Key Considerations Often Omitted from the Debates on the Crisis of the Papacy

For several decades, many of the most ardent and capable defenders of Catholic tradition have debated the question of how to respond to a heretical pope. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, for instance, had this to say about the reign of Paul VI:

“Perhaps one day, in thirty or forty years, a meeting of cardinals gathered together by a future Pope will study and judge the reign of Paul VI, perhaps they will say that there were things that ought to have been clearly obvious to people at the time, statements of the Pope that were totally against Tradition. At the moment, I prefer to consider the man on the chair of Peter as the Pope; and if one day we discover for certain that the Pope was not the Pope, at least I will have done my duty.”

In all of these years of the best men in the Church (such as Archbishop Lefebvre) thinking about this issue, none have been able to set forth unambiguous Church teaching that definitively resolves the relevant questions of how to respond to a catastrophe like the one we face with Francis. If Archbishop Lefebvre had lived to see Francis, perhaps he would have concluded that it is “clearly obvious” that Bergoglio is not the pope. Even if he had determined that Francis was not the pope, however, would he and the remaining faithful bishops and cardinals have been able to take action to resolve the matter?

Good Catholics care about these questions because they are of immense importance, not only to the Catholic Church but to the entire world. Something would be amiss if our faithful shepherds were indifferent about the question of how to respond to Francis. At present, it appears that our few remaining faithful cardinals and bishops have prioritized the question but understandably disagree on what path to take. As such, it seems prudent to consider those matters upon which all faithful Catholics should agree:

God is Permitting the Crisis. We know with absolute certainty that God is permitting this crisis for a reason. In all of salvation history, we find that God permits such evils to correct our ways and lead us to Him. As a general matter, we should not expect God to remedy the crisis without any effort on our part to cooperate with His grace to extirpate the faults that gave rise to the crisis. With this foundational reality in mind, we must consider what has caused the crisis and whether or not we have addressed the cause of the crisis.

Francis is a Symptom of a Crisis that Has Existed Since the Council. Although one could reasonably argue that Francis is significantly worse than his predecessors, the fact remains that he is a predictable fruit of the rotten tree that was Vatican II. Nonetheless, many of the most vociferous opponents of Francis will vehemently defend the Council and the “saintly” popes who advanced it. These Catholics who think our bishops should declare that Francis is not the pope because he promotes too much error are often quite comfortable with the errors of Vatican II. But why would God rescue us from the deadly fruit (Francis) if we are determined to keep defending the bad tree that produces the fruit (Vatican II)?

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