You’re invited! Join LifeSite in celebrating 25 years of pro-life and pro-family reporting at our anniversary Gala August 17th in Naples, Florida. Tickets and sponsorships can be purchased by clicking here.
Editor’s note: An extended version of this article is available here.
(LifeSiteNews) — Everyone knows that this phrase is a common rhetorical question, the answer of which is supposed to be, “of course!”
1. The earliest record of this phrase is in 1959, when boxer Max Baer Jr was asked whether his opponent hit hard. He answered, “is the Pope Catholic?”
In our current situation, this question has become more serious – causing a crisis of faith for Catholics and an obstacle for the many looking to Christ as things have got progressively worse over COVID.
Many have entered the Catholic Church since the first lockdowns. But it’s like a great flood is being held back by a tottering dam. Streams are getting through, but the dam is still holding back the water.
Some are appalled by Francis’ agenda, manifestly shared with the princes of this world. There are those who want Christ, but conclude – based on the scandal of Francis – that the Catholic Church cannot be the Church of Christ.
So what should we make of all this?
One of the most important things that we can do for evangelization and the exaltation of our Holy Mother the Church is to burst the dam.
We must answer the question, “Is Francis a Catholic?”
2. We must reject the false idea of “Once a Catholic, Always a Catholic.” There are clear, classical and traditional requirements of being a Catholic, most recently expressed by Pius XII. He states that the members of the Church are those who:
- Are baptised
- Profess the faith
- Have not separated themselves from the body
- Have not been excluded by legitimate authority (viz. by a perfect excommunication by the Roman Pontiff)
Although Baptism is the most fundamental criterion, and imparts a character on all who receive it, it will not have the effect of constituting a man as a member of the Church if he presents an obstacle to it – namely by failing to fulfil one of the criteria.
3. Francis is certainly baptized, and there are no grounds for doubting the validity of this baptism. He has not been excommunicated by any Roman Pontiff. We will bypass the idea of separation from the body, and consider only the profession of faith.
4. One does not fulfil this criterion by “professing to believe the faith,” or by “professing to be a Catholic.” It is fulfilled by actually professing the faith, and manifesting one’s submission to the Church’s magisterium.
The Church is visible and all of Her criteria for membership are similarly visible and verifiable. She is visibly one, holy, Catholic and apostolic – these are indeed the key ways in which the Church is made visible at all. The mark of unity means, among other things, that She is visibly united in faith.
Likewise, criteria for membership are visible. Profession of faith is “visible” in that it is externally manifested. Likewise, the mark of unity must be visible in the visible profession of one faith.
One who openly professes something different to the Church’s magisterium – when it is clear from the facts that he is not just mistaken or ignorant – departs from the membership of the Church, the visible unity of faith and the visible unity of the Church.
The contrary implicitly denies or changes the meaning of the Church’s visibility itself.
What does it mean to profess the faith? We do so 1) by our ordinary conduct, 2) by not denying the faith, and 3) by directly affirming it when required.
5. We profess the faith in ordinary, almost implicit ways – such as by observing the precepts of the Church, affirming and defending the Faith to others privately or publicly, and things like frequenting public worship and the sacraments and kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament.
Sometimes those who neglect these ordinary things do so out of ignorance or just laziness – and this would not necessarily manifest a denial of the faith.
6. Sometimes such omissions do indeed manifest a denial of the faith: and in some circumstances, this can be known and judged by onlookers. In such circumstances we can know with moral certainty that the person has denied the faith, and if it is a sufficiently public act running contrary to the Church’s visible unity, then they have departed from the Church.
This isn’t a legal judgment, nor is a legal judgment required for this. It’s just an apprehension of fact – comparable to noticing that someone is a man or a woman, living or dead, or a member of one’s family or a stranger.
7. Sometimes the faith is directly denied, by acts, words or omissions. Again, the reality of such a denial can be determined by the facts – either in itself, or by a person’s refusal to clarify when challenged on it, or something else.
We are not required to impute bizarre and irrational behaviour to persons in order to “get them off the hook.” We should assume the best and give the benefit of the doubt, but not in an absurd way. If someone at least appears to deny the faith, we are entitled to draw conclusions from a public refusal to defend or explain themselves when asked for clarity.
8. This is especially so because of our duty, expressed in Canon Law but really just based in the nature of things, to profess the faith directly at times. For example, this duty arises when failing to do so would constitute an implicit denial of faith, contempt for religion, injury to God, or scandal to our neighbour. (Viz. St Thomas Aquinas St II-II Q3, A2 and CIC 1917 Can. 1325.)
9. We don’t need to recount all the details. To allude to some examples, we could consider:
- Interviews with Eugenio Scalfari and how each one was managed after the event.
- Amoris Laetitia.
Let’s take a closer look at the third.
10. Following the promulgation of the document in 2015, various parties have sought clarification from Francis over whether he holds to the traditional faith on the matters addressed in Amoris Laetitia.
These attempts have included:
- 2016, 45 academics asserting the document contained heretical or otherwise erroneous propositions, writing seeking clarification.
- In 2016, four cardinals submitting five dubia on the document. First being private, these dubia were made public when they received no response.
- Following this, the bishops of Buenos Aires released a document interpreting Amoris Laetitia as allowing divorced and remarried persons to receive Holy Communion under some circumstances. Francis wrote a letter approving it, saying that there were no other interpretations. In June 2017, the document and the letter were promulgated in the Acta Apostolica Sedis. In many ways, it is false to say that the dubia received no response. This was the response.
- In 2017, 62 Catholics presenting Francis with a “Filial Correction” for propagating heresies.
- In 2018, Archbishops Peta and Lenga and Bishop Schneider issuing a public “Profession of immutable truths about sacramental marriage,” evidently in opposition to the ideas expressed in the document.
- In 2019, several prominent clergymen and scholars issued an open letter accusing Francis of “the canonical delict of heresy.” After showing the contradiction between Francis’ words and truths to be believed with divine and Catholic faith, the writers also demonstrated, from his background, that there was no way for us to presume ignorance of the faith on his part. The writers ended by calling for the bishops of the world to admonish Francis publicly, in order to compel him “to abjure the heresies that he has professed.”
11. Are these things conclusive? We could consider some objections.
Obj. 1. Are the errors he professes actually contrary to the faith?
Resp. 1: Yes, the signatories of the 2019 letter show that they are.
Obj. 2. Is it clear that he has departed from the faith?
Resp. 2: Again, the signatories of the 2019 letter seem to think that it is.
Obj. 3. The pope is above canon law, and so is not obliged to profess the faith when circumstances would otherwise require it.
Resp. 3. This requirement for membership is in the nature of things, rather than a provision of positive law.
In any case, the office of the papacy was established by Christ for the purpose of confirming the faithful and brining about the unity of the Church in faith and charity.
When he bestowed the primacy on St. Peter, Christ our Lord commanded him, “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” At the Last Supper, Our Lord said to him: “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.”
It would be absurd to think that, due to his primacy of jurisdiction, the Roman Pontiff is not obliged to reassure and confirm his subjects by professing the faith when there are grave doubts raised.
Notwithstanding points about Canon Law, if anyone could be obliged to profess the faith in such circumstances, it is the Roman Pontiff. The gravity of this obligation increases with the height of an office held.
This objection also concedes the disputed point by admitting that there is a problem, and that anyone else would have a duty to directly affirm the faith here. It assumes that Francis is excused from the ordinary requirements of membership, inherent in the nature of things.
If anything could be called “an inflation of the rights of the Roman Pontiff,” it is this.
Obj. 4. Francis has no obligation to reply to disrespectful persons and vexatious complaints: so we can’t draw any inferences from his silence.
Resp. 4. Has he really been silent? He has answered the complaints – and while his answers have been indirect, they are nonetheless clear. His actions, combined with his lack of direct answers, conclusively shows that he consents to the accusations made against him.
Further, the Roman Pontiff has nothing more important to do than confirming his brethren in the faith. It is gaslighting to say that the process described has been disrespectful, or that genuine concerns are vexatious.
Obj 5. We must assume him innocent until proved guilty.
Resp. 5. We agree, but this is not really being considered as a question of innocence or guilt. Wicked men remain members of the Church, so long as they profess the faith externally, etc.
Loss of membership – or straightforward non-membership – is not, in itself, a punishment at all. It is just the factual state of having departed from the profession of faith.
We are just apprehending facts when we say that Francis has affirmed things contrary to revealed doctrine; is aware of this contradiction and perseveres anyway; repeatedly reaffirms the errors after warnings, requests and accusations; that he has a duty as a Christian, let alone of any offices held, to profess the faith in this situation; and that he refuses to do so.
Amoris Laetitia is one line of argument, and we mustn’t lose sight of the bigger picture. The whole gestalt shows us: he does not profess the faith.
Obj. 6. “But he still claims to be a Catholic, he still professes to believe the Catholic faith!”
Resp. 6. This is irrelevant and does not resolve problems to do with the visibility of the Church. Please re-read n. 4 above.
Obj. 7. You have no right to make this judgment. You are excommunicating him without having the right. Francis needs to be warned and his non-membership declared by an authority.
Resp. 7 and Conclusion. This betrays an attitude of legal positivism and voluntarism, when we should really be interested in reality and the world of real things – and this real world is not some theoretical courtroom.
First, we are not excommunicating anyone. Someone who departs from the criteria of membership removes himself – and an excommunication from an authority is a punishment, confirming the reality that has already happened. Also, conflating excommunication with non-membership arising from the causes discussed here is an infelicitous use of terms. They are not the same.
But as stated, loss of membership is not in itself a punishment. Yes, St. Paul tells Titus to avoid heretics after one or two warnings, and there is a provision in canon law for this.
As far as this concerns us, even St Paul’s words are a precept ordered towards safeguarding our own faith from those who are shown to be ravening wolves – not least by their refusal to correct themselves and to profess the faith.
The ancient idea of an obligation to avoid heretics arises from this. We have a duty to protect ourselves in peril of faith. The idea that we cannot fulfil this duty until told to do so by a legal authority is false, and misses the point.
So, more than just having a right to notice that someone is not a Catholic, we sometimes have a duty to do so.
We are obliged to submit to the Roman Pontiff and receive his teaching as our proximate rule of faith. But we cannot submit in religion to someone who is not a Catholic.
And if we have a duty to avoid things and persons who pose a threat to our faith, how much stronger is this duty towards those who claim to rule us in religion?
But how can we fulfil this duty if we can’t recognize whether someone is or is not a Catholic? As St Robert Bellarmine said:
[I]t would be the most miserable condition of the Church, if she should be compelled to recognize a wolf, manifestly prowling, for a shepherd.
But, as the same saint asked Cajetan: “How will we shun our Head? How will we recede from a member to whom we are joined?”
These are indeed the key reasons for his other statement:
[T]he Holy Fathers teach in unison, that not only are heretics outside the Church, but they even lack all Ecclesiastical jurisdiction and dignity ipso facto.
But we can leave these issues to one side, because we have arrived at the question which must be answered:
Given that it is clear that Francis does not profess the faith, and that we have the right and duty to recognize this –
And given that professing the faith is a requirement of being a member of the Church, a Catholic –
Can it reasonably be said that Francis is a Catholic?
An extended version of this article is available here.
 St Robert Bellarmine, On the Roman Pontiff, Vol II (Books 3-5), trans. Ryan Grant, Second Edition, ebook version, Mediatrix Press, 2017, p 559.
 Ibid. 561