I corresponded with the late Michael Davies by email a few times, but I was still going through the process of learning about the current situation. Mr. Davies was very gracious with me and I will always remember him for his sincerity and kindness. Recently, I was going through some old files and found this little article I wrote against Michael Davies. The original article by Davies was sent to me by a dear friend to keep me out of sedevacantism. I decided to respond to it and email it back. My friend never commented further and I lost touch with him until the other day when I bumped into him at the grocery. Below is a cleaned up version of my reply to my friend and the late Mr. Davies.
By Steven Speray
The late Michael Davies attempted to debunk the sedevacantist position with an article entitled “A Heretical Pope?” However, the debunker Davies has been debunked by his own logic. The comment section (in bold) is a response to each point made by Davies.
I like to start off by stating that there is no such thing as a heretical pope unless you mean a material heretic in which case he would just be a Catholic Pope in error.
DAVIES: Claims have been made that one or more of the “conciliar popes”, that is to say Pope John XXIII and his successors, were heretics and therefore forfeited the papacy. Those who include Pope John Paul II in this category claim that we have no pope and that therefore the Holy See is vacant, sedes vacante, which is why such people are referred to as “sedevacantists”. They claim that this poses no theological problem as the Holy See is vacant during the interregnum between pontificates. Some of these interregna have been very long, the longest being a vacancy of two years nine months between the death of Clement IV in 1268 and the election of Gregory X in 1271.
Comment: This is inaccurate. The longest interregnum period was three and half years between the death of Marcellinus in 304 and the election of Marcellus I in 308. However, the point is made that the Church remained visible despite the fact there was no pope for such a long time. However, when antipopes reign and only a few Catholics can recognize just who’s the true pope, the condition can be far worse then when there are long interregnums. Great theologians have suggested that the Great Schism was actually a generational interregnum. We’ll see the explanation in a minute.
DAVIES: In such cases the visibility of the Church is not impaired in any way as the Holy See is administered by the Cardinal Camerlengo until a new pope is elected. The Camerlengo, or Chamberlain of the papal court, administers the properties and revenues of the Holy See, and during a vacancy those of the entire Church. Among his responsibilities during a vacancy are those of verifying the death of the Pope and organizing and directing the conclave.
Thus, even when the Chair of Peter is not occupied, the visible, hierarchical nature of the Church is maintained.(1) Thus the situation during such an interregnum cannot be compared to the situation that the Church would be in if Pope John Paul II is not the legitimately reigning pontiff as there would be no visible source of authority capable of convoking a conclave to elect a new pope.
The theological weakness of sedevacantism is an inadequate concept of the nature of the Church. Without realizing it, they believe in a Church which can fail — and such a Church is not the Church founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Comment: The Great Schism is a historical precedent against what Davies is asserting. There was uncertainty as to who truly reigned as pope for an entire generation. The visible hierarchical nature wasn’t clear. Rev. Francis X Doyle, S.J. explains: “The Church is a visible society with a visible Ruler. If there can be any doubt about who that visible Ruler is, he is not visible, and hence, where there is any doubt about whether a person has been legitimately elected Pope, that doubt must be removed before he can become the visible head of Christ’s Church. Blessed Bellarmine, S.J., says: ‘A doubtful Pope must be considered as not Pope’; and Suarez, S.J., says: ‘At the time of the Council of Constance there were three men claiming to be Pope…. Hence, it could have been that not one of them was the true Pope, and in that case, there was no Pope at all….” (The Defense of the Catholic Church, 1927)
It’s true that the Church cannot fail and this is precisely why we have the position of sedevacantism. Sedevacantists don’t misunderstand the nature of the Church, but Michael Davies does. Davies claimed that several sacramental disciplines were seriously flawed, such as the novus ordo missae and the new rite of Holy Orders. In other words, Davies believed the Church failed many times in its practices which he acknowledged doesn’t square up with the historic Faith. However, the Church has infallibly taught through its universal and ordinary magisterium that She is infallible even in disciplines. For instance, Pope Gregory XVI, Mirari Vos, 9 (1832): “Furthermore, the discipline sanctioned by the Church must never be rejected or branded as contrary to certain principles of the natural law. It must never be called crippled, or imperfect or subject to civil authority. In this discipline the administration of sacred rites, standards of morality, and the reckoning of the Church and her ministers are embraced.” The good Pope continued in Quo Graviora, 4-5 (1833) how disciplines in the Church are without error.
Davies most certainly called the new mass and the new rite of orders crippled and imperfect.
Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, 66 (1943) taught: “Certainly the loving Mother is spotless in the Sacraments, by which she gives birth to and nourishes her children; in the faith which she has always preserved inviolate; in her sacred laws imposed on all; in the evangelical counsels which she recommends; in those heavenly gifts and extraordinary graces through which, with inexhaustible fecundity, she generates hosts of martyrs, virgins and confessors.”
Not only do the popes teach the infallibility of laws and disciplines of the Church but so do all the theologians. Van Noort stated in his Dogmatic Theology: “The Church’s infallibility extends to….ecclesiastical laws passed for the universal Church for the direction of Christian worship and Christian living….But the Church is infallible in issuing a doctrinal decree as intimated above.”
P. Hermann taught in his Institutiones Theologiae Dogmaticae: “The Church is infallible in her general discipline. By the term general discipline is understood the laws and practices which belong to the external ordering of the whole Church. Such things would be those which concern either external worship, such as liturgy and rubrics, or the administration of the sacraments. . . . “If she [the Church] were able to prescribe or command or tolerate in her discipline something against faith and morals, or something which tended to the detriment of the Church or to the harm of the faithful, she would turn away from her divine mission, which would be impossible.”
I could go on and on with many more theologians, but the point is made.
The Church cannot do the things Davies claimed happened. Davies simply didn’t believe in the teaching of the Church on laws and disciplines. Davies was right about the problems with the sacramental disciplines, thus we see the bad fruit what can only come from a counterfeit church.
DAVIES: The Church that He founded cannot fail, for it is indefectible (i.e. it cannot fail).
Comment: That’s right! It cannot fail in its disciplines, laws, and teachings. It also cannot fail by ceasing to exist. But Davies believed it did fail with Vatican 2, the New Mass, etc, which is why he resists much of it. However, the papacy is not the Church. The Church has never defined the length of an interregnum. Therefore, long interregnums don’t imply a defected Church. The Church is made up with those true believers that hold the Faith. The Gates of Hell can’t prevail. Christ told us so. His promise will remain true till the end. According to the Church, the Gates of Hell are the tongues of heretics and the heretics themselves.
DAVIES: It will continue to exist until the Second Coming as a visible, hierarchically governed body, teaching the truth and sanctifying its members with indubitably valid sacraments. To state that we have no pope is to claim that the Church is no longer visible and hierarchically governed, which, in effect, means that it has ceased to exist.
Comment: This is utter nonsense. If Davies were correct, then the Church ceased to exist each time a pope died and especially when it went several years without the pope. Again, the Great Schism proves Davies wrong. Sedevacantists have valid bishops, which means the hierarchical governed body is still visible.
DAVIES: Catholic theologians accept that a pope could lose his office through heresy, but it would have to be such notorious heresy that no doubt concerning the matter could exist in the minds of the faithful, and a statement that the Pope had deposed himself would need to come from a high level in the Church, most probably a general Council.
Comment: Not according to Popes Innocent III and Pius VI, St. Robert Bellarmine and others. They used the words IPSO FACTO, which means automatically. No need for a high level authority to depose him. In fact, it’s a heresy to claim that a general council could depose a pope. No one can depose a pope except the pope himself. But for the sake of the argument, what happens if ALL the high level authorities believed in the same heresies as the “pope” they must depose because of his heresies? Not a very good policy, is it?
DAVIES: Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre warned in 1979:
“The visibility of the Church is too necessary to its existence for it to be possible that God would allow that visibility to disappear for decades. The reasoning of those who deny that we have a pope puts the Church into an inextricable situation. Who will tell us who the future pope is to be? How, as there are no cardinals, is he to be chosen? The spirit is a schismatical one. . . And so, far from refusing to pray for the Pope, we redouble our prayers and supplications that the Holy Ghost will grant him the light and strength in his affirmations and defense of the Faith.”
Comment: The Church has already given us the answer to this objection.
“Even if St. Peter would have not determined anything, once he was dead, the Church had the power to substitute him and appoint a successor to him … If by any calamity, war or plague, all Cardinals would be lacking, we cannot doubt that the Church could provide for herself a Holy Father…Hence such an election should be carried out by all the Church and not by any particular Church. And this is because that power is common and it concerns the whole Church. So it must be the duty of the whole Church.” (De Potestate Ecclesiae,Vitoria)
“.. . by exception and by supplementary manner this power (that of electing a pope), corresponds to the Church and to the Council, either by the absence of Cardinal Electors, or because they are doubtful, or the election itself is uncertain, as it happened at the time of the schism.” (De Comparatione Auctoritatis Papae et Concilii,Cajetan, OP)
“When it would be necessary to proceed with the election, if it is impossible to follow the regulations of papal law, as was the case during the Great Western Schism, one can accept, without difficulty, that the power of election could be transferred to a General Council…Because natural law prescribes that, in such cases, the power of a superior is passed to the immediate inferior because this is absolutely necessary for the survival of the society and to avoid the tribulations of extreme need.” (De Ecclesia Christi,Billot)
Not only do we have the Church telling how popes can be elected without normal canonical procedure from the cardinal elect, but historic precedent has given us several true popes through unlawful elections, such as Pope Vigilius and Pope St. Eugene I.
I will deal the final blow to Davies’ sad commentary in italics at the very end.
The question of whether the Holy See is vacant must be considered from three aspects, that is whether a pope could become an heretic and forfeit his office; what constitutes heresy; and whether any of the conciliar popes can be considered to be heretics within the context of this definition.
1. Can a pope forfeit his office through heresy?
Comment: Sedevacantism holds that the conciliar popes never held the Chair of Peter. Therefore, the question doesn’t apply at all. The real question Davies should be asking is: Can a heretic be elected pope and remain a heretic?
The problem which would face the Church if a legitimately reigning pope became an heretic has been discussed in numerous standard works of reference. The solution is provided in the 1913 edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia: “The Pope himself, if notoriously guilty of heresy, would cease to be pope because he would cease to be a member of the Church.”(2) Many theologians have discussed the possibility of a pope falling into heresy, and the consensus of their opinion concurs with that of The Catholic Encyclopedia. The Pope must evidently be a Catholic, and if he ceased to be a Catholic he could hardly remain the Vicar of Christ, the head of the Mystical Body. St. Robert Bellarmine taught: “The manifestly heretical pope ceases per se to be pope and head as he ceases per se to be a Christian and member of the Church, and therefore he can be judged and punished by the Church. This is the teaching of all the early Fathers.”(3)
Comment: St. Robert Bellarmine used the words “automatically” when referring to a pope losing his office by falling into heresy. At that point the Church would be judging a heretic, not a pope. The fact remains that it’s a real possibility, but it doesn’t apply to the modern day position of sedevacantism since there was never a papal office to lose.
Saint Robert was, of course, discussing a theoretical possibility, and believed that a pope could not become an heretic and thus could not be deposed, but he also acknowledged that the more common opinion was that the pope could become an heretic, and he was thus willing to discuss what would need to be done if, per impossible, this should happen: “This opinion (that the Pope could not become an heretic) is probable and easily defended . . . Nonetheless, in view of the fact that this is not certain, and that the common opinion is the opposite one, it is useful to examine the solution to this question, within the hypothesis that the Pope can be an heretic.”(4)
The great Jesuit theologian, Francisco de Suarez (1548-1617) was also sure that God’s “sweet providence” would never allow the one who could not teach error to fall into error, and that this was guaranteed by the promise Ego autem rogavi pro te . . . (Luke 22: 32). But, like Bellarmine, Suarez was willing to consider the possibility of an heretical pope as an hypothesis, particularly in view of the fact, he claimed, that several “general councils had admitted the hypothesis in question”.(5)
Comment: In other words, Suarez was willing to consider that a pope need not be a Catholic at all. This is clearly impossible from the 1917 Code of law and the Vatican I teaching on the Church, both of which Suarez didn’t have in his day.
Saint Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) did not believe that God would ever permit a Roman Pontiff to become a public or an occult heretic, even as a private person: “We ought rightly to presume as Cardinal Bellarmine declares, that God will never let it happen that a Roman Pontiff, even as a private person, becomes a public heretic or an occult heretic.”(6)
Comment: Again, it’s still a real possibility which St. Alphonsus admits when he stated, “If ever a pope, as a private person, should fall into heresy, he would at once fall from the pontificate. If, however, God were to permit a pope to become a notoriously and contumacious heretic, he would by such fact cease to be pope, and the apostolic chair would be vacant.” (Verita della Fede, Pt. III, Ch. VIII. 9-10).
If, per impossible, a pope became a formal heretic through pertinaciously denying a de fide doctrine, how would the faithful know that he had forfeited his office as he had ceased to be a Catholic?
Comment: We just read what Sts. Alphonsus and Bellarmine say. It’s automatic. The universal teaching of the popes, saints, and theologians is that it happens automatically, and no declaration is even needed.
It must be remembered that no one in the Church, including a General Council, has the authority to judge the Popes. Reputable authorities teach that if a pope did pertinaciously deny a truth which must be believed by divine and Catholic faith, after this had been brought to his attention by responsible members of the hierarchy (just as St. Paul reproved St. Peter to his face), a General Council could announce to the Church that the Pope, as a notorious heretic, had ceased to be a Catholic and hence had ceased to be Pope.
Comment: Sure, but it’s not absolutely necessary as the Church has taught.
It is important to note that the Council would neither be judging nor deposing the Pope, since it would not possess the authority for such an act. It would simply be making a declaratory sentence, i.e. declaring to the Church what had already become manifest from the Pope’s own actions. This is the view taken in the classic manual on Canon Law by Father F.X. Wernz, Rector of the Gregorian University and Jesuit General from 1906 to 1914. This work was revised by Father P. Vidal and was last republished in 1952. It states clearly that an heretical Pope is not deposed in virtue of the sentence of the Council, but “the General Council declares the fact of the crime by which the heretical pope has separated himself from the Church and deprived himself of his dignity.”(7)
Comment: He also stated, “Through notorious and openly revealed heresy, the Roman Pontiff, should he fall into heresy, by that very fact is deemed to be deprived of the power of jurisdiction even before any declaratory judgment of the Church…”(Ius Canonicum. Rome: Gregorian 1943. 2:453). Many other canonists teach the same.
Other authorities believe that such a declaration could come from the College of Cardinals or from a representative group of bishop, while others maintain that such a declaration would not be necessary. What all those who accept the hypothesis of an heretical pope are agreed upon is that for such a pope to forfeit the papacy his heresy would have to be “manifest”, as Saint Robert Bellarmine expressed it, that is notorious and public (notorium et palam divulgata).(8)
Comment: Torquemada didn’t hold to this view. He believed a pope would lose his office even if not manifest. However, it doesn’t really matter since the position doesn’t apply to today’s sedevacantism.
A notorious offence can be defined as one for which the evidence is so certain that it can in no way be either hidden or excused.(9) A pope who, while not being guilty of formal heresy in the strict sense, has allowed heresy to undermine the Church through compromise, weakness, ambiguous or even gravely imprudent teaching remains Pope, but can be judged by his successors, and condemned as was the case with Honorius I.
Comment: Has no bearing on the situation today.
2. What is heresy?
There has never been a case of a pope who was undoubtedly a formal heretic, and it is unlikely in the extreme that there ever will be one.
Comment: Until now.
This will become evident if some consideration is given to examining precisely what constitutes formal heresy. The Code of Canon Law defines an heretic as one who after baptism, while remaining nominally a Catholic, pertinaciously doubts or denies one of the truths which must be believed by divine and Catholic faith.(10) It teaches us that by divine and Catholic faith must be believed all that is contained in the written word of God or in tradition, that is, the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church and proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn Magisterium of the Church or by its Ordinary Universal Magisterium.(11) No teaching is to be considered as dogmatically defined unless this is evidently proved.(12)
A doctrine is de fide divina et catholica only when it has been infallibly declared by the Church to be revealed by God. Hence this term does not apply to doctrines which one knows to have been revealed by God, but which have not been declared by the Church to have been so revealed (de fide divina); nor to those which the Church has infallibly declared, but which she does not present formally as having been revealed (de fide ecclesiastica); nor to those which the Church teaches without exercising her infallible authority upon them. If a doctrine is not de fide divina et catholica, a person is not an heretic for denying or doubting it, though such a denial or doubt may be grave sin.(13)
3. The Conciliar Popes
It should now be apparent that there is no case whatsoever for claiming that any of the conciliar popes have lost their office as a result of heresy. Anyone wishing to dispute this assertion would need to state the doctrines de fide divina et catholica which any of these popes are alleged to have rejected pertinaciously.
Comment:The conciliar popes reject the dogma that the Church is one in faith. They hold that some non-Catholics, such as Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs are “Pastors in the Church of Christ.” The conciliar popes reject the Divine law that forbids inter-religious worship. They believe, teach, and promote radical false ecumenism, which is technically heretical, since the Church infallibly asserted it in the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople using II Cor. 6 to do so.
There’s no question that the conciliar popes are heretics!
There is not one instance which comes remotely within this category. The nearest one can come to a formal contradiction between preconciliar and post-conciliar teaching is the subject of religious liberty. It has yet to be shown how they can be reconciled.(14)
Comment: I gave two examples that are clear and unambiguous.
It is possible that the Magisterium will eventually have to present either a correction or at least a clarification of the teaching of Vatican II on this subject. Neither the pre-conciliar teaching nor that of the Council on religious liberty comes within the category of de fide divina et catholica, and so the question of formal heresy does not arise.
Comment: Again, no sedevacantist believes the “popes” lost their office making this entire latter piece of work by Davies a real waste of time. All true Catholics believe they were never any valid elections to begin with. All of the last five claimants were null and void from the start.
All of the claimants were heretics before their elections, which according to Pope Paul IV in Cum Ex Apostolatus would make their elections null and void. This teaching is the Divine law. “Heretics and schismatics are barred from the Supreme Pontificate by the Divine Law itself, because, although by divine law they are not considered incapable of participating in a certain type of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, nevertheless, they must certainly be regarded as excluded from occupying the throne of the Apostolic See, which is the infallible teacher of the truth of the faith and the center of ecclesiastical unity.” (Marato, 1921, Institutiones luris Canonici)
More astoundingly is the fact that there are other ways to determine whether one is an antipope, which never is included by those who attempt to debunk sedevacantism.
Case in point: the Church infallibly taught that She cannot give us a harmful discipline and to render all ambiguous teachings as heretical. Even Davies has admitted Rome has given us harmful disciplines. He even wrote a book about the ambiguities and “time bombs” of Vatican 2. If Davies is correct, then either the Gates of Hell have prevailed or the “conciliar popes” are ipso facto antipopes. Thus, there is no need for a judgment call on them for being heretics because they did something the Church infallibly taught can’t happen.
Also, the Church in one of her most respected councils, held in 398, presided over by the great St. Augustine, declared: “None must either pray or sing psalms with heretics; and whosoever shall communicate with those who are cut off from the Communion of the Church, whether clergyman or laic, let him be excommunicated”. (Coun. Carth. iv. 72 and 73)
Do not John Paul 2 and Benedict XVI fall under these anathemas? A pope must follow those canon laws that apply the Divine laws.
What is interesting about this is I found it from an organization that rejects sedevacantism by using Davies’ article, yet refuses to accept the very decrees by a Council, which it advertises elsewhere in other articles. Is this not the ultimate hypocrisy?
However, Davies’ claim that none of the “conciliar popes” can be found remotely or in one instance of falling into heresy is incomprehensible.
All of them, by their teachings and practices of Vatican 2 itself, have pertinaciously rejected Pope St. Pius X’s condemnation of modernism, the synthesis of all heresies. You won’t even find mention or reference of this most important document in the new “Catechism of the Catholic Church.”
All them embrace, teach, promote, and defend the synthesis of all heresies, which makes them all heretics of the worst kind.
All of them fall under the anathemas condemning interreligious worship. Paul VI fell under the anathema of Trent of instituting a new rite of liturgy in the Roman Rite.
Davies never once addressed the most abominable of all heresies in Vatican 2, which is the doctrine of Antichrist. LG 16 and NA 3 of Vatican 2 clearly teach by implication that one can reject the divinity of Jesus and blaspheme the Most Holy Trinity, but at the same time worship the one true God.
Michael Davies was either incredibly blind or simply ill-willed about the Catholic position.
1. Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, 1917), vol. III, p. 217.
2. CE, vol. VII, p. 261.
3. Saint Robert Bellarmine, De Romano Pontifice (Milan, 1857), vol. II, chap. 30, p. 420.
4. Ibid., p. 418.
5. F. Suarez, De legibus (Paris, 1856), vol. IV, chap. 7, no. 10, p. 361.
6. Dogmatic Works of St. Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri (Turin, 1848), vol. VIII, p. 720.
7. Wernz-Vidal, Jus Canonicum (Rome, 1942), vol II, p. 518.
8. Ibid., p. 433.
9. Op. cit., note 92, Wernz-Vidal, (Rome, 1937), vol VII, pp. 46-47.
10. Code of Canon Law: Old Code, Canon 1325; New Code, Canon 751.
11. Denzinger, 1792; CCL: Old Code, Canon 1323; New Code, Canon 750.
12. CCL, Old Code, 1323, §3; New Code, 749, §3.
13. T. Bouscaren & A. Ellis, Canon Law, A Text & Commentary (Milwaukee, 1958), p. 724.
14. M. Davies, The Second Vatican Council and Religious Liberty (The Neumann Press, Minnesota, 1992).