What if a reigning Pope professed a personal belief that was heretical?

For the sake of discussion, let’s stipulate that the Pope is, indeed, infallible as taught by the Catholic Church.

Of course, as we point out here often, this does not protect the Pope from personally succumbing to the faults and sins that we are all capable of. Therefore, it is possible for a Pope to personally be a heretic.

Suppose a Pope were to publicly say, “I know the Church condemned Donatism, but, personally, I think Donatus was right.” (I use Donatism as an example because, unlike most heresies, I know how to spell it).

Infallibility is not at risk, but this would be huge. Is there anything the Bishops could do?

The bishops could sigh and say, “Great, more bad press” :rolleyes:

There was another thread I was reading that was discussing this. There seems to be a paradox that happens. If the Pope is a heretic, then by being a heretic he has deposed himself off Peter’s seat and no longer is Pope. But the problem is, unless its an obvious heresy that has been anathemized in the past, say Arianism, how are we to know that the Pope is a heretic? If someone says the Pope is a heretic and the Pope says otherwise, we are obliged to believe the Pope that he is not. This I believe is the case of sedevacantists. They believe the Pope committed heresy by changing the Liturgy and throwing out the traditional Mass. And thus every Pope that still celebrates the OF are heretics, therefore the seat of Peter is vacant. But we faithful Catholics have believed all along that the Pope is in his right to change the Liturgy. But what if the claim of the sedevacantists are right?

This problem is a modern one. In the past, Popes have been deposed by council. And as in the East today, Patriarchs can be deposed by council. The Pope has placed himself above a council, the Pope submits to no one on earth. Not even a Church council, not even an Ecumenical Council. Nothing can depose a Pope. So who proclaims the Pope heretic? As long as he is seated, he can defeat any council that tries to overthrow him.

In other words, he would excommunicate himself from the Church, spiritually, as a public heretic but judicially he cannot be charged with the sentence that would follow unless he allows the sentence to pass. Correct?

This discussion is one of the more ridiculous and inane threads I have read in a long while.
To begin with, in modern times, no Pope has ever expressed an opinion outside of his personal circle.
Our Popes truely have learned from the past, when the Church had several Popes who were a disgrace to their office. For the last several hundreds of years at least, the Supreme Pontif has been the very soul of discretion. All public, and most private pronouncements have been carefully thought out in advance. The likelyhood that a Pope could or even would make a heretical statement is so remote as to be impossible.
So stop theorizing and address something worthwhile that is of importance.
All this discussion can do is fuel the ignorance of anti-Catholics who log onto this site!

Best thing to do is keep him in prayer that something like that would not happen. All bishops in the church need to be prayed for that they carry their ministry faithfully doctrinally.

Thanks for your contribution, such as it is. If you wish to put forth an opinion that it is impossible for a modern Pope to be a heretic (not merely improbable) then please make your case - but note that you will make yourself a heretic in doing so, as this idea is diametrically opposed to established Catholic Dogma.

There is no personal fault or sin that any Pope cannot succumb to. If ANYONE can be a heretic, then the Pope can be a heretic.

This is the doctrine of the Church, and it would be good if everyone properly understood it (it would clear up a lot of confusion when people cite various sinful Popes (such as Alexander IV) as “proof” that the Pope cannot be infallible (even in his official capacity).

Well, it is a paradox. How can you say that he indeed is a heretic when he infallibly says that he isn’t? A council cannot be called because he refuses it. If bishops come together on their own volition he can simply excommunicate them all and their word will be worthless among the faithful.

How how do we determine that he has excommunicated himself?

History has proven that Popes can be heretics. What makes Popes today different from the Popes of yesteryears?

I am not aware of any Council (provincial or Ecumenical) that has deposed any Pope whose election or Office did not have legitimate basis for doubt - such as, for example, Benedict-9 (now there was a piece of work) who resigned the Chair (and, um, sold it to another), only to change his mind later and reassert his primacy. Or the “three-Pope” controversy which was resolved by the local Council of Sutri nullifying the claims of all three contenders.

The Church has taken the position that, when the validity of the Papacy is in question - and IN THIS ONE SITUATION ALONE, the decision of a Council of Bishops has more authority than a single Bishop (even if that Bishop is possibly the Bishop of Rome). I have never heard of a Council which deposed a Pope whose election and Office were not in question.

Nothing can depose a Pope. So who proclaims the Pope heretic? As long as he is seated, he can defeat any council that tries to overthrow him.

I’m not suggesting that the Pope could be deposed - that is impossible. But I’m wondering if the Bishops could do ANYTHING in the way of damage control.

Of course, the Bishops could wait for the heretical Pope to die and then anathematize him (as the Third Council of Constantinople did regarding the heretic, Pope Honarius). But I was wondering about a more immediate action.

But in order to enjoy historical credibility, present-day Catholic doctrine has to be reconcilable with the functioning of the Early Church. The Sixth Ecumenical Council saw no problem anathematizing a pope (though long deceased)–the infamous Honorius–for adhering to heresy or neglecting to combat the same (this point is at times a matter of dispute).

That’s a completely different question, and I was careful in the wording of my question to avoid the discussion going off-the-rails in this direction. I was careful to ask what happens if a Pope expresses a heretical PERSONAL opinion, while being careful to distance himself from proclaiming that opinion as infallible (or in ANY way authoritative).

The Catholic Church says that a Pope may never “infallibly” proclaim heresy (by special protection of the Holy Spirit). I have asked that, for sake of discussion, that we stipulate this teaching in this conversation.

The Catholic Church does not say that a Pope cannot have personal opinions that are obviously heretical (even opinions that have been explicitly defined as heresy - such as my example of Donatism, which happens to be the only heresy that I know how to spell).

How how do we determine that he has excommunicated himself?

Ah - That is a much more relevant (and interesting) question. Nobody can excommunicate a Pope - but presumably the Pope can excommunicate himself. How does THAT work?

I don’t think it’d be possible for him to declare himself free of heresy ex cathedra (since that is where he only can exercise infallibility.) If it was possible and he did then he would not be a heretic since what he has declared from infallibility could not be heresy and the previous position was false. Unless the previous position was infallibly defined and he spoke ex cathedra then he had no papal authority to begin with since “if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand” or if he still retained his papal authority then I think God would strike him dead before letting such a thing happen.

Perhaps though he cannot be latae sententiae excommunicated since latae sententiae is only law in the canon law of the Latin church and if I’m not mistaken, I don’t think the Holy Father is bound to the Latin church since he is the Pontiff of all Christendom.

I don’t think the Bishops can do anything David, though if this were to ever to take place, which would be far fetched, I think God would at work to protect His church.

Why would you depose a Pope that has no questions or doubts to his papacy? :shrug:

It is not impossible. It has been done before.

What examples do you have in mind?

But what prevents a Pope from making a personal opinion into a dogma? There’s no check and balance or anything. No council to affirm his teaching, etc.

Again this is a paradox. Going by Vatican I, who can declare a Pope a heretic? Granted that we can look back in time and a Pope in the future can say this Pope in the past is a heretic and what he taught which we thought was infallible wasn’t by virtue of it being a heresy. Then again, this creates another paradox. A future Pope can change ex cathedra teachings of a previous Pope by declaring that previous Pope a heretic, thus nullifying the infallible teaching.

But would you allow someone with heretic inclinations to wield so much power?

By virtue of his own actions. The same way that anyone who participates in an abortion excommunicates themselves. But again, who is to affirm that? If another bishop says yes he is excommunicated, and the Pope says no he isn’t, who’s word do we take for it?

Well, he can definitely proclaim what he believes to be ex cathedra. Granted that in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t in reality become ex cathedra because he would have lost his papal privileges via the heresy. But how are we to know? As far as we know, he is Pope who is teaching something he says to be a dogma. And according to Vatican I, no one can contradict him.

And that is the thing, according to Vatican I he is above and beyond any earthly law and power. So if he is in error, who can say otherwise?

It wouldn’t be farfetched, we’ve had antipopes in the past. Granted that those popes in the past were more interested in temporal authority than spreading lies, in this day and age where the moral standards of the world is being challenged, if an antipope were able to work his way to the seat of Peter he would definitely strike a serious blow to the faith.

Here’s a case of a Pope being deposed by an Emperor. This was a scandalous time for the Church: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_John_XII

(Roman) Catholics would say the Holy Spirit prevents this. But I am asking you to PLEASE not derail my thread in this direction. Feel free to open your own discussion in this regard (you would not be the first).

For the sake of this thread, I ask that participants stipulate that the (Roman) Catholic doctrine of Papal infallibility is true, so that we may probe the implications of a Pope who is privately an absolute heretic within the context of (Roman) Catholic doctrine.

If you want to go beyond that doctrine, please open your own thread to do so. Please don’t hijack my thread.

I’m not going beyond that doctrine. I am stipulating that Papal Infallibility is true in that scenario. A heretic Pope can claim to exercise it. And as I have said, it will take another Pope in the future to go back and clarify that this Pope was a heretic. But by then, the damage would have already been done.

That is the implication of this. If he has heretical opinions, how can we say that they do not get into his policy making, his teachings, etc.? We’re taken in so many saints for their word as if they were infallible even though they are not. What more will we take in the word of a Pope, infallible or not?

I don’t know how you think any of the points I made is outside of this discussion.

But the Catholic Church does not recognize the disposition of Pope John-12 by the Emperor as valid. As evil as John-12 was, he was (and is) still considered by the Catholic Church to be the lawful Pope until his death.

The emperor can think whatever he wishes. As far as the Catholic Church is concerned (both then and now), John-12 was never deposed, and Leo-8 (at least in his first term) was an anti-Pope.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.