Robert Siscoe and John of St. Thomas Respond to Fr. Cekada

Robert Siscoe and John of St. Thomas Respond to Fr. Cekada

(Published in Catholic Family News)

By Robert J. Siscoe

Fr. Cekada posted a response on his website to my April, 2014 article, titled Bellarmine and Suarez on the Question of a Heretical Pope. (1) Skipping over the citations included in the article, which confirmed that the intervention of the proper ecclesiastical authorities is necessary for a sitting Pope to be declared deprived of his office due to heresy, Fr. Cekada zeroed in on one point in particular - namely, my assertion that, according to Bellarmine, a Pope becomes a “manifest heretic” by remaining obstinate after being publicly warned.

Now, if my assertion is correct, it reveals a fundamental flaw in one of the principle arguments (if not the principle argument) used in defense of the Sedevacantist position, which could result in an unraveling of the entire Sedevacantist thesis. Fr. Cekada, being well aware of this, reacted at once by posting an article of his own on his website in an attempt to counter my assertion. Fr. Cekada’s attempted refutation included two points: 1) He claims that Bellarmine never said a pope must be warned before losing his office due to manifest heresy. 2) He also argued that two quotations (one from Bellarmins’s fourth opinion and another from Bellarmine’s fifth opinion) which were included together in the article (separated by an ellipses) were referring to “two different issues”. As we will see later, these two quotations do not refer to two different issues, but are logically connected one to another.

I contacted Fr. Cekada directly to ask if he would allow me to respond to his public allegation (which, I’m sorry to say, was replete with sarcastic insults and name-calling), and if he would be willing to include my response beneath his own article on his website. He replied cordially by saying that his website is just not set up for that sort of thing, and furthermore, if he permitted me to respond to his public allegations, he’d have to do the same for others. Heaven forbid! But to his credit, he did edit the original piece by removing most of the sarcastic insults and inappropriate name-calling, thereby bringing his article slightly more in accord with what one would expected from a person who had been elevated to the dignity of the priesthood.

As Providence would have it, after reading Fr. Cekada’s piece, and while looking up the source for a quotation I had used in the April article, I happened across an extremely thorough treatise on the deposition of a heretical pope, which, as far as I know, has never been translated into English (at least not in its entirety). I discovered it in Cursus Theologici, Tract. De Auctoritate Summi Pontificis, Disp II, Art III (1640), written by John of St. Thomas, who is considered one of the greatest minds of the “Counter-Reformation” era, as it is sometimes called. This brilliant professor of Scholastic theology and philosophy, who is recognized as one of the foremost Thomists the Church has known - possibly second only to St. Thomas himself - addresses every aspect of the question with incredible precision, utilizing Thomistic metaphysics and unassailable logic, while citing historical examples and canon law. Through the use of distinctions, he reconciles apparent contradictions in the writings of theologians over this question, and explains, in precise detail, the way in which a heretical pope falls from the Pontificate.

His treatise reveals many errors of today’s Sedevacantists, using some of the same arguments that have appeared in this publication. He even discusses, at length, and confirms the very point I made in the April 2014 article - which Fr. Cekada mocked an ridiculed as “windbaggery from someone who has no idea what he is talking about” – namely, that Bellarmine held the position that a heretical Pope must be warned before losing his office due to heresy.

I will use this response to Fr. Cekada to introduce some of the material contained in this magnificent treatise, which will likely be published, in its entirety, in an upcoming book on Sedevacantism, which should be out in the Spring of 2015.

John of St. Thomas lists the sequence of events for the loss of office for a heretical Pope as follows:

1) A Pope who professes heresy is, in accord with divine law, publicly warned by the proper authorities.

2) If the Pope shows himself manifestly obstinate after being duly warned, a declaratory sentence is issued for the crime of heresy, and the faithful are informed that, according to divine law (Titus 3:10), he must be avoided.

3) Since a Pope cannot govern the Church if he must be avoided by the faithful, God Himself severs the bond that unites the man to the office, and he falls, ipso facto, from the Pontificate, even “before any excommunication or judicial sentence”, by the Church, as Bellarmine himself taught.

4) A General Council issues a second declaration (declaration of deprivation) stating that the Pope has deprived himself of his office. At this point the former pope is judged and punished by the Church.

Notice that the declaratory sentence (#2) and the declaration deprivation (#4) are two separate and distinct events. This is an important point, since it clarifies something that Sedevacantists, such as Fr. Cekada, have missed. All they have considered, regarding this point, is the two-fold opinion regarding how a heretical pope loses his office: one opinion maintains that the Church deposes the pope; the other holds that he loses his office ipso facto, and the Church merely confirms what has already taken place (thereby avoiding the heresy of Conciliarism, which claims that the Church has authority over a pope). But both of these opinions only pertain to the final declaration. What the Sedevacantists have failed to grasp is that before we get to the declaration of deprivation (point #4), both opinion agree that the Church must establish that the Pope has fallen into heresy.

This point was explained by the canonist S.B. Smith. In his classic work, Elements of Ecclesiastical Law (1881), we find the following:

“Question: Is a Pope who falls into heresy deprived, ipso jure, of the Pontificate?

"Answer: There are two opinions: one holds that he is by virtue of divine appointment, divested ipso facto, of the Pontificate; the other, that he is, jure divino, only removable. Both opinions agree that he must at least be declared guilty of heresy by the Church - i.e., by an ecumenical council or the College of Cardinals.” (2)

Notice that Fr. Smith addresses both opinions regarding the question of how a pope loses his office (which relates to point #4 above), and then notes that “both opinions agree that he must at least be declared guilty of heresy by the Church.” (point #2).

And it should be noted that Fr. Smith’s book was carefully examined by two canonists in Rome following its initial publication. The Preface of the Third Edition explains that Cardinal Simeoni, Prefect of the Propaganda Fide, “appointed two Consultors, doctors in canon law, to examine the ‘Elements’ and report to him. The Consultors, after examining the book for several months, made each a lengthy report to the Cardinal-Prefect”. (3) Their detailed reports noted five inaccuracies or errors that required revision. The above quotation was not cited as an error, or even a slight inaccuracy. Hence it remained in the Third revised Edition from which the above quotation was taken. If the statement was in incorrect, it would have been noted by the canonist and revised. The fact that it was not revised shows that the statement is correct.

It only makes sense that a Pope would not lose his office without the Church performing the ministerial function necessary to establish the crime, since if a pope were to lose his office without the Church knowing about, or in any way being involved in the process, Catholics would never have absolute certainty that a pope who defined a dogma, or ratified a council, was a true pope, or an antipope, since they would never have absolute certainty that he had not previously fallen into heresy and thereby lost his office. Everything would be in a state of uncertainty and left to the private judgment of each individual to decide. The scrupulous would be paralyzed by doubt, and the instable would fall into the most outrageous conclusions.

And we can see where it leads when individual Catholics in the pew begin to decide for themselves who is, and who is not, a true Pope, when we consider that we now have a Sedevacantist author who claims that all the popes since Innocent (d. 1143) have been anti-popes. The following was recently posted on his website:

"As of January 2014, I have discovered conclusive evidence that all the so-called popes and cardinals from Innocent II (1130-1143) onward have been idolaters or formal heretics and thus were apostate antipopes and apostate anticardinals.”

This shows where the Protestant notion of private judgment leads when it is used as the basis for determining who is and who is not a true Pope. For this reason, a pope will not lose his office ipso facto by divine law, without the Church first establishing the fact of the crime.

The Necessity of a Warning

St. Bellarmine lists five opinions regarding the loss of office for a heretical Pope. The fourth and fifth opinions refer to the two opinions discussed above by Fr. Smith – namely, whether a heretical Pope loses his office ipso facto (fifth opinion), or is jure divinodeposable (fourth opinion). Bellarmine holds to the more common fifth opinion regarding this question.

“Therefore, the true opinion is the fifth” wrote Bellarmine, “according to which the Pope manifestly a heretic ceases by himself to be Pope and head, in the same way as he ceases to be a Christian and a member of the body of the Church; and for this reason he can be judged and punished by the Church.”

But the question dealt with in the April article still remains: what did Bellarmine himself mean by the term “manifest heretic”? The answer is not given in Bellarmine’s explanation and defense of the fifth opinion, but is found in his objection and refutation of the fourth opinion.

In his objection to the fourth opinion, Bellarmine employed the use of a syllogism (4) in order to arrive at a theological conclusion that refutes it. A theological conclusion is a conclusion derived from two premises, one of which is a revealed truth (the Major), while the other is a truth known by reason (the Minor). The following is the syllogism used by Bellarmine.

Major: According to St. Paul, a heretic must be avoided after two warnings.

Minor: A Pope who remains Pope cannot be avoided (for how could the Church avoid its head?).

Conclusion: A manifest heretic cannot be the pope.

The following is all contained in a single paragraph in the original:

“The fourth opinion is that of Cajetan, for whom the manifestly heretical Pope is not ipso facto deposed, but can and must be deposed by the Church. To my judgment, this opinion cannot be defended. For, in the first place, it is proven with arguments from authority [Major] and from reason [Minor] that the manifest heretic is ipso facto deposed, The argument from authority is based on Saint Paul (Titus, 3:10), who orders that the heretic be avoided after two warnings, that is, after showing himself to be manifestly obstinate which means before any excommunication or judicial sentence [Major] (…) . Now, a Pope who remains Pope cannot be avoided, for how could we be required to avoid our own head? [Minor] … therefore the manifest heretic cannot be Pope.” [Conclusion]

Now, before showing how this syllogism requires a warning for a pope to be considered a manifest heretic, I need to address Fr. Cekada’s primary argument against my April article. He claimed that a single quotation from the article, which included a statement from Bellarmine’s fourth opinion, along with a statement from the fifth opinion (the two being separated by an ellipses), were completely unrelated. He wrote: “You don’t have to be a Latinist to figure out that two passages with several intervening columns in small print might just possibly refer to two different issues.” He then used this assertion as the basis for a sarcastic ad hominem attack, which, unfortunately, is a common tactic of Fr. Cekada against anyone who dares to write against the errors of Sedevacantism.

What Fr. Cekada apparently didn’t realize (or pretended not to realize), is that the two quotations included the Major from the syllogism (found in the fourth opinion), along with a statement from the fifth opinion that is virtually identical to the Conclusion of the syllogism. Hence, there is a logical relation between the two citations, which Fr. Cekada claimed not to have seen. The following is how the syllogism reads when the quotation from the fifth opinion replaces the Conclusion from the syllogism in the fourth opinion:

Major: According to St. Paul, a heretic must be avoided after two warnings.
Minor: A Pope who remains Pope cannot be avoided. But how can we avoid our head?
Conclusion: The Pope manifestly a heretic ceases by himself to be Pope.

A simple comparison between the above Conclusion (statement taken from the fifth opinion), and the Conclusion found in the syllogism in the fourth opinion (“the manifest heretic cannot be Pope”), shows that the two statements are virtually identical. Therefore, quoting the Major from the fourth opinion, along with the above statement from the fifth opinion (as was done in the April article), was not connecting together “two different issues”, as Fr. Cekada claimed. Rather, the latter half of the quote is the logical conclusionto the former when you add the Minor. Did Fr. Cekada really not notice this?

How much more appropriate would it have been for Fr. Cekada to have e-mailed me directly for a clarification, rather than posting a sarcastic and insulting article on his website for all the world to see? Is such common courtesy too much to expect from a priest? The question that remains is whether Fr. Cekada will be honest enough to remove the public detraction from his website, now that he has been alerted to his mistake.

Now back to the main the issue: what did Bellarmine mean by the term “manifest heretic”? Notice that the Major in Bellarmine’s syllogism (the revealed premise used to establish why a manifestly heretical pope loses his office) requires a warning, according to the authority of St. Paul. What this shows is that, according to Bellarmine, a pope is not considered a manifest heretic prior to being warned. Fr. Cekada denies this and instead claims the only reason Bellarmine quoted the verse (Titus 3:10) was to show that “heresy is a type of self-judgement that puts you (and by extension, a heretical pope) outside the Church.” But, with all due respect, Fr. Cekada is mistaken. That’s not why Bellarmine cited that particular verse. It was quoted because a warning is necessary. In fact, this principle of divine law is enshrined in canon law, which also requires that a warning be given (canon 2314.2) followed by a declaratory sentence (2223.4).

In fact, a warning is considered so essential that it is even required for a prelate who publicly defects from the Faith (Canon 188.4) by joining a false religion, whether formally (sectae acatholicae nomen dare) or informally (publice adhaerere). Although canon law does not require a declaratory sentence in this instance, it does require a warning before the cleric is degraded. (5) This shows how absolutely essential the Church considers a warning to be to establish pertinacity.

The Purpose of a Warning

The purpose of the warning is to establish whether or not the person is pertinacious in his rejection of a dogma, rather than merely mistaken, or perhaps only guilty of a regrettable statement made out of human weakness. Since pertinacity is a necessary element of heresy, it does not suffice that its presence be presumed; it must be confirmed. A warning is a means for establishing whether a person in material heresy is or is not pertinacious. If a warning is necessary to establish pertinacity in the case of a priest or Bishop (according to canon law), why would it be unnecessary in the case of a Pope? Is the bar set lower for “he who judges all and is judged by no one”, than for those of a lower rank?

Commenting on the proposition that a pope who is externally a heretic, but who has not been warned, remains pope, John of St. Thomas wrote:

“This statement… is obvious and is not contradicted by Bellarmine. The truth is evident for the following reason: the pope insofar as he is externally a heretic, if he is prepared to be corrected, cannot be deposed (as we have said above), and the Church, by divine law, cannot declare him deposed, as it cannot yet avoid him, since, according to the Apostle [Paul], ‘a man who is a heretic is to be avoided, after the first and second warning’. Therefore, before the first and second warning, he is not to be avoided by the Church...Therefore, it is falsely said that a Pontiff, by the very fact that he is a heretic externally is deposed: truly, he is able to be so publicly as long as he has not yet been warned by the Church....”

This teaching of John of St. Thomas is confirmed by the eminent 18th Century Italian theologian, Fr. Petri Ballerini – who is an adherent of Bellarmine’s fifth opinion. A portion of the following quote was included in the April article, but what was not specifically pointed out is that, according to Fr. Ballerini, before the Pope is warned he is still a legitimate Pope (which will become more clear in the commentary that follows). He begins by saying that a Pontiff who “defended heresy” would be a grave danger to the faith. He then asks who would have the authority to issue a warning to a Pope, and explains what such a warning would accomplish:

“Is it not true that, confronted with such a danger to the faith, 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 form 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, maintained himself hardened in heresy and openly turned 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…” (6)

Notice that he begins by explaining that an inferior can warn a superior. The reason he mentions this is because the Cardinals, or those who are charged with issuing the public warning, are inferior to the Pope. What this shows is that, according to Fr. Ballerini, a Pope who “defended heresy” would still be Pope prior to the public warning – just like John of St. Thomas said – since a “Pope” who had already lost his office due to heresy would no longer be superior to the Cardinals. Only after remaining obstinate in the face of the “public and solemn” warning would pertinacity be sufficiently manifest. Prior to the public warning, and up to the time of the public declaration, the man would still be a legitimate Pope. This point becomes more evident from what Fr. Ballerini had to say next:

“One sees then that in the case of a heresy, to which the Pontiff adhered privately, there would be an immediate and efficacious remedy… for in this hypothesis whatever would be done against him before the declaration of his contumacy and heresy, in order to call him to reason, would constitute an obligation of charity, not of jurisdiction; and if, after his turning away from the Church had been made manifest, there was a sentence passed on him by the Council, such a sentence would be pronounced against one who was no longer Pope nor superior to the Council.” (7)

Notice that all of the actions (warnings, rebukes, etc.) that occurred before the “declaration of his contumacy and heresy” would be directed to one who was still Pope, which is why such actions would constitute an obligation of charity, rather than jurisdiction (since the Cardinals have no jurisdiction over a Pope). This citation confirms what John of St. Thomas said above, namely, that even if a Pope appears to be a heretic externally, he does not lose his office until he has been duly warned by the proper authorities.

And it doesn’t suffice that the warning be given by a private individual. John of St. Thomas addresses this point directly. In the following quote, he begins by noting that even Bellarmine maintains that a warning is required, which is the very point I made in the April article that Fr. Cekada ridiculed. John of St. Thomas then explains why the warning must come from the proper authorities, and why a public declaration must follow if the warning goes unheeded. He begins by saying: “in truth, Bellarmine objects [to the fourth opinion] by saying the Apostle teaches that a heretic, after two warnings, must be avoided,” and then added:

“A heretic ought to be avoided after two juridical warnings made by Church authority, and not according to private judgment. For great confusion would follow in the Church if it would suffice that this warning could be made by a private individual...”

He then explains why it is necessary for the Church (the proper authorities) to issue a public declaration advising the faithful that, according to divine law, the man is to be avoided.

“For the pope’s heresy cannot be public to all of the faithful except by an indictment brought by others. But the indictment of an individual does not bind, since it is not juridical, and consequently none would be obliged to accept it and avoid him. Therefore, it is necessary that, just as the Church designates the man and proposes him to the faithful as being elected Pope, thus also the Church declares him a heretic and proposes him as one to be avoided.”

The Effect of the Warning and Declaratory Sentence

John of St. Thomas has some very interesting things to say about the effects of the warning and declaratory sentence, and how these relate to the loss of office.

Firstly, as we have seen, the warning serves to determine whether the Pope is indeed pertinacious. Once pertinacity is manifest, the Church issues a declaratory sentence of the crime and informs the faithful that, according to divine law, he is to be avoided. Now, since a person cannot effectively govern the Church as its head while simultaneously being avoided by those he is to govern, the Pope is effectively rendered impotent by this declaration. John of St. Thomas explains it this way:

“The Church is able to declare the crime of a Pontiff and, according to divine law, propose him to the faithful as a heretic that must be avoided. The Pontiff, however, by the fact of having to be avoided, is necessarily rendered impotent by the force of such a declaration, since a Pope who is to be avoided is unable to influence the Church as its head.”

Being incapable of effectively ruling the Church due to his manifest heresy, God himself severs the bond that unites the man to the office, and he falls ipso facto from the Pontificate - even before being formally declared deprived of the Pontificate by the Church.

It should also be noted, as Fr. Wernz S.J. observed, that the declaratory sentence of the crime “does not have the effect of judging a heretical pope, but of demonstrating that he has already been judged.” (8) Pope Innocent III made this same point, which highlights a distinction made by the canonists between judging the Pope, and declaring him judged. Commenting on the verse “if the salt lose its savor, it is good for nothing,” Pope Innocent wrote:

“[T]he Roman Pontiff … should not mistakenly flatter himself about his power, nor rashly glory in his eminence or honor, for the less he is judged by man, the more he is judged by God. I say ‘less’ because he can be judged by men, or rather shown to be judged, if he clearly loses his savor to heresy, since he ‘who does not believe is already judged’ (John 3:18)…” (9)
John of St. Thomas goes on to explain how the Church plays a ministerial part in the deposition, rather than an authoritative part, since the Church has no authority over a Pontiff - even in the case of heresy. He employs the Thomistic concepts of form and matter to explain how the union between the man and the pontificate is dissolved. A distinction is made between the man (the matter), the Pontificate (the form), and the bond that unites the two. He explains that the Church plays a ministerial part in the deposition of a Pope, just as she plays a ministerial part in the election. During the election of a Pope, the Church designates the man (the matter), who is to receive the pontificate (the form) immediately from God. Something similar happens when a Pope loses his office due to heresy. Since “the Pope is constituted Pope by the power of jurisdiction alone” (10) (which he is unable to effectively exercise if he must be avoided) when the Church issues the declaratory sentence and presents him to the faithful as one that must be avoided, the Church thereby introduces a disposition into the matter (the man) that renders him incapable of sustaining the form (the Pontificate). God responds to this legitimate act of the Church (which it has a right do to in accord with divine law) by withdrawing the form from the matter, thereby causing the man to fall from the Pontificate.

John of St. Thomas delves deeper into this point by clarifying that the Church acts directly on the matter, but only indirectly on the form (the Pontificate). He describes this point using the analogy of man. He explains that just as the generative act of man does not produce the form (the soul), neither does that which corrupts and destroys the matter (disease, etc) directly touch the form - nor does the corrupting element directly cause the separation of the form from the matter (but only renders the matter incapable of sustaining the form) - so too is it with the election and deposition of the Pope. In both cases the actions of the Church are directed to the matter (the man) and only indirectlyand ministerially to the form (the Pontificate). In the election, the Church designates the man (matter) who is to receive the form (Pontificate). In the deposition, the Church juridically declares the man to be judged and therefore to be avoided, and God Himself severs the bond that unites the form to the matter, causing the man to fall from the Pontificate.

Having fallen from the pontificate due to his heresy being manifest and declared to all, the former pope can then “be judged and punished by the Church”, as Bellarmine himself said. At this point, a Council would declare the see vacant (Sede Vacante) so that the Cardinals could proceed to the election of a new Pope.

Of course, none of this has occurred with the post-conciliar Popes, who, faced with a public and solemn warning, may very well have renounced their errors and claimed they never intended teach other than what the Church herself teaches.

Yet Sedevacantists, based on a hasty and superficial reading of Bellarmine, skip over all this and take matters into their own hands. Imagining that a manifest heretic is one they personally judge to be a heretic, they conclude that if they themselves become “morally certain” that the man is guilty of heresy it must mean he is not the pope. They then write articles explaining to others how they too can “detect” heresy in the pope in the hope that they will also become “morally certain” the man is a heretic and adopt the Sedevacantist position. This is one of their means of proselytism.

The Church is a visible society; who is and who is not a member of the hierarchy is not a matter of personal opinion. John of St. Thomas addresses this point directly, when he said a pope who is a manifest heretic, according to private judgment, remains pope. He wrote:

“So long as he has not been declared to us juridically as an infidel or heretic, be he ever so manifestly heretical according to private judgment, he remains, as far as we are concerned, a member of the Church, and consequently its head. The Church’s judgment is required, whereby he is proposed [to the faithful] as a non-Christian, and therefore to be avoided. It is only then that he ceases to be pope as far as we are concerned.”

John of St. Thomas also discusses at length why only a General Council (an “imperfect council”) can declare the See vacant. We find the same teaching in Manuale Theologiae Dogmaticae, which states that, in the case of a Pope who is a notorious heretic, only a Council would have the right to declare his See vacant:

“Given that, as a private person, the Pontiff could indeed become a public, notorious, and obstinate heretic… only a Council would have the right to declare his see vacant so that the usual electors could safely proceed to an election.” (11)

This teaching is in perfect harmony with the following from St. Bellarmine himself. He begins by explaining how the faithful can distinguish a true prophet (12) from a false prophet, namely, by “watching carefully to see if the one preaching says the contrary of his predecessors”. Then, a paragraph later he adds:

“We must point out, besides, that the faithful can certainly distinguish a true prophet from a false one, by the rule that we have laid down, but for all that, if the pastor is a bishop, they cannot depose him and put another in his place. For Our Lord and the Apostles only lay down that false prophets are not to be listened to by the peopleand not that they depose them. And it is certain that the practice of the Church has always been that heretical bishops be deposed by bishop's councils, or by the Sovereign Pontiff.” (13)

Here we see Bellarmine’s true thinking on this point. He doesn’t say that if an individual personally judges the Bishop to be a heretic, they can declare him a “manifest heretic” and then proclaim that he has lost his office. No. A heretic can be spotted, as he explains, but if the heretic is a bishop he is only to be deposed (or declared deprived) by the proper authorities. Also notice Bellarmine’s implicit endorsement of the “recognize and resist” (R&R) position, when he says (quoting our Lord) that “false prophets (heretical Bishops) are not to be listened to by the people”. Not listening to them is one thing; declaring them deposed is another. The former is commanded by Our Lord; the latter forbidden by Tradition.

Objection Answered

At this point an objection needs to be addressed. Fr. Cekada has attempted to counter a number of articles against Sedevacantism by claiming that these were referring to the crime of heresy, while, according to him, the loss of office is caused by the sin of heresy. Here is one such example:

“Like many who have written against sedevacantism, one fundamental flaw runs through Mr. Sparks’ article (…) Heresy is both a crime (delictum) against canon law and a sin(peccatum) against divine law. … It is by violating the divine law through the sin(peccatum) of heresy that a heretical pope loses his authority – ‘having become an unbeliever,’ as Cardinal Billot says, ‘he would by his own will be cast outside the body of the Church’.” (14)

Notice that Fr. Cekada quotes Cardinal Billot in support of his position. What he doesn’t tell his readers (or even indicate by an “ellipses”) is that he is only quoting half of a sentence. If you read the entire sentence you see that the Cardinal is not speaking merely of the sin of heresy, as Fr. Cekada would have his readers believe, but of notorious heresy, which is a crime. (15) Here is the complete sentence:

“Given, therefore, the hypothesis of a pope who would become notoriously heretical, one must concede without hesitation that he would by that very fact lose the pontifical power, insofar as, having become an unbeliever, he would by his own will be cast outside the body of the Church.” (15)

What the half sentence giveth, the complete sentence taketh away. If it was the sin of heresy alone that caused the loss of office, a pope who fell into occult (secret) heresy would also cease to be pope. Yet, as Bellarmine teaches (citing the authority of Melchor Cano): “the Pope who is an occult heretic is still Pope.” (17)

Fr. Cekada’s position is also contradicted by John of St. Thomas who, no less than twelve times, states that it is the crime of heresy that causes the Pope to lose his office. Numerous examples have already been cited in this article. One more will suffice: John of St. Thomas speaks of “the deposition itself, which must be done after the declarative judgment of the crime.”

Another authority that contradicts Fr. Cekada is the highly respected commentary on canon law by Wernz-Vidal. Speaking of the case of a manifestly heretical pope, Wernz-Vidal says “the General Council declares the fact of the crime by which the heretical pope has separated himself from the Church and deprived himself of his dignity." (18)

Now Fr. Cekada himself quotes Wernz-Vidal when it supports his position. Is he also willing to accept its weighty authority when it contradicts his personal opinion? If so, he will be forced to revise many of his arguments in favor of Sedevacantism, and address many others than he simply dismissed.

Unfortunately, a number of unsuspecting laymen have fallen for and embraced this particular teaching of Fr. Cekada, and then used it to defend the Sedevacantist position. One such person is Jerry Ming, who wrote an “Open Letter to John Vennari”, in response to an article he ran several years ago in Catholic Family News. Here is an excerpt from the “Open Letter”. See if it sounds familiar:

“So, it should be clear to all, that heresy is a crime against canon law and a sin against the divine law. ‘It is by violating the divine law through the sin of heresy that a heretical pope loses his authority – “having become an unbeliever…” as Cardinal Billot says, “he would by his own will be cast outside the body of the Church”.’” (19)

Notice that Mr. Ming not only parrots Fr Cekada, but he even quotes the same half sentence from Cardinal Billot (out of context) to make his point. Here we see the danger of following Sedevacantist priests without double-checking their sources and verifying the accuracy of their teachings.


As we have seen, a juridical warning is an integral part of the process for a Pope to lose his office due to manifest heresy, since it serves as a means of establishing pertinacity, which is a necessary element of heresy. Once pertinacity is established, the Pope’s heresy must be manifest to all by a declaratory sentence of the crime issued by the proper authorities. Without this intervention by the proper authorities, a Pope who appears externally to be a heretic retains his office.

This explains why Fr. Paul Laymann, S.J., (d. 1635), “one of the greatest moralists and canonists of his time” (20) said that a Pope who fell into heresy, but was nevertheless being tolerated by the Church, would remain Pope.

“It is more probable that the Supreme Pontiff, as a person, might be able to fall into heresy and even a notorious one, by reason of which he would merit to be deposed by the Church, or rather declared to be separated from her. (…) Observe, however, that, though we affirm that the Supreme Pontiff, as a private person, might be able to become a heretic and therefore cease to be a true member of the Church, (…) still, while he was 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.” (21)

Billuart explained the same point, when he said "Christ by a particular providence, for the common good and the tranquility of the Church, continues to give jurisdiction to an even manifestly heretical pontiff until such time as he should be declared a manifest heretic by the Church” (Billuart, De Fide, Diss. V, A. III No. 3, Obj. 2).
As bad as one may think the post-Vatican II Popes have been, they have not been publicly warned or declared guilty of heresy by the proper authorities, and therefore have retained their office. And since “it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature that he be subject to the Roman Pontiff,” (22) those who follow Fr. Cekada into Sedevacantism place their souls in mortal danger.

This shows the wisdom of the decree from the Fourth Council of Constantinople, which forbade anyone to separate himself from communion with his patriarch before a careful enquiry and judgment in synod, attaching the grave penalty of excommunication to any laymen or monk who dared to do otherwise.

“As divine scripture clearly proclaims, ‘Do not find fault before you investigate, and understand first and then find fault’. And does our law judge a person without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does? Consequently this holy and universal synod justly and fittingly declares and lays down that no lay person or monk or cleric should separate himself from communion with his own patriarch before a careful inquiry and judgment in synod, even if he alleges that he knows of some crime perpetrated by his patriarch, and he must not refuse to include his patriarch's name during the divine mysteries or offices. (…) If anyone shall be found defying this holy synod, he is to be debarred from all priestly functions and status if he is a bishop or cleric; if a monk or lay person, he must be excluded from all communion and meetings of the church [i.e. excommunicated] until he is converted by repentance and reconciled” (The Fourth Council of Constantinople, Canon 10).

The Council decreed what it did for a reason. Fr. Cekada ignores this decree and attempts to persuade the faithful, who are scandalized by the crisis in the Church, that they must do precisely what the council punishes with an excommunication. “There is a way that seemeth right to man, but the end thereof is death”.

Fr. Cekada may honestly believe that the last 6 or 7 men elected pope, and recognized as Pope by virtually the entire world (Catholic or not), were, in fact, not real Popes. In fact, he may be just as certain of that as he is that the papacy is lost by the sin of heresy. Caveat Emptor!


1 Catholic Family News, R. Siscoe, April, 2014
2 Elements of Ecclesiastical Law, Rev. SB Smith DD (Benzinger Br., New York, 1881), 3rd ed., p. 210
3 Ibid. Preface
4 A syllogism is an argument containing three propositions: two premises (a minor and a major) and a conclusion.
5 This point is discussed at length by Rev. Augustine, OSB, DD, Professor of Canon Law, in his book A Commentary on Canon Law, Vol VIII, Bk 4, (Herder Book Co, 1922), pp 278-80.
6 De Potestate Eecclesiastica, Ballerini (Monasterii Westphalorum, Deiters 1847) ch. 6, sec. 2, p. 124-25
7 Ibid.
8 Ius Decretalium (1913) II.615
9 Between God and Man: Sermons of Pope Innocent III, Sermon IVp. 48-49
10 De Comparatione Cuctoritatis Papae et Conciliin, by Cardinal Cajetan, English Translation in Conciliarism & Papalism, by Burns & Izbicki (Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 1997) p 76
11 Manuale Theologiae Dogmaticae, J.M. Herve, 1943, I.501
12 “Prophet” in this sense refers to a teacher of heavenly things, and not necessarily one who foretells the future (see Summa II-II Q171, A3
13 De Membris Ecclesiae, Lib. I De Clericis, cap. 7. Opera Omnia, Paris: Vives, 1870 p. 428-429
14 Sedevacantism Refuted?, Fr. Cekada
15 See Canons 2197.2 & 2197.3 of the 1917 Code
16 De Ecclesia, 1927, 5th ed. 632
17 De Romano Pontifice, lib. II, cap. 30
18 Wernz-Vidal, Jus Canonicum (Rome, 1943), II, 518
19 Open Letter to John Vennari.
20 Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913, Vol. IX, p. 95
21 Laymann, Theol. Mor., Lib, tact I, cap, VII, Cited in “Hypothesis of a Heretical Pope”, p. 196
22 Unam Sanctam, Pope Boniface VIII