Countering The Claim That Francis Is An Antipope — Guest Post by Fr. John Rickert, FSSP

Editor’s note. The sentiment, and even conviction, that Francis is an Antipope has been growing. Because these are tumultuous times and it is best not to be distracted, I asked Fr John Rickert to write a rebuttal of that notion. Ann Barnhardt, God bless her, has led the charges that Francis is an Antipope, which is why below she serves as the brief for the prosecution. Fr Rickert speaks for himself and not necessarily for his Fraternity. Permission is granted to copy this article, as long as this disclaimer accompanies copies.

Countering the Claim that Francis is an Antipope

by Fr. John Rickert, FSSP

In certain circles a fear has arisen that Pope Francis is not truly the Pope after all but instead an Antipope. Ann Barnhardt, for example, posted 32 questions and answers to this effect. Although I will use this post as a base to work from, it is not my intention here to argue each of these points individually, and in saying this I realize that some will immediately judge my response inadequate and stop reading. Still, my experience is that people who would demand responses to each point will not be very receptive to what I have to say anyway.

Catholics may be able to compare this to the experience of being peppered by questions, objections, and quotations from the Bible from a hardline Protestant intent on proving the falsity of the Catholic Church; such an interlocutor, in my experience, is not really interested in hearing responses to his points one by one, because he will always have more at hand. The only thing certain is that he will not be satisfied unless you agree with him completely.

So then, if you are willing to consider an argument of a fairly general nature that foregoes detailed nitpicking of numerous points, here is what I have for your consideration.

A preliminary, important point of logic. Barnhardt says, “So long as a person is operating from a false base premise, reality CAN NOT be accurately apprehended, and the logical conclusions drawn from the false base premise will be themselves false, as well.”

This statement is incorrect; it is the logical fallacy of denying the antecedent. I must apply this very point to my discussion here. Even if I refuted all of Barnhardt’s premises for arguing that Francis is an Antipope, it would not follow that her conclusion would thereby be refuted. If I claimed this, I would also be committing the fallacy of denying the antecedent. That is why I will not detain myself with point-by-point refutation of her arguments but instead make arguments to establish the conclusion that Francis is indeed, really and truly the Pope.

The two strongest arguments Barnhardt presents are that Pope Benedict XVI resigned under duress, thereby making his resignation invalid, and that supporters of Cardinal Bergoglio were guilty of canvassing votes before the Conclave, an offense that carries an automatic excommunication1 if committed.

About the resignation, Barnhardt cites Can. 188: “A resignation which is made as a result of grave fear unjustly inflicted, or of deceit, or of substantial error, or of simony, is invalid by virtue of the law itself.”2

In the first place, it is not even clear whether Can. 188 applies to the Pope. As supreme lawgiver for the Church, he is the one who promulgates canons and is not himself subject to any earthly power: “Prima Sedes a nemine judicatur.” The Catholic Church is emphatically not a constitutional monarchy in which the Pope is restrained by a written constitution. That fact makes many people uncomfortable these days, but it is nevertheless true. For further reading on this, see the decree and canons from Vatican I about the nature of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. Still, let us proceed under the assumption that Can. 188 applies even to the Pope.

Barnhardt says, “Pope Benedict’s resignation was invalid, and obviously so. To argue otherwise requires the willful suspension of disbelief.” No; it requires calling the Pope Emeritus a liar. Here is what the Pope Emeritus said in announcing his resignation:

After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter.

A further point is that, even if Pope Emeritus Benedict were to appeal to Can. 188,3 it would still fall entirely to him to make this appeal. No one else can do this for him. And who would judge the case? When he says that he is renouncing the office “with full freedom,” we simply have to take him at his word and leave it at that. We cannot pretend to know better than he what he himself was thinking.

About the assertion of canvassing before the Conclave, I would say that Barnhardt reads in too much to the reports so as to see what she wants to see. I will take Edward Pentin’s article as reliable. He says, “At the launch of the book in Brussels this week, the cardinal said he was part of a secret club of cardinals opposed to Pope Benedict XVI… He called it a ‘mafia’ club that bore the name of St. Gallen. The group wanted a drastic reform of the Church, to make it ‘much more modern,’ and for Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to head it.”

This is not quite what is prohibited by St. John Paul II in Universi Dominici Gregis: “The Cardinal electors shall further abstain from any form of pact, agreement, promise or other commitment of any kind which could oblige them to give or deny their vote to a person or persons.” The distinction is that in the case of what Pentin discusses, we have a group of like-minded people who, apparently, wished for Cdl. Bergoglio to be their point-man. On the other hand, the prohibition by St. John Paul II applies specifically to collusion on voting at a Conclave.

To give a different example, Cdl. Raymond Burke has been at the forefront of raising dubia in regard to Pope Francis’ document Amoris Laetitia. He has publicly been joined by a handful of other cardinals, and the likelihood is that he is joined in spirit by a significant number more who remain out of the public eye. Were Cdl. Burke to be elected as the next Pope, we could not say that he and those with him already stand excommunicated automatically in view of the provision from St. John Paul II. The distinction between an agenda and actual collusion may be hard to see in practice, because collusion seems to be the means to the end, but the distinction is important. The means are not the end. It is a principle of Church law that punitive previsions must be taken strictly, so as to give the accused all the benefit of the doubt.

This is all I will say in responding to Barnhardt’s arguments, for reasons stated above. Let me now propose an argument to show directly and positively that Francis is truly the Pope. As a preliminary point, let us consider the origin of the term “common error.”

In ancient Rome, a runaway slave once presented himself for the office of Praetor, which was reserved for freemen. Eventually, his status as a slave was discovered. Instead of voiding his office and all of his acts as invalid, the validity of his office and his acts was accepted in view of the common, albeit erroneous, opinion. Everyone had assumed he was a freeman eligible to run for and hold the office. This event is often regarded as the source of the doctrine of “common error.”

Canon Law has adopted this view, to an extent. Can. 144 says this: “§1 In common error, whether of fact or of law, and in positive and probable doubt, whether of law or of fact, the Church supplies executive power of governance for both the external and the internal forum.”4 Let us parse this out to apply it to the question of the pontificate of Pope Francis.

  1. (1) In common error or even positive or probable doubt
  2. (2) regarding law (jus, right)
  3. (3) the Church supplies executive power of governance
  4. (4) for both the external and internal forum.

I argue as follows. (1) holds, for, the world in general, beyond the vast majority of Catholics, regards Pope Francis as truly being the Pope.5 (2) applies, because it regards the jus of holding the papal office. Therefore, (3) follows: the Church supplies executive power of governance, which in this case is spelled out by the decree of Vatican I. Finally, (4) also follows, which means that for all purposes, public and private, even in the internal forum of the conscience, Catholics are to accept Pope Francis as the pope.

It is very important to note that this supplied power of governance comes from the Church, not from the reigning Pontiff. Indeed, during an interregnum when the See is vacant due to the death of a reigning Pope, there have sometimes been chaotic circumstances concerning succession. For example, the ones that led to the Great Western Schism. We clearly and emphatically do not have such a situation today. What Canon Law is saying is that the individual recognized by the whole Church in general as the successor, indeed is the successor, in law and in fact, in public and in private.

Does the interpretation I have given of Can. 144 undermine the provisions of Can. 188? No. Someone who is unjustly deprived or driven from office can appeal for redress due to the provisions of Can. 188. But when someone’s actions show that he does not object on the grounds of Can. 188 and moreover common error sets in, then he has, indeed, forfeited his office to his successor, even under the supposition that he did not initially leave his office freely. If Pope Benedict truly believes himself aggrieved and unjustly deprived of his office, then it would have been his moral duty to object to Pope Francis’ exercise of exclusively papal prerogatives, such as naming Cardinals.

I will further argue that this recognition of legitimacy is necessary not only in virtue of Canon Law but by practical implication of the infallibility of the Church. If Pope Francis is in reality an Antipope, then he is not protected from teaching error, and if he did teach error the Church would no longer be infallible. Some have criticized Pope Francis precisely on the grounds that he has taught heresy, but this assertion does not hold under scrutiny. Recall the definition from Vatican I:

Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.

So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema.

Pope Francis has said and even written statements that are questionable, ambiguous, or even doubtful, but in no way, not even with Amoris Laetitia, has he attempted to teach “in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians.” One need only recall earlier examples, e.g. Pope Honorius, Pope John XXII, who made erroneous statements, but did not put them forward as definitive teaching, and remained in the office of Pope despite their statements.

Let us, of course, be sure to pray for Pope Francis, so that he may indeed be a shepherd who strengthens his brethren. At the same time, let us not fall prey to specious arguments, which are nothing but wolves in sheep’s clothing that go after sheep separated from the flock and the shepherd.



1Latae sententiae. The excommunication takes effect by the very commission of the act; there is no need to go through a formal trial and judgment.

2Renuntiatio ex metu gravi, iniuste incusso, dolo vel errore substantiali aut simoniace facta, ipso iure irrita est.

3As the notorious Benedict IX did in order to attain to his second time in the papacy.

4§ 1. In errore communi de facto aut de iure, itemque in dubio positivo et probabili sive iuris sive facti, supplet Ecclesia, pro foro tam externo quam interno, potestatem regiminis exsecutivam. Incidentally, note that Can. 209 of the 1917 Code makes almost the same provision.

5For a good discussion on “common error” see Beal, Corriden, and Green, New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law.


  1. Kevin

    Full disclosure… not a Catholic…

    But it’s interesting to follow the efforts by the “faithful” to defrock Francis and the efforts by the Washington establishment and the media to defrock Trump. The parallels in tactic and objective are incredibly similar – perhaps even in motivation.

  2. Sheri

    Not being Catholic, an argument on technicality really doesn’t hold much interest. Actions would be more important, one would think.

  3. Sheri

    Not being Catholic, an argument on technicality really doesn’t hold much interest. It does make one question what the purpose of the elected office is in the first place and why elections are how the “man next to God” is found. To an outsider, it makes no sense whatsoever.

  4. Joy

    It works much like the mob.
    Appearance is everything.
    As Jeremy Clarkson said,
    “Looking good is more important than looking where you’re going.”
    One only had to witness the scene when Philomena, the real one, “met The Pope”.
    You know how it is. Best not to comment and say nothing.
    Those poor millions waiting on every word. Little do they know they are the meek ones.

  5. Gary

    To an outsider who has studied the New Testament, the whole Roman Catholic hierarchy thing make no sense other than being a way to gain and exercise earthly power. The first century model was local churches with local leadership, not a hegemonic hierarchical governance. Some local churches can and do go wrong theologically, but the damage is limited and easier to correct. When the hierarchy goes wrong, everyone under it suffers and correction is most difficult. It takes some fancy argument to justify the hierarchy when a plain reading of the Bible shows it isn’t authorized.

  6. acricketchirps

    Comforted and armed only with the certainty of God’s promise of indefectability poor humans cast about for ways to fill the offices necessary for the promise to bear fruit–sometimes literally: to replace Judas they cast lots.

  7. Alan Breedlove

    Thank you, Fr. Rickert, for your answer to Ann Barnhardt’s claim that Francis is an antipope. I am a Catholic who is concerned about the direction of the Church under Pope Francis. I think the antipope claim is a distraction, because even if valid, it is not going to move the cardinals who voted for the “antipope” to correct their error. The Church still faces a big problem under the papacy of Francis.

    You clearly demonstrate how Ann Barnhardt steals a few bases (and I enjoy reading her blog), but so do you. You were on most solid ground until you got to the Gallen mafia and quoted Ed Pentin’s article, “The group wanted a drastic reform of the Church, to make it ’much more modern,’ and for Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to head it.” The Gallen mafia is a distraction within a distraction, and has no bearing whether Francis is an antipope. Had the cardinals conspired during the conclave–and there is no proof that they did–they would have excommunicated themselves. Please correct me if a I am wrong, but Francis would still be pope.

    I must admit that the generous reading you give to the cardinal’s statement about the Gallen mafia wanting Bergoglio to be the head of the spear of the mafia had never occurred to me. I read the cardinal’s statement to clearly reference “it” as the Church, and not the Gallen mafia.

    I think that your example of Cardinal Burke and the dubia he submitted with three other cardinals is an excellent example of how to properly address a pope. However, I am somewhat taken aback at the moral equivalence you seem to grant the Gallen mafia and the four cardinals of the dubia. There is a huge difference between following Church procedure to ask a pope to clarify the confusion of his teachings, versus a secret club of cardinals formed to a pope. Cardinal Burke is acting in the open and asking for clarification of Church doctrine, whereas the secret club was opposing the person of the pope. I wish you were more clear on this distinction.

    Finally, the issue is not whether Francis is the antipope or whether he is teaching ex cathedra. The reality is that Francis is sowing confusion among the faithful. Under the guise of mercy, pastoral care, and “accompaniment,” he is endangering the souls of the people he is supposed to be guiding. Thank you again, Fr. Rickert, for addressing the distraction of the antipope claim. Meanwhile, Francis is doing real damage to the Church and the faithful, and I appreciate Ann Barnhardt’s fearless exposure of this damage, even if she has gone down the antipapacy rabbit hole.

  8. Michael Dowd

    Please publish Ann’s rebuttal to Fr. Rickert. Father makes what I think is a somewhat facile and technically correct argument that effectively says that Pope Francis is not a formal heretic and is therefore still Pope. To me this seems an all to easy way to let Pope Francis off the hook for clearly leading folks into sin by his statements and actions.

  9. Ken

    It all seems so very complicated…and to think that the whole thing started with a dozen or so illiterate guys & word-of-mouth “advertising” to the then-illiterate masses….

  10. John Watkins

    Most replies studiously ignore the reality of the continuous existence of The See of Peter for two millennia. If the Roman Church was simply a power grab or some other purely human construct, and given the number of times it has truly teetered on the brink (but miraculously survived and recovered), then it would surely have become extinct, well before now.

    Conversely, no amount of explanation can supply a satisfactory answer to the question of how any sect (or all of them together) can truly be considered ‘The Universal’ Church, unless of course, the Church is somehow to be considered an invisible body of Christ. Where is the unity of belief in this construct? I believe, but correct me if I’m wrong, that Jesus was an actual visible person. So why wouldn’t his Church be distinct and visible? Were the martyrs invisible? Was the Jewish nation also somehow invisible?

    In closing, let us consider the current kerfuffle in light of the first point above: the crisis in the Church of Rome is the real proof its authenticity. Why? Because crisis and danger are the DNA of true belief. No crisis, no Church. Universal crisis, Universal Church.

  11. Fr. John Rickert

    John Watkins — Good points. As I see it, once you visible sacraments, you need a visible Church with a visible, supreme, infallible authority to give answers to questions that arise about the sacraments. For example, what conditions must be met for a baptism to be genuine?

    Regarding crisis, I highly recommend the book by Msgr. Philip Hughes, “The Church in Crisis: A History of the Church Councils.” Available online for free. Basically, the Church is always in crisis.

  12. ARB

    Watkins, if mere longevity is enough to prove the legitimate authority of the Roman Church, then surely Judaism is, what, three times as likely to be true? If they can come back after the *Holocaust*, of all crises, surely *they* must be the true religion?

    No? So, they were true, but the “baton” was passed to Christianity when they rejected the Messiah which their entire faith pointed forward to? Then who is to say that the baton has not again been passed when the Roman Church rejected the supremacy of Scripture as our source of spiritual fact, the beacon of truth their entire faith points toward, and placed their own traditions on par with Scripture just as the Arians once did so long ago?

    The form of argumentation you have presented is not proof; no matter how you resolve the above, either Judaism reigns supreme due to its age and durability or the Orthodox and Protestants can make claim that they are in fact the correct continuation of the true faith.

    (As for “two millenia”, I’ve delved and found no evidence that Rome was anything more than one of the larger congregations in the early church, and I’ve read the words of the church fathers defending the Faith against the Arian’s “tradition” using Scripture as the sole, supreme proof of their trinitarian faith. So don’t be surprised if I studiously deny that assertion.)

  13. Ken

    From Fr. R., quoting & responding to Ann B:
    “So long as a person is operating from a false base premise, reality CAN NOT be accurately apprehended, and the logical conclusions drawn from the false base premise will be themselves false, as well.”
    “This statement is incorrect; it is the logical fallacy of denying the antecedent.”

    I disagree, ‘denying the antecedent’ is not the applicable logical error – ‘False Premise’ is correct:

    The argument from a ‘False Premise’ creates a risk of that premise skewing how subsequent events are perceived; this is a very human foible. If Ann B. has made a mistake, it is overgeneralizing by saying that the subsequent logical conclusions from the false premise will be wrong – that is a very real risk, but might not always turn out that way (sometimes the right conclusion is reached from/despite a false premise). E.G., see

    There’s a topic for a spirited debate on a statistics blog…

  14. Ken

    @ Fr. Rickert, 12:24:

    “…once you visible sacraments, you need a visible Church with a visible, supreme, infallible authority to give answers to questions that arise about the sacraments.”

    – Wasn’t the Church built on Cephas/[Petra] — Peter by the Founder himself — to establish a Church…not some organization to handle administrative matters?

    Continuing w. Fr. R.: “…For example, what conditions must be met for a baptism to be genuine?”

    – Wasn’t that documented very very very early on in the Didache?

  15. Fr. John Rickert

    Ken — Please check the link provided in the post.

    One adage of logic says, Ex falso quidquid sequitur. If I show Anne’s premises not to be true, that would not (ordinarily) take away her conclusion, so I address her conclusion directly.

  16. Gladstone

    Appertaining to the resignation of Benedict XVI, please provide a comprehensive explanation on how he has neither reverted to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, nor left the Enclosure of Peter, nor the wearing of Cardinal red instead of the Papal white.

    How do the following words of his, of February 2013, indicate his his full and complete renunciation?

    “The ‘always’ is also a ‘for ever’ – there can no longer be a return to the private sphere. My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences, and so on. I am not abandoning the cross, but remaining in a new way at the side of the crucified Lord. I no longer bear the power of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter. Saint Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, will be a great example for me in this. He showed us the way for a life which, whether active or passive, is completely given over to the work of God.”

    Is the charism of Papal Infallibility transferable from Pope Emeritus to so-called Pope-in-the-active-exercise?

    Robert Siscoe, writing for the Remnant, 03 July 2014 (URL at bottom) adds commentary to key quotes by Italian writer Vittorio Messori, who himself discusses a piece by Professor of Canon Law Stefano Violi of the Faculty of Theology in Bologna and Lugano

    “Messori asks the question, ‘would the Church then for the first time, truly have two Popes, one reigning and one emeritus?’, and then replies: It appears that this was the will of Joseph Ratzinger himself, with the renunciation of active service only and that it was “a solemn act of his magisterium’ to cite the canon lawyer [Professor Violi].”

    Has Professor Violi erred in his understanding of the resignation of Benedict XVI? If so, can you explain precisely how? Upon what canonical and theological bases can the Pope alter the nature of the papacy to include both an active and contemplative member? Do you deny that this very attempt at altering the Office was made by Pope Benedict XVI?

  17. Fr. John Rickert

    Ken — Regarding your reply from 1:12 pm, I’m not quite sure I see your point if it is meant in contrast to mine: We need a supreme visible authority, and Catholics have this in the Papacy. This authority is not limited to answering questions about the Sacraments, but we need such an authority even for this reason.

    The Didache does answer questions like the following: Is aspersion sufficient? Can heretics baptize validly? Can baptism ever be repeated? Can one minister pour the water while another one says the words? Are Mormons really baptized? Etc. Moreover, how are we to know what authority, if any, the Didache has?

  18. John

    Thank you, Fr. Rickert for addressing this issue. I think it is a very important one and should be addressed directly, whatever the consequences may be.

    However, I have read Ann B’s argument, and it seems to me that you do no not entirely do it justice, because, if I understand her correctly, she is not saying that Benedict resigned “under duress” but under substantial error concerning the nature of the papacy itself. In addition, she takes the time to reprint and include as support for her argument the statements made by Mons. Ganswein, which I did not see you address above. These statements were made by the pope’s secretary, specifically to inform his listeners that in fact Benedict’s resignation was not normal, and was something entirely new in the history of the papacy. I think it wuld help if you dealt with this.
    But thanks for addressing this issue.

  19. TJP

    Pope or Anti-Pope, Francis is the embodiment of modernism, “the synthesis of all heresies” (Pope St. Pius X). Catholics expect him to uphold the teachings of the Church. Let’s be honest: safeguarding the precious Deposit of Faith is not even on his radar screen — never was — going back to his days as Cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires.

  20. Gary

    As I see it, once you [have?] visible sacraments, you need a visible Church with a visible, supreme, infallible authority to give answers to questions that arise about the sacraments. For example, what conditions must be met for a baptism to be genuine?
    Well, no. Concerning this example, the criterion for judgment has been laid out: “by their fruits you will know them.” Nothing more is needed to encourage an individual in the faith or rebuke/restore a backslider. Once you invent official conditions you start down the slippery slope of counting noses for progress reports and making lists of donor contacts.

  21. John Watkins


    Well, if Judaism still had three things required in Leviticus, etc., then yes, they would still be in effect the true champions of longevity. But they have lacked, for nigh on these 2 millenniums mentioned, a valid (certifiable by census rolls) priesthood, an acceptable sacrifice (the red heifer, having no more than 7 white hairs), and of course (the biggie), The Temple. Call me when that changes, ok? In the meantime, let’s not confuse the Talmud for The Torah.

  22. Fr. John Rickert

    Alan — Thank you for your reply. Because the only body that can elect the pope, under prevailing church law, is the Roman College of Cardinals, with all others having been excluded, I speculate, though admittedly do not know, that the presence of or participation by excommunicated members would invalidate the Conclave. Somewhat loosely analogous to a mistrial because of a corrupted jury. The rules for Conclaves probably have spelled out what is to be done in the case of one or more unlawful electors present.

    In no way did I intend moral equivalence between Cdl. Burke and the “St. Gallen Mafia.” I mention it because Anne does. I use it only as a basis of comparison to illustrate that initiatives pro or con something are not to be equated with collusion at a Conclave. I hope that distinction is clear.

    La verdad padece pero no perece, as St. Teresa of Avila said. Truth suffers but does not perish.

  23. Fr. John Rickert

    Gladstone — He renounced the Office of the See of Peter, being a true successor to the Apostles, which every bishop is and is called to live up to.


  24. Gladstone

    “He renounced the Office of the See of Peter, not being a true successor to the Apostles, which every bishop is and is called to live up to.”

    Father, are you saying that Benedict XVI was not a true pope to begin with?

  25. Michael Dowd

    I believe Pope Francis is on the side of the modernists who deny the Creed. Therefore, Pope Francis is a heretic and no longer the Pope.

    The Hidden Schism Within the Catholic Church
    The Schism Already Exists

    By Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Standing on My Head:

    Headlines last week were proclaiming that a group of cardinals believe Pope Francis should step down to avoid a catastrophic schism in the Catholic Church.

    Schism? What schism?

    In fact, the modern Catholic Church is already in schism, but it is an internal schism, hidden to most people.

    The divide is very clear and yet virtually unspoken. Nobody dares to really speak of it. The divide runs between cardinals. It runs between bishops and archbishops. It runs between theologians. It runs between parish priests. It runs between liturgists and catechists, church workers, musicians, teachers, journalists and writers.

    It is not really a divide between conservative and liberal, between traditionalist and progressive.

    It is the divide between those who believe that Jesus Christ is the Virgin born Son of God and that as the second person of the Holy and undivided Trinity established his church on earth supernaturally filled with the Holy Spirit which would stand firm until the end of time, and those who believe otherwise.

    Those who believe otherwise are the modernists. They are the ones who think the church is a human construct. It is a historic accident that occurred two thousand years ago and succeeded by a few twists of fate and a few happy circumstances. Because the believe the church is a human construct from a particular time and place, the church can and MUST adapt and change for every age and culture in which she finds herself.

    This is the great divide. This is the schism which already exists.
    The Question?

    Is the church a divinely appointed institution established for the eternal salvation of souls or is it a social construct which sincere people have put together to make the world a better place?

    This is the divide within the church today and every conflict about everything –from music, to architecture, to art, to Catholic education, from liturgy, to literature, from devotions to disciplines and doctrines–everything comes back to this basic divide.

    Of course I believe the first: the church was established by God’s Son Jesus Christ our Lord for the defeat of Satan, the salvation of souls and the redemption of the world through the supernatural graces empowered by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

    All the rest–from saving the environment to feeding the hungry, from equal rights for workers to opening a soup kitchen, from educating the young to achieving peace and justice–are secondary and reliant on this first and eternal priority.

    The schism already exists.

    All that is required is for individual Catholics to decide which side of the chasm they reside.

  26. Fr. John Rickert, FSSP

    Glastone —

    Yikes. What a lapsus digiti there, as well as words left out in other posts. Sorry about that. Strike out the word “not.” My apologies for that mistake, and for the other typographical mistakes I made today.

  27. Gladstone

    No apology necessary, Father. But it would be well if the so-called resignation were explained fully and completely. Alas, no one seems willing to do so.

  28. Thank you Michael Dowd for your clear exposure of the travesty we are living through & for the utter necessity for all members of our prelature & clergy to stand up and be counted for Christ. I am amazed that a member of the FSSP, the Institute of priests PF destroyed, is now willing to support him as being a ‘true’ pope. I would refer Fr. Rickert to ‘They gave Pope Francis four years to ‘make the Church over again.’ by Pete Baklinski

    PF has done nothing to uphold the Deposit of Faith, Magisterium & Tradition of the CC since obtaining the Papal Office by deception & probably force. He has actively opposed Catholic Doctrine & surrounded himself with atheists & infidels of all hues, while foul-mouthing faithful Catholics. He has no interest in anything but climate change, mass Muslim immigration (not refugees but young terrorists) into Europe who rape women & carry out gruesome killings, without uttering a word denouncement of their actions nor of support for Christians. In fact he has told Catholics not to have large families if they cannot support them but never alludes to the three or four wives plus families Muslim men are allowed whether they can support them or not.

    PF is a menace & a danger to the True Faith. Those who elected him must now call for a vote of confidence & if that goes against him he can have little choice but to step down. The crux then is, will there be three popes?

  29. Agent Smith

    I’m confused. But I do know that I don’t have the authority to criticize the pope. The Lord is going to have to handle this problem.

  30. Uncle Mike

    Dear Fr. Rickert,

    It seems you have preordained me to be an unsatisfied nitpicker, but be that as it may, why did you studiously avoid Ms. Barnhardt’s accusations against Pope Francis of heresy? She wrote:

    “All of his intentions toward the Church are malevolent. He is a servant of satan, carrying out a satanic agenda.”

    That’s pretty heavy stuff.

    My experience as a life-long Catholic is that the Church is packed with sexual deviant priests whose behaviors are painfully anti-Christian and hurtful-harmful-sinful towards innocents. Pope Francis appears to condone (if not celebrate) such sin.

    Perhaps the goal of your essay was to state the legal case for Bergoglio’s papacy. However, that’s a red herring, IMHO. The real issue is whether Bergoglio is or is not an agent of Satan. Maybe you could tackle that charge in your next essay.

  31. This is a disappointing tractate for several reasons.

    First, as others have mentioned, your discussion of the freedom of Ratzinger’s resignation ignores several crucial facts, many cited by Ms. Barnhardt. For example, if a pope says “with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter,” and then goes on to show that, by “resign,” he means “continue to present myself in papal dress and with a papal cognomen, sharing the pontifical charism with a second pontiff in a new, bi-partite Petrine ministry,” then it is plain to all that his mere use of the term “resign,” had nothing to do with his actual intent and subsequent acts. You say we cannot “know better than he” what he was thinking – but what he has said and done, or what his spokesmen have since said, indicates what he was thinking – and what he was thinking, was not a resignation.

    Second, your statement about the pope being above the canons is very misguided, and is a facile reduction of the reality. Many codes in canon law are purely disciplinary norms that regulate the smooth ordering of ecclesiastical affairs and life. Many other codes in Canon Law implement or reflect truths of Divine Law, over which we dasn’t set the pope. For example, and to open a can of worms on the REAL reason why Francis is not the pope: by Divine Law it is utterly forbidden and grave matter, to hold communio in sacris with heretics and schismatics. To do so, deliberately, has always been considered as tantamount to a defection from the Faith, and usually as an explicit act of union to the heresy or schism, with which one has communicated the Mysteries. In modern times, where such an act usually has more to do with affirming the Freemasonic/Modernist/Pantheist truth that “everybody has the truth” and “it’s all one truth,” or even “quid est veritas?” etc., it really amounts to an apostasy not only from the Faith, but from Reason and Monotheism themselves. So, even if a pope were, purely for sake of example (::ahem::) to attempt to legalize such an un-Catholic and intrinsically evil practice by inserting it into, for example (::ahem::) the Code of Canon Law, the result is not that the pope could do so “because he is above the law,” but rather, that the pope would cease being pope and start being a public apostate, along with all who consented and approved, because the principle behind the canons forbidding such acts, is of Divine Law. For the same reason, the Code of Canon Law, somewhat late in history (relatively speaking) began to incorporate legislation for the concept of ipso facto (latae sententiae, etc.) excommunication on grounds of certain grave sins and especially of heresy, because by Divine Law public heretics, both material and formal, are out of the Church immediately, whether any canonical process is concluded (or even begun) against them. Indeed, as St. Robert Bellarmine and the Magisterium taught after him, this is the real grounds on which the Church can disentangle Herself from the predations of heretical anti-popes, even without our needing to judge them (since judging an actual pope would be an impossibility in any and every case).

    So: the pope is above the canons, conceived of as purely ecclesiastical laws; the pope is not above the truths of Natural and Divine Law, which the canons often acknowledge and serve – exactly as the Christian Emperors (such as St. Justinian) affirmed that a monarch was above the law in a certain, earthly sense, but absolutely subject to them in terms of the moral substance that guides the laws (Natural and Divine Law). In like matter, what a resignation is, is a matter of plain reason and Natural Law; the canon that acknowledges what a resignation is, and clarifies that there is no resignation where there is no freedom, etc., is not a merely administrative regulation to which the pope is superior; it is clarifying the substantial matter of a real resignation – a mere matter of fact, and of terms, to which the pope is inevitably subject along with all men and angels and any other rational creature. Canon Law just makes it explicit; but theologians and philosophers would affirm, with plenty of Magisterial support, that this is ineluctably the case whether Canon Law gives an explicit nod or not.

    Third, and finally, your application of the principle of “ecclesia supplet,” is so breathtakingly erroneous that one wonders at it. For starters, “common error” is not “common ignorance.” The fact that lots of people mistakenly believe Francis is the pope, is not really what Canon Law means by “Common Error.” Capello summarizes the Tradition, stating that Common Error is a situation in which “the faithful potentially err, or in which the faithful inevitably and reasonably would be led into error, given the attending circumstances, by some external or public fact, which by its very nature induces error.” The emphasis is placed, by him and all other authors, on the nature of the fact, not the fact of error. He mentions that there was once debate, over whether Common Error had to have actually become common and public, via widespread expression of the erroneous judgment, or whether the mere fact of a situation prone to induce error, as described, is sufficient; he clarifies that the latter is now the settled opinion. Further elucidating all this, he says that the common ignorance of the people, who often believe that all priests are able to hear confessions without any awareness of the notion of jurisdiction, is not the legal concept of “Common Error,” so as to supply jurisdiction to all priests in the world simply because people are ignorant – for this error is not present in the very nature of the facts about priestly power and jurisdiction, but is rooted in the ignorance and inattentiveness of the people. Rather, “what is necessary and sufficient, is that the faithful might reckon a specific priest, Titius, truly to be a licit confessor” – given that we understand the error is rooted in the nature of the situation itself, and not simply in the fact of an erroneous judgment.

    Well-informed Catholic faithful ARE aware of Church teaching on the immediate loss of jurisdiction, office and membership in the Church by all public heretics, whether they be formal or material heretics. Thus, the fact that a man has dressed up in a white cassock and occupied the Vatican with a group of other heretics, is not a fact which of its nature would induce a well-informed Catholic soul into error regarding the orthodoxy and legitimacy of the occupants. The fact that many people abandon the narrow path, in the midst of a great apostasy and an huge slackening of religious knowledge, of orthodoxy and of fervor, has absolutely nothing to do with the concept of Common Error. And in fact, you should consider the horrific consequences of your view: the ignorant mob has the power to make its views not only legal, but even true, simply by making ignorance popular. Absit!

    Furthermore, even in a real case of Common Error, as Capello also states, the Church could not supply the power for a valid absolution to a man who was mistakenly believed to be a priest; in that case, nothing can render his absolutions valid – ecclesia supplet supplies only temporary jurisdiction to a jurisdictional act, it adds nothing by way of office, form, matter or intent to a defect in a Sacrament or, more germanely, to its celebrant. Hence, it is absolutely absurd that you are applying the idea of ecclesia supplet, to mean that the Church bestows the office of the papacy upon Francis by virtue of common error, when, apart from your error on the notion of Common Error, ecclesia supplet only legitimizes certain acts, without having any effect whatsoever upon the actor. In other words, it is true that SOME of an anti-pope’s individual acts could attract supplied jurisdiction – say, the appointment of a bishop, the issuing of disciplinary norms, laws or decrees, etc. – and hence there would be no need to repudiate or invalidate these, if the error came to light and the appointments, etc., were acceptable. But supplied jurisdiction would have absolutely no power to bestow the munus, the office, of the papacy upon an anti-pope. And this is assuming that the error is a Common Error and that the anti-pope acts in good faith; if an anti-pope is publicly heretical, the situation already lacks the conditions for being a case of Common Error, since Catholics are obliged to regard him as a non-Catholic in that case; and if he were to appoint openly heretical men to various sees or ecclesiastical positions, even his acts would not attract supplied jurisdiction, since such acts are null and void in and of themselves, even if a valid and orthodox pope attempted them.

    Last of all, as an afterthought: you included that old canard about the pope being able to err when he is not speaking ex cathedra. Yes, of course; but that only deals with protecting the Church from worrying that a papal definition from an orthodox, actual pope, will not inadvertently contain error; it doesn’t follow that it is therefore A-Okay for a pope to actually be a public heretic every other second of his life. So many Catholics act as if the pope can be an heretic all day long, so long as he doesn’t do it ex cathedra. NO! The whole point is that he CAN’T be an heretic ex cathedra, even if he tries really hard. But he certainly can be an heretic at any other moment, in which case, if he does so publicly, he ceases to be a member of the Church. Obviously, to be a public heretic requires more than a public mistake on a point of doctrine; it requires a public manifestation of the fact that he does not intend to conform his mind to the mind of the authentic Magisterium, whether this lack of intent is deliberate (“I refuse!” – i.e., formal heresy), or inadvertent (“I’m a modernist with mush for brains, and to me the idea of truth, authority and magisterial intent is so nebulous that ‘conforming my mind to the authentic magisterium’ is a meaningless string of terms.” – i.e., material heresy).

    So, to sum up (TL;DR): 1) You don’t answer the truly pertinent problems with a lack of valid intent to resign, on Ratzinger’s part; 2) the pope is superior to the canons, as administrative norms subject to his monarchical power of ministration, but he is not superior to the ineluctable truths of Natural and Divine Law, which the sacred canons often express; 3) you have not accurately understood (or explained) the concept of Common Error, you have incorrectly applied it to widespread ignorance of Church teaching on the papacy and loss of office, and you have falsely stated that supplied jurisdiction would actually invest an anti-pope with the papal office, rather than affirming the undoubted and universal tradition, that supplied jurisdiction only attaches to individual acts, and not to those acting; 4) the fact that popes are prevented from erring ex cathedra, has nothing to do with the fact that the same truths of Divine Law regarding ipso facto excommunication for public heretics still apply to them in all other circumstances.

    May the Blessed Virgin help us to find truth wherever error has seized us. Sedes Sapientiae, ora pro nobis.

  32. Antigon

    Father, very much appreciate the effort of attempting to address this matter, from which most merely flee as tho it were a dubia.
    Yet despite, as you note, that you couldn’t address every point, I fear your post neglects the salient one, made last May in a public lecture at no less than the Gregorian by Archbishop George Ganswein – who has notably served as Pope Benedict’s private secretary for well over a decade, & still does. Despite the explosive nature of that lecture, His Holiness has not challenged its thesis.
    That thesis is that Pope Benedict XVI did not fully explicate his view in the words of his you quote; that instead Benedict did not fully abdicate the Papacy, but only did so partially, by expanding its role from a monarchy to a diarchy.
    ‘This is why,’ Ganswein revealed, ‘Benedict XVI has not given up either his name, or the white cassock. This is why the correct name by which to address him even today is “Your Holiness”; and this is also why he has not retired to a secluded monastery, but within the Vatican,’ because ‘he has not abandoned the Office of Peter.’
    The focus of Miss Barnhardt’s potent argument that Canon 188 invalidates Benedict’s abdication ‘by the law itself,’ is not the one you addressed, but on its ‘substantial error’ clause: because it was His Holiness’s substantial error to believe he had the authority only partially to resign, in order to allow another pope or popes to reign along with him.
    If you hold with Pope Benedict that he had the authority to decide there can be more than one living Pontiff at a time (& accordingly no limit to as many new popes as the reigning ones are willing to accept), then it would follow Francis is one of them.
    If instead it proves that, just as he isn’t free to appoint his successor, neither has a Pope the authority only partially to resign – & this, as you note, whether or not Canon 188 applies – then Benedict XVI, however inactive, remains the sole reigning Pontiff of the Catholic Faith; & Padre Bergoglio but another of the Faith’s many antipopes.
    Finally, as to the otherwise salient Ecclesia Supplet position by which your argument closes, it is inapplicable here precisely due to the plenipotentiary power possessed by the Roman Pontiff.
    If, for example, a Pontiff was blackmailed into publically resigning (Rome would be nuked otherwise or some such), while holding in pectore he was still Pontiff, then his authority is such that he still would be, quite regardless of what the rest of world, or Church or episcopacy wrongly believed.
    The same applies now, despite Papa Ratzinger’s confusion: to wit, if the Pope thinks he’s the Pope, then he is, even if he mistakenly believes there can be other popes along with him; & that is true regardless of whatever anyone else may honestly, or dishonestly, believe.
    Because Benedict holds he ‘has not abandoned the Office of Peter,’ he accordingly is the sole reigning Pontiff, again, however inactive, of the Catholic Church; & Padre Bergoglio is not, & never has been, other than an antipope.

  33. John

    Thank you Antigon. You said it so much better than I did! I really hope Fr. will address this, because this is and has been AB’s argument, and no other.

  34. Here are two more comments, possibly uninformed:
    1) Has Pope Francis already committed heresy by giving Holy Communion to a Lutheran (a Finnish lady attending a conference on the birth of Christianity in Finland)?
    2) Here is something to think about–Pope Benedict XVI initiated the opportunity for Anglican Usage (possibly as conservative liturgically and doctrinally as the FSSP) pretty much on his own, bypassing the usual Vatican protocols. Was this his attempt to plant the seed of a non-modernist faction within the Church and thereby oppose the Modernists?

  35. Antigon

    Caro John: That’s a shared hope – & not only from Fr.Rickert – about, you know, no small matter; & also why one can’t but appreciate Father’s honorable if alas failed effort to address it.
    But until these realities are addressed, the overwhelming evidence before us is that Benedict’s abdication was invalid; & that the refusal to address – &, were it possible, refute – what that evidence shows is, like the fear of the dubia, but further evidence that it’s conclusive.
    Thus unless & until that evidence can be shown erroneous, its magnitude leads to moral certainty that, however inactive, the Faith does have a visible – & sole – Roman Pontiff in Benedict XVI; & in Bergoglio but another antipope. Would add that Benedict’s inactivity, however strange, is not more so than the often odd & turbulent history of the papacy; whereas a ‘pope’ in open hostility both to the Faith & the faithful has no precedent of any kind.
    Thus until such time as Benedict fully abdicates his papacy, papal name, cassock & the rest, or dies, recognizing that he alone is the Faith’s sovereign Pontiff – & praying His Holiness will be granted the Grace, wisdom & strength to reassume his active duties – would, to the extent this crucial matter is understood, accordingly seem the obligation of every believing Catholic.

  36. Fr. John Rickert, FSSP


    John and Antignon —

    As I am out of the country this week, it will probably be difficult to get a response to you any time soon. Could I ask you to send an email to my parish address ( and I will try to get back to you when I return?

    Thanks to all for your consideration. Never forget the irreplaceable role of faith, hope, and charity.

  37. Antigon

    Caro Father Rickert: Very much appreciate your priestly concern, & as you requested have left an e-post for you with my e-address at your parish office.

    And while ecclesial matters are not without importance, this one of course particularly, very much agree with you, & John of the Cross, that in the twilight of eternity we shall be judged on love.

    May God strengthen you meanwhile in your priestly service during this Lenten season, & always – Antigon

  38. The key problem here is that Bergoglio did teach heresy. AL Chapter 8, and he confirmed that heresy in his letter to the Argentinian bishops (published by the Vatican itself). Bergoglio needs to go. He has lost the faith and truth of too many catholics on the decollates and the teaching authority of the church has been severely damaged for potentially generations after all his comments on airplanes, the Gaia worship of his climate change encyclical, and then the outright heresy of AL chapter 8 confirmed in his own letter that he intended it to be implemented as heresy. No true pope would use ambiguity to obfuscation to mask his heretical intent. No true pope would be so confusing and contradicting the faith every time he talks to a reporter on an airplane. No true pope would tell a mother of 7 not to breed like a rabbit (I speak Spanish and understood him just fine on the video of that scene from the Philippines). My faith in the clergy and the office of the pontiff is trashed. I’m far from alone. Enjoy your brave new modernist church – but like Vatican II which left a large number of catholics unwilling to follow, Bergoglio has doubled down on going where no catholic should ever go and leaving many of us walking the path we have always walked while the church darted away down a dark alley off to the side and we did not follow. Good luck with that.

  39. Aqua

    Fr. John Rickert: “We need a supreme visible authority, and Catholics have this in the Papacy.”

    Your supreme visible authority proposes that God wills diversity of religions, not the One True Faith; he worships demons in a pagan Wicca idol worshipping ceremony, blessed by a pagan Shaman who invoked who knows what deities against this titular Pope. He is preparing to incorporate these Amazonian pagan rituals and customs into the Church, including but not limited to, married Priests and Deacons.

    On a more practical and personal level, your supreme visible authority has ruled that men and women who are living in adulterous or sodomite sexual mortal sin can, according to their own conscience, receive communion and that the Priest who receives such confession *MUST* facilitate the sacrilegious act.

    So … on pain of disobedience are you prepared to honor the “Holy Father”, supreme visible authority, who demands all Priests (FSSP included) give Holy Eucharist to adulterers and sodomites? You kind of have to …. based on your antecedent premise – Bergoglio is Pope, Supreme Authority. On pain of disobedience, are you prepared to participate in similar pagan Wicca rituals; accept married Priests (etc … the list, as with all sin, is infinite).

  40. Aqua

    “Antigone” (above) speaks for me.

    That is the point.

  41. Tony

    Fr. Rickert writes:

    “I argue as follows. (1) holds, for, the world in general, beyond the vast majority of Catholics, regards Pope Francis as truly being the Pope.5 (2) applies, because it regards the jus of holding the papal office. Therefore, (3) follows: the Church supplies executive power of governance, which in this case is spelled out by the decree of Vatican I. Finally, (4) also follows, which means that for all purposes, public and private, even in the internal forum of the conscience, Catholics are to accept Pope Francis as the pope.”

    The conclusion that “Catholics are to accept Pope Francis as the pope” does not follow. The reason is that Canon 144 concerns common error and positive doubt. Catholics who hold that Benedict XVI is still pope do not subscribe to common error or positive doubt. Therefore, Canon 144 does not apply to them.

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