It has become painfully evident that Fr. Paul Kramer is getting his theology on a heretical Pope (which he also uses to justify his rejection of Pope Francis) exclusively from Sedevacantist websites. He is surely not getting it from St. Robert Bellarmine, even though that is the impression he wants to give his flock. In his latest Facebook pontification, Fr. Kramer recycles the same old, worn-out Sedevacantist argument which they based on an erroneous interpretation of Bellarmine’s famous “Fifth Opinion” from De Romano Pontifice.  Kramer claims that Christ will secretly depose a heretical pope, without the Church being involved in the process or even knowing that it has occurred, provided he is judged to be a “manifest heretic” by private judgment. 
       Kramer then takes his “interpretation” one step further by claiming that vigilante priests and laymen must judge for themselves whether the Pope meets the definition of a “manifest heretic” (they also must define the term for themselves) If they do, Kramer claims that they must declare that he has lost his office and therefore is not the legitimate pope – even if the entire Church continues to recognize him as such. 
       In order to justify his “interpretation” of the Fifth Opinion, Fr. Kramer is then forced to interpret the Second and Third Opinions, taken from the same chapter of the same book, as meaning the exact opposite of what Bellarmine wrote.   
       We have already refuted this argument in the most explicit terms, both in our book True or False Pope? and in our Sedevacantist Watch feature articles at We have done so by quoting directly from St. Bellarmine and other classical theologians, and we have also written a feature article against Fr. Cekada who likewise advanced this erroneous position. But Fr. Kramer wouldn’t know that, because he denounces a book and articles he’s never read, as well as the authors of the book and articles he’s never read.
       Nevertheless, we will refute this argument once again. In doing so, we will quote theologians who adhere to Bellarmine’s opinion on how a heretical pope loses his office, and who further explain precisely how it occurs.  And needless to say, it does not happen without the Church herself knowing about it, since Christ will not secretly depose a Roman Pontiff while the Church herself continues to recognize him as Pope.
   We will begin by citing Fr. Kramer’s latest error on St. Bellarmine.  Here he is commenting on what Bellarmine wrote in the Second Opinion:

Fr. Kramer: “Salza is up to his same old tricks. While Bellarmine does not refute the argument that a pope who is a manifest heretic loses office – he is speaking specifically of removal of the pope when he says the judgment of men is required to remove him. The fact of loss of office occurs ipso facto, but the heretic “pope” must be REMOVED by the judgment of the Church.”

The only one up to “his same old tricks” is Fr. Paul Kramer, because he has once again thrown out a brief, “hit and run,” and utterly erroneous “interpretation” of Bellarmine, while failing to actually quote the saint and Doctor, who happens to teach the exact opposite of Kramer’s interpretation, as we will see below. But this is presumably why Fr. Kramer operates his “Magisterium” on Facebook. The forum allows him to post small blurbs that his cult followers gobble up, without having to actually provide an expanded analysis of the theology (which he doesn’t understand anyway), or any quotations which back up his claims (including quotations from his opponents, who he rashly accuse of heresy). It also explains why he quickly blocked us from his Facebook page when we began to respond to and refute his arguments.
       As we saw above, in this latest blurb Fr. Kramer says that the heretical Pope is only “judged by men,” after he has fallen from office. In other words, according to Fr. Kramer, Bellarmine teaches that Christ secretly deposes the Pope (removes him from office) and then the man who is “judged” is no longer the Pope.  The “judgment of men,” he claims, simply concerns the Church’s physical removal of the former Pope from office.
       Is this what St. Bellarmine taught? No, he taught the contrary! And these bipolar positions of Bellarmine and Kramer give us reason to believe that Fr. Kramer has not even read Bellarmine’s treatment of the issue. Unfortunately, however, that wouldn’t stop Fr. Kramer from opining on Bellarmine’s theology, just as it hasn’t stopped him from denouncing our book, which he has not read.
       Before providing and commenting on the "Five Opinions" in his De Romano Pontifice, Bellarmine begins with this proposition: 

       “A Pope can be judged and deposed by the Church in the case of heresy; as is clear from Dist. 40, can. Si Papa: therefore, the Pontiff is subject to human judgment, at least in some case.”

       Notice, the issue Bellarmine is addressing is the deposition of a Pope, and whether the Pope (not a former Pope) “is subject to human judgment” in some cases, specifically, in the case of heresy.
       Bellarmine answers by refuting two opinions that he refers to as “extreme opinions.” These are the Second and Third opinions, and they are both based on the notion that the Church is forbidden to judge a Pope (not a former Pope) in the case of heresy, which is the position of Fr. Paul Kramer and his new friends, the Sedevacantists. 
       As we have demonstrated in prior features, these are the two opinions that the Sedevacantists have purposefully avoided posting on their websites and commenting on. Only after Bellarmine’s De Romano Pontifice was translated into English by Ryan Grant, and explicated by John Salza and Robert Siscoe in True or False Pope? were they forced to “address” them. 

The Second Opinion

       The “Second Opinion” commented on by Bellarmine is that a Pope who falls into heresy (even if it remains hidden), is immediately “deposed by God, for which reason he can be judged by the Church." That is, he loses his office ipso facto, before being judged, and is "then declared deposed by divine law, and deposed de facto, if he still refused to yield” (De Romano Pontifice). According to this opinion, which Bellarmine refutes, the Church is not rendering a judgment about a Pope; it is judging a former Pope who has already been “deposed by God.” 
       This is precisely the position of Fr. Paul Kramer who, as we saw above, argues that “the fact of loss of office occurs ipso facto,” the moment the Pope falls into public heresy, before he is judged by men. Kramer claims that the “judgment of men” is only necessary to remove him from the office that he already lost, which is precisely what is refuted.
       Now, Bellarmine goes on to say that this “extreme opinion” is founded on the erroneous belief that even a secret heretic is outside the Church, and therefore even a secret heretic is automatically “deposed” under “divine law.” That is why, according to this opinion, he would be deposed by God before being judged by the Church.
       Now, it is important to note that Bellarmine never says the Second Opinion (i.e., the loss of office by Divine Law before being judged by men) applies to secret heretics only; he just says it is founded on the opinion that even secret heretics are outside the Church, and therefore even secret heresy makes them “non-Catholics” under “divine law.”  The Second opinion would also apply to a Pope who was only considered a “public heretic” by private judgment (e.g., that of Fr. Kramer), but who was not a public heretic according to the Church’s judgment.  This should be self-evident since prelates who are judged to be “public heretics” by private opinion only, yet who continue to be recognized as Catholics in good standing by the Church, not only retain their legal membership in the Church, but retain their jurisdiction if they hold office. This obvious fact is a point that Fr. Kramer and his new Sedevacantist friends are unable to grasp.
       Some Sedevacantists (e.g., Richard Ibranyi) teach that even a Pope who is an occult (secret) heretic automatically loses his office under “divine law.” Others (such as Fr. Kramer) hold to the same principle that “heresy” automatically severs one from the Church under “divine law,” but then claim that a prelate whose heresy remains hidden retains his office. Where they err is by imagining that a Pope whom they personally judge to be a “public heretic” (but who has not been judged as such by the Church) automatically loses his office. Those who hold to Fr. Kramer’s position then argue and disagree amongst themselves over which Popes have, in fact, met the definition of public heretics, or "manifest heretics," and who have thereby automatically lost their office.  Such disagreements are inevitable when they are rooted in private judgment.
       As you can imagine, their private judgments about which popes have, and which popes have not, been true popes are completely inconsistent. According to the private judgment of most Sedevacantists, all the Popes from Vatican II forward have been “public heretics.” Some go back even further, claiming the last true Pope was Pius X, or Leo XIII, or Innocent III (d. 1130AD). Fr. Kramer’s private judgment, however, differs from those of his Sedevacantist colleagues. Kramer believes that Francis alone qualifies as a “public heretic,” and hence that all the others whom the Sedevacantists “judge” to have been “antipopes” were legitimate Popes. Such disagreements are legion among those who hold the Second Opinion (which Bellarmine refutes), and only underscores why a Pope must be a public heretic according to the Church’s judgment (not private judgment) before Christ will depose him (and a Pope does not lose his office by incurring an automatic excommunication, which is another error Fr. Kramer is spreading).

The Third Opinion

       The “Third Opinion,” which Bellarmine calls “another extreme,” is again based on the idea that a heretical Pope cannot be judged by the Church. But this opinion reaches an entirely different conclusion: According to this “Third Opinion,” since the Pope cannot be judged by the Church, it means “the Pope is not and cannot be deposed either by secret or manifest heresy.” In other words, the Church would be “stuck” with a heretical Pope precisely because it could not judge him to be a heretic.
       Bellarmine refutes this position by referring to the famous canon Si Papa, dist. 40 which explicitly states that heresy is the exception to the rule that “the First See is judged by no one.” This canon was on the books for eight centuries (before, during and after Vatican I), and is quoted regularly by the theologians who discuss the deposition of a heretical Pope.  The teaching found in Si Papa is also repeated by Pope Innocent who said that a Pope could be “judged by the Church” if he fell into heresy. Here is Bellarmine’s refutation of the Third Opinion:

       “Turrecremata in the aforementioned citation relates and refutes this opinion, and rightly so, for it is exceedingly improbable. Firstly, because that a heretical Pope can be judged is expressly held in the Canon, Si Papa, dist. 40, and with Innocent. And what is more, in the Fourth Council of Constantinople, Act 7, the acts of the Roman Council under Hadrian are recited, and in those it was contained that Pope Honorius appeared to be legally anathematized, because he had been convicted of heresy, the only reason where it is lawful for inferiors to judge superiors. Here the fact must be remarked upon that, although it is probable that Honorius was not a heretic … we still cannot deny that [Pope] Hadrian, with the Roman Council, and the whole Eighth Synod sensed that in the case of heresy, a Roman Pontiff can be judged. 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.”

       Here we see that Bellarmine cites canon law (Si Papa) and the authority of multiple Popes and a council to defend his position that a Pope can be judged in the case of heresy. And he is clear that “a heretical Pope [not a former Pope who already lost his office for heresy] can be judged” and “a Roman Pontiff [not a former Pontiff] can be judged.” And, to make it even clearer, and to dispel the objection of those like Fr. Kramer that Bellarmine was using the word “Pope” imprecisely (to really mean a non-Pope), Bellarmine explicitly states that heresy is “the only reason where it is lawful for inferiors to judge superiors.” Could it be any clearer? Do you now see why Sedevacantists have avoided Bellarmine’s rejection of this opinion? If the “Pope” being judged were really a former, fallen Pope, as Fr. Kramer argues, he would no longer be “superior” to his judges. And remember the context: Bellarmine is addressing the deposition of a living, reigning Pope (not a former Pope).
       In True or False Pope?, we actually provide a more nuanced understanding of how the Church “judges” a Pope, but Bellarmine does not do so.  He simply says that in the case of heresy, “a Roman Pontiff can be judged.”

Bellarmine's Teaching Fleshed Out by Fr. Pietro Ballarini

       The fact that the Pope (again, not a former Pope) is actually judged by his inferiors in the case of heresy was confirmed by Fr. Pietro Ballerini, the eminent eighteenth century theologian who was an adherent of Bellarmine and subscribed to his “Fifth Opinion” (i.e., the ipso facto loss of office for a manifest heretic).
       Ballerini not only explains how a Pope would become a “manifest heretic” according to the Church’s judgment, but he also states that all of the acts performed by the Church, which are necessary to reach such a judgment (i.e., ecclesiastical warnings), would be obligations of charity (fraternal correction), not jurisdiction (yet another critical distinction that Fr. Kramer fails to make in his impotent, theological Facebook pontifications).
       Ballerini explicitly states that “whatever would be done against him [a heretical Pope] before the declaration of his contumacy and heresy, in order to call him to reason, would constitute an obligation of charity, not of jurisdiction.”[1]
       The reason these acts are done in “charity” and not “jurisdiction” is precisely because they are done by the Pope’s inferiors, who have no jurisdiction over the Pope. Once again, this is because the Church is rendering a judgment on the Pope, not a former Pope, as Fr. Kramer argues. So not only does Fr. Kramer’s “interpretation” do violence to the wording of Bellarmine himself, but it is also refuted by Fr. Ballerini, who adhered to and fleshed out the teaching of Bellarmine.
       Here is Ballerini’s lengthy explanation of how a Pope, who has professed heresy, would become a “manifest heretic” according to the Church’s judgment. If Fr. Kramer won’t read De Romano Pontifice or True or False Pope?, we hope he will at least read this quotation, so he stops accusing those, who have a better grasp of the pertinent theology than he does, of the heresy of “Conciliarism”:

       “Is it not true that, confronted with such a danger to the faith [a Pope teaching heresy], any subject can, by fraternal correction, warn their superior, resist him to his face, refute him and, if necessary, summon him and press him to repent? The Cardinals, who are his counselors, can do this; or the Roman Clergy, or the Roman Synod, if, being met, they judge this opportune. For any person, even a private person, the words of Saint Paul to Titus hold: ‘Avoid the heretic, after a first and second correction, knowing that such a man is perverted and sins, since he is condemned by his own judgment’ (Tit. 3, 10-11). For the person, who, admonished once or twice, does not repent, but continues pertinacious in an opinion contrary to a manifest or defined dogma - not being able, on account of this public pertinacity to be excused, by any means, of heresy properly so called, which requires pertinacity - this person declares himself openly a heretic. He reveals that by his own will he has turned away from the Catholic Faith and the Church, in such a way that now no declaration or sentence of anyone whatsoever is necessary to cut him from the body of the Church. Therefore the Pontiff who after such a solemn and public warning by the Cardinals, by the Roman Clergy or even by the Synod, would remain himself hardened in heresy and openly turn himself away from the Church, would have to be avoided, according to the precept of Saint Paul. So that he might not cause damage to the rest, he would have to have his heresy and contumacy publicly proclaimed, so that all might be able to be equally on guard in relation to him. Thus, the sentence which he had pronounced against himself would be made known to all the Church, making clear that by his own will he had turned away and separated himself from the body of the Church, and that in a certain way he had abdicated the Pontificate…”

       As we can see, according to this “Fifth Opinion,” the Pope would be issued a solemn warning by the proper authorities, as an “obligation of charity” and “fraternal correction” (not “jurisdiction,” as Kramer falsely accuses his opponents of arguing). If the Pope persevered in his heresy following the warning, he would thereby manifest his pertinacity and hence be considered a “manifest heretic” according to the judgment of the Church. He would then, according to this opinion, fall from the pontificate ipso facto, without technically having to be deposed by the Church.  
       As we can see from the above citation, Ballerini holds that the fall would take place before the declaratory sentence was issued.  Suarez, who held to the Fifth Opinion, maintains that it would immediately follow the declaratory sentence (the reason for the technical difference will be explained in a moment).  But both Ballerini and Suarez disagree with the “Fourth Opinion” in De Romano Pontifice, which maintains that after establishing that the Pope is a heretic, the Church would have to perform an additional ministerial act (namely, issuing a Vitandus declaration that separated the Church from the Pope) before Christ would authoritatively depose him.
       Now, as mentioned above, some theologians who hold to the Fifth Opinion (ipso facto loss of office for a manifest heretic), maintain that the fall from office would take place before the Church issued the declaratory sentence of the crime.  Others who hold to the Fifth Opinion teach that it would occur immediately after the Church issued the declaratory sentence.  The former hold their position in order to avoid any difficulties with the Church inappropriately “judging” the Pope.  The latter group maintains that issuing a declaratory sentence against a Pope does not violation the famous axiom “The First See is Judged by No One”.  The Church herself has not definitively settled the matter, but this fact hasn’t stop the prideful Sedevacantists from pretending to do so based on their own private judgment.
       But in either case, the fall would not take place before the Church itself established the crime – that is, before the Pope (not a former Pope) is judged to be a “manifest heretic,” according to the Church’s judgment

Returning to the Second Opinion

       Now that we have seen what the Church would do in order to establish that a Pope who professed heresy is a “manifest heretic,” (which requires public pertinacity), let’s return to Bellarmine’s comments on the Second Opinion. 
       Remember, the Second Opinion (held by Fr. Kramer and the Sedevacantists) maintains that the Pope falls from office for heresy under Divine law before he is judged by the Church. In refuting this opinion, Bellarmine responds by saying that God does not remove a Pope from office “except through men,” just as God does not make a man Pope except through men. In other words, just as God himself only makes a man Pope after the Church itself judges that he should be Pope (by the election), so too, God will not depose a heretical Pope until men (the proper authorities) have judged his heresy. Only then will he be ipso facto deposed by Christ. Wrote Bellarmine:

       “Jurisdiction is certainly given to the Pontiff by God, but with the agreement of men [who elect him], as is obvious; because this man, who beforehand was not Pope, has from men that he would begin to be Pope; therefore, he is not removed by God unless it is through men. But a secret heretic cannot be judged by men, nor would such wish to relinquish that power by his own will. Add, that the foundation of this opinion is that secret heretics are outside the Church, which is false, and we will amply demonstrate this in our tract de Ecclesia, bk 1.”

       Again, Bellarmine explicitly states that a heretical Pope will not be removed by God, “unless it is through men” who first judge him (the Pope, not a former Pope) to be a heretic. What this shows is that a heretical Pope is not deposed when God judges him to be a heretic for violating divine law (since even secret heretics are guilty of violating divine law). Rather, he is deposed by God and removed by men only after men judge that he is a manifest heretic in the first place (as explained above by Fr. Ballerini).
       Bellarmine’s fellow Jesuit, Francisco Suarez, teaches the same.  As noted above, Suarez held to the common opinion of his day, which maintained that the fall would occur after the declaratory sentence was issued. He wrote:

       “[T]he Church does not validly exercise any act of jurisdiction against the Pope, nor is the [Papal] power conferred [on the man] by the election; rather the Church merely designates a person upon whom Christ confers the power by himself; therefore when the Church would depose a heretical Pope, it does not act superior to him, but from the consensus of Christ the Lord it juridically declares him to be a heretic, and even altogether unworthy of the dignity of Pope; he would then ipso facto and immediately be deposed by Christ.”[2]

       Notice, a heretical Pope is deposed by Christ only after being judged by men, just like Bellarmine said. In the same treatise, Suarez was even more emphatic that a Pope will not lose his office for heresy before being judged by men:

       “[I]in no case, even that of heresy, is the Pontiff deprived of his dignity and of his power immediately by God himself, before the judgment and sentence of men. This is the common opinion today.”[3]

       As we can see, this is not the sole opinion of one theologian, but the “common opinion” of the theologians during the days in which Bellarmine and Suarez lived (and they lived at the same time). And we should further note that the Church’s real theologians who have studied this matter in depth (unlike Fr. Kramer) teach that Bellarmine and Suarez held the same opinion, such as John of St. Thomas (17th century), and Cardinal Journet (20th century). We have already explained all of this in our book True or False Pope?, but Fr. Kramer refuses to read it. Instead, he publicly attacks it in online and accuses its authors of holding positions that they not only reject, but thoroughly refute in the book.
       Perhaps some of Fr. Kramer’s disciples will now see why he blocked us from his Facebook page, preventing us (who Kramer now calls “pipsqueaks”) from interacting with his erroneous posts directly (it’s sad to see a priest attacking us with such juvenile language). Evidently, he doesn’t want to be challenged by the “pipsqueaks” in front of his sheep, because he doesn’t want his sheep to scatter. And no doubt he’s also betting that many of them won’t bother to read our material (one of his sheep even took a picture of our book in a trash can, which no doubt pleased Fr. Kramer very much).  Hopefully, those whom Fr. Kramer has not yet blocked from his Facebook page will be able to get our replies into his forum, so that those who are really searching for the truth, but have been deceived by Kramer, will finally get to see what the Church and her theologians actually teach. 
       Before concluding, let us address one final objection that Fr. Kramer raised. Unfortunately, we are unable to quote him directly since he has blocked us from accessing his Facebook page.  The objection was presented to us by someone who still has access to Kramer’s page:


       When Pope Innocent III said a heretical Pope “can be judged by men,” he really meant that the Church only demonstrates that he has “already been judged,” since, as our Lord said, “he who does not believe is already judged.” But if he was “already judged” by Christ, it means he has already lost his office. 


       Being judged by Christ as an unbeliever does not mean the Pope has been deprived by Christ of his office. The two are not equivalent.  Even Fr. Kramer would have to concede this point since he acknowledges that a secret heretic remains Pope. But even a secret heretic has already been judged by Christ as an unbeliever. Hence, it is evident that being judged by Christ as an unbeliever does not imply that he has already been deprived by Christ of his office.
       As the great canonist, Fr. Paul Laymann, another contemporary of Bellarmine and fellow member of the Jesuit Order, said, if a heretical pope is being “tolerated by the Church, and publicly recognized as the universal pastor, he would really enjoy the pontifical power, in such a way that all his decrees would have no less force and authority than they would if he were truly faithful. The reason is: because it is conducive to the governing of the Church, even as, in any other well-constituted commonwealth, that the acts of a public magistrate are in force as long as he remains in office and is publicly tolerated.”[4]
       Indeed, so long as the conciliar Popes (including Pope Francis) have “remained in office” (an office that even the Sedevacantist bishop Donald Sanborn acknowledges they lawfully hold), then they enjoy the “pontifical power” (jurisdiction).  And even if the Pope is in heresy, his acts “have no less force and authority than they would if he were truly faithful.” This is the end of the road for Fr. Paul Kramer and his butchered analysis of St. Robert Bellarmine.


       Fr. Kramer, you would do well to cut your losses now and quietly back out of this debate. If you cannot currently see your errors, which have been sufficiently demonstrated to you, take the safer course, as moral theology dictates, by refraining from any further commentary, at least for the good of those souls who have unfortunately chosen to follow you. Or, better still, wait to provide additional commentary until after you have actually read our book, which is what a reasonable and prudent (and sane) person would do. As you may already be finding out, even those in your “Resistance” camp are embarrassed by your actions, since no one in their right mind attacks a book they have not read – especially a book that addresses complex and technical theological issues, and makes dozens if very critical distinctions that you certainly have not made, but would perhaps have learned, had you read the book.

[1] Ballerini, De Potestate Ecclesiastica, (Monasterii Westphalorum, Deiters, 1847), ch. 6, sec. 2, p. 125.
[2] De Fide, disp. X, sect. VI, n. 10.
[3] De Fide, disp. X, sect. VI, n. 3.
[4] Laymann, Theol. Mor., bk. 2, tract 1, ch. 7, p. 153 (emphasis added).