The True Meaning of Bellarmine’s Ipso Facto Loss of Office Theory for a Heretical Pope


(Full Article)

Robert Siscoe & John Salza
January A.D. 2021

In light of the ongoing crisis in the Church and papacy, many Catholics are questioning whether the man in charge – Pope Francis - is truly the Pope and, if so, how he could be removed from office. Some have and even gone as far as embracing the error of Sedevacantism, by concluding that he must be a false Pope.[1] Those who attempt an excursion into the theology of a heretical Pope invariably encounter the teachings of St. Robert Bellarmine, who taught that a manifest heretic automatically ceases to be Pope, by the fact (“ipso facto”) of his heresy, before any excommunication or sentence of a judge.

Many have interpreted Bellarmine as teaching that a Pope who falls into heresy is necessarily “ipso facto deposed” without requiring any form of legitimate judgment by bishops at a council as a condition for the loss of office to take place. In their mind, this interpretation is further supported by the canonical principle, “Prima sedes a nemine judicator” (“The First See is judged by no one”),[2] which they assume proves that the Church could only render a legal judgment that the Pope has fallen into heresy after he has fallen from the pontificate. Moreover, they point out that Bellarmine himself said the reason a heretical Pope “can be judged and punished by the Church,” is because he has already ceased by himself to be Pope (De Romano Pontifice, lib. ii cap. xxx). For these reasons, they conclude that Bellarmine must have meant that a heretical Pope is secretly deposed by God prior to any intervention or judgment on the part of the Church (e.g., bishops at a council).

The notion that a heretical Pope must necessarily fall from the pontificate before a council can be convened to render a judgment, is a foundational aspect of the reasoning process that leads people into Sedevacantism. In the current papal crisis, those who are convinced that a Pope who falls into heresy is immediately deposed by God, or must be deposed by God before the Church can render a judgment, will at least wonder if it has happened. The more papal scandals they see (and Sedevacantists are always there to point them out), the more likely will they be to conclude that it has – especially if they don’t understand the meaning of heresy, the difference between heresy and lesser errors, or the various distinctions and classifications of heretics.

On the other hand, if the Church can legally convict a Pope of heresy while he remains Pope, and moreover, if the conviction is a condition that must be fulfilled before a heretical Pope will be ipso facto deposed, few, if any, would be tempted to believe that a scandalous Pope, or one whom they personally believe had fallen into heresy, has been secretly deposed by God.  

In True or False Pope? (2015), we interpreted Bellarmine, based on the limited material that was available at the time, as teaching that the Church can legitimately “establish the fact” that a reigning Pope has fallen into heresy, and argued that this is what Bellarmine believed was required as a condition for him to be ipso facto deposed, unless the Pope publicly separated himself from the Church. After the publication of the book, additional writings of Bellarmine that we have discovered, and indeed, the volumes of his writings that have recently been translated into English, confirm that this is in indeed exactly what Bellarmine held.  Bellarmine did not believe a Pope who fell into heresy would be "ipso facto deposed" by God while he remained in possession of his see, without the Church first convicting him of heresy.

We will use this opportunity to present some of this new material from Bellarmine which sheds further light on his true position. We will also address the pressing question of how the Church (i.e., a council) can legally establish the fact that a Pope has fallen into heresy, while he remains Pope, without violating the bi-millennial teaching, rooted in divine law, that “the First See is judged by no one.” Lastly, we will see how Bellarmine himself refuted the Sedevacantists of his day (the early Protestants), using an argument that equally refutes the Sedevacantists of our day.

We hope this article provides any needed clarity to the Cardinals and bishops, who may be considering taking actions necessary to investigate the accusations of heresy against Pope Francis, in order to either provide him with the opportunity to clarify his position or, if the accusations are proven to be true, to declare him a heretic and, in the words of Bellarmine, “abrogate his pontificate.” Many hoped this process would have followed the September 19, 2016 dubia issued by the four Cardinals (in light of Cardinal Burke's warning of a “formal correction” if the Pope didn’t respond to the dubia), and then again after the Open Letter to the Bishops (2019), issued by various clerics and scholars. While no further public actions have been reported, perhaps they are currently being contemplated by the Church’s authorities. May the information in this article lend further support to these efforts.

Bishop Schneider’s Astute Observations/Objections

This issue of whether or how the Church could judge a heretical Pope has been the subject of much debate over the past year. On February 28, 2020, published an essay written by Bishop Schneider, which pointed out several problems with various theories concerning how a heretical Pope loses his office. The bishop correctly noted that the opinion which maintains that an imperfect council can condemn a Pope (e.g., Azorious, Gerson) is at least a mitigated form of conciliarism (the heresy that a council is superior to a Pope). This is certainly true, since a condemnatory sentence is a punitive measure that requires jurisdiction and coercive authority over the one condemned, whereas a merely declaratory sentence does not. That is why theologians and canonists say the latter can be issued with respect to the Pope in the case of heresy,[3] but not the former.  

Bishop Schneider also pointed out several problems with two of the ipso facto loss of office theories (there are actually four different versions[4]), which purport to resolve the difficulty of “judging the Pope” by positing that a heretical Pope is secretly deposed by God first, and that the bishops or Cardinals simply declare that the former Pope has already lost his office. The problem with this theory is that the Cardinal or bishops could not declare that a Pope had lost his office for heresy, without first judging that he had, in fact, fallen into heresy. Bishop Schneider realizes that if divine law explicitly prevents a Pope from being judged (“the First See is judged by no one”), the same divine law would also prevent the Church from declaring that a Pope lost his office for heresy, since the latter would be impossible without the Church first rendering a judgment that divine law forbids. Hence, Bishop Schneider rightly rejects these ipso facto theories on the basis that they contain an inherent contradiction and imply a hint of “crypto conciliarism.”

The other problem he mentions is “the inevitable possibility of disagreement among members of the College of Cardinals or the episcopacy regarding whether or not a pope is guilty of heresy,” which would naturally result in doubts about whether or not the automatic loss of office had taken place. There is no question that this problem will exist with every theological opinion concerning how a heretical Pope loses his office if the opinion does not require an antecedent judgment (conviction of heresy) by a body of bishops representing the universal Church as a condition for the loss of office (ipso facto or otherwise) to take place.

Because of the problems Bishop Schneider sees with the various loss of office theories, he adheres to what Bellarmine lists as the Third Opinion in De Romano Pontifice (lib. II, cap xxx) – namely, that if a Pope falls into heresy is not ipso facto deposed, nor can he be indirectly deposed by the Church, but will remain Pope in spite of his heresy. This opinion has also been held by Dominique Bouix, Raphael de Pornaxio, Giovanni Cardinal Casanova, and Alberto Pasquali. 

Novus Ordo Watch’s Attempt to Answer
Bishop Schneider’s Objection 

Now, since the problems Bishop Schneider mentioned apply directly to the ipso facto loss of office theory that the Sedevacantists have spent decades promoting (which, as we will see, is not the opinion of Bellarmine), the Sedevacantist apologist Mario Derkson, of Novus Ordo Watch, reacted at once by posting an article that attempted to answer Bishop Schneider’s objections, but completely failed to do so. In reply to the first objection, Derksen wrote: 

There is no contradiction in this ‘opinion’ — the position of a canonized Doctor of the Church, we might add – nor is there any ‘crypto-conciliarism’ afoot. The simple fact is just that Schneider doesn’t get it: The cardinals or bishops would have to issue a declaration of the Pope-who-ceased-to-be-Pope only for the good of the Church so that there is an official record and the Church is free to proceed to a new conclave. … The declaration by cardinals or bishops is not necessary for the Pope-who-became-a-heretic to cease to be Pope … Thus there is not a trace of Conciliarism here either, the heresy that a council is above the Pope. Does Schneider really think that someone as brilliant and orthodox St. Robert Bellarmine would not have noticed such a contradiction in his thinking or would have subscribed to ‘crypto-conciliarism’?” (Derksen, “Comedy Hour with Athanasius Schneider”) 

              Derksen went on to repeat the Sedevacantist talking point that it’s not a question of “judging the Pope,” but of “discerning” the fact that he is not the Pope. But this evasive answer fails to resolve the logical inconsistency that Bishop Schneider astutely perceived and noted, which pertains to the ipso facto loss of office theory itself (not necessarily whether or not someone is Pope) – the version of the ipso facto loss of office theory that the Sedevacantists have used for decades in an effort to persuade Catholics to reject the legitimacy of the recent Popes. Nor did Mr. Derksen’s ad hominem attacks, ridicule and mockery of the good bishop (which he engaged in throughout the article) - or the photoshopped picture of Bishop Schneider with a clown nose that Derksen posted top center - resolve the inherent problems with the Sedevacantists’ version of the ipso facto loss of office theory that Bishop Schneider pointed out.

The Logical Dilemma

What has apparently never occurred to Mr. Derksen and his colleagues is that the Cardinals or bishops cannot declare that a Pope has lost his office for heresy, without first judging that the Pope has fallen into heresy. There are two judgments involved, and the second depends upon the first: 

1) The Pope has fallen into heresy (antecedent judgment).

2) As a result of falling into heresy, the Pope has lost his office (consequent judgment). 

If the antecedent judgment is forbidden, because "the first see is judged by no one," the consequent judgment is impossible. In other words, if the Cardinals or bishops cannot legitimately judge that a Pope has fallen into heresy, they cannot legitimately declare that a Pope has lost his office for falling into heresy.  Hence, if a Pope fell into heresy and lost his office by divine law, and if papal immunity from judgment (which is also part of divine law) forbids the Cardinals or bishops from legitimately judging that a Pope has fallen into heresy, the Church would be forced to recognize the (former) false Pope as the true Pope, since divine law, which caused the loss of office, would prevent the Church from rendering the judgment that is necessary to know and declare that the loss of office had taken place. This disastrous predicament would be due to an inherent defect in divine law itself; but divine law contains no defects, for “the law of the Lord is unspotted” (Psalms 18:8). 

Therefore, the only way an ipso facto loss of office theory can avoid this fatal flaw is if papal immunity from judgment somehow permits the Church, i.e., an imperfect council or the College of Cardinals, to legitimately judge that a Popenot a former Pope, but a true Pope – or at least one who is recognized by the Church at the time as the true Pope – has fallen into heresy. Any ipso facto loss of office theory that does not admit that a sitting Pope can be convicted of heresy by the Church – and does not explain how the Church can do so without violating divine law – necessarily contains this inherent contradiction that renders it untenable.

Regarding Bishop Schneider’s second point – namely, the potential disagreement between the Cardinals or bishops over whether the Pope has, in fact, fallen into heresy and secretly lost his office - Mr. Derksen attempted to dismiss this on the basis that such a disagreement is unlikely “because the office would only be lost for objectively manifest heresy, and what’s manifest is not doubtful.” If that is so, perhaps Mr. Derksen can explain why the Sedevacantists disagree amongst themselves over who was, and who was not, the last true Pope? Some only reject Francis, others go back to Paul VI, others to John XXIII, others still to Leo XIII, or Pius IX, or even Innocent II (AD 1130), and some, believe it or not, now go all the way back to the Arian crisis of the fourth century. The confusion and division amongst the Sedevacantists themselves prove the legitimacy of Bishop Schneider’s second objection.

Now, since the Sedevacantist version of the ipso facto loss of office theory contains both of these inherent defects, if the version they hold is truly that of St. Robert Bellarmine (the Fifth Opinion), it means a Doctor of the Church has taught, what can only be described as an absurd theory, which is easily proven false by the logical inconsistencies that Bishop Schneider noted. Fortunately, for the good name of St. Bellarmine, the Sedevacantists do not hold the opinion of Bellarmine.  On the contrary, they have entirely misunderstood his teaching, while proclaiming all the while that by rejecting a series of Popes - and the indefectible Church over which they have reigned - they have simply been “following Bellarmine.” Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, as we will see, the Sedevacantists do not hold the Fifth Opinion (i.e., “a manifest heretic is ipso facto deposed”) that Bellarmine defended, but rather a modified version of the Second Opinion of Torquemada that Bellarmine refuted. 

Clarifying Terminology:
Heresy, and Occult and Notorious Heretics   

I am a sede-vacantist that attends an SSPX chapel here in the Detroit area. I have no degree in theology or canon law, so I try to keep it quite simple: if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck; guess what, I bet it's a duck.”[5] 

          Before delving into Bellarmine’s writings, it is first critical to clarify the meaning of heresy and the distinction between an “occult heretic” (e.g., secret heretic) and what Bellarmine called a “manifest heretic” (which today is properly termed a “notorious heretic”[1]).

           It should first be noted that not all errors are heresy. Heresy is the obstinate denial or doubt of truth that must be believed by divine and Catholic faith (cf. c. 751). The only truths that require the assent of divine and Catholic faith are dogmas, that is, formally revealed truths that have been infallibly proposed by the Magisterium as revealed. The denial of any other truth, whether it has been taught by the Magisterium authoritatively, or even infallibly, [2] is not heresy in the strict sense of the term.

       There are also two categories of heretics that Bellarmine discusses which need to be defined, namely, notorious (or “manifest”) heretics, and occult heretics.

        notorious (i.e., “manifest”) heretic is one whose heresy has either been legally declared by the Church (or admitted by the culprit before the competent authority), or is considered so clearly and indisputably proven that a judge would require no further investigation to consider it a juridical fact. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines notoriety as that which has been “so fully or officially proved, that it may and ought to be held as certain without further investigation.” It goes on to explains that notoriety “involves the idea of indisputable proof,” so much so that “what is notorious is held as proved and serves as a basis for the conclusions and acts of those in authority, especially judges.”[3] If a fact requires any further investigation for a judge to consider it legally established, it is not notorious.”[4]

       Notorious heresy is an extremely high bar to reach, unless the culprit publicly leaves the Church and joins a sect (which is an act that suffices for notoriety of fact). This is because both the fact of the heresy (i.e., denial of a dogma) and the guilt (pertinacity) must be publicly known, and must be so inexcusable that a judge will consider it proven.  According to Bellarmine, even if bishops publicly subscribe to heresy at a council, that alone will not suffice for them to be considered “manifest heretics.” This is seen in his defense of the bishops that took part in the Arian Council of Rimini who, in Bellarmine’s words, “subscribed to heresy” by decreeing that “the word consubstantial must be abolished” from the Creed, after it had been defined by the Council of Nicea. In spite of this, Bellarmine defended them against the accusation that they were heretics (De Ecclesia Militante, cap. xvi). 

       Again, short of publicly leaving the Church, notorious heresy is an extremely high bar to reach. By way of illustration, a textbook example of a notorious heretic by fact is Mario Derksen of Novus Ordo Watch. Mario publicly left the Church years ago and joined the C.M.R.I. (Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen)[5] which is a non-Catholic sect that was founded, ironically enough, by one of the first (of many) Sedevacantist antipopes, Francis Schuckardt (aka Antipope Hadrian VII).

       An occult heretic (i.e., secret heretic) is one who is guilty of formal heresy (internal forum), yet has remained externally united to the Church. Formal heresy is the mortal sin of heresy, which results in the loss of the theological virtue of faith.  The sin of heresy can be committed by an internal act alone (entirely occult), or it can be combined with external acts that manifest heresy (external occult). As long as the external acts of heresy do not suffice for notoriety, the culprit will remain an occult heretic.  Fraghi explains:

Heresy can be occult per se, if it is without an external act; or occult per accidens, if it is externally manifested, but is not notorious.  … for, although in the second case the heresy has been externally manifested, it is nevertheless occult if it cannot here and now be juridically proven (De Membres Ecclesia, Rome, 1937, p. 90).

The following is Cardinal Billot’s explanation of an occult vis-à-vis a notorious heretic. Keep in mind that when theologians speak of a “public profession” of heresy, they mean a notorious profession, which is essentially a public admission of heresy:

"Heretics are divided into occult and notorious. Occult heretics are, in the first place, those who by a purely internal act disbelieve dogmas of faith proposed by the Church.  Those also are occult, who do indeed manifest their heresy by external signs, but not by a public (i.e., notorious) profession.[11] You will easily understand that many men of our times fall into the latter category—those, namely, who either doubt or positively disbelieve matters of faith, and do not disguise the state of their mind in the private affairs of life, but who have never expressly renounced the faith of the Church, and, when they are asked categorically about their religion, declare of their own accord that they are Catholics."[12] 

Fr. Gleize explains that heresy which is not notorious is legally reduced to occult: 

"Notorious heresy therefore is not a heresy that everyone knows about. It is the sort of heresy that results from acts that the hierarchical authority of the Church denounces juridically as incompatible with the common good of Catholic society. In a strictly juridical sense, we speak only about occult or notorious heresy, and the notion of public heresy is reduced to that of occult heresy. In this juridical sense (which is sense used in canon law), any external act that has not been noted by the authority is occult.”[13] 

Cardinal Billot provides the theological basis for this truth. After previously explaining that “only notorious heretics are excluded from the Body of the Church,” he writes:

"That occult heretics are still in the Church can be shown, in the first place, by an argument drawn from the general principle that was declared above.  For baptism, of its very nature, gathers men into the visible body of the Catholic Church; this effect is always joined to it, unless there be something in the recipient of baptism that prevents it—something incompatible with the social bond of ecclesiastical unity.  Moreover, the social bond, because it is social, is of it very nature external and manifest. As long, therefore, as heresy is not openly professed [i.e. notorious profession[14]], but stays within the mind, or is confined to manifestations that do not suffice for notoriety, it by no means prevents one from being joined to the visible structure of the Church; and by this fact the baptismal character, by which we are made to be of the body of the Church, necessarily continues to have its effect, or rather retains its natural corollary, since there is not yet anything contrary to impede or expel it."[15]

 If heresy is not notorious, the baptismal character continues to produce the effect of uniting the person to the Body of the Church, and hence has no juridical effect on the person’s relationship with the Church in the external forum.

It is worth noting that the informed Sedevacantists readily admit that none of the recent Popes have been notorious (or manifest) heretics. For example, after explaining that “notoriety requires that not only the fact of the crime be publicly known, but also its imputability (canon 2197),” Sedevacantist bishop Don Sanborn admits that heresy has not been “public with regard to imputability” in any of the “Conciliar Popes.”[16] Since he acknowledges that this essential element of notoriety is lacking, he also admits that the recent Popes (and the bishops in union with them), all remained legal members of the Church, since, as he explains, “those who have received Catholic baptism are legally members of the Church until they cease to be” so through “pertinacious and notorious heresy.”[17] 

If none of the “Conciliar Popes” have been notorious heretics, and remained “legal members” of the Church, as Bishop Sanborn readily admits, even if one or more of them have been guilty of the mortal sin of heresy (which God alone knows), they would only have been occult heretics, not “manifest” (i.e., notorious) heretics. Hence, they would not have been ipso facto deposed according to the Fifth Opinion of St. Bellarmine.

Spiritual and Legal Separation from the Church
Internal and External Bonds of Unity 

It is also helpful to understand the two ways that heresy severs a person from the Church, since this helps to clarify the difference between what Bellarmine lists as the Fifth Opinion and the Second Opinion, that we will discuss below.

·         The sin of formal heresy, even if it is entirely occult (secret), destroys the internal virtue of faith and severs a person from the Church spiritually.

·         Notorious heresy, and nothing less than notorious heresy, severs the external juridical bond of “profession of the faith,” and cuts a person off from the Body of the Church legally.[18]  

       To summarize, if a Catholic falls into the sin of formal heresy and even “manifests it by external acts,” it will have no legal effect in the external forum, unless the external acts suffice for notoriety.  If his heresy is not considered legally proven, he remains a “legal member” of the Church; and being joined to the Body of the Church legally is all that is required to hold office in the Church and to meet Bellarmine’s definition of a true member of the Church.[19]     

Bellarmine’s Refutation of the Second Opinion

Turning now to Bellarmine’s writing, we will begin with his commentary on the Second Opinion (of Torquemada). This opinion, which was abandoned centuries ago, maintains that a Pope who falls into the sin of heresy is ipso facto deposed by divine law, due to a loss of the virtue of faith (i.e., the internal bond). 

"The second opinion is that a Pope by the very fact that he falls into heresy, even if it is only interior, is outside the Church and deposed by God; for this reason, he can be judged by the Church, that is, declared deposed by divine law, and deposed de facto, if he still refused to submit [to the warnings]. This is the view of John de Torquemada (bk 4, part 2, chapter 20), but in my opinion it is not proven."[20] 

Nearly all Sedevacantist hold a slightly modified version of this opinion, although they don’t realize it, or refuse to admit it.[21] One difference is that most say the Pope would also have to “manifest heresy” (verb) – which they conflate with being a “manifest heretic” (noun) - by which they mean, the Pope must do or say things that lead them to believe he has committed the sin of heresy; but it is the sin of heresy itself, they say, that causes the loss of office. The problem is that the sin of heresy (formal heresy) severs the internal bond, and external acts that “manifested heresy” are reduced to occult, if they do not suffice for notoriety. The Fifth Opinion defended by Bellarmine requires that the external bond of “profession of the faith” be severed, not the internal bond, and the external bond is only severed by notorious heresy.

But what is of particular interest is how Bellarmine refutes the Second Opinion. Here is how he does so: 

"For jurisdiction is surely given by God to the Pontiff, but with the cooperation of human activity [i.e., the Cardinals who elector him], as is clear, because that man, who beforehand was not Pope, has acquired from men that he would begin to be Pope; therefore, it is not removed by God unless it is through men. But an [entirely] occult heretic cannot be judged by men, nor would such wish to relinquish that power by his own will. Moreover, the foundation of this opinion is that occult heretics are outside the Church, which is false, as we have amply demonstrated in de Ecclesia, bk 1."[22] 

       Just as God does not make a man Pope without the cooperation of men, so too, says Bellarmine, neither does God deprived a Pope of his jurisdiction “unless it is through men” who judge him. God works with the Church in deposing a Pope. Suarez teaches the same: 

"I say briefly that an heretical Pope is not deposed by men but by God himself, although not without the ministry of the Church … For just as a Pope is elected by men and yet he receives the dignity not from men but immediately from Christ, so too, although he may be declared a heretic by the sentence of men, nevertheless it is not by human right, but by divine that he is at once deprived of the dignity." (Suarez, Defensio Fidei contra Errores Anglicanae Secta, lib. 3, cap. 4. N. 11). 

       Now, if a Pope’s heresy were entirely occult (no external act), there would be nothing for men to judge, as Bellarmine said above.  But there would be something for men to judge if his heresy were externally occult.  

The Church Can “Convict” a True Pope of Heresy -
(How God Deprives a Heretical Pope of His Jurisdiction “Through Men”)

       In the book Bellarmine referenced at the end of the earlier quote (De Ecclesia Militante), he explains what is required for a Pope who is an external occult heretic to fall from the pontificate: 

"Moreover it is certain, whatever one or another may think, that an occult heretic, if he be a bishop or even the supreme Pontiff, does not lose his jurisdiction, dignity, or the title of head in the Church, until either he publicly separates himself from the Church, or is convicted of heresy (aut convictus haereseos) and separated against his will."[23] 

       Notice carefully what he said. If a Roman Pontiff falls into heresy, but has not “publicly separated himself from the Church” (which would suffice for a notoriety of fact) he will retain his jurisdiction, his dignity, and his title as head of the Church, until he is “convicted of heresy.” The conviction is a condition (but not a cause) for the loss of office. It is not a post factum declaration that a former “Pope” has already fallen from the pontificate, as the Sedevacantists maintain, but a judgment that the currently reigning Pope – who still retains his jurisdiction, dignity and title - is a heretic. Only if the heretical Pope is convicted of heresy is his jurisdiction “removed by God.” If not, he remains Pope. This is the teaching of Bellarmine and it is found all throughout his writings, as we shall see.

       What this quotation proves is that, contrary to what every Sedevacantist apologist has maintained for decades, Bellarmine does not exclude the need of an antecedent judgment for a heretical Pope to be ipso facto deposed. On the contrary, except for the extreme case of a Pope who publicly separates himself from the Church,[24] he requires an antecedent judgment by the Church (a council) as a condition for the loss of office to take place. The reason the conviction is a condition for a “manifest heretic to be ipso facto deposed” is because the heretical Pope becomes a “manifest heretic” (notorious heretic) when he is convicted of heresy, and therefore that is when he is “removed by God,” or “ipso facto deposed.” And as we will see later, the Pope must be legitimately convicted of heresy by the Cardinals or by bishops at a council - either at a perfect council, if the Pope himself convokes it, or an imperfect council, if he refuses to do so. 

      Needless to say, all of this directly contradicts how every Sedevacantist apologist, without a single exception, has interpreted Bellarmine. They have all interpreted him as teaching that the Church has no role to play in a heretical Pope falling from the pontificate. Surprisingly, even Fr. Gleize mistakenly believes this is what Bellarmine held. In his article, The Question of Papal Heresy, he wrote: 

 "For St. Robert Bellarmine, Christ denies the formal heretic’s investiture inasmuch as he is a formal heretic: the Church has no role to play."[25] 

        Fr. Gleize also misinterpreted Cajetan as teaching the opposite extreme, namely, that Christ has no role to play, in depriving a Pope of his jurisdiction, claiming that “the Church alone” brings about the loss of his jurisdiction.[26]  In reality, both Bellarmine and Cajetan agree that the Church and Christ work together in depriving a Pope of his jurisdiction. There is no question that Christ is the Efficient Cause in making a man Pope formally, by conferring jurisdiction upon him, and of formally depriving a heretical Pope, by removing jurisdiction from him. 

Fr. Gleize did get the teaching of Suarez right. Unfortunately, since he misinterpreted Bellarmine and Cajetan as teaching two opposite extremes (only Christ, or only the Church), he erred by concluding that Suarez must have been attempting to reconcile the two. 

"Suarez’ explanation (see Part 6a) is original. In fact, it can be likened neither to Cajetan’s nor to St. Robert Bellarmine’s. For Cajetan, the Church alone causes the pope’s dethronement; for Saint Robert Bellarmine it is Christ aloneFor Suarez it is Christ and the Church at the same time. We should note in passing that this way of viewing the problem is characteristic of his eclecticism. Suarez has a lot of erudition but little genius. He does not synthesize. He always has trouble deciding among opposing authorities, and his tendency is to reconcile them is a sort of middle-of-the-road solution. … It is important to remember that Suarez is a man of his times, and the deep trends that he expresses already herald modern positivism."[28]


       Yes, Suarez (d. 1617) was “a man of his times”; in fact, of the same times as his colleague and fellow Jesuit, Bellarmine (d. 1621), with whom he shared the opinion that a heretical Pope is not deprived of his jurisdiction by God, “unless it is through men,” who convict him of heresy (and thus why in True or False Pope? we call theirs the “Jesuit Opinion”).

      Before seeing what Bellarmine has to say about convicting and deposing a heretical Pope in his book, On Councils (De Concilio), we need to address the difficult question of a how Pope can be convicted of heresy when “the First See is judged by no one.”

“Judging” the Pope 

It needs to be stated at the outset that, as we explain in True or False Pope? (p. 239), a Pope can never be truly judged, as a superior judges an inferior. Hence, bishops at a council can never exercise any jurisdiction or coercive power over the Pope, while he remains Pope. Papal immunity from judgment, which is part of divine law, admits of no exception, even in the case of heresy.  The difficulty that theologians face is explaining how the Church can legally establish the fact that a Pope has fallen into heresy, without violating his immunity from personal judgment.

Not only Bellarmine and Suarez, who hold the Fifth Opinion, but even those who hold the Fourth Opinion, admit that the Church cannot truly judge the Pope. For example, in his defense of the Fourth Opinion, John of St. Thomas (d. 1644) said “according to law, the Pope is judged by no one.” He then added: “therefore the deposition of a Pope cannot be done directly, by way of judgment and punishment, since the Pope has no superior on earth by whom he could be punished.”[29] 

Suarez defends the Pope’s immunity from judgment and his superiority over a council all throughout his writings.  In his book Against the Anglicans, for example, he says “the Pope has no superior on earth by whom he could be judged or coerced … the first see is judged by no one.”[30] He teaches that papal immunity from judgement is “a privilege of divine law,”[31] and says it holds true even in the case of heresy: 

"We deny, therefore, that the Church can exercise coercive power over the Pontiff, whether by censure or in any other way, unless he first falls from the pontificate… For as long as he remains a true Pope, he has jurisdiction over the whole Church, even when taken together; and therefore of necessity he is by divine law spiritually exempt, that is, not subject to any higher spiritual power aside outside of Christ, because no such power is found in the world."[32]  

Bellarmine teaches the same in numerous places in his book On Councils (cf. De Concilio, lib. 2, cap. xxvi).  All three of these theologians teach that a Pope cannot even be judged with a juridical coercive judgment if he wills it.[33] 

Yet they do teach that bishops at a council can “convict” a Pope of heresy (Bellarmine), and “declare” him a heretic (Suarez), while he remains Pope, and even indirectly depose him (John of St. Thomas), which obviously requires some form of antecedent judgement by the council.  How can they both affirm and deny that a Pope can be judged? The answer is found in a distinction between two forms of juridical judgments. 

The Key Distinction Sedevacantists Have Missed:
Two Forms of Judgment - Discretionary & Coercive

 In De Concilio, Bellarmine distinguishes between the two powers required for judgment (discretionary and coercive) and two modes of legal judgment. He begins by explaining that a “perfect judgment” requires both powers: “First, the [discretionary] power to discuss the case and to discern or judge what must be done. Secondly, the [coercive] power to compel him who fails in the case to obey the judgment imposed against him.”[34] 

In the ecclesiastical forum, these two powers (discretionary and coercive) correspond to the two facets of the “keys” (knowledge and power), and are received with jurisdiction. The members of the episcopate enjoy both powers by virtue of their office.[35] The discretionary power (clavis scientiae) is the authority to investigate a case and reach a verdict; the coercive power (clavis potentiae) is the authority to bind and lose (e.g., retain and absolve sins in the sacrament of Penance), or compel, punish, or impose a coercive sentence (i.e., an ecclesiastical censure).

Bellarmine explains that a judge properly so-called has both powers. An arbiter, on the other hand, only has the discretionary power. An arbiter has the legal authority to consider the facts of a case, reach a judgment, and decide what should be done, but he lacks the coercive power needed to impose the sentence, or punish the party. The judgment of an arbitrator is called a discretionary judgment.  The “perfect judgment” of a true judge is called a coactive (both powers acting) or coercive judgment. 

Bossuet describes the difference between the two forms of judgment this way: he says a discretionary judgment “involves discernment and knowledge, which distinguishes between the true and the false,” whereas a coactive judgment also requires “power and jurisdiction, which is the power to subject someone to the penalty of the decision.”[36] Thus, the discretionary judgment of an arbitrator is a legal judgment, with no coercive force. It is a juridical judgement, but not a judicial judgment of a judge properly so-called. 

In the case of a heretical Pope, the Church (i.e., Cardinals or bishops gathered at a council) has the “power to discuss the case” and “discern” whether the accusations of heresy against the Pope are true or false (discretionary judgement).  This first (antecedent) judgment of the Church, which weighs evidence and ascertains facts, is non-coercive and exercises no jurisdictional authority over the Pope. It only involves an exercise of the discretionary power. It can be likened to that of a jury who tries the facts of a case, or, as Bellarmine says, to that of an arbiter of a case, because neither a jury nor an arbiter has the coercive power to compel.

Only after the Pope has fallen from the pontificate (after his jurisdiction has been “removed by God”), can he be judged with a coactive (coercive) judgment – i.e., judged and punished - since he would then no longer be Pope.  This second (consequent) judgment is that of a judge properly so-called, since only a judge can compel and punish. 

By Divine Law the Pope is Immune from a Coercive Judgment,
but not from a Discretionary Judgment 

            Papal immunity from judgment, which is part of divine law, contains two aspects: First, it prevents the final judicial decisions of the Pope from being appealed to a council (Denz. 1830.)  Second, it exempts the Pope from the coercive power of the Church (or state). Consequently, a Pope can never legitimately be subject to a judicial coercive judgment, even if he willed it. But divine law does not prevent a Pope from being judged by a discretionary judgment. [37] 

Bellarmine proves this by the historical cases of Pope Leo IV (Nos si incompetenter’ 2, q.7), Sixtus III (‘Mandasti’ 2, quaest. 5), Leo III (ch. ‘Auditum’) and several other Popes, who, having been accused of various crimes, submitted to the discretionary judgment of councils or Emperors. Pope Leo IV even agreed in advance to obey the decision that was rendered. Bellarmine said in such a case (agreeing in advance to obey the ruling), the Pope is morally bound to obey the decision, but he cannot be legally forced to do so.  In reply to those who argued that a Pope can be judged with a coactive judgment, and appealed to the case of Leo IV to prove it, Bellarmine explained that “Leo only subjected himself to the discretionary judgment of the Emperor, not to a coactive judgment.” (De Romano Pontifice, bk. 2, ch. 29).  Suarez said the form of judgment Leo submitted to was that of an “arbitrator,” which, as we have seen, is another way of saying a discretionary judgment.[38]  Everyone admits that a pope can be licitly judged with a discretionary judgment.

Normally, facts or accusations about a Pope can only be the subject of a discretionary judgment by bishops at a council if the Pope willingly submits to it, but there is an exception in the case of a heretical Pope (this is the exception referred to in the canon, Si Papa), or schism due to multiple doubtful Popes.  Bellarmine teaches that mere suspicion of heresy, or an accusation of infidelity against a Pope, justifies the bishops or Cardinals gathering in a council - even without the Pope’s consent [39] - to consider the facts of the case and render a verdict.  The same is true, he says, in the case of multiple doubtful Popes.

Suarez explains that the right to examine the case of a heretical Pope has been conceded to the Church by God as a just and necessary defense in the case of a heretical Pope: 

"Although in the case of heresy he could be deposed, he is not in truth then deposed by man but by God himself, after the declaration of a legitimate Council has preceded, as I said; and in this way no voluntary subjection of the person of the Pontiff, nor even involuntary coercion intervenes as long as he is Pontiff, but only knowledge and examination of the cause [discretionary power], which he himself in that case cannot justly impede, because it has been conceded by God as a just and necessary defense."[40] 

       Again, what is important to note is that the only power needed to legally investigate facts or accusations, and reach a legal judgment, is the discretionary power (clavis scientiae). As St. Thomas explains, the discretionary power is the “authority to judge.” (Suppl, q. 17, a. 3, ad 2) - not the authority to impose a coercive sentence or punish (clavis potentiae), but simply the authority to legitimately investigate a case and render a decision.  

Post Vatican I Theologians: The Church has the Authority
to Investigate a Pope and Declare Him a Heretic 

Theology manuals published after Vatican I continue to teach that a council has the (discretionary) authority needed to legally establish (convict) and even declare that the Pope is a heretic. When reading the following quotes, it should be kept in mind, as Cardinal Journet explains, that when theologians speak of “deposing a Pope,” the phrase is being used in an improper sense, since truly deposing (depriving of jurisdiction) requires a coercive act of a superior authority.[41]  

In Synopsis Theologiae Dogmaticae (1897), Tanquerey explains that in the extraordinary case of a heretical Pope or multiple doubtful Popes, begins by noting that during the First Vatican Council, Bishop Gasser took the occasion to discussed the hypothesis of a Pope falling into heresy, which was considered unlikely, but not impossible. He then explains that if such were to happen, “he would either be ipso facto deprived of the Pontificate, or the body of bishops could (indirectly) depose him, as in the case of doubtful pope: for in these extraordinary cases, the authority devolves to the episcopal body.”[42] 

In Tractatus De Romano Pontifice (1891), Palmieri explains that it is God, not man, who deprives a heretical Pope of his jurisdiction, but says it doesn’t happen until the Church declares him a heretic. He then references Suarez as the authority for his position: 

"If a Pope is obstinate in his heresy—obstinate, I say: for, if he heeds the Church’s admonitions, nothing further is necessary—such a Pope is deposed, not by man, but by God himself, who takes away the jurisdiction that He had given him; the Church, for her part, only declares the man to be a heretic, and then (ideoque) God deprives him of his jurisdiction." (cf. Suarez, Defensio Fidei Catholicae, lib. iv c. 7 n. 5). 

In the quotation Palmieri referenced, Suarez says, “although in the case of heresy [the Pope] could be deposed, he is in truth not deposed by man but by God himself, after the declaration of a legitimate Council has preceded.” (Defensio Fidei Catholicae, lib. v c 7 n. 5). 

       In Sacrae Theologiae Summa (1955), Joachim Salaverri teaches the same as Palamerri, and he too references Suarez: 

"Theologians concede that a general Council can licitly declare a Pope heretical, if this case [of a Pope falling into heresy] is possible, but it cannot depose him authoritatively since he is superior to the Council … see Suarez, De fide d.10 s.6."[43] 

       The fact that Salaverri means a sitting Pope can be licitly declared a heretic, is evident from the following quotation from Suarez that he referenced to support his position:  

I say thirdly, if a Pope were a heretic and incorrigible, when first, through the legitimate jurisdiction of the Church, a declaratory sentence of the crime is pronounced against him, he ceases to be Pope. This is the common opinion among the doctors. (Suarez, De Fide, disp x, sect. 6.) 

       In Elements of Ecclesiastical Law (1887), Fr. Smith observes that there are two main opinions concerning how a heretical Pope is deprived of his jurisdiction, and then explains that, “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.”[44]

In Summa Apologetica de Ecclesia Catholica (1890), Vincent Groot also teaches that a Pope who falls into heresy is not deprived of his jurisdiction until his heresy is juridically established and declared: 

"In the case of a Pope who is a public, legal, notorious, and contumacious heretic… he would have to be deposed by a council of bishops.  But the deposition would not be an act of jurisdiction, since there is no power greater than the Pope, but a declaratory sentence, by which the fact of heresy is juridically established; and once established, the Pope is believed to be deprived of his dignity by divine law."[45] 

       Groot goes on to defend Cajetan’s opinion, and compares the non-coercive authority the Church uses to “depose” a Pope to the ministerial power she uses to elect a Pope: during the election the Church designates the person who is to become Pope, and Christ confers jurisdiction upon him; in “deposing” a Pope, the Church declares that the Church has separated from the heretic Pope, and Christ deprives him of his jurisdiction.

       All these manuals were written and received imprimaturs after the First Vatican Council.  None of these theologians (or canonists) were conciliarists, and they all affirmed that “the First See is judged by no one.”

       Bellarmine, the theologians and canonists cited above, and others that could be cited, all admit that the Pope is superior to a council and is subject no coercive power on Earth, yet they also teach that in the extraordinary case of a heretical Pope, the episcopal body has the authority to establish that the Pope has fallen into heresy and declare it. And they further believe that Christ will act once the fact (“ipso facto”) is legally established (and declared), by stripping the heretical Pope of his jurisdiction. In short, the antecedent judgment is a necessary condition for the ipso facto loss of office to take place. As Bishop Zinelli said during the First Vatican Council when discussing the hypothesis of a heretical Pope: “God does not fail in the things that are necessary; therefore, if He permits so great an evil, the means to remedy such a situation will not be lacking.”[46] And to be clear, what is being legally established and declared is not whether a proposition is heretical, but whether or not the Pope denies a dogma that has already been defined by the infallible authority of the Church.  The judgment is one of fact, not of faith. 

The Conviction is a Discretionary (Non-Coercive) Judgment 

In light of what we have seen, in the case of papal heresy, the conviction is of the same nature as the discretionary judgment of an arbitrator: it is a legitimate judgment of reason (iudicium rationis), with no coercive force. It is legitimate, because in the extraordinary case of papal heresy, the bishops possess the authority needed to investigate the accusations and establish the facts.  It is non-coercive because they do not possess jurisdiction or coercive power over the Pope.  

Hence, when legally establishing the fact that the Pope has fallen into heresy, the bishops at a council would only possess the authority proper to an arbitrator, and therefore would not be acting in the capacity of true judges. That explains why Bellarmine said a heretical Pope would not be deposed by the “sentence of a judge,” nor by excommunication (which is a coercive act).  Christ alone remains the Pope’s only true Judge, while he remains Pope.

As mentioned earlier the conviction can be compared analogously to a verdict rendered by a jury in a civil or criminal trial.  The jury considers the facts of the case and arrives at a legal decision, but it is the judge who imposes the sentence and punishes.  Similarly, according to Bellarmine’s opinion, if the bishops gathered at a council legally establish or “convicted” the Pope of heresy, Christ, the true Judge, would inflict the punishment by authoritatively depriving the Pope of his dignity and jurisdiction. Only after the Pope had been deprived by God, “through men,” could the bishops act as true judges (with coercive power), by stripping the former Pope of his title and excommunicating him.   

The following is the sequence of events: 

1)      The Church (bishops at a council) convict the Pope of heresy (antecedent/human judgment).

2)      Christ authoritatively deposes the Pope (divine coercive judgment).

3)      The Church judges and punishes the former Pope (consequent/human coercive judgement).[47]

 Bellarmine on Judging, Convicting and Deposing Pope 

In light of these sequence of events (which can also be found on pp. 270-271 of True or False Pope?), let us turn again to the writings of Bellarmine. In the following quote, he begins by explaining what is necessary for a Pope to be deprived of his right to convoke a council: 

"[T]he Roman Pontiff cannot be deprived of the right to summon a Council, and preside over it – a right he has possessed for 1500 years – unless he were first legitimately judged and convicted, and is not the Supreme Pontiff.  Moreover, [to the objection] that the same man [i.e., the Pope] ought not to be both the judge and the party [being judged]: I say this applies to private men, but not to the Supreme prince. For the supreme prince, as long as he has not been declared or legitimately judged to have fallen from his rule, always remains the supreme judge, even if he litigates with himself as a party."[48]

       He goes on to say that a Pope cannot be condemned (which is a coercive act) while he remains Pope, and then explains how the bishops could depose the Pope during the council so that he can be condemn:

"Moreover, the Pope is not the only judge in a council, but has many colleagues, namely, all the bishops, who, if they could convict him of heresy (antecedent discretionary judgment), could judge and depose him (consequent coercive judgment), even against his will. Therefore, the heretics have nothing, for why should they complain if the Roman Pontiff presides at a Council before he is condemned?"[49]

       So, according to Bellarmine, a Pope will retain the right to convoke a council and preside over it, as long as he has not been “legitimately judged and convicted” of heresy.  This is because, as he said De Ecclesia Militante, a heretical Pope will retain his dignity, title, and jurisdiction until he is convicted of heresy.  But once he is convicted, his jurisdiction is, in Bellarmine’s words, “removed by God” and he ceases to be Pope. Therefore, he goes on to say if the bishops can “convicted him of heresy” (antecedent judgment), they can “judge and deposed him” (coercive judgment), even against his will. And remember, the Pope who they convicted of heresy had the authority to summon the council that convicted him. He was the true Pope when the council started, and a former Pope when it ended; and it happened, not because he fell into heresy, but because he was convicted of heresy by those who had the legal authority to render the non-coercive judgment.   

       This, of course, directly contradicts how every Sedevacantist has interpreted Bellarmine for the last forty years.

       The reason they misinterpreted him is because they failed to understand the two forms of judgment.  As a result, when Bellarmine explains, in his commentary on the Fifth Opinion, that the reason a heretical Pope can be “judged and punished by the Church” (coercive judgment) is because he has already ceased to be Pope, they thought he excluded the need of any form of human judgment by a council before the ipso facto loss of office takes place.

       Also notice in the quotation above from Bellarmine, that he makes a distinction between being judged and being convicted. He does the same in his commentary on the Third Opinion, when he says the reason a Pope can be judged is because he was first convicted of heresy. The antecedent judgment (conviction) is not a judicial judgment (the judgment of a judge), and Bellarmine shows that he is cognizant of this fact by terminology he uses for the two judgements.  He usually calls the antecedent judgement a “conviction,” or sometimes says “clearly proved” (convincant), but whenever he uses a phrase that implies coercive power, such as “judged and depose,” or “judged and punished,” or “condemned,” he is always clearly referring to the consequent (coercive) judgment, which takes place after the Pope has been deprived of his jurisdiction by Christ.  That explains why, in his commentary on the Fifth Opinion, he says the reason a Pope can be “judged and punished by the Church” (coercive judgment) is because he has already ceased to be Pope.  In True or False Pope?, we purposely used the phrase “establishing the crime” (or “determine the crime”), when speaking of the antecedent judgement, so as not to be misunderstood as implying that it is a judicial judgment of a judge properly so-called.

        The Sedevacantists, of course, entirely missed all the nuances in Bellarmine’s writings, and concluded that because he says a Pope is “judged and punished” after he ceases to be Pope, it must mean he excluded the need of any judgment before a Pope is deprived of his jurisdiction by Christ. Not only did they miss the antecedent and consequent judgments in Bellarmine’s writings, but they explicitly rejected them when others did make the distinction.  For example:

Fr. Kramer: “Robert J. Siscoe states with unequivocal clarity his heretical mitigated Conciliarist opinion in his Remnant article (Nov. 18, 2014): ‘The Church must render a judgment before the pope loses his office. Private judgment of the laity in this matter does not suffice.’ Clueless Robert Siscoe still cannot grasp the simple notion of an automatic loss of office that does not take place by either private judgment, or official judgment by the Church, but by the act of heresy itself, independently of the judgment of others. … as Bellarmine states.”

Fr. Kramer: “Salza and Siscoe say, ‘The antecedent judgment must be rendered by the Church before the consequent judgment can be declared.’ Really? But there is no antecedent judgment made before the fall from office – it is impossible…According to Bellarmine, and all who hold to opinion no. 5, the first judgment is pronounced by the heretic upon himself, who automatically falls from office without any judgment by the Church. This is patently manifest in Bellarmine’s own words.”[50]No council can ever ‘convict’ a pope of heresy…”[51]

       As it turns out, it was not the accused who was “clueless,” but the accuser.

Sedevacantist Error #1:
Failure to Distinguish the Two Forms of Judgment

In his reply to the Open Letter accusing Pope Francis of heresy, Mario Derksen of Novus Ordo Watch proves that he disagrees with Bellarmine by stating that bishops cannot “convict” the Pope of heresy:

"If Francis is Pope, then indeed they [the signatories] do not have the power to ‘declare the pope guilty of heresy’ — because they are his inferiors, and an accused person can only be declared guilty in a legally valid and binding way by a superior whose subject he is:…Strangely enough, however, although they recognize their own powerlessness to legally judge, convict, punish, or depose the “Pope” for heresy, the signatories have nevertheless decided that somehow the ‘bishops’ they are addressing are competent to do these things, when they too, of course, are but Francis’ inferiors."[52]

       Bellarmine says the bishops can convict a Pope of heresy; Mario Derksen says they cannot.  As we saw above, Fr. Kramer sides with Derksen against Bellarmine.  

       And in light of the teaching we just saw from Bellarmine, if Mr. Derksen believes an inferior is not competent to “convict” a superior of heresy, we pose the same question to him as he did to Bishops Schneider: does Mr. Derksen “really think that someone as brilliant and orthodox St. Robert Bellarmine would not have noticed such a contradiction in his thinking or would have subscribed to ‘crypto-conciliarism’.” (Derksen, “Comedy Hour with Athanasius Schneider”).

        By failing to distinguish between the two forms of judgment, the Sedevacantists have ended by drawing two extreme conclusions:  1) That a Pope who falls into heresy must necessarily be ipso facto deposed before a council can render a judgment; and 2) that if a heretical Pope has not already been ipso facto deposed by God, the Church is stuck with him and there’s nothing she can do about it. Let’s hear again from Mr. Derksen:

"[I]t is high time we looked at what the Catholic Church teachings [sic] on the [im]possibility of judging and removing a valid Pope…if Francis is a true Pope now, then no one can take the pontificate away from him. He cannot be removed from office; he cannot be deposed. You’re simply stuck with him. Welcome to Catholic teaching on the papacy."[53] 

Those who have properly understood Bellarmine and distinguished between a coercive and non-coercive judgment in order to explain how God can authoritatively deposes a heretical Pope “through men,” have been falsely accused by the Sedevacantists of: (1) saying it is the men who coercively judge and depose the Pope, and consequently (2) of being heretical “Conciliarists.” For example:

John Lane: “Salza is a Conciliarist – he cheerfully asserts what every non-Gallican theologian since Cajetan has been at pains to deny – that the Church can judge a pope. ‘The crime (heresy) [says Salza] must be determined before the punishment for the crime (loss of office) can be inflicted. As Bellarmine, Suarez and the consensus of theologians maintain, the offense of Papal heresy is determined by the Church, and the divine punishment is inflicted by God…’.  Salza’s position is that the Church can judge the pope but cannot, or at least does not, punish the pope. Since this position is heretical, I don’t think we need to concern ourselves any further with it.”[54]

Fr. Kramer: “Salza & Siscoe have become so desperately obsessed with their heretical mitigated conciliarist belief that a pope who falls into heresy must first be judged by the Church, that they have resorted to a plainly irrational argument against the plainly expressed position of Bellarmine…”[55]

       Evidently, John Lane no longer considers Salza a “Conciliarist” for saying the Church can determine that a Pope fallen into heresy, because, after the publication of our book True or False Pope?, he changed his position and now concedes that even Cajetan’s Fourth Opinion can be legitimately held, and Cajetan required that the Church do more than simply determine that the Pope is a heretic.[56]  Fr. Kramer, on the other hand, still believes it is “crypto-Conciliarism” to say the Church can “convict” a Pope of heresy.

Sedevacantist Error #2:
Conflating the Ipso Facto Loss of Office Theories

       Another problem stems from the fact that there are at least four different ipso facto loss of office theories, and those who are not aware of the nuances that distinguish them (and hardly anyone is) inevitably end by confusing one opinion with another and therefore not properly understanding either. The Second Opinion (of Torquemada), for example, which is what the Sedevacantists really hold, maintains a Pope would be is ipso facto deposed for violating divine law by committing the sin of heresy and losing the virtue of faith. That is precisely what the Sedevacantists believe, as Fr. Kramer admitted about himself. “For the record, I do indeed hold that hypothetically, losing the virtue of faith, the pope would lose office.”

       They conflate the Second Opinion of Torquemada and the Fifth Opinion of Bellarmine (or at least a slightly modified version of it), apparently unaware of the differences between the two. For example, see if you can spot the error that Derksen and the modern author he quotes makes:

Mario Derksen: “the simple truth is that the only reason why a Pope — so to speak — can be judged for heresy is that he is no longer Pope if he is a heretic. This fact alone explains why judgment is licit in that case. This position was first enunciated, it seems, by Cardinal Juan de Torquemada and later adopted by St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church:

‘In the Summa de Ecclesia, one of the earliest and most influential ecclesiological treatises of the late Middle Ages, John of Torquemada (+1468), for example, admitted that a heretical pope could, in a certain sense, be “judged” by a council. Even so, the council would not be judging a true pope. Precisely because he was heretical, he would already have ceased, by that very fact, to hold the papal office. Jesus’ words, “He who does not believe is condemned already” (Jn 3:18), provided a biblical proof text which justified the automatic loss of office if a pope fell into heresy.  After the Council of Trent, Robert Bellarmine (+1621) and others took up the theory of John of Torquemada: a pope who falls into heresy forfeits his office. No formal deposition is required since divine law already put the pope outside the Church.” (Miller, The Shepherd and the Rock, p. 292; underlining added.) (Derksen, The Open Letter accusing Francis of Heresy: A Sedevacantist Analysis).

       Did you catch that? Anyone who is even remotely familiar with the “Five Opinions” knows Torquemada held the Second Opinion, since Bellarmine explicitly named him as holding it – “This is the view of John de Torquemada.” The fact that Mario Derksen is not aware of this, and thinks Bellarmine “adopted” Torquemada’s opinion, is quite revealing in itself. And Derksen has the temerity to accuse Bishop Schneider of “not getting it.”

       We should also mention that the theologians and canonists who held the Second Opinion (i.e., loss of office due to the sin of occult heresy) did not believe a Pope who fell into heresy would lose his jurisdiction, dignity or title as head of the Church while he remains Pope quoad nos (according to us). And as Billuart (who held the Second Opinion) explains, he will remain Pope quoad nos until he is declared a heretic by the Church.  Only then, he says, would it be licit to refuse him obedience. [57]  The Second Opinion, which Huguccio of Pisa (d. 1210) came up with, was simply a way of explaining how the Church could judge and depose a Pope, without truly judging and truly deposing a Pope.  It was a speculative opinion that had little or no practical effect, since the allegedly fallen Pope remained Pope for all practical purposes until he was warned multiple times and “declared deposed” by the Church. The opponents of this theory pointed to the inherent contradictions contained within it as a means of refuting it”[58]   

Sedevacantist Error #3:
Anyone Can Judge the Pope

A third error of the Sedevacantists is that anyone can “judge the Pope” – that is, judge the person they believe to be the Pope while they are judging him - and if they conclude that he is a heretic (i.e., that he has lost the virtue of faith), they can, and indeed should, publicly declare him an antipope. The underlying error that gave rise to this Sedevacantist doctrine is the belief that a heretical Pope must necessarily fall from the Pontificate before the Church can render a judgment. Based on this, they conclude that anyone can judge for themself if it has already happened. Fr. Kramer even claim judging whether the Pope is a notorious heretic is “a basic right of natural law,”[59] and says individual Catholics can judge for themselves  if the Pope has fallen from office, using their conscience:

Fr. Kramer: "Bellarmine says, ‘when they [men] see that someone is a heretic by his external works, they judge him to be a heretic pure and simple, and condemn him as a heretic.’ The Church judges after the fact, and therefore after the fall, and thus judges juridically and punishes the heretic …. Individuals also judge according to their own private opinion, according to an informed conscience, but the private judgment of individuals does not have the juridical effect of authorizing a new papal election.”[60]

An informed conscience can’t judge who is and who is not the true Pope, because the judgement of conscience is not an act of the speculative intellect that distinguishes truth from error, but an act of the practical intellect that distinguishes good from bad, as it relates to behavior.[61]  An informed conscience can judge that it’s a mortal sin against faith for anyone to reject the legitimacy of the Pope who is accepted as such be the hierarchy (e.g., Pope Francis), but it cannot judge who is and who is not the true Pope.  The informed conscience of a Catholic knows [i.e., is informed by the fact] that he is a true Pope, because Catholics believe in the infallibility of the Magisterium who recognizes him as such.[62]

Let us consider one example of what happens when an individual tries to use their conscience to judge who is and who is not the true Pope. After initially accepting Francis as Pope, Fr. Paul Kramer used his conscience to judge that Francis was a heretic, and then publicly declared on social media that the See was vacant. The next day, Fr. Kramer’s conscience judged that Benedict was the true Pope, and he spent the next five years trying to prove it. Then, in May 2019, Fr. Kramer’s conscience judged that Benedict was also a heretic. He then promptly declared it too on social media, and exhorted “the few remaining Catholics prelates and clergy” to consider the see vacant![63] Kramer locuta est, causa finita est.

But it turns out that the causa was not finita est after all, since a short time later, Fr. Kramer’s conscience judged that Benedict was the true Pope after all, as evidenced by the fact that he viciously attacked someone on an internet forum for referring to him as a Sedevacantist, which he most certainly would be if he still believed (as he did a mere six months earlier) that the See was vacant. Or perhaps his conscience has now judged that someone other than Benedict is the true Pope, or at least was the true Pope (before his conscience subsequently judged him too, to be a heretic). One priest has labeled Fr. Kramer’s constantly changing position, “Sedealterism.”   While it is unclear who, if anyone, Fr. Kramer’s conscience judges to be the true Pope today, what is clear is from his “Sedealterism,” is what happens when individuals believe the legitimacy of the Pope is a matter to be determined by private judgment, rather than by the public judgment of the infallible voice of the magisterium.

More from St. Bellarmine
on “Deposing” a Heretical Pope

Another consequence of their failure to understand the two judgments, is that Sedevacantists have always maintained that a council could only be convened if everyone knew the (former) “Pope” was a “manifest heretic” who had already fallen from the pontificate.  Fr. Kramer says that is what justifies convening it: “The very justification for the Church to convene in a Council to judge the heretic pope, would be the fact that the See would have already been considered to be having been vacated by a heretic pope.”[64]

       However, Bellarmine teaches that suspicion of heresy suffices for a council to be convened, and no one is ipso facto deposed for mere suspicion of heresy: 

"The fourth reason [a council can be convoked] is suspicion of heresy in the Roman Pontiff … for then a general Council ought to be gathered either to depose the Pope (consequent coercive judgment) if he should be found to be a heretic (antecedent discretionary judgment); or certainly to admonish him if he seemed to be incorrigible in morals. As it is related in the 8th Council, act. ult. canon 21, general Councils ought to impose judgment on controversies arising in regard to the Roman Pontiff—albeit not rashly."[65] 

In his commentary on the case of Pope Marcellinus (who offered incense to idols), Bellarmine explains that an accusation of infidelity justifies convoking a council:

"Marcellinus was accused of an act of infidelity, in which case a Council can discuss the case of the Pope, and if they were to discover that he really was an infidel (discretionary judgment), the Council can declare him outside the Church and thus condemn him (coercive judgment)."[66]

       Now, neither Bellarmine[67] nor the bishops at the council believed Marcellinus fell from the Pontificate prior to the council (see Pope Nicholas’ epistle to Emperor Michael), even though offering incense to idols was one of three capital crimes at the time that expelled a person from the Church; nor did the bishops believe they could judge Marcellinus with a coercive judgement, while he remained Pope, as evidenced by the fact that they all declared, “the first see is judged by no one. Judge yourself” (Ibid.).  Yet, they did believe (as did Bellarmine) that they had the authority to convoke a council to consider the accusations, and render a judgment. 

       This further proves that Bellarmine does not believe what justifies convening a council is that the See is already considered to be “vacated by a heretic pope.” (Fr. Kramer).

Another question Bellarmine considers is if anyone other than the Pope can convoke a council if the Pope himself refuses to do so.  He replies that in the case of a heretical or schismatic Pope (multiple doubtful claimants), it is permitted. But he goes on to say if the Pope refuses to convoke the council, it would only be an imperfect council – imperfect because it would only possess the authority needed to “provide for the head.” It could not define any doctrines or issue decrees that pertain to the universal Church. Bellarmine then references Cajetan’s teaching on an imperfect council to support his own position. (Bellarmine, De Concilio, bk. 1, ch. XIV).

       Now, if a Pope were legitimately convicted of heresy by a council representing the universal Church, the second difficulty Bishop Schneider raised – i.e., bishops disagreeing over whether the Pope had fallen into heresy - would likely be avoided. Of course, there could still be questions concerning whether he remained Pope after the “conviction,” since the Church has never defined if, when, or how a heretical Pope would lose his office.

        Bellarmine sheds further light on his true position concerning a heretical Pope in his reply to an objection raised by Protestants. The Protestants had argued that a condition required for a council to be legitimate, is that the Pope temporarily release the bishops from the Oath of Allegiance that they swear to him, so they will be free to speak their mind during the council. Bellarmine replies by explaining why this is both unjust and impertinent:

"The sixth condition is both unjust and impertinent. Unjust, because inferiors ought not be free from the obedience owed to their superiors, unless first he were legitimately deposed (legitimate deponatur) or declared not to be a superior (vel declaretur non esse superior) ...  Impertinent because the oath does not take away the freedom of the Bishops, which is necessary in Councils: for they promise to be obedient to the supreme Pontiff, which is understood as the entire time he is Pope, and provided he commands those things which, according to God and the sacred canons, he can command; but they do not swear that they are not going to say what they think in the Council, or that they are not going to depose him, if they were to clearly prove (convincant) that he is a heretic."[68] 

       Once again, Bellarmine says if the bishops can clearly prove (convincant) that the Pope is a heretic (discretionary judgment), they could depose him (coercive judgment).  They reason they could “depose him” (or declare him deposed), is because his jurisdiction would have been “removed by God” (i.e., he would have ceased to be Pope), the moment his heresy was clearly proven (notorious by fact) by the bishops.  

       Equally important is Bellarmine’s teaching that inferiors are only released from the obedience owed to their superior (in this case the Pope), if he has been legitimately deposed or declared not to be superior.  Suffice it to say that Bellarmine does not agree with Fr. Kramer’s contention that individual Catholics have a “natural right” to judge for themselves if a Pope has fallen into heresy, and if they conclude that he has, can publicly exhort the “Catholic prelates and clergy“ to consider the see vacant.

       Also notice that Bellarmine said a Pope must be obeyed “provided he commands those things which, according to God and the sacred canons, he can command.” He doesn’t say a Pope must be obeyed in all things no matter what, but only in all his legitimate commands. In De Romano Pontifice (lib. 2, cap. xix), he goes further by saying if a Pope is harming souls or destroying the Church, “it is lawful to resist him, by not doing what he commands, and by blocking him, lest he should carry out his will.” So, not only does Bellarmine teach that a heretical Pope can be convicted of heresy, and that the faithful must remain subject to him unless he has been legitimately declared not to be Pope, but he also advocates the Recognize and Resist position.  

Historical Example: The Case of Pope Liberius 

       In De Romano Pontifice, Bellarmine says the “Roman clergy” (the Cardinals of that day) judged Liberius to be a heretic and then stripped him of the pontifical dignity: 

"Then two years later came the Fall of Liberius, of which we have spoken above. Then indeed the Roman clergy stripped Liberius of his Pontifical dignity (abrogata Liberio Pontificia dignitate) and went over to Felix, whom they knew to be a Catholic. From that time, Felix began to be the true Pontiff. For although Liberius was not a heretic, nevertheless he was considered one, on account of the peace he made with the Arians, and by that presumption his pontificate could rightly be taken from him (abrogari): for men are not bound or able to read hearts; but when they see that someone is a heretic by his external works, they simply judge him to be a heretic (discretionary judgement), and condemn him as a heretic" (De Romano Pontifice, bk IV).

     Bellarmine doesn’t say the Roman clergy issued a post factum declaration that Liberius had already fallen from the pontificate for heresy, as Sedevacantists would have us believe. He said they abrogated Liberius’ pontificate. “Also notice that Bellarmine said he did not believe Liberius was truly a heretic. If he didn’t believe he was a heretic, he certainly would not have believed his jurisdiction was “removed by God” prior to the legitimate judgment of men.  Yet Bellarmine said because the clergy of Rome judged him to be a heretic, they were justified in abrogating his pontificate. What this shows is that Bellarmine believed God would ratify and act upon the legitimate judgment (conviction) rendered by the Church.

That Bellarmine did not believe Liberius fell from the pontificate prior to the judgment of the Roman clergy, is further confirmed by what he wrote when comparing the case of Liberius to that of Pope Marcellinus. He said, “Liberius neither taught heresy, nor was a heretic, but only sinned by external act, as did St. Marcellinus, and, unless I am mistaken, sinned less than Marcellinus.” (De Romano Pontifice, lib. iv, cap. ix).  If Bellarmine did not believe Marcellinus was ipso facto deposed for his sin against the faith (prior to human judgment), he would not have thought Liberius fell from the pontificate for a lesser sin against the faith, until the judgment was rendered by the Roman clergy.   

Bellarmine’s Refutation of the Sedevacantists of His Day
applies Equally to those of Our Day. 

       Something that most people are not aware of is that many of the early Protestants were also Sedevacantists.  Like their counterparts today, they believed the “Papist bishops” – i.e., the Pope and bishops in union with him - had defected from the faith and lost their authority by divine law, without the need of any legitimate judgment. Their slogan was: “there’s no true succession without true doctrine.”

       Bellarmine refutes this Protestant argument in his book on the Marks of the Church.  In so doing he doesn’t try to convince them that the Catholic bishops had not defected from the faith, since that would have gotten him nowhere.  Instead, he used a different argument to prove that the Pope and bishops had not been deprived of their office/jurisdiction.  And as a final devastating blow to today’s Sedevacantists, the argument he used equally refutes them:

"Yet they [Protestants] object that Papist bishops have departed from the true faith, and therefore are no longer bishops; thus they say ‘pious ministers’ can rightly take up their places.


"I reply to this argument of Brentius.  (Even admitting there is doubt about which side has the true faith, although we are certain that it is with us), Catholic bishops, who have possessed their Sees peacefully for so many centuries, cannot be deprived of them unless they be legitimately judged [antecedent judgment] and condemned [consequent judgment]  For in every controversy the party in actual possession enjoys the benefit of the doubt.  And it is certain that the Catholic bishops have not been condemned in a legitimate judgment. For, who has condemned them, besides the Lutherans? But they are the accusers; not the judges!  For, who has made them our judges?"[69] 

       St. Robert Bellarmine refutes the Sedevacantists by explaining that Catholic bishops who are in peaceful possession of their sees cannot be deprived of them unless they are legitimately judged and condemned. No one is secretly deposed by God while he remains in possession of his see.

       Also notice that Bellarmine refutes the Sedevacantists of his day by appealing to the legal maxim, that in every controversy “the one in possession enjoys the benefit of the doubt.” This further shows how far the Sedevacantists of our day depart from the mind of Bellarmine, since they presume that all the bishops in possession of their sees have been ipso facto deposed (or never legitimately acquired the office/jurisdiction), unless and until the contrary has been proven.  Every bishop in possession of his see is consider guilty until proven innocent.

       What is evident is that the Sedevacantists of our day are no more “followers of Bellarmine,” than were the Sedevacantists of Bellarmine’s day.  Quite the contrary. They are the followers of the very Protestants who Bellarmine spent his life refuting.

The Protestant/Sedevacantist Appeal to “Divine Law” 

How did the early Protestants attempt to counter Bellarmine’s refutation of their Sedevacantist position?  Interestingly enough, they did so by using the same argument as their twenty-first century counterparts, that is, by arguing that since a heretical Pope falls from the pontificate by divine law, not human judgement is needed for his jurisdiction to be “removed by God”. Listen to how the Lutheran theologian, Johannas Gerhard (d. 1637), responded to Bellarmine. After quoting the argument from Bellarmine that we just read, Gerhard writes:    

"We respond that Caiaphas and his company could have made precisely the same objection to Christ and the apostles.  ‘For so many centuries we have possessed peacefully the throne of Moses. Therefore, we cannot be deprived of it unless we are legitimately judged and condemned, for in every controversy the condition of the possessor is better.  But it is evident that we have been condemned by no legitimate court, for who has condemned us but Christ and the apostles?  But they are accusers, not judges, for who has made them our judges? … disregarding Bellarmine’s attempt to escape, we reprove the errors of the Papists from the Word of God and prove that they lack true succession, which requires integrity of apostolic doctrine.  … By divine law he who upholds heretical doctrines ceases to be a true bishop [i.e., with jurisdiction], even if he still occupies the see de facto." (Gerhard, Johannas, Theological Loci, lib. v, 1625, section v., 196). 

Sound familiar?

The Lutheran theologian goes on to use the identical argument of today’s Sedevacantist in his attempt to refute Bellarmine. He begins by distinguishing between being judged a heretic in the ecclesiastical forum (i.e., legally according to the law of the Church), and being judged a heretic by God (the divine forum). After listing the steps required for a person to be “legitimately judged” by the Church, Gerhard writes this: 

"But all these things only pertain to the fact that whoever is declared a heretic in the political and ecclesiastical forum (court) is subject to the punishments due to such men.  But in the divine court there is no need of (human) judgment; for before God he is a heretic who embraces and professes false doctrine against the foundation of the faith, even if the entire world not only does not consider him a heretic but even venerates him as Peter’s successor. Consequently, even some Papist writers argue that ‘if the Roman pope falls into heresy, he ceases to be Pope by (divine) law itself. see Torquemada, bk, 4, part 2, ch. 20.” (Gerhard, Theological Loci, lib. v, 1625, section v., 196).

       There is not a Sedevacantist alive today who will side with Bellarmine against his Lutheran adversary!  They might disagree with the Lutheran minister concerning orthodoxy of the Pope and Catholic bishops of the sixteenth, but they won't disagree with the reasoning he used against Bellarmine (i.e., that an antecedent judgment is not required for a bishops in possession of his see to be deprived of it). And what is equally certain is that they will not agree with the argument that Bellarmine used to refute their 16th century counterpart (that an antecedent judgment is required). In fact, the argument the Lutheran minister used against Bellarmine is the same argument that the late Fr. Anthony Cekada always used against us! Here is how Fr. Cekada phrased Gerhard’s argument four centuries later: 

"In the case of heresy, warnings only come into play for the canonical crime of heresy. These are not required as a condition for committing the sin of heresy against the divine law. … It is a pope’s public sin of heresy in this sense [a violation of divine law] that strips him of Christ’s authority."[71] 

       The only thing Fr. Cekada failed to do is reference Torquemada! 

       Mario Derksen, who, as we saw earlier, does reference Torquemada, used the same Gerhard/Cekada argument in his attempted refutation of one of the authors of this article.  The following is taken from Derksen's article, titled, "The Chair is still Empty": 

"In order to answer this question properly, Salza would now have to draw a distinction between heresy as a crime against the law of the Church on the one hand, and heresy as a sin, that is, heresy as a crime against divine law, on the other. This distinction is absolutely essential, and the fact that, for all intents and purposes, he misses it, is one of the reasons why his conclusion against sedevacantism is erroneous…Taking his clue from the fact that heresy as a crime against church law does not result in immediate excommunication, even if the individual is certainly a true and proper heretic (i.e., a baptized person who willfully and against better knowledge denies or doubts a dogma of the Catholic Church), it should have occurred to Salza that the same is not true for heresy as a crime against divine law, because the very sin of heresy is what results in loss of membership in the Church, and hence the membership is lost as soon as the sin is committed, at least inasmuch as this sin is publicly divulged and not secret. …While canon law can help us understand divine law, it is crucial not to mix the two or to reduce divine law to canon law." (Mario Derksen, “The Chair is Still Empty, A Reply to John Salza on the Alleged ‘Errors of Sedevacantism.”) 71

       The twentieth and twenty-first century Sedevacantists of our day use the same argument as the sixteenth and seventeenth century Sedevacantists of Bellarmine’s day.

       While many more quotations could be cited to demonstrate the similarities between the Sedevacantists of then and now, suffice it to say that the Sedevacantists’ claim that a Pope is ipso facto deposed for committing the sin of heresy against divine law, is a complete perversion of Bellarmine’s teaching. The sin of heresy severs the internal bond of faith (the virtue of faith); notorious heresy severs the external bond (profession of faith). And severing the external bond, not the internal bond, is what Bellarmine taught results in the loss of membership in the Church, and jurisdiction for a cleric. 

       What the Protestant Johannas Gerhard of the seventeenth century, and Mario Derksen, John Lane, Fr. Cekada, Fr. Paul Kramer and the other Sedevacantist heretics of our day don’t understand, is that the Church Militant on Earth is a visible society and juridical institution. Members of the hierarchy are not secretly deposed by “divine law” while they are recognized as lawfully holding office by the Church. In fact, in De Ecclesia Militante (chapter 10) - the same chapter in which Bellarmine says a heretical Pope must be “convicted of heresy” - he teaches that it is “infallibly certain” that those prelates who the Church recognizes as bishops are, in fact, legitimate bishops and pastors. He says, “we are certain, with an infallibly certainty, that those, whom we see, are our true Bishops and Pastors. For this, neither faith, nor the character of order, nor even legitimate election is required, but only that they be held for such by the Church” (emphasis added).   

       What else is infallibly certain is that every Sedevacantist apologist, without a single exception, has misunderstood and misrepresented the Fifth Opinion of St. Bellarmine, since they have all maintained that the ipso facto loss of office must necessarily takes place without any antecedent judgement (conviction) by bishops at a council.

Does Bellarmine Really Hold the Second Opinion that he explicitly refuted, as Fr. Kramer maintains?
Answering Fr. Kramer’s Latest Error on the Charism of Infallibility, which is based on Another Faulty Reading of Bellarmine

       If we could indulge in a brief but relevant aside, it is interesting to observe that those who fall into Sedevecantism, soon thereafter usually try to prove that it is impossible for a Pope to lose the virtue of faith. They either do so by claiming this is what “all the theologians teach,” or by misrepresenting the Church’s teaching on papal infallibility, by maintaining that the charism prevents a Pope from losing his personal faith. Fr. Kramer chose the latter approach, and developed an elaborate argument based on yet another misinterpretation of Bellarmine.   

     In his commentary on the Fourth Opinion (De Romano Pontifice, lib. ii, cap. xxx), Bellarmine uses an argument that Joachim Almain first advanced, in an attempt to expose an apparent contradiction in Cajetan’s ecclesiology. What Bellarmine attempts to show is that if Cajetan were consistent, he would have to conclude that a Pope who loses the virtue of faith would be ipso facto deposed. The reason Bellarmine says this is because in one place Cajetan says to be a true Christian requires the virtue of faith, while in another place he says to be Pope, one must be a Christian. If that is so, says Bellarmine, Cajetan should conclude that if a Pope loses the virtue of faith, he would immediately cease to be Pope, just as he ceased to be a true Christian.  

       Although Cajetan had already answered this extremely weak objection in his Apologia, when replying to Almain, Bellarmine was not satisfied with his answers, and therefore spent several paragraphs in his commentary on the Fourth Opinion attempting to refute Cajetan’s replies to Almain. At one point, Bellarmine refers to the virtue of faith as “a disposition necessary simpliciter for someone to be Pope”[72]– not because Bellarmine himself believes it is, but because he believes Cajetan’s ecclesiology logically implies that it is (or should be). [73] 

       The argument Bellarmine uses is difficult to grasp. And without reading chapter 16 of Cajetan’s De Comparata Auctoritate Pape Et Ecclesie, chapter 12 of Almain’s book (Tractatus De Auctoritate Ecclesiae), which was written against Cajetan, and finally chapter 16 of Cajetan’s follow up book, Apologia, (which was a reply to Almain’s book), it is impossible to understand the context (and virtually impossible to understand the argument itself).  It is also very easy for someone who is not familiar with Bellarmine’s own ecclesiology to take him entirely out of context. And that is exactly what Fr. Paul Kramer did.  

Error 1: Fr. Kramer entirely misunderstood Bellarmine’s argument and concluded that he believed the virtue of faith is necessary for a Pope to remain Pope, even though Bellarmine himself explicitly refuted that opinion a few paragraphs earlier (in his reply to the Second Opinion), and again later in the same chapter, in his commentary on the Fifth Opinion.  

Error 2: With his misinterpretation of Bellarmine serving as the foundation, Fr. Kramer somehow concluded that the reason the virtue of faith is “a disposition necessary simpliciter for someone to be Pope,” must be because without the virtue, a Pope cannot teach infallibly. This can be seen in the following quote: 

Fr. Kramer: “… faith, (as Bellarmine explains in Book II Ch. XXX on the fourth opinion), which is the necessary disposition to retain the form of the supreme pontificate, would be utterly lacking in a heretic, who therefore would be incapable of preserving the form of the papacy in himself, and would therefore cease to be pope straightaway. A heretic would necessarily cease to be pope because even if he were only externally a member of the Church, he would lack [the virtue of] faith as the necessary disposition to exercise the charism of Infallibility." [74] 

Fr. Kramer then developed an elaborate theory in an attempt to explain why the virtue of faith is necessary for a Pope to “exercise the charism of infallibility.” Simply put, he claims that the charism of infallibility is a habit that dwells within the Pope’s virtue of faith and perfects it. Just as a virtue is seated in the power that it perfects (e.g., the virtue of faith is seated in and perfects the intellect), so too, imagines Fr. Kramer, is the charism of infallibility seated in the Pope’s virtue of faith, which it perfects. It transforms the Pope’s virtue of faith, says Fr. Kramer, into an “unfailing virtue of faith,” thereby preventing a Pope from ever losing his faith.

       Based on his theory, Kramer also concludes that if someone were elected Pope who lacked the virtue, he could not become a true Pope, since he would lack the “necessary disposition” (i.e., the virtue of faith) that the charism of infallibility is seated in and perfects. In Fr. Kramer’s own words: 

"Simply stated, the charism of Infallibility depends on the virtue of faith as its necessary disposition, because it [the charism] consists of the fullness of power of the unfailing virtue of faith; and therefore it would clearly be impossible for one to be a valid Roman Pontiff without the virtue of faith; nor would it be possible for a Pontiff who possesses the fullness of power of unfailing faith to fail in his faith and to defect from the faith by falling into heresy."[75] 

Fr. Kramer then provides lengthy Latin quotations (untranslated, of course) from St. Thomas’ Summa on the relation between the powers of the soul and the virtues (which have absolutely nothing to do with the charism of infallibility) to support his theory. 

       Unfortunately, in addition to being based on a misinterpretation of Bellarmine, Fr. Kramer’s theory has three fatal defects: 

1)      The charism of infallibility is not a habit that dwells in the Pope’s virtue of faith, nor does it perfect it “according to its essence and operation” (Fr. Kramer). The charism is a divine assistance that is attached to the Petrine office – specifically, the teaching office - which prevents the Pope from erring when he exercises the office by teaching ex cathedra. Cardinal Manning explains: 

"The primacy contains two things, the fulness of jurisdiction, and a special assistance in the exercise of it.  Now, under jurisdiction is contained the office of teaching. To deliver the law is to teach. The assistance of infallible guidance is attached to the magisterium or teaching office, and the magisterium is contained in the primacy.  It is not a quality inherent in the person, but an assistance inseparable from the office. It is therefore not personal, but official."[76] 

2)      If the charism of infallibility prevented a Pope from losing his personal faith, it would have to do more than perfect the virtue of faith. It would also have to perfect the will, since it is by an act of the will – i.e., by the sin of heresy - that the virtue of faith is lost.  Hence, Fr. Kramer’s theory would require a second habit – a species of impeccability - that is seated in and perfects the will. 

3)      If the charism perfected the Pope’s personal faith and prevented him from committing the sin of heresy, it would be a gratia gratum faciens, which is a charism that benefits the person who receives it. But it is not. Infallibility is a gratia gratis data, which is a charism that is given for the good of others (e.g., the gift of miracles, prophecy, healing, etc.), and which does not benefit the person who receives it.  This too is explained by Cardinal Manning: 

"[Pastor Aeternus] proceeds to describe infallibility to be ‘a charisma of indefectible faith and truth.’ By this again the notion of a ‘personal’ infallibility is excluded. The word charisma is used to express not a gratia gratum faciens, as theologians say—that is, a grace which makes the person acceptable in God's sight—but a gratia gratis data, or a grace the benefit of which is for others, such as prophecy or healing, and the like. Now these gifts, as may be seen in Balaam, Caiaphas, and Judas, were not graces of sanctification, nor gifts that sanctified the possessor. They were exercised by men whose sin is recorded for our warning.  (…) To be illuminated or guarded from error may co-exist with the sin of Caiaphas [i.e., unbelief], who was a prophet, and crucified the Redeemer of the world. The decree says that this charisma was given by God to Peter and his successors that in the discharge of their office they might not err. It does not even say that it is an abiding assistance present always, but only never absent in the discharge of their supreme office. (…) It seems hardly credible that men with these words before their eyes should impute to the Vatican Council the doctrine of personal infallibility, that is, of infallibility inhering in the person."[77] 

       Fr. Kramer’s latest specious argument, which he dresses up with impressive sounding philosophical terms (that almost no one understands), and lengthy untranslated Latin quotes (that almost no one can read), is yet another failed attempt by this vagus priest "to deceive the elect," which is full of errors from start to finish.

The Sedevacantist Interpretation of Bellarmine
 Has Been Proven Wrong

We have demonstrated that St. Robert Bellarmine explicitly teaches that bishops at a council can convict a Pope for heresy, while he remains Pope. They can do so without violating the principle “The First See is judged by no one,” because the conviction is a non-coercive judgment of the Church which the bishops or Cardinals can legitimately make.   When the nature of the two judgments (antecedent/discretionary and consequent/coercive) are properly understood, Bellarmine’s position is easily reconciled with the principle that the First See is judged by no one, as we have demonstrated here and in True or False Pope? 

The Sedevacantists have always denied that bishops at a council can render a judgment while the Pope retains his office, and then used this to persuade confused Catholics that a Pope must necessarily be secretly "ipso facto deposed" by God before a council can even be convened. This error - which they falsely claimed was the teaching of Bellarmine - has led many scandalized Catholics into the error of Sedevacantism and out of the Church. 

Bellarmine's true teaching, as we have seen,  is that Christ works with the Church to depose a Pope. He doesn’t do it secretly, since, if He did, the immediate effect would be that the entire Church, which was subject to the Vicar of Christ one moment, would be subject to a false Pope the next,  Nor would God, “whose works are perfect,” (Deut. 32:4), have been so foolish as to establish His Church as a visible, juridical society, and then arrange things in such a way that members of the hierarchy would automatically fall from office (be ipso facto deprived) if they fell into the sin of heresy. In His Divine Wisdom, Christ arranged things in such a way that there is no metaphysical incompatibility between the sin of heresy and acts of jurisdiction, since if there were, not only would it be impossible to know who is and who is not a true Pope or bishop, but the absolutions given by a priest, who secretly denied a dogma, would be invalid.  Both of these consequences would be contrary to the common good of the Church and to the salvation of souls.  

We have seen that Bellarmine refuted the Sedevacantists of his day by noting that Catholic bishops, who remain in posession of their sees, cannot be deprived of them unless they are first legitimately judged by the Church.  This contradicts how every Sedevacantist, without a single exception, has interpreted and misapplied Bellarmine's teaching, but it reflects exactly how we interpreted him in True or False Pope?.

[1] Yet others find their “solution” in claiming that Benedict XVI is still Pope (who are sometimes referred to as the “Benevacantists” or “Beneplenists”).
[2] This principle was codified in both the 1917 Code (cn. 1556) and 1983 Code (cn. 1404) of canon law but has never been defined by the Church as a dogma of the Faith. This article focuses principally on the teaching of St. Bellarmine as it relates to this principle. In our book True or False Pope?, we examine the historical evolution of other opinions dealing with the concept of papal immunity from judgment, which are not addressed here.
[3] Salaverri, Sacrae Theologiae Summa, IB, 2015, Keep the Faith, p. 217; F.X. Wernz, Jus Decretalium, II, Rome, 1899, tit. xxx, n. 615.
[4] 1) An occult heretic is ipso facto deposed (Huguccio/Torquemada). 2) A notorious heretic by fact (i.e., manifest heretic) is ipso facto deposed (Bellarmine/Ballerini).  3) A notorious heretic quasi by law (i.e., manifest heretic) is ipso facto deposed (Suarez/St. Alphonsus/Palamieri/Salaverri/Ghirland). 4) A Pope who members of the laity personally believe has “manifested heresy” (verb) is ipso facto deposed (Sedevacantists).
[6] Over time, the term “manifest heretic” used in Bellarmine’s time faded away in favor of “notorious heretic.” With the codification of the 1917 Code of Canon law, the term “notorious heretic” was used in place of “manifest heretic.” For example, Wernz and Vidal, in their most celebrated commentary on the 1917 Code of Canon Law, use the terminology “notorious and openly divulged heresy” to describe the juridically proven heresy necessary for the loss of office. Ius Canonicum, 2:453.
[7] See Cardinal Ratzinger’s Commentary on the 1989 Professio Fidei, which explains the three categories of doctrine.  Only a denial of truths contained in the first category is heresy, even though truths in the second category have been proposed infallibly.
[8] Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913, Notoriety.
[9] Ibid.
[10] In Latin, Congregatio Mariae Reginae Immaculatae.
[11] As Billot clarifies earlier, he is referring here to a notorious profession: “But now we ask what sort of heresy it is that separates a man from the visible body of the Church: does occult, and even purely internal heresy suffice? or only that which passes into an external and notorious profession?” De Ecclesia Christi, Quaest vii, Thesis XI.
[12] De Ecclesia Christi, Rome 1903, Quaest vii, Thesis XI.
[13] Gleize, The Question of Papal Heresy, Part 4.
[14] See footnote 8.
[15] De Ecclesia Christi, Rome 1903, Quaest vii, Thesis XI.
[16] “notoriety requires that not only the fact of the crime be publicly known, but also its imputability (Canon 2197). … defection from the Catholic Faith on the part of conciliar popes, although it be public with regard to fact, is not public with regard to imputability.” Sanborn, On Being Pope Materially, Part II, vi.
[17] Ibid.
[18] See Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi, Nos. 69-71.
[19] See, Lawlor, “Occult Heretics and Membership in the Church” (Theological studies, December 1949, p. 541-541). 
[20] De Romano Pontifice, lib, ii, cap. xxx.
[21] Although Fr. Kramer admitted, “I do indeed hold that hypothetically, losing the virtue of faith, the pope would lose office,” he denies holding the Second Opinion, since he does not believe a Pope can lose the virtue of faith, which is a different question.
[22] De Romano Pontifice, lib, ii, cap. xxx.
[23] De Ecclesia Militante, cap x.
[24] An antecedent judgment may not be required in the case of one who openly leaves the Church (e.g., one who publicly defects from the Church and/or joins a non-Catholic sect). However, under the current Code of Canon Law, for one who holds office in the Church, even an act of public defection has no juridical effect (he retains his office) until declared by the competent authority. See canon 194.2 of the 1983 Code.
[25] Fr. Gleize, The Question of Papal Heresy, Part 6a.
[26] Ibid., Part 6b.
[27] Sedevacantists have repeatedly denigrated Suarez over the years on the fallacious ground that he contradicted the opinion of Bellarmine (and Fr. Gleize follows suit). For example, John Lane wrote: “Francisco Suarez did in fact hold the discredited minority position that a public heretic would have to be deposed by the Church.” Fr. Cekada wrote: “Suarez, who tended to lose most controversies with other Catholic theologians was the only theologian who held that position [that a heretical Pope loses his office only after the antecedent judgment of the Church].” Peter Dimond refers to Suarez’s teaching as the “fallible speculations from 400 years ago” and “the inaccurate speculations of Suarez.” See True or False Pope?, pp. 278-280.
[28] Fr. Gleize, The Question of Papal Heresy, Part 6b.
[29] Cursus Theologici II-II, De Auctoritate Summi Pontificis, Disp. II, Art. III,
[30] Suarez, Defensio Fidei contra Errores Anglicanae Secta lib. iv, cap. iv, No. 4.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Ibid., Secta lib. iv, cap. vi, No. 11.
[33] “I say further, then, that the Pontiff cannot submit himself in the external forum to ecclesiastical or spiritual jurisdiction committed to another as regard coercive force over him, whether directly in spiritual causes or indirectly in temporal ones, both all and singly, either in one cause or a second. So do many of the authors cited think, and Bellarmine best, bk.2, De Concilio, ch.8, and Torquemada, bk.2, Summ., chs.104 & 105, Cajetan too thinks the same, tract.2, De Potest. Papae.” (Suarez, Defensio Fidei contra Errores Anglicanae Secta lib. iv, cap. vii, No 3.
[34] De Concilio, lib. 11, cap. xviii.
[35] All jurisdiction in the Church comes through the Pope. Bishops who have legitimately received jurisdiction can legitimately exercise it unless it is taken away.
[36] Bossuet, Oeuvres Completes, vol. xii Paris, Vives, 1865, Lib. ii, cap. i.
[37] I conclude lastly, as regards what concerns external human judgment, that the Pontiff can only submit himself to the judgment of another as to an arbiter, not as to a proper judge who uses jurisdiction over the person itself of the Pontiff.  Thus St. Thomas explained.” Suarez, Defensio Fidei contra Errores Anglicanae Secta, lib. iv, cap. 4.
[38] See Defensio Fidei contra Errores Anglicanae Secta lib. iv, cap. vii, no, ix.
[39] See, for example, De Concilio, lib 1, cap. xiv.
[40] Suarez, Defensio Fidei contra Errores Anglicanae Secta, lib. iv, cap. 7, no. 5.
[41] Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate, cap. viii ex. Ix).
[42] Tanquerey, Synopsis heologiae dogmaticae Fundamentalis, 1897, No. 180, f. 3. p. 465). 9. 470 1907 edition. 
[43] Salaverri, Sacrae Theologiae Summa, 1955, p. 217, No. 5.
[44] Smith, Elements of Ecclesiastical Law, Vol I, 9th ed, (New York, Benzinger Bros.), p. 240.
[45] Summa Apologetica de Ecclesia Catholica, Mans, 1890, Q. XII, art IV, arg iii, p. 25.
[46] Conc. Vatic., Mansi 52. 1110.
[47] True or False Pope?, pp. 270-271.
[48] De Concilio, lib 1, cap xxi.
[49] Ibid.
[50] Https://
[51] Fr. Kramer using the pseudonym Don Paulo:!/630/.
[52] Derksen, The Open Letter accusing Francis of Heresy: A Sedevacantist Analysis
[56] “A Conversation with John Lane,” =9590bc 81f2ff0b52392e79454ebc114d.
[57] See Billuart, Cursus theologiœ, Pars II-II, Brescia, 1838, p. 123.
[58] For example, after refuting the second opinion, Cajetan said [that a Pope who loses the faith is not ipso facto deposed] “is confirmed even from those who think the contrary, since they say that the pope, although a heretic, if he is prepared to be corrected, is not deposed, as Huguccio says in the gloss to c. Nunc Autem (d. 21 c. 7). But if a heretic is deposed from the papacy ipso facto by divine law, how does he become pope again? Or how does he preserve as pope solely because he has not been deposed? Or how is he not deposed? These points contradict their position that he is deposed ipso facto by divine law, as if obvious.” Cajetan, De Comparatione Auctoritatis Papae et Concilio, ch XIX. Also see Suarez, De Fide, Disp. 10, Sect. 6, n. 4.
[60] Ibid.
[61]  “Conscience,” as St. Thomas explains, “is the application of knowledge to some action” (I-II q. 19, a. 5); it is a “practical judgment or dictate of reason, by which we judge what is to be done as being good, or to be avoided as evil.) Dr. John Newman’s Reply to Mr. Gadstone’s Pamplet (Toronto: A.S. Irving & Co., Publishers, 1875), p. 42.
[62] See Cardinal Ratzinger’s commentary on the 1989 Professio, in which he says rejecting the legitimacy of a Papal election that has been accepted by the Church, is a denial of the infallibility of the Magisterium, and consequently severs a person from “full communion,” with the Church.
[65] De Concilio, lib. I, cap ix.
[66] Ibid., bk. 2, ch. 19.
[67] De Romano Pontifice, lib. iv, cap. viii
[68] De Concilio, lib I, ch. XXI.
[69] Bellarmine, Marks of the Church, cap. viii.
[70] Cekada, Traditionalists, Infallibility and the Pope (1995, 2006).
[71] Derksen, “The Chair is Still Empty, A Reply to John Salza on the Alleged ‘Errors of Sedevacantism.”
[72] Bellarmine: “either faith is a disposition necessary “simpliciter” for someone to be Pope, or it is only necessary for someone to be a good Pope.” To understand why Bellarmine says this, read chapter 16 of Cajetan’s De Comparata Auctoritate Pape Et Ecclesie.
[73] In one place, Cajetan teaches that to be a true member of Christ a person must possess the virtue of faith. In another place, he says to be Pope one must be a Christian. Bellarmine tries to exploit this apparent contradiction by noting that if the virtue of faith is required to be a true member of Christ (i.e., a Christian), and if being a Christian is required to be Pope, as Cajetan says, then according to Cajetan’s own ecclesiology, if the Pope loses the virtue of faith, he will lack what is required to be Pope, and hence will fall from the pontificate without having to be deposed by the force of an external agent. In the same way, argues Bellarmine, since all the Fathers taught that manifest heretics (i.e., those who are publicly separated from the Church) are outside the Church and lack jurisdiction, it should be concluded that if a Pope becomes a manifest heretic, he will be deprived of his jurisdiction without having to be deposed by the force of an external agent. John of St. Thomas refers to Bellarmine’s argument as “not legitimate” and easily refutes it.
[75] Ibid.
[76] Manning, The True Story of the Vatican Council, p. 171.
Ibid., pp. 181-182.