Is it a Sin to call for the Resignation of a Pope?

Yes, it is a mortal sin to publicly call for the resignation of any Roman Pontiff. Such an act includes the sin of scandal, the sin of usurping authority in the Church, and possibly the sin of making false accusations.

1. On what basis would a member of the Church, who is subject to the authority of the Roman Pontiff over doctrine and discipline, call on him to resign? To make such a call, the individual would have to judge the Pope, his superior. But “the First See is judged by no one” (Can. 1404). A call for the resignation of the Pope implies a violation of Canon 1404, and also a violation of the teaching of Unam Sanctam:

“Therefore, if the earthly power goes astray, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a lesser spiritual power goes astray, [it will be judged] by its superior; and truly, if the highest [power] goes astray, it will not be able to be judged by man, but by God alone.”

“But this authority, even though it may be given to a man, and may be exercised by a man, is not human, but rather divine [power], having been given by the divine mouth [of Christ] to Peter, and to him as well as to his successors, by [Christ] Himself, [that is, to him] whom He had disclosed to be the firm rock, just as the Lord said to Peter himself: “Whatever you shall bind,” [Matthew 16:19] etc. Therefore, whoever resists this authority, such as it has been ordain by God, resists the ordination of God.” [Unam Sanctam 7-8]

The person who judges that the Pope ought to resign sins by violation of this teaching. He sins by usurping an authority not given to him, the authority to judge the Pope.

To call for the Pope’s resignation is to resist his authority, since the person is saying that the Pope ought to give up that authority. A call for the Pope’s resignation implies the desire not to be subject to his authority any longer (which is schismatic). And the authority of the Pope is ordained by God, making this sin of grave moral weight (mortal, not venial).

2. The Pope is the Father and Teacher of all Christians; he is the pilot and navigator of the Ark of Salvation. The path of salvation of many souls is harmed by such a call. For it will seem to fallen sinners that the Roman Pontiff cannot be trusted, if indeed he ought to resign. Losing confidence in the pilot of the ship, they will (even if undeservedly) lose confidence in the ship itself. When sinners lose confidence in the Church, they have a more difficult time continuing on the path of salvation. For they might no longer trust the teaching of the Church, or Her ability to assist them by Her sacraments, Her disciplines, and Her judgments. Souls could be lost as a result. Thus, the gravity of the sin is mortal, not venial.

And is there some great benefit, which outweighs this great harm to souls? What is the necessity for a public call for the Pope to resign? It is essentially an act of pride, asserting that the individual — who is in reality below the Pope in station — has the competency to judge and condemn the Pope. No one has the role to judge when a Pope should resign, except the Pope himself. And he ought to decide by prayer, not by listening to the counsel of the impious and the chair of pestilence.

3. In truth, the Pope is protected by the grace of God. He cannot teach heresy or grave error. He cannot commit apostasy, heresy, or schism. He cannot commit any of a range of mortal sins: those that would gravely harm the Church, the Faith, or the salvation of souls. He cannot have an evil intention in anything he does that pertains to the Church.

Given these protections, what would be the basis for a call to resign? The most likely reason is false accusations, claims that the Pope did teach grave error, or did commit heresy, or did grave harm to the Church. So the person who calls for the resignation of the Pope may also be guilty of bearing false witness and making false accusations against the Pope. And that is certainly the case with Pope Francis. He has been falsely accused many times over. (Here is my post defending Pope Francis against 26 accusations, all of which are unjustified: An A to Z defense of Pope Francis.)

Since accusations must be serious in order to support a call for resignation, making them falsely is a mortal sin.

4. Can we think of an hypothetical in which a call for the resignation of the Pope would be moral?

What if the Pope is not accused of any error or wrongdoing? He may simply have some health problems, such as John Paul II had at the end of his Pontificate. Would it be a sin to call for the resignation of the Pope in such a case?

Even if the intention is good, and no accusation is made — which is not the current situation — the individual who calls for resignation still usurps an authority not given to him. When did you examine the Pope’s medical condition? Did the Pope consult with you on this subject? No? Then why do you take a role not given to you?

Moreover, a call for resignation, even if based on concern about a Pope’s health, still does harm to the work of the Church. It suggests that the Pope is no longer fit to make decisions on doctrine and discipline. And this suggestion could again harm the souls who depend on the Church for salvation.

5. Pride goeth before a Schism. Here are some examples of pride in judging Popes:

Phil Lawler:

“For over 20 years now, writing daily about the news from the Vatican, I have tried to be honest in my assessment of papal statements and gestures. I sometimes criticized St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, when I thought that their actions were imprudent.”

“We have grown accustomed to looking to Rome for guidance. Now we cannot…. But if we cannot count on clear directions from Rome, where can we turn?” [This Disastrous Papacy]

Lawler is the author of the schismatic book “Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock”. He has zero degrees in Catholic theology, but he thinks himself fit to judge every Pope, to condemn the current Pope, to tell the faithful that they should no longer look to Rome for guidance. His refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff is public, formal, and severe.

Dr. Ed Peters is a canon lawyer. He is well-studied in canon law. He has zero degrees in theology. And, no surprise, when he attempts to intervene in theology, he errs badly and repeatedly. He has asserted several different heresies, including the claim that a Pope can only teach non-infallibly, if other Bishops have also taught the same doctrine. This claim deprives the Pope of the primacy of jurisdiction which three different Ecumenical Councils taught that he has (Florence, Vatican I and II).

“I have not called for Francis’ resignation because I do not know (with the degree of certitude that a lawyer seeks) whether Viganò’s key allegations against Francis are substantially true; most assuredly, however, if I reach the conclusion that they are true, I would say, without hesitation, that Francis should resign.”

“In my view, first, Pope John Paul II should have resigned at least five years before his death.”

“Second, and despite my professional misgiving about how Ratzinger/Benedict understood and used canon law, I think it was a grave error for him to have resigned” [Some reactions to Fr. de Souza’s essay]

These arm-chair judges, looking over the shoulder of each Pope and deciding what they should and should not do — they have nothing but pride as the basis for their claims. Who asked you to judge each Pope? Are you like an Old Testament prophet, sent to rebuke the king of Israel? Lawler publicly commits schism, going so far as to write and publish a schismatic book. Peters teaches one heresy after another. And each thinks he is fit to decide what Popes should and should not do. There is not a single theology degree, or a single ounce of humility, between the two of them.

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

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