Rorate Caeli published a guest article from Bishop +Athanasius Schneider on the question of what to do in the case of an explicit heretical Pope. Herein is my review of it.
I would not want to appear as though I could offer anything better than Bishop Schneider, but here are some points that, I believe, will need to be considered, and which I did not find him directly addressing.
First, I’d like to say that his paper will have the potential to change my own mind (I thought this as I was reading it).
Secondly, he appeals to the Third Council’s distinction between a heretical Pope and the infallible See of Peter. I’d like to know what portion of the Council Acta he is referring to? In neither the letters of St. Agatho, the Acta, nor the letters back to the Apostolic See do I recall seeing anything of that sort. While it is true they include statements which imply the indefectibility of the See of Peter, they also condemned a Pope for heresy. It must be what they did by *deed* that he is drawing their belief on this.
Third, he seems to espouse an exaggerated “Recognize and Resist” paradigm, which, admittedly, I’m already sympathetic to. However, there is a minor problem with this. He discounts the idea that a Pope might, ipso facto, be judged or deposed for formal heresy on account that (1) it does not have the long-standing support of Church History and (2) it would create further unrest and damage to the unity of the Church (a possible revisit to the Great schism). But here’s the thing. The “Recognize/Resist” paradigm is likewise does not have the pedigree of Church history. Anytime a cleric was accused and proved of heresy, it necessarily resulted in the break of communion, excommunication, deposition, or at least the removal of one’s name from the sacred diptychs. I was surprised that he only spoke of Pope Honorius. Far more relevant would be the situation of Pope Vigilius where not only an Ecumenical Council, but the majority of Western sees removed Vigilius from the commemoration of names at holy Mass, *in light of his supposed heresies*. In other words, they did not say to themselves “Well, no one can remove the Pope from functioning as Pope, so we will recognize his place as Pope, but just disagree with him, pray for his soul, and sent petitions for him to change his mind”. No, they took action and removed his name from the diptychs, and that was that. It took close to a century to regain communion between Rome and the Western sees over the Vigilius event. Not only does this “Recognize/Resist” paradigm suffer from a lack of historical pedigree, but it also has the potential to cause the same spiritual damage that an ipso-factor-deposed Pope paradigm would. If a Pope came forward teaching human trafficking is consistent with the gospel, that there are four hypostases in the Trinity, that Christ only rose from the dead *in our hearts and not in body*, etc,etc…the effect of this would be equally, if not more, injurious. There are already prelates in the Church today who are stretching the limits on sexual immorality and ethical doctrines in light of the supposed permission of the Pope of Rome. Therefore, the good Bishop wants to avoid the controversy of a Papal division like the Great schism, but then permits an overtly heretical Pope, and consequently, the green light for heresy to be supported from the cathedrals and pulpits of anywhere in the world….with the formal toleration of this by the Church (fasting, praying, appeals for the Pope to change his mind, etc,etc). It doesn’t seem like Bishop Schneider is providing a safer alternative with the “Recognize/Resist” option. Now, granted, there is a sense in which one must recognize and resist members of the magisterium when they err in matters of faith or morals. However, to insist that the Pope can enjoy both the full measure of formal heresy and retain office, at will, indefinitely is the element which would be added in Bishop Schneider’s position.
Lastly, Bishop Schneider is basically saying that the Pope of Rome is untouchable, however much we can disagree with him, and that formal judgments and anathemas on a heretical Pope would have to be left to successors of future Ecumenical Councils (themselves ratified by the Pope). It is a fair position, and it does have the pedigree of at least the Council of Rome (869) where Pope Adrian II said something quite similar. However, if this is true, then we have to be willing to admit to our Protestants, Orthodox, and neutral inquiring friends that what we do when a Pope becomes formally heretical in his ordinary Magisterium, the Church is forced to remain in his visible/external communion regardless of the severity of his heresies, and is held hostage to that rule on pain of self-condemnation. If I were ever to be won over to this position, I would be forced to appeal to divine providence alone, and not any working principles or criteria of ecclesiology, as the ultimate cause to prevent this potentiality from actually destroying the Church. It is not at all unreasonable, however difficult it is to swallow.