The Approaching Conservative Schism and Heresy

I notice when reading various conservative Catholic authors and bloggers a very troubling trend, a set of errors that is leading the most conservative members of the Church toward schism and heresy. This trend has come to light in conflicts between Pope Francis, a liberal but orthodox and holy Pontiff, and conservative bloggers. There are several fundamental causes of the conservative schism that is building online. I’ll summarize these points in the form of questions. The acceptance of incorrect answers to this set of questions, along with the sin of pride, is the essence of this impending schism.

Can a Pope, or an Ecumenical Council, or the Body of Bishops led by the Pope, ever fall into heresy?

The correct answer is “No”. Jesus promised that the Church would withstand even the gates of Hell. The Magisterium has always taught that the Church is indefectible; She cannot go astray. And so no Pope can ever fall into apostasy, heresy, or schism, not even in his own heart and mind, much less in his teaching.

The Pope can teach infallibly under Papal Infallibility. An Ecumenical Council can teach infallibly under Conciliar Infallibility. The body of Bishops dispersed in the world and led by the Pope can teach infallibly under the ordinary and universal Magisterium. No one who is able to teach infallibly can fall into heresy. Otherwise, every infallible teaching would be placed in doubt because a heretic separates himself from the Church by his heresy; he cannot exercise the Magisterium at all.

Can a Pope commit the sin of heresy?
Could Pope Francis fall into heresy?
Why neither the Pope, nor the body of Bishops, can commit heresy

The incorrect answer is that given by certain conservative authors. They think that a Pope or Council or the body of Bishops can fall into heresy. If the Pope falls into heresy, they think that he loses his authority as Pope, and therefore his teaching should be disregarded.

But who decides if a Pope has fallen into heresy?

The answer that is implicit in the writings of these authors is that they themselves decide if a Pope has fallen into heresy, by comparing the teaching of a Pope with their own understanding of Tradition, Scripture, and past magisterial teachings.

They say that the Magisterium is infallible. But then if they disagree with any magisterial teaching, they radically re-interpret that teaching to conform to their own ideas. And if any magisterial teaching cannot be re-interpreted to their liking, they proclaim that it is not of the Magisterium. They say that the teachings of the Magisterium are infallible, but by “teachings of the Magisterium” they mean only their own ideas which they attribute to the Magisterium. In effect, they have made themselves out to be infallible.

And the same thing happens with Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, which are infallible. Many a conservative thinker does not distinguish between Divine Revelation and his or her own understanding of Divine Revelation. They do not admit that they might have misinterpreted or misunderstood a teaching of Tradition or Scripture. So if any Pope contradicts their own understanding of Tradition or Scripture, they conclude that he is contradicting God.

If any Pope dares to teach a doctrine that is not in accord with the version of Catholicism in their own minds, these arrogant bloggers assume that the Pope must be wrong. I see this attitude in the writings of many conservative bloggers, especially concerning Pope Francis. They judge him and his words. They criticize him frequently and readily. But they seem to have no capacity for self-critical thinking. The assumption in their judgments against the Pope is that their own ideas cannot be mistaken.

And if several other ultra-conservatives online agree with them, it is as if the opinion were a dogma issued by an Ecumenical Council. Anathema to anyone who disagrees with them. It is as if the Pope can fall into heresy, but they cannot err at all. It is as if they are judges over Popes and Council. They have already judged the Second Vatican Council and essentially rejected its teaching, in various ways, under various excuses.

Now they are poised to do much worse with Pope Francis. And the point of controversy seems to be salvation theology.

Can an atheist be saved without converting to belief in God?
Can a non-Christian, who knows about Christianity, be saved without converting to Christianity?

The correct answer to both questions is “Yes.” An atheist can enter the state of grace by an implicit baptism of desire. He can return to the state of grace, if he commits an actual mortal sin, by implicit perfect contrition. And his failure to believe in God might not be an actual mortal sin, if he is sincerely mistaken through invincible ignorance. Is not faith required for salvation? Yes, but everyone in a state of grace has the theological virtues of love, faith, and hope.

And this can occur with non-Christians and non-Jews also, as in the example given by Jesus:

{8:5} And when he had entered into Capernaum, a centurion approached, petitioning him,
{8:6} and saying, “Lord, my servant lies at home paralyzed and badly tormented.”
{8:7} And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
{8:8} And responding, the centurion said: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed.
{8:9} For I, too, am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
{8:10} And, hearing this, Jesus wondered. And he said to those following him: “Amen I say to you, I have not found so great a faith in Israel.
{8:11} For I say to you, that many shall come from the east and the west, and they shall sit at table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
{8:12} But the sons of the kingdom shall be cast into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The sons of the kingdom are some Catholics, who are like the Pharisees of ancient times. They think that they are justified by their exterior actions (attending the Latin Mass, receiving Communion on the tongue and while kneeling) and by their conservatism. They consider that all non-Christians and most Christians are going to Hell. But the truth is that they themselves are on the path to Hell, because they judge and condemn their neighbors unjustly.

The Centurion was not Jewish, and he did not come to Jesus to become a disciple. He was a Roman, and he probably believed in the pagan gods of Roman culture. Yet Jesus says that he has great faith. The Centurion perhaps did not believe in the one true God, but he had love, faith, and hope by an implicit baptism of desire. So it is that some non-Christians have love, faith, and hope by the state of grace, while some Catholics have fallen away by actual mortal sin due to pride.

Even an atheist or agnostic can be in a state of grace by the love of neighbor, which is always at least implicitly the love of God. The atheist who loves his neighbor implicitly loves God, and so he obtains the state of grace, and the theological virtues of love, faith, and hope, despite his failure to believe in God. There is a certain contradiction in the life of such an atheist; his love of neighbor gives him the infused virtue of faith, which contradicts his belief that God does not exist. But fallen human persons often have contradictions in their lives. As long as a person enters the state of grace by some form of baptism, and either avoids actual mortal sin, or repents from actual mortal sin before death, he can be saved.

Pope Francis has expressed the idea that non-believers and non-Christians can be saved without converting. And this idea was soundly rejected by many conservative authors in online posts and comments. The Magisterium has not yet decided this question of salvation theology. But many conservatives treat their own harsh answer as if it were absolute dogma. They have dogmatized their own opinions, and if any Pope dares to contradict them, they think that his words must be radically re-interpreted, or he must be rejected.

Eventually, Pope Francis is going to officially teach what he has so far said only in sermons and in a letter to a newspaper editor, that salvation is available to non-believers and non-Christians, even if they do not convert. Then what will these conservative bloggers do? I have no doubt that they will reject this teaching, proclaim that Pope Francis is a heretic, and thereby fall into automatic excommunication themselves by their own heresy and schism. They will break away from the Church in a new schism, not so different from the heresy and schism of the SSPX.

This is the first step in the great apostasy: the loss of arrogant conservatives who have made themselves out to be issuers of new dogmas and judges over Popes and Councils. The second step will be from the next Pope, who will be very conservative. He will not reverse the teachings of Pope Francis on salvation for non-believers and non-Christians, so the ultra-conservatives will remain outside the Church. But he will issue teachings that are contrary to what arrogant liberal Catholics have decided is dogma, and so they will leave the Church. Very soon now, most Catholics will depart from the Church because they arrogantly assume that their own understanding of Catholicism cannot be wrong.

There are many errors in the understanding of conservative Catholics on faith, morals, and salvation. There are many errors in the understanding of liberal Catholics on faith, morals, and salvation. These errors could be easily vanquished if these persons would humble themselves to accept correction, see themselves as students of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium rather than its judges, and accept the Pope as their Teacher and Shepherd. But they are not willing. And so they will inevitably depart from the Church, just as soon as one Pope or another teaches anything contrary to their own supposedly-dogmatic supposedly-infallible opinions.

{23:15} Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! For you travel around by sea and by land, in order to make one convert. And when he has been converted, you make him twice the son of Hell that you are yourselves.

{23:23} Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! For you collect tithes on mint and dill and cumin, but you have abandoned the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, while not omitting the others.
{23:24} You blind guides, straining out a gnat, while swallowing a camel!
{23:25} Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! For you clean what is outside the cup and the dish, but on the inside you are full of avarice and impurity.
{23:26} You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the dish, and then what is outside becomes clean.

{23:33} You serpents, you brood of vipers! How will you escape from the judgment of Hell?

{23:36} Amen I say to you, all these things shall fall upon this generation.
{23:37} Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone those who have been sent to you. How often I have wanted to gather your children together, in the way that a hen gathers her young under her wings. But you were not willing!
{23:38} Behold, your house shall be abandoned to you, having been deserted.

Woe to the scribes and Pharisees of today.

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

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One Response to The Approaching Conservative Schism and Heresy

  1. John Doe says:

    Ron, your article summarizes well the situation regarding these folks who set themselves out as arbiters of doctrine. Another major stumbling block for these people is their uttter rejection of yet another teaching of Vatican II: Other religions contain seeds of truth (my words) or reflect ”a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men” (Nostra Aetate). This, they cannot accept. They arrogantly say the Church got it wrong! Woe to these modern day hypocrites!

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