Saturday, July 13, 2019

Pius VI and the Synod of Pistoia

One of the most brazen attempts to undermine the traditions of the Church prior to the post-Conciliar age occurred at the Synod of Pistoia in 1786, held in the region of Florence under the presidency of Bishop Scipio de Ricci, Bishop of Pistoia and Prato.

The Synod of Pistoia was the last gasp of the Gallican movement, which attempted to detract from the authority of the Holy See by transferring much of the governance of national churches over to their respective governments and synods of local bishops. It asserted radical innovations in Church governance and proposed sweeping reforms that touched on everything from monastic discipline to the sacramental theology to the order of the liturgy. In many places, the acts of Pistoia anticipate the thinking of the theologians of the Nouvelle théologie responsible for the calamities that followed the Second Vatican Council.

Pope Pius VI condemned the organizers of the Synod of Pistoia as “embarked on confusing, destroying, and utterly overturning [sound Christian doctrine] by introducing troublesome novelties under the guise of a sham reform" in his 1794 bull Auctorem Fidei. His bull goes on to condemn many of the propositions of the Synod as heretical, erroneous, impious, or contrary to Catholic custom.

I have been rereading a lot of the writings surrounding the Gallican controversy and the Synod of Pistoia in light of the coming Synod of the Amazon. A lot of the teachings given by Pius VI were prescient of our current crisis. I want to share some of the more relevant condemnations from Auctorem Fidei that might be eye-opening. The entirety of papal teaching on the Synod of Pistoia can be found in Denzinger 1501-1599.

I will list each condemned proposition in italics along with my commentary afterward:

On the Use of Persuasion to Enforce Discipline

"[The Church] does not have authority to demand obedience to its decrees otherwise than by means which depend on persuasion" (DZ 1505).

This proposition, condemned as heretical, essentially consists in asserting that the Church's only means of asserting its teaching and discipline is through the power or persuasion--that the only God-given power the Church possesses to regulate its affairs is by persuasion, and as such lacks the divine authority to enforce discipline through laws, positive decrees, and spiritual and temporal punishments. I found this interesting because the condemned proposition essentially mirrors the attitude of the contemporary Church, which envisions its only means of operation as a continuous dialogue with itself in the world through the tools of persuasion. Or, as Pope John XXIII said at the opening of the Second Vatican Council, "The Church has always opposed these errors. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity. Nowadays, however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She considers that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations."

Do not mistake me, as I am not asserting John XXIII formally denying what Pius VI says in Auctorem Fidei—after all, John is only saying the Church "prefers" to use persuasion whereas Pistoia claimed that the Church could only resort to persuasion—but the attitude expressed by John XXIII and subsequent popes certainly represents a clear divergence from the teaching of Pius VI.

On Local Bishops Possessing Doctrinal Authority

Pius VI condemns the following proposition as schismatic or at least erroneous:

"The doctrine of the synod [of Pistoia] by which it professes that "it is convinced that a bishop has received from Christ all necessary rights for the good government of his diocese" (DZ 1506).

Pius elaborates that the reason this proposition is schismatic is because it infers "as if for the good government of each diocese higher ordinances dealing either with faith and morals, or with general discipline, are not necessary, the right of which belongs to the supreme Pontiffs and the General Councils for the universal Church." In other words, if one were to assert that a bishop of a confederation of local bishops possess "all necessary rights" for the government of his diocese, we are immediately confronted with how this is understood with regards to matters of universal faith and morals. If a bishop possesses "all necessary rights" without any reference to the Church universal, then we only have two options (1) matters of faith, morals, and discipline are among those things that can be determined by a local bishop, or (2) that those things which traditionally fall under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Pontiff are simply necessary.

We cannot but be reminded here of Pope Francis' teaching in Evangelii Gaudium that "genuine doctrinal authority" in order to possess the "concrete realization of the collegial spirit" that the "new situation" of the Church calls for (EG, 32). Whereas Evangelii Gaudium sees this kind of doctrinal decentralization as a wholesome development in the service of collegiality, Pius VI sees as leading to schism, and it is simple to see why: if local bishops possess "all necessary rights", including "genuine doctrinal authority", then the results would be that what constituted the faith itself would be determined by local taste; one of the marks of the Church, Catholicity, refers to the universality of faith. If what constitutes the faith is left more to local conferences, that Catholicity would be fractured. We'd be left with what would be essentially be a loose confederation of national churches that "agree on essentials." I have written elsewhere on why the concept of "we agree on essentials" is fallacious (see "We Agree on Essentials", USC, May 2008). How does that principle work in Protestantism? It is a recipe for schism, which Pius VI clearly saw.

This concept is condemned again in DZ 1510:

"Likewise, the doctrine by which parish priests and other priests gathered in a synod are declared judges of faith together with the bishop, and at the same time it is intimated that they are qualified for judgment in matters of faith by their own right and have indeed received it by ordination, [is] false, rash, subversive of hierarchic order, detracting from the strength of dogmatic definitions or judgments of the Church, at least erroneous."

Whereas the previous condemnation attacks the idea that a bishop can possess authority over doctrine and morals, this one condemns the idea that a gathering of clergy in a synod could possess such authority. Now, this does not address national episcopal conferences (such things did not exist in 1794, and such conferences are gatherings of bishops, not priests), but the principle remains: local bodies of clergy cannot, apart from the universal Church and the Holy See, make their own judgments on what constitutes the faith or morality of the Church.

Pius returns again to this subject later in Auctorem Fidei:

"The proposition stating that any knowledge whatsoever of ecclesiastical history is sufficient to allow anyone to assert that the convocation of a national council is one of the canonical ways by which controversies in regard to religion may be ended in the Church of the respective nations; if understood to mean that controversies in regard to faith or morals which have arisen in a Church can be ended by an irrefutable decision made in a national council; as if freedom from error in questions of faith and morals belonged to a national council
" (DZ 1593).

This proposition is considered schismatic and heretical by Pius VI that a national council could ever arrive at an irrefutable decision in matters of faith. While the condemnation of DZ 1506 applies to bishops alone, and 1510 applies to local clerical synods, this statement extends Pius's condemnation to national councils, presumably episcopal councils. It is condemned as "schismatic, heretical", for the same reasons mentioned above. Local churches must all have unity with each other and the Holy See on matters of faith, but how can this be if national councils have authority to determine doctrine?

Against Local Innovations

Also condemned is the following:

"[That a bishop is] "to pursue zealously a more perfect constitution of ecclesiastical discipline," and this "against all contrary customs, exemptions, reservations which are opposed to the good order of the diocese, for the greater glory of God and for the greater edification of the faithful" (DZ 1507)

Pius VI says this proposition is not only schismatic, but erroneous and subversive of the hierarchy, "in that it supposes that a bishop has the right by his own judgment and will to decree and decide contrary to customs, exemptions, reservations, whether they prevail in the universal Church or even in each province, without the consent or the intervention of a higher hierarchic power" (ibid). This proposition is not so much about doctrine as about custom and discipline, which Pope Pius VI notes has a unifying affect. There is something relevant to the unity of the Church when the same customs are observed throughout the world. It would be subversive of the hierarchy for that Church authorities to enforce one discipline somewhere and exempt from it elsewhere—now please, before some one hops in the comments and says, "But Boniface, there's lots of dioceses and local churches that have customary exemptions, blah blah, Americans can eat meat on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and this country can do that blah blah," yes, I know and that's not what I'm talking about—in my own state we are allowed to eat muskrat during Lent and that's fine. What Pius is getting at are local changes to customs that are much more integral and know like, oh I don't know, for the sake of, allowing the ordination of married men in a certain province because of local conditions of something.

The Number of Altars in a Church

Pius VI condemns the following rule of the Synod of Pistoia relating to altars in churches:

" is fitting, in accordance with the order of divine services and ancient custom that there be only one altar in each temple, and therefore, that it is pleased to restore that custom" (DZ 1531).

One need only think of the elimination of side altars (or their relegation to mere decoration) and the abolition of private masses that came in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Pius VI says that such a proposition is "rash [and] injurious to the very ancient pious custom flourishing and approved for these many centuries in the Church, especially in the Latin Church" (ibid). The removal of accessory altars has certainly been injurious to piety by making the sanctuary only about what happens on Sunday morning with the "gathering of the community" and not on regular acts of piety that can go on there at all times.

Against Simplification of the Liturgy

Interestingly enough, part of what the Synod of Pistoia was trying to accomplish was a "greater simplicity" of the liturgy. To that end, it proposed introducing a liturgy in the vernacular, and having the laity recite the prayers aloud with the priest:

"The proposition of the synod by which it shows itself eager to remove the cause through which, in part, there has been induced a forgetfulness of the principles relating to the order of the liturgy, "by recalling it (the liturgy) to a greater simplicity of rites, by expressing it in the vernacular language, by uttering it in a loud voice"; as if the present order of the liturgy, received and approved by the Church, had emanated in some part from the forgetfulness of the principles by which it should be regulated,--rash, offensive to pious ears, insulting to the Church, favorable to the charges of heretics against it" (DZ 1533).

Note Pope Pius' teaching that the "present order of the liturgy, received and approved by the Church" could not proceed from a fundamental forgetfulness of the principles which regulate the Catholic liturgy. This is essentially opposed to the critique that the traditional Mass of the Church had, over the ages, derogated from the principles of right Christian worship; i.e., that the authentic worship of the Church had been obscured by an "encrustation" of traditions accumulated over the ages. Pius says that the traditional Mass, by virtue of being universally received and approved by the Church, necessarily preserves the proper liturgical principles—if it did not, why would the Church have received it?

This teaching does pose an interesting conundrum, however. Pius essentially teaches that a liturgy that is received and approved by the Church, by that very fact, has consonance with proper liturgical principles; this is similar to what the Council of Trent teaches that no authentic ritual or gesture of the Church's liturgy can be an incentive to impiety (Session XXII, Can. VIII). Thus, the concept that the traditional Latin Mass is incapable of answering to the needs of the faithful or that it, over time, became detached from the basic principles of Christian worship is false.

Also condemned is the following:

" would be against apostolic practice and the plans of God, unless easier ways were prepared for the people to unite their voice with that of the whole Church"; if understood to signify introducing of the use of popular language into the liturgical prayers" (DZ 1566).

Pius calls this "false, rash, disturbing to the order prescribed for the celebration of the mysteries, easily productive of many evils" (ibid).

On Promoting Worthy Men to Major Orders

The following is also condemned:

"The doctrine of the synod which says that in promoting to orders this method, from the custom and rule of the ancient discipline, was accustomed to be observed, "that if any cleric was distinguished for holiness of life and was considered worthy to ascend to sacred orders, it was the custom to promote him to the diaconate, or to the priesthood, even if he had not received minor orders" (DZ 1551).

This is interesting given the elimination of Minor Orders after the Council; but it is more interesting in the context of the debate about viri probati, "approved men." The condemned statement does not have anything to do with ordaining married men of good repute to solve a priest shortage in a particular region, but the underlying principle is the same: the idea of taking men of good reputation and promoting them to positions of authority within the clergy by skipping over the intermediate steps that should accompany an ordination.

More relevant to this discussion is the following:

"Likewise, the doctrine by which it professes to desire very much that some way be found of removing the lesser clergy (under which name it designates the clerics of minor orders) from cathedrals and colleges by providing otherwise, namely through approved lay people of mature age, a suitable assigned stipend for the ministry of serving at Masses and for other offices such as that of acolyte, etc." (DZ 1555).

Again, the Synod was looking to replace the administrative diocesan function of certain members of the clergy (traditionally reserved to the canons of a cathedral chapter) with "approved lay people of a mature age"; similarly, the Synod of the Amazon is looking to replace the ministry and jurisdiction of priests with "approved men" (literally viri probati) of a certain age ("elders").

"Special Ministry" of the Ordained

"Likewise, the doctrine which intimates that there was no other title for ordinations than appointment to some special ministry" (DZ 1552).

Pius IV condemns the idea that the essential purpose for the priesthood is just to perform a specific ministry that is in need to being fulfilled. Many have noted the tendency of the priesthood today being reduced to a kind of vending-machine function—a priest shows up on Sunday just so people can "get their sacraments" they can't get elsewhere but all other juridical and administrative functions are carried out by lay people. The priest in this scenario exists merely to fulfill some special ministry nobody else can do. His role within the Church and the life of the faithful is radically reduced.

Even though Pistoia was making these claims from different motives than what we see in the discussions about the Amazon and viri probati, again, the principle is the same: we err if we think the issue of priesthood and who to ordain is merely about making sure people "getting sacraments"; the priesthood is much bigger and more integral than that and if this is the only dimension in which we can think about it, we are already wrong.

Bishops Translating Feasts to Sundays

This one made me laugh. Apparently, the Synod of Pistoia discussed allowing bishops to translate holy days of obligation to Sundays and even allowing penitential fasts to Advent:

"The deliberation of the synod about transferring to Sunday feasts distributed through the year, and rightly so, because it is convinced that the bishop has power over ecclesiastical discipline in relation to purely spiritual matters, and therefore of abrogating the precept of hearing Mass on those days, on which according to the early law of the Church, even then that precept flourished; and then, also, in this statement which it (the synod) added about transferring to Advent by episcopal authority the fasts which should be kept throughout the year according to the precept of the Church; insomuch as it asserts that it is lawful for a bishop in his own right to transfer the days prescribed by the Church for celebrating feasts or fasts, or to abrogate the imposed precept of hearing class" (DZ 1574).What does ole Pius VI have to say about letting bishops, on their own authority, translate holy days to Sunday? He says it is "a false proposition, harmful to the law of the general Council and of the Supreme Pontiffs, scandalous, favorable to schism" (ibid).

By way, I feel like I have to explain the implication here because I fear some simple people will not grasp it. If you read this and walk away thinking, "The translation of feasts by bishops is totally invalid then and if going to such transferred holy days does not fulfill the obligation," then you are errant. Pius VI believed allowing bishops such authority would be harmful to the Church; the modern Magisterium disagrees and has allowed that very authority to bishops to translate certain feasts. Whether you think this was a bad idea or not—and I certainly think it was—the bishops were granted the authority to do so and such translations of feasts are valid (even if stupid) and people who attend on those Sundays have fulfilled their obligations.


I recommend reading the acts of the Synod of Pistoia, its history, and the papal condemnations of not only this synod but everything related to Gallicanism. It seems like, in many respects, we are revisiting the controversies of the day, but with the Church now affirming the positions once taken by the Gallicanists, at least with regards to the power of local churches and the concept of "synodality." This is not at all to suggest that the alternative should be a mindless centralization; indeed, as we discussed earlier this summer, we really need to get back to the fundamentals of what it means to carry authority within the Church. The relationship between the pope, the bishops, and the national churches is all in flux right now. May the Lord right the ship in our days.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Duodecimus Anniversarius

Good heavens...has it been twelve years!? Indeed it has; twelve years of blogging here at Unam Sanctam Catholicam, my friends. It was June 29, 2007 when this blog was launched. I was a young man working as a Director of Religious Education at a parish in the Diocese of Lansing. I remember for some time I had been frustrated with what I was experiencing in the churches around where I lived. I was baptized Catholic as a child but had no faith formation; I returned to the Church in 2002, receiving my First Communion at the tender age of 22. 

But over the next few years I started to realize that the Church I had studied and prayed my way back into did not look the same as the Church I was experiencing on the ground in parish life. I had read about all the "riches" supposedly unlocked by the Second Vatican Council, but was extremely disappointed that the most vibrant aspects of the Church's tradition were notably lacking from parish life. Why was there such a paucity of Latin? Why was I hearing contemporary guitar music or Protestant hymns instead of Gregorian chant? Why were so many homilies so wimpy on Catholic dogma? Why did those in charge of the Church seem to lax when it came to promoting the Gospel? And most alarmingly of all, why did so many Catholics seem uninterested in their spiritual heritage?

When I returned to full communion with the Church in 2002, I had just kind of assumed that the Church I'd read about in my studies still existed. But by 2005ish there was a kind of disquiet and spiritual rut I was in. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. But it almost felt like a conspiracy...a conspiracy of silence about the Church's history and customs. As if traditional Catholicism was that one relative that we don't talk about because he's in prison. I remember 2005 was my senior year of my undergrad and that year I had completed a historical research project on the Second Vatican Council. I had studied the actual daybooks of the Council and read the interventions and came across the story of Cardinal Ottaviani's microphone being disconnected. This led me to Ralph Wiltgen's The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber, which was really the point where I started to realize what happened in  Rome in 1962-1965 was more revolutionary than I had hitherto understood.

But the transformative moment came in June of 2007 when I was hired as a DRE and had the privilege of reconnecting with Dr. John Joy, who at the time was not Dr. Joy but just a young dude working for the Church and preparing to go study abroad with his family. John and I had been friends back from our days at Ave Maria College and managed to catch up. John helped me understand that what I was really missing was the vital connection that any serious Catholic needs to the Church's tradition. He gave me a copy of Msgr. Klaus Gamber's book Reform of the Roman Liturgy, as well as Michael Davies' Liturgical Timebombs. He also introduced me to other valuable works like Msgr. George Agius' Tradition and the Church and the works the the Dominican theologian Servais Pinckaers on Christian ethics and the morality of happiness. Understand, before I was introduced to these authors I had primarily been reading Jimmy Akin and Scott Hahn sort of books, which, while having some value, left me profoundly undernourished. These works John introduced me to had a very profound effect on my thinking and helped me to crystallize some things in my head that hitherto had been vague, unformed sentiment. They helped me really reconnect with the foundations of the Catholic faith and understand more about what my spirit was lacking and where to find it.

But John also did something equally formative—he introduced me to blogging. It being 2007, I still did not have the Internet in my house so I was oblivious to he existence of a traditional Catholic blogosphere, which in those days was still in an inchoate, latent phase of development. But John introduced me to three blogs: the New Liturgical Movement, Rorate Caeli, and a particularly entertaining blog run by some eccentric crank out on the west coast called Athanasius Contra Mundum. 

Learning of the existence of traditional Catholic blogs was revolutionary. See, before I started reading them, I was under the impression that my own frustrations with contemporary Catholicism were more of a matter of personal taste. I did not realize that there was a rather substantial sub-group within Catholicism who felt the same, and not as a matter of mere sentiment, but as a coherent, alternate vision for what the Church could and ought to be, grounded in its history and traditions and faithful to its own charism.

In other words, I realized I was not alone.

And then I was like, "Imma blog also."

And so, here I am, 12 years later, with 1,808 essays and 3.5 million pageviews across two different sites under my belt, still rolling with this weird hobby of mine—and pleasantly surprised that so many of you are still along for the journey.

God bless you all, blessed Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, and prayers for another year of blogging!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Book Review: Infiltration by Taylor Marshall

A few days ago, when I spoke negatively about Dr. Taylor Marshall's book Infiltration on this blog's Facebook page, people responded with hostility, confusion, and consternation. Dr. Marshall's book purports to offer a causal explanation for the current crisis in the Church. It invokes Freemasonry, Fatima, Paul VI, and a whole slew of subjects important to traditional Catholics. Why speak poorly of the work, then? The man is doing a good thing for the Church; why knock it? Is this more of the  "circular firing squad" dynamic at work?

What is said is important, but how it is said matters quite a bit as well. When one is making certain historical assertions, this becomes desperately important. Cause and effect need to be clearly and indisputably linked by well-documented and universally accepted sources. The scholarly threshold is high. You can certainly publish a historical work where cause and effect are  not clearly demonstrated, where allegations are not documented thoroughly, where sources are questionable or non-existent—but what you have is not a work of history, but of gossip or innuendo.

Unfortunately, Infiltration is a work full of innuendo. It would be tedious to expand upon every unsubstantiated innuendo Dr. Marshall presents as fact; below I am posting a review from my friend Kevin Tierney who writes on this site occasionally. His review gets to the point much more lucidly and quickly than anything I would write. But I do want to expand upon what I mean by "innuendo" and why I think books like Infiltration are ultimately harmful to the traditionalist cause.

An historical argument by innuendo will usually start with a predetermined assertion and then try to prove it by appealing to causal factors which, taken on their own, do not rise to the threshold of establishing a certain cause and effect relationship. The author typically knows this but, rather than admitting the connection is tenuous, the author tries to bolster his claims by resorting to innuendo in lieu of actual facts. A classic example of this is well known historical sensationalist and journalist Graham Hancock, author of such books as Fingerprints of the Gods about Atlantis. Or we could take his book The Sign and the Seal on the Ark of the Covenant. In this book, Hancock opines that we really don't know what was inside the Ark, but points out that ancient cultures used to worship meteorites. He also speculates that a radioactive meteorite could have caused some of the effects we read about in the Old Testament associated with the Ark (e.g., making Moses "glow", killing people who touched it, etc). Now, does Mr. Hancock have any proof that the Ark contained a radioactive meteorite? Of course not. Could such an assertion ever be proven? Most likely not. But that is not going to stop Hancock from simply "throwing it out there" and then moving forward with his line of argumentation with the latent assumption that this implication is trustworthy. In essence, he makes a radically unverifiable statement, shrugs and says "maybe", but then moves ahead anyway on the working assumption that the hypothesis is correct, creating the illusion that an argument has been made when really only an innuendo was proffered.

In Dr. Marshall's Infiltration, you will see many such arguments. You will see the Siri Thesis rehashed, with no proof other than to retell the story because "legend says." Paul VI is alleged to be an Alinskyite on the premise that Cardinal Montini and Saul Alinsky were mutual associates of Jacques Maritain. It is asserted that John XXIII was referring to the children of Fatima when he referenced "prophets of doom", even though Marshall offers no proof of this and despite the fact there are many other more plausible explanations. He reports that Paul VI was a sodomite, on no evidence other than retelling the gossip of French diplomat Roger Peyerfitte who says he knows of an actor who said he had a homosexual relationship with Paul VI. In other words, it is pure hearsay. Marshall is just reporting what other people gossip about. It's historical writing of the shoddiest form. Tabloid material.

I like Dr. Taylor Marhsall. I'm happy he has gravitated more towards the traditionalist camp. And I know people will inevitably say that myself or Mr. Tierney are harming the traditional cause by ripping this book. On the contrary, it is the existence of books like Infiltration which do damage to the traditionalist cause by making us look like a bunch of conspiracy theorists for whom a certain narrative is more important than the facts. It's highly likely that anyone I gave this book to in hopes of convincing them of our cause would walk away shaking their head. I don't deny the book is entertaining and engaging; but as history, it's a huge fail. And please don't tell me "He's just trying to do a good work for the Church." We can't play loose with the truth in service of the truth. When I was in college, I wrote a paper on the Protestant Reformation for my history class. It was a blistering critique of the Lutheran movement. I thought my professor, a militant Catholic, would heartily approve of it. Instead he lambasted it ruthlessly. My citations didn't prove what I said they proved. Connections I inferred were not sufficiently demonstrated. Too much reliance on secondary sources and not enough on primary. He ripped it to shreds. It didn't matter that I was "trying to do a good thing for the Church." And he was right to destroy it. The scholarship of that paper was garbage. Its shoddy reasoning and weak citations were actually more damaging to Catholicism than supportive of it. And that's always been my approach as well. You can show me a book that argues 100% in line with things I believe, but if it's scholarship and citations are sloppy I'm still going to say it's bunk. Even if I happen to agree with a lot of Taylor Marshall's conclusions, he offers no compelling reason why I ought to believe them.

Well, that's enough for my introduction. I guess I should actually get to Kevin's review.

Review of Dr. Taylor Marhsall's Infiltration: The Plot to Destroy the Church from Within by Kevin Tierney

How does one explain the crisis in the modern Church? This is a subject that has taken up endless amounts of discussion. After this review, we will spend even more hours, but God willing, not too many. During that time, in addition to discussing the root causes of the crisis, we will discuss how present these problems, and what one can do to solve them. In having that discussion, a wide variety of viewpoints will be presented.

Taylor Marshall has given his own viewpoint in Infilitration: The Plot to Destroy the Church From Within. This is a 250 page work with 50 pages of appendices, in addition to a glowing foreword by Bishop Athanasius Schneider. By appearances alone, this is a serious and sober book. Yet as with many things, appearances are deceiving. Infiltration fails as a serious and sober look at the problems facing the Catholic Church. More importantly, the ways in which it fail can have real consequences for how that crisis is perceived, and for those who advocate it along these lines.

Yet in reviewing this work, we must be careful. We must avoid being like Dr. Jeffrey Mirus, whose review of Infiltration was less a review on the book and more on his belief that Taylor Marshall is a moron. There is no valley so low to which Mirus will not stoop in his quest to insult Dr. Marshall, no pettiness he will not engage in to further his belief that Marshall is a crazy uncle. Sadly, many people have picked up on this review, and are promoting it. While this no doubt makes them feel good and superior, I doubt its actually reaching anyone who has actually read the book, or who isn’t absolutely certain of the intellectual capacity (or lack thereof) of Dr. Marshall. In this review, I want to avoid those pitfalls. This is a bad book, but we need to explain why exactly it is bad, even if you agree with the authors overall conclusions about there being a modernist crisis in the Church.


In his rejection of a certain theological position, Marshall says he rejects it because it “does not present a consistent theological narrative” for the present crisis. For Marshall, the narrative is what matters above all else. The narrative about the crisis matters more than the actual crisis, which is almost secondary. Unlike most traditionalist polemics, Infiltration spends a shockingly small amount of time talking about the problems the Church faces. Instead, he is concerned most with telling you what the cause of these problems are. The cause of these problems are a hyper-organized and almost omniscient cabal of secret societies (the Carbonari, Freemasons, the Sankte Gallen Mafia, among many others) carefully and calmly putting together a plan to take over and subvert the Church. The blueprint of this plan is the Permanent Instruction of the Alta Vendita, written in 1859. Marshall’s job is to trace a straight line from this document up until 2019, and show how it explains everything about the current crisis.

The problem with conspiracy theories is they adopt an approach of paranoia in their reading of history. In every event, they see otherwise invisible narratives—and if you look hard enough, there are signs of these narratives, signs the author will gladly tell you about if you spend the money for their book. Hence he begins his narrative by asking why lightning struck the Vatican the day Benedict resigned the papacy. Was it connected to the Vatican banking scandal? Was it about sex abuse? Doctrine? To Marshall, that lightning strike means something. To the reader, that strike might also mean something: a weather pattern developed in the earths atmosphere that was conducive to strong storms, and one of them produced a bolt of lightning which struck the Vatican. That possibility is never once mentioned by Marshall.

Another problem is that it gives the enemy far too much credit. That secret societies exist, and that they are often hostile to the Catholic Church is no doubt true. Yet Marshall presents these societies less as the dangerous threat that they are, and more as cartoonish supervillains who are all powerful, hyper organized and disciplined, and every action done is followed verbatim by a plan written 160 years ago. Anyone who has studied the history of these societies for even a second will be skeptical of this. The movements of secret societies and radicalism spends just as much time knifing each other as they do trying to attack their common enemy. They splinter into factions upon factions. If anything, that’s what makes the assault on the Church so difficult from these groups: it is highly decentralized. Even today you could excommunicate and jail every member of the Sankte Gallen Mafia (the liberal group that by their own admission and boasting were the ones who lobbied and organized for Pope Francis during the recent conclave), and the crisis would continue without missing a beat. The problem isn’t so much a central playbook they are following, as there are a bunch of highly motivated individuals whose only thing they agree upon is a disdain and loathing for tradition and the Gospel.


For Dr. Marshall, one of the biggest problems the Church faced was the loss of the Papal States.  For a variety of reasons (although not important enough to elucidate in great detail in the book), the Papal States are central to everything.  It goes without saying that Dr. Marshall would not be happy about the Lateran treaty which gave rise to the modern Vatican City and the protection of the city from outside threats, in exchange for the pope relinquishing claims on everything else that comprised the Papal States.  The absurd assumptions that follow upon this are legion: for example, did you know that Ambrogio Ratti took the papal name Pius XI to rebuke his two predecessors named Pius?  Did you know that he took the name explicitly because he would solve the tensions with Italy that they failed?  And did you know that this Lateran treaty unleashed a demonic army that infiltrated the Vatican, culminating in the pontificate of Pope Francis, a Masonic Manchurian Candidate?  This is all just fluff; Marshall nowhere gives evidence that Ratti chose Pius XI as a slight towards his predecessors, or that Pius XI viewed himself as repudiating their failed policies.  He takes frequent leaps of logic to arrive at these conclusions.  He’s a habitual logic leaper.  Often, it is harmless.  Other times, he says things like the following:

Flanked by representatives of Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism, Pope John Paul II opened the Jubilee Year of 2000. One year later, he would be diagnosed with Parikson’s disease and begin his slow, painful descent into death (Infiltration, pg. 192).

Now, maybe God really did punish John Paul II with Parkinsons for mistakes regarding ecumenism. I would be very careful in writing that opinion in public though. As in, don’t write that in public. It's unprovable and a tremendous leap of logic; yet Marshall seems to imply a causal relation here that the reader is invited to uncritically accept.


In addition to seeking out the emanations of penumbras of various events in the Church, Dr. Marshall will also inform the readers of various theological controversies. Yet the way he does so is, quite frankly, fundamentally dishonest. In discussing “infiltration” of the Sacred Liturgy, he states his belief that the prayer “for our dearly departed… and all who died in your friendship” you hear during one of the Eucharistic Prayers is “seen” as promoting universal salvation. Nowhere does he mention who sees this, and where they record that view. Nowhere does he state if he agrees with that view or not. It is just “seen” by some. Yet for the purposes of his narrative, that “seen” is then treated as a verifiable fact. Elsewhere, he says it is “still debated” whether Vatican II’s decree on religious liberty gives a divine right to engage in idolatry. He nowhere mentions where this is “still debated.” He nowhere mentions what side of the debate he finds himself on. He is simply noting some impersonal passive debate going on somewhere. Yet, for purposes of the narrative, the Church, in a decree from an ecumenical council, gave divine sanction to idolatry. Yet if you press him too hard on this, he will fall back on saying the text “seems to suggest” it, and then just continue onward as if it is undebatable truth. The problem with both is clear: they are very much not established truths. If they are not established, then there’s a real chance his “infiltration” narrative is incorrect. Debating such a mindset is impossible. It is heads he wins, tails you lose. Even if one is disposed to agree with Dr. Marshall's fundamental arguments here, he offers no reason why you should believe them.

Marshall responds to these criticisms by hinting that people are afraid of his work and his conclusions, while other defenders point to the fact Bishop Schneider endorsed the work. That Bishop Schneider endorsed this work is tragic. Yet it is a reminder that staunch doctrinal orthodoxy does not always translate into sound judgement. Just as Christopher West was (wrongly) endorsed by several orthodox bishops, so it is with this work. As far as the conclusions, I am not "afraid" of those conclusions. I have no problem believing that people have tried to undermine the Gospel from within positions of the Church. If you don’t believe that, you haven’t been paying attention the past 50 years.

Yet there is a right way and a wrong way to respond to those conclusions. Sound evidence and logic matters. We must be careful to present the facts as they happen, and when we are engaging in speculation, make clear we are doing so, and make sure that speculation is backed by sound evidence. If we don’t, it becomes far too easy to paint critics as a bunch of crazy reactionaries and as Alex Jones with incense. Nobody is expecting a modern day Iota Unum, a dry manifesto 800 pages long outlining the problems with the Church’s surrender to liberalism. (Yet it is a great book!) We badly need a book outlining in easily readable fashion the problems the Church is facing, and how to confront them. (You see almost nothing in how to confront the problems from Marshall, outside of pious generalities.) Infiltration is not that book.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

There's Always a Priest Shortage in Missionary Areas

The ostensible reason the ordination of married "elders" is being discussed for the Amazon is because of a critical priest shortage in the region.

Let us set aside for a moment the fact that the ideologue of the Amazon Synod, Bishop Fritz Lobinger, has stated that the priest shortage is not the real reason for the proposal to ordain married men; let us look at the historical background of "priest shortages" in general.

The Amazon is more or less a missionary region. I do not deny there is a priest shortage there. But there have always been priest shortages in mission areas. How is this a new problem? Mission territories generally don't have the population density or Catholic base to produce a sufficient level of indigenous priests. This is why evangelical efforts in mission countries have typically been spearheaded by foreign priests supported by subscriptions or donations from the faithful in more thoroughly Christianized areas. This is just common sense.

Let's review some history:
  • There was a shortage of clergy in Samaria during the Book of Acts; the Bible says even after they had converted there was nobody in the territory to administer Confirmation so the Apostles had to make a trip up to them (Acts 8:14-17).
  • There was a shortage of missionary priests willing to go to Ireland prior to it's conversion, even though there were already small bands of Christian Irish living there before St. Patrick.
  • There was a shortage of priests in Anglo-Saxon England during the time of its conversion; priests sent from Gaul often times refused to cross the Channel and go over to Britain. Some of St. Augustine of Canterbury's own companions refused to leave Gaul.
  • There was a shortage of priests in Germany during the Carolingian era. Missionaries like St. Boniface were constantly sending back to France, Italy, and Britain for more helpers.
  • There was a shortage of priests to Asia during the 13th century Mongol period. It was not uncommon for friars sent east to abandon the journey before reaching Mongol territory.
  • There was a shortage of priests in Japan during the period of the Christian persecutions. Japanese Catholics went generations without seeing a Catholic priest. 
  • There were priest shortages in New Spain (Mexico) for many years until the Spaniards really started coming over en masse. Catholic converts sometimes went a year or more without access to the sacraments. 
  • There was a shortage of priests among the Jesuits who evangelized New France. A single priest such as St. Isaac Jogues or Fr. Marquette might be in charge of thousands and thousands of miles of territory.
  • There was a shortage of priests on the American frontier for most of the history of the United States. Priests traveled along exceptionally broad circuits, sometimes covering thousands of miles, in order to minister to their flock. Their letters to Europe are full of pleas for more priests to aid them in their work.  

I'm sure we could come up with many more examples. But the point is there have always been priest shortages in mission areas. The situation in the Amazon is absolutely not unique. In none of the situations listed above did anyone in the Church ever seem to think the solution was ordaining married men. Even in the case of New France, where Jesuits were being killed by Iroquois while simultaneously being expected to administer an ecclesial territory the size of Texas, there was no suggestion or ordaining married men, Jesuit novices were still required to put in years and years of training before ordination, and the speedy ordination of indigenous peoples was rejected—even though any one of those could have "solved" the problem by providing more priests to minister to the faithful.

But historically the Church has not viewed this as a problem that you solve by throwing more warm bodies into the grinder. Christendom was not built on the mentality of, "we need someone to do this job...meh, you'll do."

Of course, this is not really about a shortage of priests in the Amazon anyway. But...whatever.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Guest Post: "Revisiting Our Concept of Authority" by Kevin Tierney

Today I am featuring a guest post from my friend and colleague Kevin Tierney on the subject of stepping back and revisiting our attitudes towards authority within the Catholic hierarchy.

Kevin is a writer living in Brighton, Michigan. His works have appeared regularly on Catholic Exchange and other venues. You may follow him on Facebook or Twitter (@catholicsmark).

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As the USCCB meets to discuss how best to implement new norms regarding sexual abuse, is everyone ready for the predictable debate about if homosexuality or clericalism are the big problem causing the crisis? I’m not, it’s a tired debate. I also think it can be sidestepped if we go a little deeper. I think that if we want to solve the problems the Church is beset it, its going to require us to go deeper, as uncomfortable as it makes us. I speak of the problems we Catholics have in articulating authority.

Before you reach for your “I would not believe the Gospel if not for the authority of the Catholic Church” (you don’t understand that quote) from Augustine, let’s talk about what authority is.  In most debates today in the Church, “authority” is a question of “who has the power” or “who can compel you to do something.”  Hence a critic of the pope is said to be undermining his authority, because people will not look to him for guidance if they hear he’s a bad pope.  The authority of the bishop is viewed in terms of the authority to execute justice and to direct policy in his diocese. To use a musical analogy, the priests and laity are instruments, the bishop is a conductor.  Or on a higher level, the pope is the conductor, and everyone else are the instruments.  In the words of one Catholic writer, we must become “the kind of Catholics Pope Francis wants us to be.”   To use an old analogy, the pope or bishop is the potter, we are the clay.  You may think that this situation would change under a “traditional pope”, but I am not that optimistic.

Even worse, authority is treated as a zero sum game.  To the extent the pope exercises authority, it comes at the expense of the bishops, or vice versa.  This was precisely the reasoning Rome gave in demanding the USCCB suspend any of their previous reforms, as these reforms would not give Rome a free hand to propose their own later reforms.  Rather than treating the reforms as a baseline that would be maintained but also adapted to meet local situations (strengthened where necessary), these were put forth with the expectation they would be the final word, and the USCCB has made clear that when they meet, do not expect much if any daylight from Vos Estis and their position, despite the fact they are freely clear to mandate additional reforms or additional mechanisms to make the rules more efficient.

This view of authority is, to put it bluntly, not Christian in the slightest.  To the extent it is believed, it is a religion that is not Christianity. It finds no basis in the Scriptures or Tradition. Worse, it is condemned explicitly by our Lord in the Gospel of Luke.  Yet this attitude has become a part of contemporary Catholicism.  To demonstrate why it is wrong, we must consider two questions:  what is the purpose of authority, and how is authority exercised?  

In a scene that could be repeated countless times throughout human history, the Apostles argue among themselves over who the best is, no doubt hoping the winner of that argument can catch Christ’s attention and be confirmed as the best.  Being the best involves prestige, authority, recognition, in a word, power.  Christ’s answer to this display is instructive for us:

The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. (Luke 22:25-27)

The very concept of authority that we have is the very concept of authority Christ is concerned about.  In the political economy, it makes sense to understand authority primarily in the sense of who has power, and how that power can be wielded. That kind of understanding has its limits in the realm of the Church, which at its core is a family.  When the head of the family is primarily concerned with showing off his authority and reminding everyone else of their subservience, that family does not function.  Rather, for us, the point of authority is of service, not dominion.  In the Bible, whether it be the Gospels or the epistles of the Apostles, authority is described in terms of “making firm”, “setting straight”, never in the sense of imposing order or imposing a vision others must conform to.  The authority of the Apostles was not doubted (well at least not by the orthodox believer), but to understand authority in the terms of wielding and exercising power would have been foreign to them.

 In regards to how power is distributed or exercised, this case becomes even clearer.  Does Christ view the role of Peter as to transform his brethren into a different kind of Christian?  Is it to endlessly dictate policy to his brother bishops?

“Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)

The role of Peter is fundamentally a role of supporting the Apostles, helping them remain firm against the attacks of the devil.  Sometimes that will involve settling disputes, and it will involve compelling obedience.  Yet the Bible avoids such grandiose visions of authority for a reason.  We see this line of thought continued within the Church fathers.  While many look at the local bishop as a conductor of the tools of his diocese, St. Ignatius of Antioch looks at it differently:

"For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And man by man, become a choir, that being harmonious in love, and taking up the song of God in unison, you may with one voice sing to the Father through Jesus Christ, so that He may both hear you, and perceive by your works that you are indeed the members of His Son" (Epistle to the Ephesians, Chapter IV)

Ignatius is the man in the earliest Church who laid out the clearest vision for the local bishop.  He presented the strongest vision of the monarchial episcopate in the Fathers.  Yet he also rejects the notion of authority present so often in the Church of our authorities as conductors of a symphony.  Rather, he is the harp that the strings attach themselves to.  The harp doesn’t direct the strings, but without the firmness of the harp, the strings cannot work together to make music.  Once the music is made, the faithful join in and then the symphony is produced.  The conductor is God, not the Bishop.

I sincerely believe that abandoning this model of authority has gotten us into a lot of trouble, especially in the present crisis.  Faced with the activities of robber bishop Michael Bransfield, the financial council of the diocese was “passive.”  Outside auditors were afraid to challenge him, “because of the Bishops position.”  Popes made serious mistakes in handling the abuse crisis, but hey, its their Church, they can run it as they see fit, right?

None of this is written to deny the pope’s authority, nor his jurisdiction.  Nor is it to deny that on prudential issues, the pope does indeed have a wide authority to take action (or not) as he sees fit.  Yet just because someone is given a position of authority, does not mean that authority should be wielded without question, or without a suggestion that it be wielded better.  Imagine if bishops stood up to the code of silence regarding abuse?  Imagine if diocesan employees refused to cooperate with the shuffling of predator priests while hiding it from the community?  Imagine if the financial practices of bishops were vigorously challenged by individuals who had just as much a stake in the success of the Church as the bishop does?  In terms of power, yes, bishops and the pope can make moves that others cannot.  Yet it is the job of the entire people of God to ensure that such authority is always used in the service of unity and making firm, and to never transform the local diocese or global church into the plaything of potenates.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Show Us Your Indignation

The big news in my home state of Michigan last week was that five Catholic priests in the dioceses of Lansing, Kalamazoo, and Detroit had been arrested for various sex abuse crimes--including a priest I had actually profiled on here eleven years ago for wearing a Detroit Red Wings logo on his chasuble.

This Sunday I went to mass at the parish where one of the priests had been from. Now, to make it clear, this priest was long gone from ministry in the diocese; the charges related to his time at this parish back in the 1980s, so he was not currently involved with the parish. Still, there were still a lot of parishioners around who remembered and loved this priest. The news of his arrest was a bitter reckoning.

The celebrant for the Mass was Fr. Tony Smela. Fr. Tony is an excellent priest int he Diocese of Lansing who has not been ordained too long. He is also a friend of the Traditional Latin Mass; the first EF Mass I attended of his was an All Souls Day Requiem Mass in 2018.

Anyhow, there is a lot of indignation these days about the response of the institutional Church to these clerical abuse scandals. Episcopal responses are usually cold, overly bureaucratic, and concerned more with protecting the hierarchy than addressing justice for the victims or identifying the source of the abuse. "We deeply regret" sorts of apologies feel stale; reforms were too often meaningless gestures, "cover your ass" accountability protocols, new norms that root out the rot entirely. 

The reason these responses have left so many Catholics frustrated and demoralized is because there is one vital ingredient lacking: INDIGNATION. I have heard lots of episcopal apologies in my time. Oh, I can tell the bishops are embarrassed by sex abuse. I can tell they are frustrated. I can tell they are concerned. But what I have seldom seen from them in any sense of outrage, of righteous indignation, of disgust. You get the impression that they are trying to "manage" a crisis rather than raise their voices in lamentation with the children of God.

Back to Fr. Tony. Fr. Tony gave what I felt was the ideal response to news of these priests' arrest. When it was time for the homily, he preached unflinchingly on the subject and was very animated. It was clearly visible how upset he was. He was disgusted, and he let it show. He accused the arrested priests of betrayal of the Church and their vocation. He was visibly shaken with indignation. It was evident how hurt and angry this clergyman was, who as a priest, suffers in a unique way whenever the reputation of the priesthood is tarnished. He called out the hierarchy for their failures; he accused the Vatican of failure. The man was angry and not afraid to show it. The righteous indignation that is so often lacking in episcopal apologies was clearly present here.

But he did not leave it with just denunciation and harsh words. He spoke of Christian forgiveness and the healing available in Christ. He left us with the sense that, even though we are rightly horrified, in God's grace and strength we can all move forward.

The result was that instead of thinking "Here comes another lame clerical apology" I felt profoundly that Fr. Tony was one of us. One of the sufferers. I felt solidarity. I felt like he understood. Really understood. And I felt more confident that we would overcome this. I obviously was still deeply saddened by the news, but I left the Mass with a strong sense of healing.

If you are a bishop reading this or someone who works in the communications department of a diocese that crafts statements to the public, please understand this: we want--we need--to see your disgust and indignation. I don't want any more lame "we deeply regret" apologies. I want to see that, as a pastor and a son of the Church, a bishop is personally horrified by this sin. I want to see you cry with desolation at the state of the Church as our Lord wept over Jerusalem.

Also, if you know Fr. Tony and appreciate his response to this and his ministry in general, please let him know.


Friday, May 17, 2019

St. Ambrose on Baptism of Desire

On May 15, 392, the young Western Roman Emperor Valentinian II was found dead in the imperial residence at Vienne in southern Gaul. It is said he was hanged using his own handkerchief.

Though emperor in name, Valentinian found himself at the mercy of his general, Arbogast, who held the prominent position of magister militum in the west. The hostility between Arbogast and Valentinian was well known. The 6th century historian Zosimus wrote of a famous public incident between the two when Valentinian attempted to remove Arbogast from command:

At length Valentinian, no longer able to submit to his correction, when Arbogastes was approaching him as he sat on the imperial throne, looked sternly upon him, and presented him with a writing, by which he dismissed him from his command. Arbogastes, having read it, replied, "You neither gave me the command, nor can deprive me of it;" and having said this, tore the writing to pieces, threw it down, and retired. From that period their hatred was no longer kept to themselves, but appeared in public. [Zosimus, New History, Book IV]
When Valentinian was found hanged in his bedchamber shortly thereafter, it was rumored that foul play was involved carried out by imperial eunuchs sympathetic to Arbogast. At any rate, few believed it was an actual suicide. St. Ambrose of Milan, who knew the young Valentinian, bitterly lamented his passing. In a letter to Valentinian's father. Emperor Theodosius, he wrote:

I am filled, I confess, with bitter grief, not only because the death of Valentinian has been premature, but also because, having been trained in the faith and moulded by your teaching, he had conceived such devotion towards our God, and was so tenderly attached to myself, as to love one whom he had before persecuted, and to esteem as his father the man whom he had before repulsed as his enemy. [Ambrose of Milan, Letter 51]

St. Ambrose also delivered the funeral oration for the slain prince. The issue was tricky because Valentinian had died without baptism. He had intended to receive baptism from the hand of St. Ambrose in person but circumstance for some time delayed these plans from coming to fruition. Were the Catholic faithful to despair of his salvation, since he died without the sacrament of regeneration? In his funeral oration St. Ambrose says no, for the desire for the sacrament has granted Valentinian the grace he required:
But I hear that you grieve because he did not receive the sacrament of baptism. Tell me: What else is in your power other than the desire, the request? But he even had this desire for a long time, that, when he should come into Italy, he would be initiated, and recently he signified a desire to be baptized by me, and for this reason above all others he thought that I ought to be summoned. Has he not, then, the grace which he desired; has he not the grace which he requested? And because he asked, he received, and therefore is it said: 'By whatsover death the just man shall be overtaken, his soul shall be at rest.’ (Wisdom 4:7) [Taken from Deferrari: "On Emperor Valentinian" in Funeral Orations by Saint Gregory Nazianzen and Saint Ambrose of Milan]

St. Ambrose's teaching here would become a fundamental text in the Church's teaching of baptism of desire; St. Thomas Aquinas quotes St. Ambrose's oration in his own affirmation of baptism of desire: "A man can obtain salvation without being actually baptized, on account of his desire for Baptism, which desire is the outcome of "faith that worketh by charity," whereby God, Whose power is not tied to visible sacraments, sanctifies man inwardly. Hence Ambrose says of Valentinian, who died while yet a catechumen: "I lost him whom I was to regenerate: but he did not lose the grace he prayed for" (STh III. Q. 68. Art. 2)

Just a reminder that the idea of baptism of desire is not a modern one but has it roots in the earliest days of Christendom, having been affirmed in by not only St. Ambrose but St. Augustine and many others--and notice that Ambrose does not merely discuss it as a hypothetical possibility, but states it as a fact that it has happened in this case.

Kudos to the excellent blog Gloria Romanorum for bringing the story to my attention; they have a much more in depth article about it here.

Related: Baptism of Blood in St. Bede

Friday, May 10, 2019

Comments on the "Open Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church"

The past week has been full of discussion on the "Open Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church", a remarkable document put forward by a group of nineteen Catholic theologians and academics which—to use a phrase that has become all too familiar—makes "credible accusations" of heresy against Pope Francis and calls upon the bishops of the world to take some sort of action in rectifying the situation. If you have not yet read the "Open Letter", you can do so here.

1. The letter makes a very comprehensive case, drawing not only on particular statements of Pope Francis, but also his responses to the heretical statements of others (for example, the heretical interpretation of Amoris laetitia  published by the bishops of Buenos Aires in 2016, to which Pope Francis replied with a letter saying their document "completely explains the meaning" of Amoris laetitia and that "There are no other interpretations", a statement which he then had published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, the official compendium of his acta). The Open Letter also deals with Pope Francis's very troubling clerical appointments. Some Catholic apologists have been quick to point out that things like episcopal appointments or how the pope responds to news are not evidence of heresy, just like remaining passive or silent in response to requests for clear teaching is not heretical either. But I think these critiques miss the point; the Open Letter does not attempt to provide a single "gotcha" piece of evidence that presents and open and shut case for the pope's heresy. Rather, it attempts to show a general trend or broad disposition towards heresy on the part of the pope with several of the most striking examples highlighted as evidence. It is what Joseph Shaw referred to as a "promulgation [of heresy] by drift." And understood in this sense, it is brutally effective. Although I also tend to think that the examples are convincing taken individually as well.

2. Predictably, the Open Letter provoked responses from some who retreated to the tired old neo-Catholic canard that the signatories of the letter "should have gone to the pope directly" before airing their grievances publicly, or "going to their bishops in private first." Dr. Maike Hickson of LifeSite has written a remarkable piece chronicling around 30 times Catholics have reached out to Pope Francis—directly or indirectly—to clarify his teachings prior to the publication of the Open Letter. Her article ("Before Pope Francis was accused of heresy, Catholics reached out to him numerous times", May 9, 2019) is a must-read in order to understand the Open Letter in its historical context as the final recourse after the Dubia, Filial Correction, and many other attempts at communicating with Francis directly bore no fruit. Indeed, the publication of the Open Letter was not some rash screed hastily pumped out by a cadre of die-hard anti-Francis fanatics chomping at the bit for any excuse to attack the pope; rather, it represents the culmination of a long, exhausting series of attempts to reach out to Francis through the proper channels and is really a document of great restraint and patience. I commend the authors for taking this bold step. No Catholic rejoices or feels good about having to call out the pope; their actions must have been born out of deep concern for the Church and the good of souls and they should not be vilified for doing what was withing their canonical right and what their conscience dictated.

3. Christian charity demands that, when assessing the faults of others, we presume the best about them rather than the worst; in other words, we give them "the benefit of the doubt." But to give some one the benefit of the doubt presumes that there is room for doubt—it presumes that there is a certain ambiguity in how we interpret words and actions. And if there is ambiguity, we assume the best. But there is a huge difference between offering the benefit of the doubt and always being able to fabricate a benefit of the doubt. I have written about this before ("Benefit of the Doubt Presumes Doubt", Jan. 2017); in the case of Pope Francis, his litany of troubling statements and actions is so consistent that it is no longer realistic for a reasonable person to doubt the meaning of Francis's words or the intentions behind his initiatives; whether we look at the humorous Pope Francis Little Book of Insults or the more scholarly Denzinger-Bergoglio, the pontiff's thought is clear: he believes traditional Catholicism is a stuffy, hypocritical affair that keeps people from Christ and promotes "triumphalism" and "elitism." Heck, he even thinks standard Novus Ordo Catholicism is too stuffy; to that end, he intends to irreversibly reform global Catholic identity in the likeness of the most derelict Latin American banana-republics. It has gotten to the point where people who deny there is an issue are quite simply burying their heads in the sand.

4. Some bloggers are contending that the evidence is not sufficient to charge the pope with formal heresy, and therefore everything is alright. This is an incredibly simplistic and ridiculous argument. What these people fail to realize is that there is more than one way a teaching can be heretical—and I am not referring to the mere distinction between formal and material heresy. Traditionally, the Church used a gradation of judgments called theological censures. The division between heresy and orthodoxy is not necessarily black and white. There are "grades" of theological error; a statement can be not outright heretical but be simply ambiguous, for example. Or a statement may not be heretical in that it denies a de fide doctrine, but rather that its conclusions could lead to thinking that would be heretical.

Traditionally, heretical propositions are divided into three groups according as they bear principally upon (1) the import (what is said) (2) the expression (how it is said) (3) the consequences (what they lead to). Of import, we have hæretica (heretical), erronea (erroneous), hæresi proxima (next to heresy), errori proxima (next to error), temeratia (rash), etc. A "heretical" proposition is one that immediately and directly denies a de fide teaching. It is "erroneous" when it denies an article of faith that is certain (certa) but not de fide. "Next to heresy" and "next to error" means its opposition to a revealed and defined dogma is not certain, or chiefly when the truth it contradicts, though commonly accepted as revealed, has yet never been the object of a definition (proxima fidei). Something "next to heresy" could be defined as sapiens haeresim (smacking of heresy) or suspecta de hearesi, errorem (suspected of heresy or error). These are propositions which, though true textually, may due to modern currents of thought, be interpreted in a heretical way. I would say a lot of Pope Francis's most questionable statements fall into this latter category.

Next we come to the question of expression, or how the proposition is expressed. Here we can define four censures: ambigua (ambiguous), captiosa (captious), male sonans (evil-sounding), piarum aurium offensiva (offensive to pious ears), etc. A proposition is ambiguous when it is worded so as to present two or more senses, one of which is objectionable; captious when acceptable words are made to express objectionable thoughts; evil-sounding when improper words are used to express otherwise acceptable truths; offensive when verbal expression is such as rightly to shock the Catholic sense and delicacy of faith. Note that, while many pop-Catholic apologists will harp on that it is not heretical to speak ambiguously, the Church traditional theological censures to allow for a statement to be judged heretical based on its ambiguity alone.

Finally, we come to the question of consequences. Here we are dealing with what state of affairs the condemned propositions may lead to: subsannativa religionis (derisive of religion), decolorativa canodris ecclesiæ (defacing the beauty of the Church), subversiva hierarchiæ (subversive of the hierarchy), eversiva regnorum (destructive of governments), scandelosa, perniciosa, periculosa in moribus (scandalous, pernicious, dangerous to morals), blasphema, idolatra, superstisiosa, magica (blasphemous, leading to idolatry, superstition, sorcery), arrogans, acerba (arrogant, harsh), etc. This is not even an exhaustive list of the third group. Pope Francis' teachings relating to Amoris laetitia could be considered periculosa in moribus because, whether or not he has specifically stated as much himself, the fact that others are inferring heretical or immoral consequences from his words is sufficient to cast a heretical judgment upon his statements.

Let's be clear: YES, something can be heretical just based on how it is expressed. YES something merely ambiguous can be heretical. YES a statement can be heretical based on the immoral conclusions other people draw from it, even if the author does not express such intent; YES a statement can not contradict any truth of the faith itself but be considered heretical if following its implications leads to other heresy; YES something can be heretical if it is shocking to the ears of pious Catholics. YES a statement can be condemned because it is merely suspected of heresy. All of these condemnations fall short of a formal charge of heresy (explicitly and contumaciously denying a revealed dogma of the faith) but they are all gradations of heresy.

In other words, even if we were to grant a "benefit of the doubt" that Pope Francis has not promulgated a formal heresy, there are so many other ways his dubious comments could be construed as heretical or approximating to heresy that a censure would still be warranted and the pope's statements could still be considered heretical in ways that are less than formal. But nobody cares about theological censures anymore so this is just over the heads of many people.

5. The Open Letter, while accusing the pope of heresy, does not go so far as to assert that the pope ipso facto loses his office because of it. Rather, it calls upon the bishops of the Church to take action "to remedy the situation" by abjuring Pope Francis to make a public repudiation of these heresies and insist he suffer the canonical penalties proper to heresy if he does not. Although the Open Letter does not say it explicitly, it is evident that this means the loss of the papal office. I have never believed the proposition that the pope loses his office ipso facto for heresy. But I also deny that the Church (either the laity or the episcopate) has any remedy for removing a pope who does not wish to be removed. Though theologians have speculated on the ways and means for removing a heretical pope, I don't see how any of them can be affirmed without ultimately leading to some form of Conciliarism. When it comes to the theology of a papal deposition, all we have is theory—and that's not an argument against papal deposition, mind you; it's just pointing out it's never been done.

However, I think writers who stress theological opinions regarding papal deposition have ignored the fact that there is actually a large body of canonical legislation on the question; and more importantly, that this legislation is not merely hypothetical.

The Church's canonical tradition affirms a the principle prima sedes a nemine iudicatur ("The first See is judged by none"). The principle is universal; it refers to the clergy, secular rulers, as well as the laity. It is an absolute principle of papal independence against any attempt by any outside power whatsoever—even the episcopacy—to forcibly depose or judge a sitting pope. The principle prima sedes a nemine iudicatur first appears in the quasi-apocryphal Synod of Sinuessa (c. 314) relating to the problem of Pope St. Marcellinus, a pope who had apostasized under the Diocletian persecution (while, it should be noted, retaining the papal office and eventually becoming a saint). However, because many consider the acta of the Synod of Sinuessa forgeries, it is better to forgo Sinuessa and point to the historical Synod of Parma of 501-502 as the place when the principle enters the Church's canonical tradition. The pope at the time, Symmachus, was engaged in a schism with a rival papal claimant supported by the Byzantine Emperor. When called upon to pass judgment upon Pope Symmachus, the bishops at Parma declared prima sedes a nemine iudicatur ("The first See is judged by none"). And thus the concept of the immunity of the Roman pontiff from episcopal judgment passed into Canon Law.

It was reaffirmed many times. We see Pope St. Nicholas I (858-867) stating to the Byzantine Emperor that "Neither by Augustus, nor by all the clergy, nor by religious, nor by the people will the judge be judged...The first seat will not be judged by anyone" (Pope St. Nicholas I, Proposueramus quidem, Denz. 330).

Pope Leo IX wrote in 1053 to the Patriarch of Constantinople that "By passing a preceding judgment on the great See, concerning which it is not permitted any man to pass judgment, you have received anathema from all the Fathers of all the venerable Councils..." (Pope St. Leo IX, "In terra pax hominibus" to Michael Cerularius and to Leo of Achrida, September 2, 1053, Denz. 352).

The principle was again enunciated by Pope St. Gregory VII in his famous bull Dictatus Papae, which was a collection of precedents regarding papal authority from the popes of the first millennium. There Gregory affirms that "That he [the pope] himself may be judged by no one" (Pope St. Gregory VII, Dictatus Papae, 19). The inclusion of  prima sedes a nemine iudicatur in Dictatus Papae is particularly important because Pope St. Gregory VII intended this document to be a kind of summation or syllabus of the most important, central teachings and canonical principles relating to the papacy. This principle was consistently reaffirmed in the Middle Ages and passed into the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which stipulates that no pope can be subjected to any kind of a trial. This is because he is beyond judgement (CIC 1556).

Canonically, there is no mechanism for removing a pope; not only this, but there is particular, perennial canonical legislation which specifically denies that a pope can be deposed. Even if the bishops of the world were to gather together to condemn Pope Francis of heresy, the most they could do would be to take a kind of vote of "no confidence" and plead with the Holy Father to voluntarily step down for the good of the Church. They could summon a synod, they could even declare his statements to be heretical to varying degrees; they could even declare he was "unworthy" of the papal office, as the famous Cadaver Synod did of Pope Formosus. But they could not declare he had forfeited his office—this was the exact situation the fathers at the Synod of Parma dealt with where prima sedes a nemine iudicatur was first elucdiated. They were not being asked to depose Pope Symmachus, but to declare that he was not truly pope or had forfeited his office. When called upon by the emperor to make such a proclamation, they deferred, saying no one could pass judgment on the first See. Similarly today, the bishops could not take any role in actively getting the pope out of office. They could deem him unworthy and his teachings heretical, express a statement of "no confidence", and then ask for the pope's resignation. But if he did not resign, the would not cease to be pope by the fact, and the bishops would have no power to make him step down.

Interestingly enough, when an opposing curial party wanted to get rid of Pope Stephen VI (897), they didn't depose him; they murdered him, because having the pope dead was so much simpler than dealing with the question of papal deposition against his will. I am not in any way remotely suggesting such a course be taken with Pope Francis; I cite the story as evidence that there exists no canonical way for getting rid of a pope, which is why they resorted to simply killing him.

Such are my thoughts for the time being, meager as they are. Bless you all, my brethren