Pontiff wants to facilitate religious practice
by Msgr. Pedro Lopez-Gallo
I received an avalanche of correspondence and phone calls after my recent columns on the future of the Church and possible heresy concerning Communion for couples living in an irregular matrimonial union.
My immediate response to those who are disturbed is to be calm and follow the words of St. John Paul II: “Be Not Afraid.” The Church has already suffered atrocious struggles and always survived under the protection and support of our founder, Jesus Christ.
First, we must know heresy is a rejection of what the Church considers essential according to her dogmatic teaching, and a schism is an obstinate belief contrary to orthodox doctrine and the denial of some truth that must be accepted according to the divine and Catholic faith.
Today there is a very serious division in the Church. This has to be mended because it has to do with fundamental dogmatic and moral teaching. If it is not clarified soon, it could develop into a formal schism.
The concern here is that the Pope might separate himself from communion with the Church and be declared in schism or heresy. Now, I am sure our beloved Pope Francis very soon will clarify his statements and he will be our Roman Pontiff until his death.
However, if he were to commit heresy, he would cease to be Pope. I pray and hope this does not happen. Nevertheless, if it does, the way to proceed is described in canon law and the Apostolic Constitution Romano Pontifice Eligendo.
First, let’s recall how one becomes Pope: “The Roman Pontiff acquires full and supreme power in the Church when, together with episcopal consecration, he has been lawfully elected and has accepted the election” (Canon 332).
After the acceptance, if the elected already possesses episcopal ordination, he is at that moment the Bishop of the Church of Rome and, at the same instance, the true Pope and head of the episcopal college.
If the elected does not possess the episcopal character, he should be immediately ordained bishop.
The Roman Pontiff, by virtue of his supreme office as the successor of St. Peter, is the head of the episcopal college and exercises full and supreme power of governance over the whole Church.
The Apostolic Constitution Romano Pontifici Eligendo, states: “While the Apostolic See is vacant, the government of the Church is in the hands of the Sacred College of Cardinals,” but only for ordinary business, matters that cannot be deferred, and for preparations required for the election of the new Pope.
As a result, during the vacancy the Sacred College “has no power or jurisdiction in those matters which pertain to the Supreme Pontiff while he is alive; all those matters must be reserved for the future Pope alone” (RPE, ch.1,n.1).
Historically, an antipope is one who claims or exercises the office of Roman Pontiff in opposition to the one canonically elected. Antipopes have risen by violent usurpation as well as by election following a prior election that was judged invalid (Clement VII, 1378).
However, not all antipopes emerged because of malfeasance or bad faith. Of the 265 popes since St. Peter, historians calculate the number of antipopes at about 33, even though nine are improperly designated as such. The Annuario Pontificio (Papal Directory) catalogues 37 antipopes, most of them imposed for political reasons by Roman emperors. There was even a time when there were four antipopes (1378 to 1415).
What would happen now if a Pope commits heresy? The cardinal who serves as papal chamberlain will convoke all the cardinals to the conclave in order to elect another Pope. The discipline that is to be followed if a heretic Pope ceases office is already in place, and the College of Cardinals will govern during the interim.
However, all of this is ridiculous speculation since all Pope Francis wants is to facilitate the religious practice of everyone who believes in Christ. God will protect His Church, and the present Pope is not being accused of heresy.
In the last four centuries we have been privileged the office of the Pope has not been impeded by heresy, schism, kidnapping, or long illness (as could have happened to John Paul II when he was hospitalized for two months after the attempt on his life in 1981).