Strike 2: Second Failed E-Mail Campaign by John Lane

The following began as a private e-mail correspondence between the authors of True or False Pope? and John Lane.  Since Mr. Lane decided to add a number of SSPX priests to the exchange (thereby making is semi-public), and because the exchange addresses some of the false accusations that are being spread about the book, we have chosen to publish it here.  There is more to this exchange, but we are limiting ourselves to publishing the following for now.    As the reader will see, at the end two of the priests on the e-mail exchange weighed in and took Mr. Lane to task for his false accusations.

John Lane:  I am amazed that you would even consider publishing a new edition
without ensuring that the errors the first one contains have been eliminated!


Robert Siscoe: Point them out. 


John Lane: Which ones, Robert, the errors in history and theology, or the misrepresentation of my own position?


Robert Siscoe: Begin with what you think are theological errors.


John Lane: I'll happily, indeed joyfully, engage with you on theology (moral and dogmatic) on the following conditions.

1.  Two SSPX priests who are competent in ecclesiology agree to adjudicate 
2.  You commit to correcting your book prior to the second edition in any points that the two priests decide

I suggest that Fr. Gleize would be an excellent choice for one of the censors, but as far as I am concerned Bishop Fellay and/or the seminary rectors are free to appoint anybody they like.  We can progress as quickly or as tardily as you like.


John Salza: John, you didn't answer Robert's very simple challenge, but passed the buck to SSPX priests (which would include some of their theologians who already reviewed and approved our book). Robert asked you to point out the theological errors, in your opinion, that exist in our book. So please do so. This should be quite easy for you given your many years of study and your familiarity with our book. Please cite the erroneous theological proposition (in our book) and then the correct theological position (taught by the Church or theological consensus). Cite verbatim paragraphs and page numbers from our book and from the Church/theologians. You can start with the top five theological errors. Then we will take you seriously and go from there. 


John Lane: One example of a doctrinal point which you absolutely trash is the fact that the magisterium is protected from dangerous error by a special doctrinal providence, in the phrase of Cardinal Franzelin (and Billot follows him), which means that the pope cannot teach heresy, even "non-infallibly".  This is why the theologians (i.e. the Roman ones, not the Gallicans) only ever consider the hypothetical possibility of a pope disappearing into heresy as a private personSo, there are three classes of open expression of doctrine, not two:  1.  Universally binding doctrinal profession by pope or general council, which is infallible per se.  2.  Private doctrinal expressions such as the pope giving a sermon, which means he is not addressing the Church as such and he is not acting publicly as pope.  He may, conceivably, if you take the view that popes can fall into heresy, express a dangerous idea in such a manner.  3.  Everything official (i.e. magisterial) in between, which is not infallible yet also cannot, in Franzelin's express opinion, be dangerousSo, popes acting as popes can err in fact, or in some unimportant doctrinal aspect, but they could only express heresy, for example, as a private person.

This is the doctrine favoured and approved by Rome, and the alternative idea cannot be found in theology books except for pre-1870 Gallican sources.

You might conceivably be justified [in allegedly rejecting this], if you were a well-educated cleric, in departing from this doctrine with diffidence, caution, and very, very, good arguments.  What is totally unjustifiable, indeed it constitutes crass irresponsibility at the very minimum, is to build up a different doctrine based on your own (very shallow, very narrow, and very badly sourced - e.g. Dollinger) reading of history, as you do in your book.  … it is no surprise to see you recycling long-exploded Gallican, Protestant, and Old Catholic lies against the papacy, and then praising Dollinger as a Church theologian and historian.  … That will do as an opener. (…)


Robert Siscoe: John, Why am not surprised that you come out of the gate with false accusations and nothing to back them up?  I want you to read this carefully.  This is probably going to be my last correspondence with you.   Here is what you wrote:

Point #1

“Because of this bad method, it is no surprise to see you …  praising Dollinger as a Church theologian and historian” (John Lane).

You provided not a shred of evidence to back up your allegation, and that is because none exists.  We never praised Dollinger in the book (or anywhere else).  I did a quick search of the book, and here is what we do say about him:

Döllinger never accepted the dogma of papal infallibility and on April 18, 1871, one year after the close of the First Vatican Council, he was excommunicated by name for heresy; and although he never officially joined the schismatic Old Catholic Church, Döllinger’s writings contributed greatly to its establishment.”

 “One of the main voices opposing the doctrine was that of Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger, a fierce opponent of papal infallibility.”

“Because the propagation of heresy is such a serious assault on the Faith of the Church, Fr. Augustine sets forth four categories to morally distinguish the types of “propagators of heresy” (can. 2316):  “Credentes are such as externally profess the errors of heretics, e.g., by asserting that Luther or Döllinger were correct in their views, even though they may not know the particular errors of these leaders.

In a footnote, we referenced a comment Dollinger made about the quote from Pope Adrian (the quote you falsely claimed was “invented” by the author of the 1904 book, and then publicly denigrated Fr. Boulet for citing).  The footnote referred to a statement of Dollinger concerning an historical matter (one that did not help our position, but that we wanted to mentioned for the sake of fairness), and were careful to include a note at the end of the footnote cautioning the reader that Dollinger denied papal infallibility, and therefore one should remain cautious with respect to the soundness of his judgments.  Here is the footnote.

“According to Church historian and theologian Döllinger (writing under the pen name “Janus”), this comment was made while Pope Adrian was a Professor of Theology in Louvain prior to his election to the pontificate. Döllinger notes that the statement was well-known at the time since it was included in his principal work (see “The Pope and the Council,” by “Janus,” i.e., Johannes Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger), second edition (Rivingtons; London; Oxford; and Bambridge, 1869), p. 376.  We should note that Döllinger denied the dogma of papal infallibility before and after it was defined. So while his historical research and facts may be of use, one should remain cautious with respect to the soundness of his judgment.

So as you can see, your comment that we “praised Dollinger” is totally false.  I had already heard that you were spreading that lie, but I didn’t bother to look into it or respond.  If John and I bothered responding to a small fraction of the lies and calumny being spread about us and the book by the members of your sect, we would have time for nothing else.  (...)

Point #2

Regarding heresy and errors in papal writings and utterance, you wrote: “there are three classes of open expression of doctrine, not two” (John Lane). 

We never claim there are only two. On the contrary, we explicitly say there are three.  Here is what we say in the book:

“Therefore, when considering whether a Pope can teach errors to the Church regarding faith and morals, we must make three distinctions:

1)    A Pope teaching as a private person.

2)    A Pope teaching as Pope on matters of faith or morals, but not intending to define a doctrine.

3)    A Pope teaching as Pope, defining a doctrine on faith or morals, to be held by the universal Church

    It is only in the last instance that the charism of infallibility will prevent the Pope from erring.”

John, at this point you are 0 and 2 with the alleged “errors” in our book.  Your entire e-mail was nothing but false accusations [N.B. many of the false accusations and insults were removed from this posting, in order to focus on the facts], followed by insults for doing what you falsely accused us of (just like you did to Fr. Boulet). 

This is why I am not going to bother debating you.  If you think there are errors in the book, quote the book directly and then provide an authoritative citation showing how we are mistaken.  If you do so, we will look into it. In the meantime, please don’t bother us any more with your false accusations and stawman arguments.  We don’t have time for it, and neither does anyone else.

I pray that God will greatly humble you and cure you of your intellectual pride.


John Lane:  (…) As for the Dollinger praise, your position is that Dollinger is a Church theologian and historian (he isn't) who has good factual data, and you are implicitly recommending him on that basis, but yes, you put a fig-leaf over that praise and recommendation by warning the reader that he later went into heresy.  Robert, he went into heresy because of his bad history and theology, which you share.

This expresses it all perfectly clearly:  "So while his historical research and facts may be of use, one should remain cautious with respect to the soundness of his judgment."

In other words, his data is good, but don't accept his judgments incautiously.  But you DO accept his judgments.  Your theology is his, with the reservation that you think that if, and only, if, the pope speaks infallibly, his doctrinal instruction cannot be dangerous to the faithful.  (…) Bellarmine refers to the "Adrian VI" quote and says it is "altogether erroneous and proximate to heresy." But what is Bellarmine to you?  You've got Dollinger and Viollet.


Robert Siscoe: John, this is my last e-mail. If you think there are errors in the book, 1) quote the book directly, 2) state the alleged error, 3) back up your position with an authoritative citation, and we will gladly look into it.  So far you have skipped 1 and 3 and substituted 2 with a false accusation.
Regarding Bellarmine's reference to the Adrian quote, we include that in the second edition.  It comes right after your false accusation that the quote was "invented" three centuries after Bellarmine addressed it, and your denigration of Fr. Boulet for citing it.  


John Lane: It is inconceivable that you could write 700 pages of detailed explanation of theology, canon law, and history without any errors.  It is therefore not an "accusation" to say that there are errors, and you should not react by attacking anybody who says that there are.  If you could both cool down, and realize that the world won't end if you are found to be mistaken about a few things, you'd both enjoy life a lot more.  You have a lot of things right.  You’re not infallible.  You are less infallible even than the magisterium that you accuse of countless errors in your book. 

Let's be real.  You have a 700 page book which has some PR-driven approbations.  You both seem to be under the impression that your book went through some kind of theological censoring process, akin to the nihil obstat and imprimatur of canon law.  You refer to "some of their theologians who already reviewed and approved our book."  It is one thing to read a book through and give it praise, it is another thing entirely to take responsibility for its accuracy: accuracy in fact (especially about other persons), or in history, or in law, or in theology.  

So, my question is, if you do really think some competent men properly reviewed your book, at least for canon law, theology, and Church history, so as to ensure that it was squeaky clean, and then approved it for publication, then you should be able to name them.  (…)    I know a lot of SSPX priests and I have spoken with every one of those whom I know, who have been involved in some way or other in your book, and so far I have found not one who admits to having read it through before publication, let alone one who will specifically take responsibility for the content.  One said he was consulted on two chapters, another on four chapters, and another on one or two chapters, etc.  
So, who are the priests who will say, "Yes, I read it carefully before publication, and I assert that this book is accurate in canon law, theology, and Church history"?  

John Salza:  John, this is pathetic. You claim that there are errors in our book, and then put the burden on us to prove otherwise! Another example of your fallacious practice of shifting the burden of proof, which we expose in our book.

We will say this one last time: If you claim we have made an error in the book, cite the error from the book verbatim (using our exact words), and then cite the correct proposition as taught by the Church. Otherwise, please leave us alone.

Also, while it is true that some SSPX priests reviewed certain chapters of our book (based on their theological area of expertise), Fr. X-1 reviewed the entire book (contrary to your false claim that no SSPX priest did so). Why don’t you inform Fr. X-1, who is copied on this email, of the errors he made?


John Lane: (…) I’ll send you a document soon enough which will list your errors.  That’s what I closed my email with.  Have another read of it, please. [Note: He never provided us with a document listing the alleged errors in the book.]

In the mean time, you are to name the priests who read your book before publication, declared it free of errors, and will take responsibility for the content.  Simple enough.  Who are they?  Is Fr. X-1 testifying to this?  He read the entire book, and gave it his nihil obstat?  Or, perhaps, he read the entire book, noticed its numerous objectionable features, and forgave them because the book is in service of a good cause?  (And I agree that it’s a good cause.  Dogmatic sedevacantism is a scourge.  Nearly as much as dogmatic sedeplenism.)


Father X-1:  Dear Sirs,

I hereby confirm that I read the whole book (not the ultimate version, but the “penultimate”, as it was in a pdf before a few corrections were later made), and that I did not find any striking errors, but rather a very good treatment of the subject. Now, though this is not technically a nihil obstat, because there was no appointment by my superiors to do so, yet I had been asked by Bishop Fellay to review the book in order to advise him about it. I also confirm that several corrections which I had proposed (and most likely the same happened for corrections proposed by other priests) have been included in the final version of the book.

I do agree that the burden of proof is on those who attack the book, not vice versa. So I suggest that this exchange of email waits for the fulfilment of John Lane’s promise: “I’ll send you a document soon enough which will list your errors. 

I do agree that the accusation against the book as if it were “praising Dollinger as a Church theologian and historian” is a wrong accusation: to refer to Döllinger as a “Church historian and historian” is simply letting the reader know of what charged he had been given by his bishop: even Wikipedia mentions that “On April 5, 1822 he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest for the Diocese of Bamberg,… and in 1823 he became professor of ecclesiastical history and canon law in the lyceum at Aschaffenburg. He then took his doctoral degree, and in 1826 became professor of theology at the University of Munich”.

There is a great difference in referring to someone as a “Church theologian and historian” and praising him as such; the first is a mere FACT, the second includes a judgement on how good theologian or historian he was. The very fact that the next sentence of the book cautions against Döllinger shows there was no “praise” for him.

So please let the promised “document… which will list the errors” be FREE from such false and empty accusation. It is useless to make such accusation; it only shows the bad will of the accuser.


The following is John Lane’s reply with Fr. X-1’s comments interspersed:

John Lane: I cannot agree with you that TOFP’s mention of Dollinger does not constitute praise.  It is a recommendation of his work in terms of his factual accuracy.  If one is asserting that a man’s work is reliable, as Siscoe and Salza are clearly doing, this is a form of praise – indeed, one of the highest forms of praise for a writer.  This is not a “false accusation” by me, and I do not understand why any such point is set in such polemical terms.  If we disagree on this, we disagree.  It’s certainly a legitimate dispute, not some question of dogma.

Fr. X-1: Your insistence on TOFP’s mention of Döllinger to constitute a praise is an absurdity! Modern scholarship is much more insistent on giving precise reference, and so modern scholarly works include many references: one would evidently jump to conclusion to assume that all such reference constitute a general praise of the authors thus quoted! At most it constitutes a particular agreement on the point referenced, and is far from endorsing all the works of the quoted author. Hence your jumping to conclusion that such a quote constitute a praise is indeed a false accusation, and your insistence in defending such false accusation does not honour you.

John Lane: I take from your description of “reading” the book and proposing some corrections, that you eschew any suggestion that you are taking responsibility for the theological precision and accuracy of the content.  I understand this, as you were not given the remit to make sure the work was theologically innocuous, or indeed even in agreement with the SSPX position, which it clearly is not, and hence it attracted high praise from men with such severe disagreement with the SSPX’s position as Tim Staples of Catholic Answers!  TOFP is like the Novus Ordo Missae – it is constructed so as not to offend those who disagree with our theology.

Fr. X-1: This again is absurdity. From the fact that men such as Tim Staples praised the book, while at the same time have severe disagreement with the SSPX’s position, there is no way that you could logically conclude that the book is not in agreement with the SSPX position! Again this is to pass from a particular praise by Tim Staples on a particular topic, to a general conclusion, as if everyone ever praised by Tim Staples on any particular topic necessary had to agree with everything held by Tim Staples.

Now I do affirm that this book is very faithful to the SSPX position on sedevacantism, and I did say so to Bishop Fellay in the report I made to him.

John Lane: For example, you did not think it necessary to point out to Mssrs Siscoe and Salza that their phraseology as follows is heretical, as it clearly implies that the Church has two natures:  “[The Church’s] divine nature can, at times, be obscured by her human nature.”  This as it stands is an unorthodox formula.  I am not accusing the writers of heresy – they are too nescient – but the text itself is totally wrong.  Objectively, it demands correction.

Fr. X-1: Sorry, but such remark only show bad will, searching for evil where there is none. Any reader with common sense would not understand the words “[the Church’s] divine nature… her human nature” in a manner univocal with our Lord Jesus Christ, but only in an analogical way, in the sense that “the Church supernatural dimension [by sanctifying grace, which is a participation in the divine nature] … and the church human dimension [in her human members]…” And this is perfectly Catholic.

John Lane: Likewise the assertion, made with all confidence and without the slightest support from any theological authority, that the “bonds of unity” of the Church are three.  This is manifestly erroneous in theology and indeed, it shows that the authors have no idea what they are saying.  The Church, as no doubt you know, has two bonds of unity, and these are faith and charity.  St. Thomas, St. Robert Bellarmine, the Vatican Council, and any number of manualists, confirm this.  Siscoe and Salza are entirely unaware of what the term “bonds of unity” means, and therefore they apply the term to the external “unities” of the Church.  Understandable for uneducated laymen, unacceptable if the work is to be recommended as theologically accurate.

Fr. X-1: YOUR theology is not that of St Robert Bellarmine! He is the one who exposes at length the three bonds of unity of the Church as profession of the true faith, true worship (starting with Baptism) and subjection to the Roman Pontiff. He exposes principally these external bonds, and rightly explains that one cannot say – simpliciter – that “faith and charity” are the bonds of unity of the Church, because it is a dogma of faith that there are sinners in the church, i.e. people lacking charity! However, this does not mean that charity, which is the bond of perfection as St Paul says, has no place among the “bonds of unity” of the church, but it must be carefully stated. Thus, one can very well say that life is the bond of unity of the body, and as soon as life goes there is decomposition of the body – or to put it the other way, the decomposition of the body is the surest sign of the departure of life; yet it is also clear that there are within a living body some cells which are NOT living, yet attached to the body. So in the church, the fundamental bond is the one life of grace (participation in the life of God, Christ living in us) – and this is ONE bond, with three immediate consequences: faith, hope and charity, to which corresponds the profession of faith, worship (because hope leads to prayer) and obedience to the hierarchy established by Christ. To reduce the bonds of unity to two, and only two interior bonds, seem to me rather dangerous, and a departure from St Robert Bellarmine.


Fr. X-2 (Seminary professor): Dear John [Lane],

    In order to defend the good name of our priests and the two authors of a book that we of the SSPX have approved, endorsed, and published, I would like to point out a few things. The first thing concerns the basis of the disagreement in which you find yourself with supporters of the book. It involves a three step process:

      1)  You throw out heaps of accusations which, when investigated carefully, prove to be untrue. This makes you appear as a serial calumniator.

      2)  You do not seem to be aware that your accusations are false. You sincerely believe that they hit their mark and expose truth.

      3) When you are clearly shown that this or that accusation that you have made is false, you persist in believing that it is true.

    Your exchange below with Fr. X-1 is a standard example of this process.

    You say that TOFP praises Döllinger. You give, as evidence, the fact that Salza and Siscoe refer to Döllinger as a Church theologian and historian, and believe that evidence to outweigh the further evidence that Salza and Siscoe explicitly speak of Döllinger's condemnation by the Church. 

    Fr X-1 explains, in very clear language, why your opinion is absurd.

    You continue to disagree with him.

    This process has been repeated time and again in your exchanges with Salza and Siscoe, as well as exchanges with myself. The reason is that you take a different formal understanding, i.e. meaning, than we do from a given set of the same material words. In this instance, we have the material words referring to Döllinger as a Church theologian and historian. Your understanding from these words (U1) is that they constitute praise of Döllinger. Our understanding (U2) is that they do not.

    As I mentioned in point 2 above, I believe you sincerely think your U1 is correct. What you must seek to fathom, however, is that those who seriously investigate any of your accusations almost invariably find your U1 to be false and some U2 to be correct. The fact that such is the case makes you appear to be a serial calumniator. This reputation that you create for yourself in your emails is a much worse damage inflicted on yourself than anything that appears in TOFP.

    I explained this to you in December and advised you to cease your campaign to defame TOFP. But you did not follow my advice. Fr ___, your parish priest, advised you the same back in July of last year. But you did not follow his advice. I would like to repeat that same advice to you here, and would like you to believe that I give this advice with your best interests in mind, the same motive I put forward when the advice was first given.

    Regardless, because your understanding of a text is so often at odds with the understanding others have of a text, I don't believe further discussion of the book with Salza and Siscoe will be profitable for you or them.

    One thing that you must understand is that the SSPX is happy with the book and has no reason to be unhappy with it. In your recent emails, you implicitly accuse Bishop Fellay, Fr ___, myself and the other priest endorsers of the book of negligence by a) saying that the book is full of errors; b) asking that the book be thoroughly vetted by theological/canonical/church history censors. On the contrary:

1.      Bishop Fellay was not negligent in writing the foreword of the book, for he had one of his most qualified priests, Fr X-1, vet the book. Fr X-1, while submitting some corrections, concluded that the book did not contain any errors and faithfully represents the position of the SSPX. This vetting was quite sufficient prudential grounds for approving the book and writing its foreword.

2.      Fr X-1 did the most thorough vetting, but there were many other priests involved in reading through the book before its publication. You can see their names on the acknowledgements page of the book. I myself analyzed four of its chapters.

3.      Salza and Siscoe were following standard procedure for laymen publishing a book on Church doctrine. They submitted the book to priests for analysis. They received their corrections. They implemented their corrections. This is the reason why, to this day, despite endless attacks by sedevacantists, no error of any significance has been found in the book.

    In short, there is nothing wrong with TOFP, and the SSPX has no serious grounds of embarrassment for publishing it. Yet you pretend that we do not know the contents of the book and have somehow been tricked into publishing a book the contents of which we are unaware. No, we approved the book and published the book, because we know the book. And this includes the passages that address your own writings.

    One last point, and this is a point of agreement with you. You have stated that "Fr X-1 has his own reputation with the other priests." This is correct; he has a reputation of being learned, objective, hard-working, possessed of the spirit of the Archbishop, one who is faithful, dedicated, obedient. I assume this is the reputation to which you were referring.