether a Pope could be removed from office by a council (known as the Conciliar theory) was not definitively rejected by the Magisterium until at least the 17th century in the initial condemnation of some aspects of Gallicanism, and perhaps not until the First Vatican Council in 1870. This consideration, too, would explain why some writers in the 11th century, such as St. Peter Damian, might casually speak of a Pope’s “deposition.”

But be that as it may, it would be imprudent and insufficient, of course, to rely merely on Fr. Mourret’s account concerning this complex historical matter. A fairly detailed treatment of this turbulent period in Church history is given by historian Dr. Warren H. Carroll (1932-2011), whose work we will consult next. Although Carroll was Novus Ordo and is therefore unreliable in terms of theology, we do not have any reason to doubt or dispute his scholarship in Church history, as we mentioned before in our post on the suppression of the Jesuit order.

Dr. Carroll presents a beautifully coherent picture of this rather ugly chapter of the Church’s past. We will quote him at length in order not to run the risk of distorting the record by omitting important details for the sake of brevity:

In the fall of 1044 Pope Benedict IX was driven from Rome, for reasons which are lost in the obscurity of those ill-recorded times. It might have been, as many writers suggest, because of the scandal given by his notoriously immoral life; but far better Popes than Benedict IX have also been expelled for [sic — should be from] Rome, and the cause might just as well have been a desire to overthrow the Theophylact [i.e. Benedict’s] family so that others could gain control of the city. The Romans, holding the city itself, elected an antipope, Sylvester; outside the walls the Theophylacts prevailed, and in March 1045 they restored Benedict IX. But he felt very insecure after what had happened; according to a widely circulated report, he wished to marry; therefore, almost immediately after his restoration, he began trying to work out an arrangement whereby the burdens and dangers of the Papacy would be transferred to another in return for full reimbursement of the money he had originally spent to secure the Papal office. His godfather, a much older man of unsullied reputation named John Gratian, head of the house of priests associated with the Church of St. John at the Latin Gate, agreed to find the requested money in order to bring about the removal of his godson from the place of Vicar of Christ for which he was so evidently unfitted. The money — a very large sum — seems to have been obtained from the Pierleoni family, converts from Judaism, of which John Gratian was later said to have been a member. The evidence is spotty and puzzling, but there is substantial agreement that John Gratian was a man of high character and motivation who nevertheless obtained the Papacy in a morally questionable manner when Benedict IX resigned May 1, 1045. As Pope Gregory VI, John Gratian was accepted by the reforming party in the Church, until the story of his financial arrangement with Benedict IX came out.

[Emperor] Henry III received Pope Gregory VI with full honors at Piacenza, which certainly shows that at that point Henry recognized him as the valid Pope. Indeed there is no clear evidence that anyone else was claiming to be Pope at that time. Antipope Sylvester had not been heard from since Benedict IX’s return to Rome in March 1045, a year and a half before; and Benedict had made as yet no attempt to repudiate his resignation. A synod of bishops met at Pavia, with both Pope and Emperor present. Henry III addressed them. He spoke bluntly, and from the heart:

It is with grief that I take upon myself to address you who represent Christ in his Church… For as He of his own free goodness … deigned to come and redeem us, so, when sending you into the whole world, He said, “Freely have you received, freely give.” But you, who might have bestowed the gift of God gratuitously, corrupted by avarice, have sinned by your giving and taking, and are cursed by the sacred canons … All, from the Pope to the doorkeeper, are loaded with this guilt.

From this point on, it seems to have been assumed that Pope Gregory VI would step down. On his way to Rome for the crisis, Abbot St. Odilo of Cluny wrote Henry III urging him, in this event, not to restore the corrupt Benedict IX. It is impossible to believe, however, that the canon lawyers of the Church had forgotten the long tradition, going all the way back to Pope Liberius in the Arian crisis of 356-362, that a Pope could not be judged and deposed by any temporal authority, even an Emperor. Indeed, Bishop Wazo of Liège, one of the most famous canonists of his day, had already declared earlier that year at an imperial assembly at Aachen, where he was serving as an episcopal judge, that the Emperor has no right to depose any Italian bishop without the Pope’s consent — to say nothing of deposing the Pope himself. Pope Gregory VI had to consent to leave office; no power on earth could lawfully remove him. He did consent, at a synod at Sutri in December 1046, for the good of the Church, having come to a belated realization that the good end of persuading a bad Pope to resign does not justify the evil means of simony to attain it. Any claims that Benedict IX or Sylvester might make to the Papacy were rejected in advance by the synod.

The later legend that the Holy Roman Emperor deposed three Popes at Sutri in 1046 presents such a striking image and has been so attractive to enemies of the Papacy and the Church and champions of the secular state that it lives on in many histories, despite having almost no connection with historical reality. Nobody but Gregory VI claimed to be Pope in December 1046, when the synod of Sutri was held. The declarations regarding the resigned Pope [Benedict IX] and the antipope [Sylvester III] were strictly precautionary measures against the assertion of Papal claims by either man in the future — a concern which was to prove well founded. The fact that Gregory VI resigned under pressure does not make his action any less a resignation. He attached no conditions to it and never made any attempt to withdraw it as given under duress.

The decisive proof that Gregory VI resigned and was not deposed lies in the later silence of Hildebrand [the future Pope St. Gregory VII] on the matter. Hildebrand actually accompanied ex-Pope Gregory into exile in Germany and, as already mentioned, was to take Gregory’s name when he himself later became Pope. No pontiff in the history of the Church was more zealous in defense and advocacy of Papal prerogatives than Hildebrand as Gregory VII; none held more resolutely that the Pope was independent of all human authority. As Pope, Hildebrand was to be exiled from Rome by a Holy Roman Emperor [Henry IV]; he had no reason whatever to cover up, protect, or justify an illegitimate exercise of imperial authority. Yet he never claimed or hinted that Gregory VI had been wrongfully or invalidly removed from the See of Peter by Emperor Henry III, or that Gregory VI had remained the true Pope until his death in Germany in October 1047. Bishop Wazo of Liège, far away from Belgium and evidently unaware of all the facts, did make this claim for Gregory VI. But neither Gregory himself, nor Hildebrand who was at his side throughout, ever did.

On Christmas Eve 1046 the German Bishop Suidger of Bamberg was nominated for Pope by Henry III. It is very significant that even in his now completely dominant position in Rome, Henry III took care to have Suidger duly elected by the clergy and acclaimed by the people, then still the established Papal election procedure — often and blatantly violated though it had been. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that, weary of feudal anarchy, the clergy and people of Rome would then have accepted any suitable nominee of Henry’s in an entirely free election. Suidger took the Papal name of Clement II. The next day, Christmas, he was consecrated, with Abbot St. Odilo of Cluny beside him. He then crowned Henry III Holy Roman Emperor, as Charlemagne had been crowned on Christmas day 800. Knowing the fickleness of the clergy and people of Rome, Henry called upon them formally to grant him the power to nominate Popes and invest bishops, so that he might better reform the Church. This dangerous power was extended to him as he asked; the grant was even praised by the zealous reformer St. Peter Damian. There is every reason to presume that it was duly confirmed by new Pope Clement II.

Once again it must be remembered that no canon law binds the Pope unless he chooses to be so bound, since he is absolutely sovereign. He may set up any procedure for determining the Papal succession that seems good to him, even nomination by a single individual — himself or another.But, as both Henry III and Clement II should have realized, this system was much too open to abuse to be retained. Thirteen years later it was supplanted by the College of Cardinals, first established by Pope Nicholas II.

Henry’s nominee for Clement II’s successor was Bishop Poppo of Brixen in Bavaria, who took the name Damasus II. Before the imperial nomination was made, former Pope Benedict IX reappeared on the scene with the support of Marquis Boniface of Tuscany and lavish outlays of gold — presumably the equivalent of what he had paid for the Papacy in the first place and then been recompensed for by Gregory VI. But his status as an ex-Pope gave Benedict no advantage; the law of succession as it then stood required Henry III’s nomination. Hence Benedict was not validly re-elected Pope.

Henry III’s letter carried to Marquis Boniface by the new Pope Damasus II suggested that the Emperor was no longer drawing — if he had ever drawn — the careful distinctions which properly pertained to his relations with the See of Peter: “Learn, you who have restored a Pope who was canonically deposed, and who have been led by love of lucre to despise my commands, learn that, if you do not amend your ways, I will soon come and make you.” The Emperor was arrogating too much ecclesiastical power to himself; but his demeanor was sufficiently formidable to cause Marquis Boniface to back down in a hurry. He expelled the feckless Benedict (who was maintaining his renewed claim to the Papacy) from Rome before the imperial army arrived. Pope Damasus II was consecrated in St. Peter’s July 17, 1048, only to die less than a month later.

(Warren H. Carroll, The Building of Christendom [Front Royal, VA: Christendom College Press, 1987], pp. 462-466; underlining added.)

This is a lot to take in, but now the story makes sense. Let’s recap and draw together the essentials of what Fr. Mourret and Dr. Carroll present (the years mentioned are approximate):

  • Benedict IX became Pope in 1033 through simony and led an immoral life even as Pope
  • Benedict’s enemies elected Antipope Sylvester III and installed him in Rome in 1044
  • In 1045, Benedict IX agreed to resign and appoint Gregory VI as his successor, as part of a bargain in which Gregory reimbursed him for the money he had paid to become Pope in 1033
  • Gregory VI summoned a synod at Sutri in 1046 at the behest of King Henry III
  • The synod participants convinced Gregory VI to resign because he had become Pope through simony
  • Bishop Suidger of Bamberg became Pope Clement II in accordance with Church law
  • After Clement II’s death, Benedict IX tried to retake the Papacy but Henry III nominated Bp. Poppo de’ Curagnoni, who became Pope Damasus II
  • Whether Benedict IX validly held the Papacy a second time, namely, between Clement II’s death and the election of Damasus II, is unclear (Fr. Mourret seems to say yes, Dr. Carroll gives a definite no) but also not really relevant since no one else claimed to be Pope during that time

For our purposes, the most striking sentence in Dr. Carroll’s account is probably this one: “The later legend that the Holy Roman Emperor deposed three Popes at Sutri in 1046 presents such a striking image and has been so attractive to enemies of the Papacy and the Church and champions of the secular state that it lives on in many histories, despite having almost no connection with historical reality.” So true Popes being deposed at the Synod of Sutri is but a legend! We hope that Br. Bugnolo takes this to heart.

Looking for anything they can to justify their resistance to a man they claim is a valid Pope (i.e. Francis), recognize-and-resisters have fallen again and again for arguments used by “enemies of the Papacy and the Church”, specifically Protestants, Gallicans, Old Catholics, and Modernists. The true Catholic position they instead denounce as “Ultramontanism”, a label which, to a true Catholic, is a badge of honor!

Thus we see once again how, although they may appear convincing at first, claims made to the detriment of the Papacy by the semi-traditionalist recognize-and-resist camp go up in smoke once they are critically examined and tested against the genuine historical and theological record. Tragically, Br. Alexis Bugnolo is leading his readers into heresy.

The “anything but Sedevacantism” stance is alive and well.

from Novus Ordo Watch

Keeping things in perspective…

A Word of Caution in Light of the ongoing Viganò Testimony Drama

The 11-page testimony letter of “Abp.” Carlo Maria Vigano published on Aug. 25, 2018, has put the Modernist sect in Rome into a credibility crisis so severe that, depending on what happens in the next few days and weeks, it may never be able to recover from it.

After over one full week of this controversy, which saw testimony and silence, accusations and denials, claims and counter-claims, verification and contradiction, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of where the whole matter stands. While we will continue to keep you posted in our daily updates, which are very time consuming to produce, we must not lose sight of a very important fact: The Vigano drama about morally corrupt individuals in Rome obscures the fact that the much more serious problem is that the Vatican is doctrinally corrupt, which proves beyond any possible doubt that the See of Rome is not being governed by a valid Pope. In 1853, Pope Pius IX reminded the faithful that “religion itself can never totter and fall while this Chair remains intact, the Chair which rests on the rock which the proud gates of hell cannot overthrow and in which there is the whole and perfect solidity of the Christian religion” (Encyclical Inter Multiplices, n. 7).

The controversy about moral corruption at the Vatican has also given new impetus to the Gallican heresy that a Pope’s pontificate can be taken away from him in consequence of — or at least in punishment for — immoral behavior. Earlier this year, this very heresy was advocated in the “traditional Catholic” flagship publication The Remnant:

The College of Cardinals should immediately convene and remove Francis, the Bishop of Rome for his gross and grave negligence and personal complicity in the systematic flouting and abuse of his own zero tolerance policy causing a scandal of epic proportions brought upon the global Catholic Church and the Chilean Catholic Church.

(Elizabeth Yore, “Anatomy of a Coverup: An Open Letter to Pope Francis”The Remnant, May 25, 2018)

This is not just wrong, it is heresy. Pertinaciously clinging to this idea puts one outside of the Church and makes one no better than a Modernist, an Arian, or a Nestorian. It does not matter how nobleand justified one’s outrage is about personal sins and crimes of a true Pope, for the Pope remains Pope — as long as we are not talking about public sins that are of such a nature as “to sever a man from the Body of the Church, as does schism or heresy or apostasy” (Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 23) — and as such he has no superior on earth who could take the pontificate away from him. One could ask that he resign because he is a disgrace to the Chair of Peter, but one could not remove him nor cease being subject to him in matters of Faith and — yes — even morals. This is what separates the Catholics from the heretics; it is what dissociates those who believe in the Catholic Church as a divinely instituted indefectible society from those who believe the church to be a merely human institution that can corrupt and fail as any other can.

Canon 1556 enshrines this dogmatic truth in the Church’s law: “Prima Sedes a nemine iudicatur” (Canon 1556) — “The First See is judged by no one.” One of the most famous canonists in the 20th century, Fr. Charles Augustine, explains what this means for the situation of a gravely immoral and scandalous Pope:

But even the person of the Supreme Pontiff was ever considered as unamenable to human judgment, he being responsible and answerable to God alone, even though accused of personal misdeeds and crimes. A remarkable instance is that of Pope Symmachus (498-514). He, indeed, submitted to the convocation of a council (the Synodus Palmaris, 502), because he deemed it his duty to see to it that no stain was inflicted upon his character, but that synod itself is a splendid vindication of our canon. The synod adopted the Apology of Ennodius of Pavia, in which occurs the noteworthy sentence: “God wished the causes of other men to be decided by men; but He has reserved to His own tribunal, without question, the ruler of this see.” No further argument for the traditional view is required. A general council could not judge the Pope, because, unless convoked or ratified by him, it could not render a valid sentence. Hence nothing is left but an appeal to God, who will take care of His Church and its head.

(Rev. Charles Augustine, A Commentary on the New Code of Canon Law, Vol. VII [St. Louis, MO: Herder, 1921], p. 12; italics given; underlining added.)

Canonist Fr. Stanislaus Woywod elucidates:

The Supreme Pontiff has the highest legislative, administrative and judicial power in the Church. The Code states that the Roman Pontiff cannot be brought to trial by anyone. The very idea of the trial of a person supposes that the court conducting the trial has jurisdiction over the person, but the Pope has no superior, wherefore no court has power to subject him to judicial trial.

(Rev. Stanislaus Woywod, A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, rev. by Rev. Callistus Smith [New York: Joseph F. Wagner, 1952], n. 1549, p. 225; underlining added.)

The Popes themselves have explicitly taught that moral failings cannot be a pretext for refusing submission to the Roman Pontiff, because God has constituted the Petrine office such that personal sins cannot thwart its validity or efficacy (cf. Lk 22:32):

But if one wishes to search out the true source of all the evils which We have already lamented, as well as those which We pass over for the sake of brevity, he will surely find that from the start it has ever been a dogged contempt for the Church’s authority. The Church, as St. Leo the Great teaches, in well-ordered love accepts Peter in the See of Peter, and sees and honors Peter in the person of his successor the Roman pontiff. Peter still maintains the concern of all pastors in guarding their flocks, and his high rank does not fail even in an unworthy heir. In Peter then, as is aptly remarked by the same holy Doctor, the courage of all is strengthened and the help of divine grace is so ordered that the constancy conferred on Peter through Christ is conferred on the apostles through Peter. It is clear that contempt of the Church’s authority is opposed to the command of Christ and consequently opposes the apostles and their successors, the Church’s ministers who speak as their representatives. He who hears you, hears me; and he who despises you, despises me [Lk 10:16]; and the Church is the pillar and firmament of truth, as the apostle Paul teaches [1 Tim 3:15]. In reference to these words St. Augustine says: “Whoever is without the Church will not be reckoned among the sons, and whoever does not want to have the Church as mother will not have God as father.”

(Pope Leo XII, Encyclical Ubi Primum, n. 22; underlining added.)

All who defend the faith should aim to implant deeply in your faithful people the virtues of piety, veneration, and respect for this supreme See of Peter. Let the faithful recall the fact that Peter, Prince of Apostles is alive here and rules in his successors, and that his office does not fail even in an unworthy heir. Let them recall that Christ the Lord placed the impregnable foundation of his Church on this See of Peter [Mt 16:18] and gave to Peter himself the keys of the kingdom of Heaven [Mt 16:19]. Christ then prayed that his faith would not fail, and commanded Peter to strengthen his brothers in the faith [Lk 22:32]. Consequently the successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff, holds a primacy over the whole world and is the true Vicar of Christ, head of the whole Church and father and teacher of all Christians.

Indeed one simple way to keep men professing Catholic truth is to maintain their communion with and obedience to the Roman Pontiff. For it is impossible for a man ever to reject any portion of the Catholic faith without abandoning the authority of the Roman Church. In this authority, the unalterable teaching office of this faith lives on. It was set up by the divine Redeemer and, consequently, the tradition from the Apostles has always been preserved. So it has been a common characteristic both of the ancient heretics and of the more recent Protestants — whose disunity in all their other tenets is so great — to attack the authority of the Apostolic See. But never at any time were they able by any artifice or exertion to make this See tolerate even a single one of their errors.

(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Nostis et Nobiscum, nn. 16-17; underlining added.)

We see the truth of these teachings verified in Church history. For example, consider the case of the scandalous Pope John XII (reigned 955-963). Prince Octavian (his birth name) was only 16 years of age when elected, and he was a complete moral reprobate, as historian Fr. Fernand Mourret attests:

Nothing in his life marked him for this office, and everything should have kept him from it. He was rarely seen in church. His days and nights were spent in the company of young men and of disreputable women, in the pleasures of the table and of amusements and of the hunt, or in even more sinful sensual enjoyments. It is related that sometimes, in the midst of dissolute revelry, the prince had been seen to drink to the health of the devil. Raised to the papal office, Octavian changed his name and took the name of John XII. He was the first pope thus to assume a new name. But his new dignity brought about no change in his morals, and merely added the guilt of sacrilege.

Divine providence, watching over the Church, miraculously preserved the deposit of faith, of which this young voluptuary was the guardian. This Pope’s life was a monstrous scandal, but his bullarium is faultless. We cannot sufficiently admire this prodigy. There is not a heretic or a schismatic who has not endeavored to legitimate his own conduct dogmatically: Photius tried to justify his pride, Luther his sensual passions, Calvin his cold cruelty. Neither Sergius III nor John XII nor Benedict IX nor Alexander VI, supreme pontiffs, definers of the faith, certain of being heard and obeyed by the whole Church, uttered, from the height of their apostolic pulpit, a single word that could be an approval of their disorders.

At times John XII even became the defender of the threatened social order, of offended canon law, and of the religious life exposed to danger.

(Rev. Fernand Mourret, A History of the Catholic Church, Vol. 3 [St. Louis, MO: Herder Book Co., 1946], pp. 510-511; underlining added.)

The Papacy is specially protected by God. Sinful though Popes may personally be, no Catholic is permitted to deviate from their Magisterium.

Pope Leo XIII explicitly pointed out that it is not permissible to refuse submission to the current Pope by appealing to a past one, a future one, or an ecumenical council:

Similarly, it is to give proof of a submission which is far from sincere to set up some kind of opposition between one Pontiff and another. Those who, faced with two differing directives, reject the present one to hold to the past, are not giving proof of obedience to the authority which has the right and duty to guide them; and in some ways they resemble those who, on receiving a condemnation, would wish to appeal to a future council, or to a Pope who is better informed.

(Pope Leo XIII, Apostolic Letter Epistola Tua)

This is required of the faithful because God has guaranteed the Pope — any true Pope — to always be the safe and ultimate doctrinal guide for Catholics:

…the Church has received from on high a promise which guarantees her against every human weakness. What does it matter that the helm of the symbolic barque has been entrusted to feeble hands, when the Divine Pilot stands on the bridge, where, though invisible, He is watching and ruling? Blessed be the strength of his arm and the multitude of his mercies!

(Pope Leo XIII, Allocution to Cardinals, March 20, 1900; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, p. 349.)

The Pope has the divine promises; even in his human weaknesses, he is invincible and unshakable; he is the messenger of truth and justice, the principle of the unity of the Church; his voice denounces errors, idolatries, superstitions; he condemns iniquities; he makes charity and virtue loved.

(Pope Pius XII, Address Ancora Una Volta, Feb. 20, 1949)

The Pope, then, is guaranteed to always be Catholic. God has promised it! Do we believe this? To be Catholic, we must. Once again, the unconditional adherence to Catholic dogma is what separates the Catholic from the heretic. More about this topic can be found in our post, “The Impossibility of Judging or Deposing a True Pope.”

Cardinals do not have power over the Pope, not singly nor collectively. To those who object that just as the cardinals can confer the Papacy on someone when they elect him Pope in conclave, so they can also withdraw this same Papacy from him, it must be answered that this is not true: Cardinals merely designate the person to receive the Papacy. All the electors can do is choose someone to receive the Papacy from God; they do not give him the Papacy, as though this power came from themselves.

As reprehensible as the moral conduct of Francis and his henchmen and of other individual Novus Ordo clerics may be, and as much as we ought to join in condemning them for it, we must always remember that this is not what makes them false popes, false bishops, or false priests. A true Pope covering up sex abuse is possible; a Pope, cardinal, bishop, or priest can commit very wicked deeds against young men and women, even children, and he would not be any less valid of a Catholic hierarch because of it, although he would be, of course, incredibly evil and on his way to eternal punishment in hell (cf. Mk 9:41), and in the eyes of men his credibility would be severely curtailed.

Against the Protestants, the Council of Trent defined dogmatically: “If anyone shall say that together with the loss of grace by sin faith also is always lost, or that the faith that remains is not a true faith, though it be not a living one, or that he, who has faith without charity, is not a Christian: let him be anathema” (Session VI, Canon 28; Denz. 838). It is absolutely crucial to affirm this truth, and the current Vigano affair is threatening to obscure it. What makes the Vatican II Church not Catholic is not that some of its clerics are moral scoundrels but that they do not profess the true Faith but a different, foreign one (cf. Gal 1:8-9).

Just look at the doctrinal record of these anti-Catholic spiritual criminals:

These people are simply not Roman Catholics. Their church, their entire religion, is essentially different from that of Pope Pius XII and his predecessors, as is proved all over this web site. This is why we can and must reject them. They cannot be Catholic Popes because they are not even Catholics. And they cannot be true Popes because they have done things true Popes, possessing “the divine promises”, are divinely protected from doing.

To conclude this post, since we are to be “wise as serpents” (Mt 10:16), it befits us to ponder a hypothetical scenario, a scenario we might very well see materialize in the coming days or weeks, depending on how things progress with the Vigano affair: Suppose that Vigano lied in his testimony, at least with regard to Francis himself. What would this mean?

One of the most powerful ways to enhance one’s own credibility and generate sympathy from the masses is to orchestrate a very serious accusation against oneself that is afterwards uncovered as a lie. People naturally sympathize with someone who has been publicly demonstrated to be the victim of vicious slander. With regard to the Vigano testimony specifically, if it were to be proved false, it would confer on Francis and his cabal, in the minds of men, a status of victimhood and moral uprightness. It would also immensely weaken any opposition against him, whether it be concerning church governance, doctrine, or anything else.

It would behoove us, therefore, to keep in mind, just as a possibility, that the entire campaign against Francis is a ploy — a ploy to trigger sympathy for Francis and to root out his opponents by identifying them in this way and then removing them from their positions. It is noticeable that most of those who side with Vigano are those who oppose Francis already on other grounds; and those who side with Francis also generally agree with his open Modernism.

Under this hypothesis, Vigano could himself be part of the plan or not. In 2013, he was considered part of Francis “magic circle” of advisors and a “great enemy of Ratzinger” (source). This may just be the opinion of a single journalist and may not mean much. But then again, it might. Regardless of whether this is all a big game being played, the end result could be the same: Francis’ enemies would have revealed themselves by coming out against him, and he could remove them all essentially for a “treason” of sorts, and the world would applaud him or at least show sympathy for his action.

This would ensure three things: (1) It would be a warning to any future “traitors” never to cross him; (2) Francis could appoint countless new “bishops” after his own heart to fill the vacancies created by his bulk removals; and (3) any potential objections against Francis and his henchmen would forever be dismissed from the get-go as just another baseless conspiracy set up to bring him down. The result would be that Club Francis would, effectively, have become untouchable, and Bergoglio would emerge looking like a saint, a hero, incredibly powerful. This additional power boost would come in very handy for Francis and allow him to kick his revolution into even higher gear. And higher gear is surely what he is aiming for — considering his advanced age, he knows he doesn’t have decades left on this earth.

In pondering this possible scenario, one is reminded of Agatha Christie’s tale Witness for the Prosecution, in which a woman testifies in court against her husband, who stands accused of murder. Upon research and examination, the wife’s testimony is found wanting and she is exposed as a liar, thus resulting in her husband’s acquittal. This is precisely the outcome the woman had intended, for she knew that testifying in his defense would not have convinced the jury much, she being his wife and therefore naturally given to defend him. That the exonerated defendant then confesses his guilt is only one of the many twists to the movie’s ending.

Too fanciful? Too cynical? Perhaps. But don’t underestimate the ultimate force at work in all this wickedness: Satan himself, who is “a liar, and the father thereof” (Jn 8:44). As a being angelic in nature, the devil, for all his wickedness, is incredibly intelligent. Christ our Lord warned that before His Second Coming “there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect” (Mt 24:24). We must keep this in mind, that we will see not only a masterful deception but presumably the greatest deception ever perpetrated against souls.

Alternatively, there could be something else afoot: Assume all of Vigano’s allegations are true and Francis is somehow persuaded to resign (or perhaps he dies), and anyone who was ever involved with some kind of sex abuse scandal or cover-up is found out and removed. The remaining “cardinals” proceed to a new conclave and elect someone like Raymond Burke, who would, of course, choose the name Benedict XVII. Then it would all return to the Ratzinger days, and the Vatican II Sect would still be as heretical and pernicious to souls as ever, but this time everyone will have deceived himself into thinking that the Catholic Church has been re-established and purged of all error and corruption, having overcome Francis and all his wickedness.

No matter how you look at it, it is a big farce, veritably the “operation of error” prophesied by St. Paul (2 Thess 2:10).

Regardless of how this plays out, we hope that this new week will allow us to breathe a bit so we can focus again on other topics, those that truly prove the Vatican II Sect to be a false church and essentially different from the Catholic Church. We have a lot of new content in the pipeline, including: a treatise on the case of the fourteenth-century Pope John XXII and his alleged “heresy” on the Beatific Vision; an article on “Pope” Benedict XVI and the Jews; a long-overdue response to The Remnant‘s Chris Jackson regarding the suppression of the Jesuits; further posts on Francis’ recent Catechism revision on the death penalty; and much more.

Novus Ordo Watch offers all its content free of charge to the public, for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. We are a non-profit organization. People who would like to support our work financially may do so here (tax-deductible in the United States). Thank you.

Changing the Catechism

September 4th, 2018 by Vigilo

by Bishop Sanborn

In another decision which gave angst to the Novus Ordo conservatives, Bergoglio issued a document recently declaring that the 1992 catechism of John Paul II was wrong on capital punishment. This is the official text:

Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state.

Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

The teaching of the Catholic Church concerning capital punishment. The Church’s teaching is clear and certain from its ordinary universal magisterium. Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) imposed upon a group of returning heretics, known as the Waldenses, this profession of faith: “Concerning secular power we declare that without mortal sin it is possible to exercise a judgement of blood as long as one proceeds to bring punishment not in hatred but in judgement, not incautiously but advisedly.”


Pope Pius XII

Pope Pius XII defended capital punishment in a 1952 allocution to a Congress of Histopathology: “The public authority has the right of depriving the condemned person of the good of life, as an expiation of his crime, after he himself, by this crime, has stripped himself of his right to life.”

Sacred Scripture clearly supports the death penalty. We read in Romans XIII: 4: “For he [the prince] is God’s minister to thee, for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God’s minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil.”

In this passage the essential rationale for capital punishment is contained. The entire chapter thirteen is devoted to the theme that the heads of state are the representatives of God and wield the power of God. In the passage cited, Saint Paul clearly recognizes the power of the public authority to inflict capital punishment upon evildoers, for he does not bear the sword in vain, and, as God’s minister, is an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil. What could be more explicit? In the first verse of this chapter, Saint Paul explicitly states that all authority is from God, and that those who possess authority are God’s ministers: “Let every soul be subject to higher powers: for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God.”


This doctrine, that the State receives its authority from God, and that the heads of state are the ministers of God, is key to understanding the government’s right to inflict the death penalty. For it does so with God’s authority, just as it can authorize, by the same power, its citizens to go to war and inflict death on the enemy. For this same reason, a policeman may lawfully shoot to kill someone who is posing a mortal threat to either himself or other citizens.

Modern political thinking strips God from the authority of the State. It follows the teaching of the debauched, charlatanic, and insane Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who said that the State is the effect of a social contract, in which the majority of the people contract, as a group, with the government to carry out the good order of society. In this system, the State receives all of its power from the majority of citizens, and not from God. The citizens retain political power, and merely delegate it to the elected ministers. In such as case, those elected to govern must follow the ideas and wishes of the majority. Such a system clearly contradicts the teaching of Saint Paul concerning the State and government. It also argues that the death penalty cannot be inflicted, since there is no divine authority to inflict it, but simply the authority of a mob of equals.

Despite this false notion of politics and human society, no one in history has been more lavish in the use of the death penalty than modern governments, acting on the principles of Rousseau. Think of the death tally of socialism: 20,000,00 to 60,000,000 for Stalin, 30,000,000 to 40,000,000 for Mao Tse Tung. Think of the leftist government of revolutionary France, which made ample use of the guillotine on its political enemies. Think of the 60,000,000 aborted babies in the United States alone, which carries the right to life in its very Constitution. (The right to life of the unborn child was superseded in 1973 by a manufactured “right” which the Supreme Court concocted, namely the “right to privacy,” about which the Constitution is absolutely silent.)

In the Old Testament, we also see justification of the death penalty. In Exodus XXII:18, we read: “Wizards thou shalt not suffer to live. Whosoever copulateth with a beast shall be put to death. He that sacrificeth to gods, shall be put to death, save only to the Lord.” In Leviticus XXIV:17, we read: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Bring forth the blasphemer without the camp, and let them that heard him, put their hands upon his head, and let all the people stone him. And thou shalt speak to the children of Israel: the man that curseth his God, shall bear his sin: And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, dying let him die: all the multitude shall stone him, whether he be a native or a stranger. He that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, dying let him die. He that striketh and killeth a man, dying let him die.”

These are commands from God, who could not, by His infinite goodness, prescribe something that is immoral.


Saint Thomas Aquinas

All Catholic theologians assert the lawfulness of the death penalty. Listen to Saint Thomas Aquinas:

It is lawful to kill an evildoer in so far as it is directed to the welfare of the whole community, so that it belongs to him alone who has charge of the community’s welfare. Thus it belongs to a physician to cut off a decayed limb, when he has been entrusted with the care of the health of the whole body. Now the care of the common good is entrusted to persons of rank having public authority: wherefore they alone, and not private individuals, can lawfully put evildoers to death.

This is the same reasoning given by all theologians in regard to the death penalty. As I said, the fundamental principle is that the State acts as God’s minister in the government of society, and as such, has the right to deprive someone of his life if, as Pope Pius XII states, through his crimes he has already deprived himself of the right to life. Likewise a combatant in war loses his right to life inasmuch as he is a combatant, and may be lawfully killed.

This teaching concerning the lawfulness of the death penalty is something which is theologically certain, which is a technical designation in sacred theology for a doctrine which is deduced directly from principles which pertain to faith.

It is therefore certain that Bergoglio is all wrong about the death penalty, and is logically committed to denying articles of faith in asserting that it is “inadmissible.”

Analysis of Bergoglio’s statement. He first acknowledges that the lawfulness of the death penalty is the traditional doctrine. (Indeed, it even made it into the Novus Ordo catechism of 1992.) Next he posits the principle that “we know more” now, which is typically Modernist. Modernists believe in evolution of dogma,which was condemned as a heresy by Saint Pius X. Dogmas, say the Modernists, are true for their time. It is the way in which we perceive things at the time. As time progresses, however, we learn more, and our consciousness changes, and hence the dogmas must evolve with our progress of thinking.

The principle upon which he bases the reversal of this moral teaching of the Church is “human dignity.” He says we have “increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes.”

Human dignity is based on two things: (1) something natural, and (2) something supernatural. The natural human dignity is based on the fact that man, unlike the rest of earthly creation, is created in God’s image and likeness. It is true that this natural similarity to God is never lost. However, this may be said of the devil as well. The other and more important human dignity is the supernatural life of grace in the soul of man. This dignity is lost by mortal sin.

The popes in the past have spoken about human dignity from time to time, in passing, in the manner in which I have described. In pre-Vatican II documents, it is mentioned nine times. In Vatican II and post-Vatican II documents, it is mentioned around one hundred times.

Vatican II made human dignity an end in itself, that is, a moral principle to which all must conform, even God Himself. Vatican II teaches that the right to profess, practice, and proselytize a false religion pertains to human dignity, which is based on revelation. This means that God must grant, out of respect for human dignity, the right to publicly blaspheme Himself, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints through the adherence to and propagation of heresy.

Notice, then, that Bergoglio does not say that the death penalty is against the law of God, but that it is against human dignity. He says: “Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person’, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

No reference is given to the gospel. That is because there is none. In fact, Our Lord upholds the Old Testament Law requiring the death penalty for adultery when He says, in the case of the woman caught in adultery: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” If He had wished to abolish the death penalty, as He abolished other parts of the Old Testament Law, He would have clearly said so.

Furthermore, human dignity, whether in the natural sense or the supernatural sense, has nothing to do with crime and punishment. Punishment, whether by death or prison, has to do with the administration of justice and the order of society. One could just as easily argue that incarceration is contrary to human dignity. I have visited prisons many times, and I can say that there is hardly anything more degrading to human beings than to see them caged up like animals. Yet they are still creatures of God, made in His likeness, and it is quite conceivable that they be in the state of grace if they have repented of their crimes. Despite their incarceration, therefore, they can maintain their human dignity, both natural and supernatural. The same may be said for the death penalty. There is nothing undignified about paying a price for a crime which you have committed. It is to render justice. It is an act of virtue, when properly accepted, and is nothing less than the same act of virtue which requires us to pay our bills. There is nothing undignified about a man, who is guilty of a capital crime, confessing his crime and freely accepting the punishment due to it.

Changing doctrine. Bergoglio says that capital punishment is “inadmissible.” This means that no exceptions could be accorded. In moral theology such a statement is equivalent to saying that an act is intrinsically evil, that is, by its very nature evil. It is an act that can never be posited under any circumstances.

Bergoglio’s statement means, then, that the Church was wrong in its teaching up to now, that what it considered to be theologically certain is now certainly false. It means that the Church taught false moral teaching. It made lawful something that was “inadmissible,” that is, intrinsically evil.

Once you do this to one point of Catholic doctrine, the next question is: “Well, what else is wrong with the catechism?” It places a doubt upon everything the Church teaches. Dogmas and moral doctrine become something reversible in the course of time.


Vatican II. The root cause of this change in doctrine is Vatican II, as always. For the council changed many doctrines, but most notably the one concerning religious liberty, which was condemned by Pope Pius IX as being against the Scriptures, i.e., the revelation of God. Vatican II taught exactly what Pius IX condemned in a binding way.

Vatican II’s fundamental principle is the relativization of truth. It taught this idea, which is absolutely lethal to the Catholic Church, by its embracing of ecumenism and religious liberty.

The only way out of this doctrinal mess is the dumping of Vatican II, as I have always held. It is the root cause of the problem.