Can We Recognize and Resist?

“Peter has no need of our lies or flattery. Those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision of the Supreme Pontiff are the very ones who do most to undermine the authority of the Holy See - they destroy instead of strengthening its foundations," Bishop Melchior Cano O.P., a theologian of the Council of Trent.

By Robert J. Siscoe

Archbishop Lefebvre famously said Satan's masterstroke in our day “is to have succeeded in sowing disobedience to all of Tradition in the name of obedience.” Indeed, over the past 50 years the entire “face” of the Church (what is seen) has been transformed in the name of obedience. Like our Lord during His Passion, the Church today is no longer recognizable, except in those places where Tradition has been maintained. A new religion has emerged within the walls of Holy Mother Church, which has supplanted, and all but eradicated, the “old religion”(…)

Hold to Tradition

In St. Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, he discusses the great apostasy that will precede the rise of the antichrist. He notes that during this time men will lack love for the truth, which God will punish by sending them “the operation of error…that all may be judged who have not believed the truth.” He then admonishes the Thessalonians, “stand fast, and hold to the traditions which you have learned, whether by word or by our epistle”, thereby showing that adherence to tradition is the antidote that will protect them from being led astray during the time of apostasy.

Four Centuries later, St. Vincent of Lerins asked what Catholics should do if the entire Church was infected by a “novel contagion”. He explained that, at such a time, the safe
path is to cleave to tradition. He wrote:

"What then will the Catholic Christian do, if a small part of the Church has cut itself off from the communion of the universal Faith? The answer is sure. He will prefer the healthiness of the whole body to the morbid and corrupt limb.

"But what if some novel contagions try to infect the whole Church, and not merely a tiny part of it? Then he will take care to cleave to antiquity (tradition), which can never be led astray by any lying novelty.”

(…) If we turn to tradition to guide us through the current crisis, we will be on the safe path. If we depart from tradition and embrace novelty, as heretics are want to do, we are sure to fall into error in one direction or another. Therefore, when faced with wayward prelates teaching strange and novel doctrines that undermine the Faith, we need only turn to tradition (antiquity and consent) to know how to respond.

Obedience

What is the obligation of Catholics during the unprecedented ecclesiastical crisis in which we find ourselves? Are we required to simply obey in all things, even when such obedience endangers our faith, and is being used by the enemies within to “fundamentally transform” the Church? Or can we resist evil or destructive commands while continuing to recognize those in positions of authority, thereby preserving the visibility of the Church?

We can certainly resist any command that is objectively evil, and even those that constitute occasions of sin, or represent dangers to the faith. According to Suarez, we should even disobey commands that are contrary to good customs – even if the one commanding is the Pope. Wrote Suarez:

"If [the Pope] gives an order contrary to good customs, he should not be obeyed; if he attempts to do something manifestly opposed to justice and the common good, it will be licit to resist him; if he attacks by force, by force he can be repelled, with a moderation appropriate to a just defense."

(…) In our day, when the Faith is being undermined continuously by ravening wolves in the hierarchy – all the way to the very highest pinnacle of the Church – the faithful are more than justified in resisting them in the exercise of their authority without, however, denying their authority to rule. Those who claim it is not permissible to Recognize and Resist wayward prelates have themselves departed from antiquity and consent, in this respect.

Beware of False Prophets

(…)Our Lord permitted this unprecedented crisis in the Church to erupt during the “information age”. This has both a positive and a negative aspect. It is a positive insofar as the faithful have access to catechisms, the writings of the theologians and the Fathers, the Popes, and Councils – all at their fingertips. If someone really wants to know what the Church teaches today, he can find it. The negative aspect of the modern means of communication is that the scandalous actions and statements of the Pope are broadcast for all the world to see.

The prudent person will use the unprecedented availability of good information to study the faith by reading only the catechisms and encyclicals prior to 1960 (when the crisis erupted), and respond to the negative aspect (knowledge of scandals coming from those in authority) by turning a deaf ear to the novelties emanating from members of the hierarchy – especially those coming from “the very top”, where, according to Cardinal Ciappi, the Third Secret of Fatima predicted that “the great apostasy in the Church will begin.”

There is nothing un-Catholic about paying little or no attention to the currently reigning pope. For the first 1900 years, most Catholics went about their daily lives without being concerned, or even aware, of what was happening in Rome. To demonstrate this, Blessed Juniper Serra, O.F.M, (d. 1784), a missionary priest in California, was so unaware of the goings-on in Rome that he didn’t even know the Pope’s name. In a letter to a confrere in Europe, Fr. Serra asked his friend if he would be so kind as to provide him with the Pope’s name: “when you get an opportunity” wrote Fr. Serra, will you “inform me what the most Holy Father, the reigning Pope, is called, that I may put his name in the Canon of the Mass”.

This shows that Catholics have no duty to bother themselves with the daily or weekly events in Rome – especially during the current crisis, when such events could endanger their faith. On the other hand, since the scandals are being broadcast so widely and doing so much harm, it is necessary for those who are strong in the Faith speak up and publicly resist the novelties that undermine the Faith. In extraordinary times such as these, when the Pope himself speaks with the “voice of a stranger,” (John 10:5) our primary duty is to protect and defend the Faith. In The Liturgical Year, Dom Prosper Guéranger wrote:

“When the shepherd becomes a wolf, the first duty of the flock is to defend itself. (…) The true children of Holy Church, at such times, are those who walk by the light of their Baptism, not the cowardly souls who, under the specious pretext of submission to the powers that be, delay their opposition to the enemy in the hope of receiving instructions [to do so] which are neither necessary nor desirable."

Conclusion

Those who hold fast to antiquity and consent, as taught by St. Vincent of Lerins, will be preserved from many errors during the present crisis. They will know that Catholics can recognize the authority of a prelate, while resisting him in the exercise of authority (Galatians 1:8-10). They will know that obedience to particular commands should be refused when the command itself is sinful (Pope Leo XIII), or contrary to good customs (Suarez), and they will know that obedience to general laws can be set aside in extraordinary circumstances (Epikeia, Mt. 12:1-4). By holding to tradition and the teaching of the Magisterium, they will also know that a pope who deviates from the Faith can be contradicted, without having to declare that he has ceased to be Pope. (Pope Paul IV)

To maintain the straight and narrow path during the present crisis, we simply need to follow the teaching of St. Paul by standing fast and holding to tradition (2 Thess. 2:14) which, as St. Vincent of Lerins said, can never be led astray by any lying novelty”.

Note: this is an abridged version of an article published in the 2015 issue of Catholic Family News, courtesy of that publication.