The Question of a Heretical Pope

  Editorial of Le Sel de la terre 109 – Summer 2019

THIS QUESTION is posed more and more in view of the scandals given by the present Pope. A recent example is provided by the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Common Coexistence“, signed in Abu Dhabi on February 4, 2019, by Pope Francis and the “Great Imam” of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, in which we find the following sentence:

« The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings 1 »

As much as we can attribute the diversity between men and women to the “wise divine Will“, we cannot ascribe it to the diversity of religions whose only cause is the sin of men.

In the editorial of Le Sel de la terre 102, we indicated two initiatives leading to the question of the heresy of the pope:

— On June 29, 2016, forty-five theologians presented a critical study of the exhortation Amoris lætitia to the Dean of the Sacred College, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, where nineteen propositions of the Roman document were censored 2.

— On August 11, 2017, a twenty-five-page letter entitled Correctio filialis de haeresibus propagatis (Filial correction concerning the spread of heresies), dated July 16 and signed by forty clerics and academics, was handed over to the Pope 3.

Other facts have been added to this dossier:

— On March 30 and 31, 2017, a symposium was held at Sceaux (a suburb of Paris) entitled “The Deposition of the Pope: Theological Sources – Canonical Models – Constitutional Issues 4“. About fifteen academics, including ten professors, two doctors and one associate, dealt with the subject 5.

— On March 21 Bishop Schneider published a conference on the “heretical Pope“, where he defends the opinion that in no case does a Pope lose his office because of heresy 6.

— Shortly thereafter, on April 21, about twenty Catholic theologians and academics published an Open Letter to Bishops of the Catholic Church [later designated as the Letter of the Twenty Theologians] asking the bishops to publicly warn Pope Francis of his heretical teachings. If he does not correct himself, they said, the announcement of his heresy by the bishops of the Church will then become a juridical fact, resulting in the pope automatically losing his office 7.

Thus, in view of the aggrevation of the crisis in the Church, a large number of Catholic figures realize that the problem comes from Rome. Although the theology of the present pope is not very different from that of his predecessors, the fact that he derives its moral consequences has shocked the conservative Catholics of the conciliar Church. Whence the accusations of heresy are multiplying.

Let us make two remarks about this:

1. These accusations are partly based on the teaching of the Council and the conciliar Popes. The authors of the latest Open Letter, for example, quote Vatican II and John Paul II in favor of their accusation of heresy against Pope Francis. Therefore, the perpetrators of these accusations have not yet grasped the origin of the evil that the Church suffers: even if they triumph in their enterprise – an unlikely hypothesis – we would be far from the return to a normal situation in the Church. This return cannot forgo condemning the errors of the Council.

2. Moreover, the accusers of the pope are divided on the consequences of their accusations. Does a pope accused and convinced of heresy lose his office?

— Yes, says the Letter of the Twenty Theologians.

— No, replies Bishop Schneider: “The theory – of the deposition of pope or the ipso facto loss of his office for heresy – is only a theological opinion [which is] in practice inapplicable. If applied in practice, it would create a situation similar to that of the Great Schism, which the Church has already disastrously experienced at the end of 14th and at the beginning of 15th century. Therefore we must bear with the situation by protecting ourselves as best we can; it is “the temporal cross of a heretical pope“.

We will simply remark here that the Letter of the Twenty Theologians is in accordance with the teaching of the great majority of theologians, while Bishop Schneider has difficulty in finding authorities on which to rely: the only theologian whom he quotes, Mgr. Zinelli, does not say that Pope can in any case lose his jurisdiction, but simply that if God allows such an evil, he will not lack the means of providing for the situation without jeopardizing the true doctrine of the full and supreme power of the Roman Pontiff 8. Clearly, the theologians cited by the Letter of the Twenty Theologians do not question this true doctrine.

This initiative of the 20 theologians has been criticized for being imprudent. We will readily admit that it is unlikely to lead to the deposition of the Pope. But it seems to us at least to have a twofold merit, on the one hand of recalling the traditional doctrine of the theologians on the question of a heretical pope, a little known doctrine, and, on the other hand, to indicate the immense danger to the Church of a Pope who spreads heresy: the current crisis in the Church has no other cause than the situation in Rome.

Once again, it is clear that the best solution is the one advocated by Msgr. Lefebvre in the last years of his life, when he understood that the seriousness of the situation in Rome obliged him :

to do episcopal consecrations without the consent of the Pope ;

and to wait for the Roman authorities to profess again the truly Catholic faith before placing himself and the Society under their immediate jurisdiction.


2 See:

3 A site has been specially created: where this text can be found in various languages.

4 — Organized jointly by the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, the University of Auvergne, and the University Paris-Sud – Paris-Saclay as well as the laboratory Law & Religious Societies, the Michel de l’Hospital Center and the Institute of Juridical and Philosophical Sciences of the Sorbonne. The proceedings of this symposium should be published soon, which will enable us to report more precisely on them.

5— We are awaiting the publication of the Acts to report on it.

6 — Article published on March 21, 2019, by, available on Among the authors of this Letter, we notice Professor Paolo Pasqualucci (several of whose texts Le Sel de la terre has published) and two Dominicans, Fathers Thomas Crean and Aidan Nichols. As of May 21, 70 new people had signed the Letter.

8 —MANSI52, col. 1109.