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A Question of Resistance

by Christopher A. Ferrara
September 8, 2015

As the days go by, the sense that Francis is a Pope to be viewed warily rather than followed unquestioningly has penetrated rather deeply into the conservative Catholic mainstream, where such thinking had never been seen before. The neo-Catholic ideologues will of course go on defending every papally approved ecclesial novelty to the bitter end, no matter how disastrous, for that is what their ideological commitment demands.  Other non-traditionalist commentators, however, are not so burdened.  And their number has been increasingly steadily, even if their justified anger is too timidly revealed.

For example, William Oddie, writing for Catholic Herald, laments that perhaps it was time to recognize that one can place too much faith in Popes when they are not defending the Church’s infallible teachings. After drawing unfavorable comparisons of Francis with John Paul II and Benedict and revealing his distress over the bizarre “recyclical” Laudato si’, Oddie expresses his exasperation with the Bergoglian program: “It may be, who knows, that I am expecting too much from my Pope…. I thought that was what popes were for: defending and articulating the Magisterium.” 

But that is what Popes are for.  And the growing recognition that Francis is not doing what Catholics have a right to expect from a Pope may well be the good that God is drawing from the evil of the ecclesial crisis Francis has succeeded in raising to an entirely new level.  The Bergoglian pontificate has made clear to many who never saw it before that, as Cardinal Ratzinger wrote some five years before he became Pope: “In fact, the First Vatican Council had in no way defined the Pope as an absolute monarch.  On the contrary, it presented him as the guarantor of obedience to the revealed Word.  The Pope’s authority is bound to the Tradition of faith…The authority of the pope is not unlimited; it is at the service of Sacred Tradition.”

Honest observers can no longer deny, even if they cannot yet quite admit, that Francis simply does not think he is “bound to the Tradition of faith” but rather feels free to indulge his dream, expressed in his personal manifesto Evangelii Gaudium, of “transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.” The Church now has at her head a Pope who openly declares in the same manifesto, that, for him, the Church’s self-preservation is of secondary importance and that “[m]ore than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges…”

Well, what is a Catholic to do in the face of such declarations by a Roman Pontiff? Tradition itself calls for “licit resistance to the Pope” where necessary to defend the Church against papal imprudence or recklessness.  As Saint Robert Bellarmine, a Doctor of the Church, counsels:

Therefore, just as it is lawful to resist a Pontiff invading a body, so it is lawful to resist him invading souls or disturbing a state, and much more if he should endeavor to destroy the Church. I say that it is lawful to resist him, by not doing what he commands and by blocking him lest he should carry out his will; it is not lawful, however, to judge, punish or even depose him, because he is nothing other than a superior.1

Thus, much more is required of the faithful than the attitude of supine resignation Oddie expresses in his article (citing the advice of a priest friend): “And don’t be upset by the Pope. Popes come and popes go. A great one is a wonderful bonus: we just had two in a row. But it’s the Church we depend on.”  It will hardly do to treat the Pope as a dispensable “come and go” figure the faithful can simply ignore whenever he teaches and governs badly. For while it is indeed “the Church we depend on,” the Pope is by divine ordination her center of unity, so that a wayward Pope strikes at the very heart and thus the health of the Mystical Body and its individual members. Precisely on account of the indispensable function of the Petrine office, a wayward Pope must, instead, be opposed and his plans impeded by a loyal opposition, just as Bellarmine teaches. 

But such resistance is no solution to the crisis. It merely mitigates the crisis by limiting as much as possible the damage a wayward Pope can do until a successor faithful to Tradition provides the leadership without which restoration of the universal Church is impossible. To obtain the divine favor of such a Pope we must pray for the intervention of Our Lady of Fatima, whose prophecy in the Third Secret no doubt foretells the unparalleled crisis we witness today.


1 De Controversiis on the Roman Pontiff, trans. Ryan Grant (Mediatrix Press: 2015), Book II, Chapter 29, p. 303.