Canon Law should protect the Roman Pontiff from accusations

Today, it is common for Catholics around the world to pass judgment on every decision and teaching of the Roman Pontiff, on his every word and deed, and, in many cases, to judge him with harshness and bias. This tendency is contrary to the requirement of submission to the authority and teaching of the Vicar of Christ. Even when it is not outright schism, it tends in that direction. And in the wording of these types of judgments, there seems to be no respect for the authority of the Roman Pontiff, he is treated like a peer or an underling. There is no acknowledgement that the ordinary Papal magisterium has the assistance of the Holy Spirit, and requires religious assent. Instead, his teachings are treated like the opinions of a philosophical opponent, suspect from the beginning and never a source of insight or guidance. It would be wrong to treat the Pope this way, if he were merely one of many theologians or priests. To treat the Supreme Pontiff in this manner is gravely immoral and shows an extreme degree of arrogance.

This disorder harms the Church.

It is true that the personal opinions of the Pope are fallible. But the opinions of the faithful are no less fallible, so why should the latter stand in judgment over the former? It is true that the non-infallible teachings of the Roman Pontiff are subject to a limited possibility of error and reform. But this type of teaching is protected from grave error, and is inherently more reliable than even the majority opinion among the faithful. The Roman Pontiff has the special assistance of the Holy Spirit in all his teachings and decisions, even when that assistance does not confer complete immunity from error (as it does for Papal Infallibility, Conciliar Infallibility, or the ordinary and universal Magisterium).

Even so, the exaltation of the opinions of individual priests, theologians, and online commentators over the teachings of the Roman Pontiff is causing grave harm to the Church and to Her work of salvation. The constant opposition to the Pope from conservatives, who treat their own understanding as if it were infallible, and papal teaching as if it were the opinion of an opponent, must stop.

I suggest that Canon Law be emended

* to assert that each and every Roman Pontiff is chosen, directly and particularly, by the Holy Spirit, through the providence and grace of God, and not merely as a choice permitted by God. The observation that God does not always choose a Saint to lead the Church is to be attributed to inscrutable divine wisdom, not to the will of men triumphing over the will of the Holy Spirit.

* to require that, in accordance with the teaching of the First Vatican Council and Saint Robert Bellarmine, the faithful are to believe, as an article of faith, that no Roman Pontiff can teach material heresy, not even inadvertently, and that no Roman Pontiff can commit the sins of apostasy, heresy, or schism.

* to assert that the faithful who accuse the current or a recent Roman Pontiff of teaching heresy, or of committing apostasy, heresy, or schism, are themselves guilty of formal schism, for implied refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff, and are themselves guilty of heresy for contradicting the teaching of the First Vatican Council that each Pope has the gift of truth and of a never-failing faith.

* to forbid anyone from accusing the current or a recent Roman Pontiff of teaching heresy, or of committing apostasy, heresy, or schism.

* to forbid the publication of open letters, petitions, and presumed corrections directed at the Roman Pontiff.

* to forbid public calls for the resignation of the Roman Pontiff.

* to forbid and penalize any type of derision, ridicule, or abasement of the Roman Pontiff.

* to forbid the faithful from publicly asserting that any teaching, decision, or opinion of a current or recent Roman Pontiff is in error, unless the person clearly acknowledges that the teachings, decisions on discipline, and even the personal theological opinions of the Roman Pontiff are to be preferred over that person’s own opinions, and that a contrary opinion is presented, with a theological argument, as a possibility, not a certitude, and with willingness to accept whatsoever the Magisterium may decide.

* to forbid Seminaries and Catholic universities, colleges, and other schools from employing any teacher of theology, ethics, philosophy, pastoral studies, or a related field, who has publicly asserted or taught heresy, or who has violated any of the above provisions.

The above bulleted points are suggestions for additions to Canon Law. They are not presently rules or laws in the Church. However, I believe that the eternal moral law already condemns the above proscribed behaviors as immoral. For the Roman Pontiff is chosen by God and he is not to be treated like a peer or an underling. It is pure arrogance for various authors, whose own credentials in theology are often lacking, to speak with condescension about the Roman Pontiff, and to refuse to be taught or corrected by him.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

4 thoughts on “Canon Law should protect the Roman Pontiff from accusations

  1. Arising from the necessity of salvation and the benefit of all the faithful of Christ, Books such a “The Dictator Pope”, “Lost Shepherd (referring to the Supreme Pontiff)” and the like, and any use of the media undermining, disrespecting or denigrating the Vicar of Christ must be forbidden as well (Numbers 12) (2 Samuel 6:16 . 20-23).


  2. If its true that no pope can fall into heresy, then would that negate the Popes free will in matters of faith?


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