Francis: Anti-Christ? Only God knows…

Steve Skojec, at the blog One Peter Five (IP5) writes:  

Over the weekend, noteworthy Catholic blogger Ann Barnhardt published an essay in which she states that she believes “Jorge Bergoglio, ‘Francis’ to be an Antipope, never having been canonically elected, and that Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI is still the Roman Pontiff.” She goes further, asserting that

The sheer quantity of evidence, and the diversity of the confluent evidence sets, is now so utterly overwhelming that I believe that a person, fully informed of the dataset, would have to engage in the willful suspension of disbelief to continue to acknowledge Bergoglio as Roman Pontiff.

The same day Pope Benedict XVI announced his abdication, lightning struck the Vatican twice.

The same day Pope Benedict XVI announced his abdication, lightning struck the Vatican twice.

I am friendly with Ann. We’ve done a couple of podcasts together, and we correspond occasionally. When she’s right, she’s a rhetorical weapon of mass destruction, and one that can be a wonder to behold. That said, I don’t always agree that she’s completely dialed in (or needs to go to 11). And in this case, to be honest, I find her argument significantly less persuasive than she does. Nevertheless, I’m beginning to see it referenced in our comment box, as well as in other places online. This makes it difficult to ignore – in particular since opinions along this spectrum have, in the wake of one papal scandal after another, been showing up with increasing frequency in online Catholic discourse.

I’m not going to devote the time and research necessary to write a deeply substantive critique of Ann’s theory. Briefly, though, I do want to address some issues I have with her argument.

To begin with, three of the five prophecies she cites are of questionable provenance. The St. Francis of Assisi prophecy is the most significant of these, since to read it one feels as though it is meant for our present time. Nonetheless, it is considered apocryphal by scholars of Catholic prophecy like Desmond Birch and Emmett O’Reagan (among others). No one has traced this prophecy back to St. Francis himself — it does not appear in his existing works. The prophecy as Ann cites it comes from the 1882 book, Works of the Seraphic Father St. Francis Of Assisi, by R. Washbourne. The introduction to this book itself states that it is a translation “made from the edition of the ‘Works of St. Francis’ published at Cologne in the year 1848. As the work is intended to be a practical and devotional one, no critical notes have been introduced, nor references to the authors from whom Wadding made his collection.” The Wadding in question was the 17th century Franciscan Friar Luke Wadding, whose own work is considered by some scholars to include spurious texts. In the editor’s introduction to a 1906 edition of Wadding’s text, now available online, we read that

Wadding’s edition of the Opuscula differs mainly from all preceding collections in this, that whereas the latter contained only those pieces which as regards both matter and form were the handiwork of St. Francis, Wadding felt justified in including among St. Francis’ writings many dicta of the Saint found in the early Legends.  […]

Thus it comes to pass that in Wadding’s edition, side by side with the undisputed writings of St. Francis, we find doubtful, even spurious, extracts from different sources attributed to the Seraphic Father. It must ever remain a matter of regret that Wadding, instead of following the oldest MSS. that he had at hand, was content to transcribe the incomplete and often interpolated parts of them he found in second-hand compilations, like that of Mark of Lisbon. His work from our standpoint is vitiated by imperfect research and unreliable criticism.

This 1906 edition, in fact, had many of these questionable writings removed by the Friars Minor of Quaracchi, including “all the colloquies, prophecies, parables, etc…”

The message of La Salette concerning Rome becoming “the seat of the Antichrist” bears some merit according to the Church’s prophetic understanding of that figure, but this section of the otherwise-approved La Salette apparitions has been in dispute for some time as a possible later invention of the seer Mélanie Mathieu, who was struggling with cloistered life at the time. Many scholars do not therefore consider this portion of the messages authentic. In any case Francis is most certainly not the Antichrist, though one could argue that he is a type thereof.

Finally, the Fatima message Ann cites is part of a rumored text, not part of any of the officially released secrets of Fatima. Fr. Paul Kramer — himself also of the same opinion as Ann about Benedict being the true pope — attributed this quote to a paraphrase of Cardinal Oattaviani concerning an unrevealed Fatima secret in May of this year. With no official documentation of this language, it serves as a point of interest, but cannot be relied upon for accuracy until the full texts of those messages is finally published.

Moving on to the question of Pope Benedict’s resignation, Archbishop Gänswein’s statements about an expanded papal ministry, though newsworthy because of his closeness to both popes, are still technically nothing but his own theorizing. Similarly, the idea that Pope Benedict’s abdication falls under the canonical invalidity of “substantial error” is, as far as any outside observer is concerned, tenuous at best. We don’t know that he actually believed that he could expand the Petrine Ministry into a diarchy (and in fact he has flatly denied the theories that there was some defect in his resignation) regardless of what Gänswein theorizes. Recall the letter that the Pope Emeritus sent to Andrea Tornielli in 2014:

“There is absolutely no doubt regarding the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry” and the “speculations” surrounding it are “simply absurd”.

Joseph Ratzinger was not forced to resign, he was not pressured into it and he did not fall victim to a conspiracy: his resignation was genuine and valid and there is no “diarchy” (dual government) in the Church today. There is a reigning Pope, Francis, who leads the Catholic Church and an Emeritus Pope whose “only purpose” is to pray for his successor.

I understand why people question this, but barring something concrete from Benedict himself, it remains within the realm of conjecture, not certitude, to assert that his abdication took place under different circumstances than he himself has admitted.

The questions surrounding the election of Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio are, I think, somewhat more meritorious, inasmuch as we have the admission of the members of the so-called “St. Gallen Mafia” of a conspiracy to put Bergoglio on the Petrine throne. That said, we do not know that Bergoglio himself colluded with them, and if he did not, even their offenses would not invalidate his election (though they should, if Universi Dominici Gregis is to be believed, result in the automatic excommunication of those involved.)

Ann goes on to list “Bergoglio’s Litany of Heresies,” and she’ll get no argument from me that these are all deeply troubling. Are they all manifestly heretical, though? Are they obdurately and formally so? Again, this is where certitude fails. And if they did amount to material heresy, theologians remain uncertain about whether the Bellarmine/Suarez hypothesis really plays out as hypothesized.

The rest of Ann’s nearly 5,000 word essay deals mostly with her own competence to make such claims, and rebuttals to anticipated responses. Her argument, such as it is, is expended in the first half of her piece. In fact, if one removes her introductory statement and the sections on prophecy, Bergoglian heresies, her authority to make such statements, and anticipated objections/rebuttals, one is left with less than a thousand words of actual argumentation about the improper resignation of Benedict and the invalid election of Francis.

And I find neither section persuasive, for the reasons I’ve already stated.

Is it possible that Ann is correct? Yes, it is, but we can’t know it with certainty until the Church makes a declaration as such. Is it possible that she’s wrong? Yes, and I find this to be more likely. Not that it improves things — it’s a much harder situation to deal with if Francis is a validly elected pope than if he isn’t; in the latter case, he can simply be dismissed, and his works undone. In the former case, we have to contend with the reality of the most theologically destructive pope in Church history, and the fallout of that is most likely going to take generations to set right.

But again: I think arguments like these waste valuable time. Someone wrote to me a few weeks ago to get my opinion on another article along the lines of Ann’s essay. My response was as follows:

Frankly, I tend to stay away from these kinds of arguments. They can be interesting, but they can also tempt us to try to ascertain with some degree of certitude what can only be known by an authoritative judgment from the Church.

Is it possible that Francis was invalidly elected or that Benedict invalidly resigned? Yes. It’s possible. Will attempting to reach these conclusions on our own give us any peace of mind, or even a form of actionable certainty? Nope.

For my part, I trust that while Christ may be asleep in the boat as the storm worsens, He can quiet the waves with a word. He is asking us to simply be faithful enough to trust that He will do so when the time comes.

Eventually, this will all get sorted out. Whether Francis is an antipope or a valid pope, his papacy will undoubtedly be condemned by future generations. The charisms of indefectibility and infallibility still apply, and Francis will not be able to unmake them. Instead, he’s forced to go around them. And that means being sneaky and underhanded, which is what we’re all picking up on. He will lead many souls astray, but  Our Lord predicted that there would be such false teachers and prophets, and St. Paul said (Acts 20, IIRC) that there would be wolves who would enter in amongst the shepherds.

We’ll get through it. The way I see it, we all have enough headaches without trying to sort out a juridical mess that might just require divine guidance. And nobody wants to be a sedevacantist. They’re about as much fun as lemonjuice at a papercut party.

Ann is NOT a sedevacantist, as she makes clear. She just thinks we still have the same pope we had in February, 2013. Is she right? Not my call. Does it matter? On an objective level, of course it does. To know the true pope from the false one is better than not to know it. But we can’t know that with the certitude of an ecclesiastical judgment. Not yet.

Trying to figure out whether a man who claims to be pope is or is not the pope by reading things on the Internet and drawing conclusions from them is like trying to diagnose your own ailment by Googling your symptoms: the odds are you’re going to convince yourself you have some rare or incurable condition instead of whatever ordinary malady you’re actually suffering from; but even if you get it right and it’s something just awful, what are you going to do about it? You still have to go to the doctor to get it taken care of. You can’t just treat yourself.

Ann herself admits, practically speaking, that her conclusion really changes nothing for the average Catholic in the pews:

First and foremost: Masses in which an antipope is commemorated in the Canon by the priest offering the Holy Sacrifice IS A VALID MASS.  The Eucharist is confected, the Holy Sacrifice is offered.   

Further, I have been assured in the strongest possible terms that for me to receive Holy Communion in a Mass in which I know that Bergoglio has been commemorated as Pope is NOT an act of hypocrisy on my part. I know that the Mass is valid.  I know that the Eucharist was confected. I know that Our Lord is desirous to come to me and I to Him in the Sacrament of the Altar, provided I am in a state of grace.

If my position on Bergoglio is correct, which I obviously believe that it is, what this means is that the commemoration of him as Pope in the Canon is either ILLICIT, or MISTAKEN.  We have a clear historical precedent for this.  During the Great Western Schism, due purely to political intrigue and NOT any questions of heresy, there were three men simultaneously claiming to be pope.  One of these men was the True Pope, and the other two were antipopes.  These antipopes were not blaspheming heretics like Bergoglio.  Again, the entire situation was due purely to POLITICAL INTRIGUE.  And so, two giants of the Church – both saints and one a Doctor of the Church, backed different “popes”.  What this means is that one of these saints was wrong, and one was right.  Who was the saint that backed the True Pope?  It was St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church, and laywoman. Did you know that St. Catherine was NOT a professed nun?  She was a Dominican tertiary (third order) who was given permission to wear the Dominican habit.  She was a laywoman.

And who was the saint, one of the true intellectual giants of the Church, who was wrong and backed an antipope?  It was St. Vincent Ferrer, who was a priest, and thus offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass many, many times having commemorated an antipope in the Canon.

Here is an interesting precision: St. Vincent Ferrer’s commemoration of an antipope is not even called “illicit” – it is called “mistaken”.

My suggestion is this: rather than worry about which one of the two popes in Rome is the real one — something the Church will resolve in time, without our help — I believe we should focus our efforts on combating the errors that Francis is promoting and Benedict is doing nothing to stop. And we should do so by promoting authentic Catholic teaching as an antidote. Coming to a better understanding of that teaching, and finding new and effective ways to disseminate it, is far more efficacious than idle speculation over something we can’t determine definitively and will never have the power to remedy.

Comment: 

The position taken by the author of the above article at One Peter Five is exactly that of Catholic Truth, as regular readers and bloggers here will know.  Steve’s excellent research work, especially with regard to the quotes offered to substantiate the theory that Pope Francis is the “anti-Christ”  (notably the quote popularly attributed to St Francis) makes the above article a singularly important contribution to the debate about this pontificate;  comments are invited which will, I’m sure, largely merely endorse the thrust of Steve’s argument that it is really pointless to speculate on the status of Pope Francis’ pontificate, because only God knows the answer to the “anti-Christ” question.  We have no authority or power to pronounce on this.  If necessary, the Church will do so in due course.  Our task is simple: we recognise Francis as Pope but resist his errors – as we resisted the errors of his modernist predecessors elected since the Second Vatican Council.  

Who’s Afraid of Sedevacantism?

Recently, Father Anthony Cekada released a video entitled “Why Traditionalists Fear Sedevacantism”.  The video is a response to the soon-to-be-released book by John Salza and Robert Siscoe, True or False Pope. Interestingly, rather than demonstrating that Traditionalists fear Sedevacantism, Father Cekada’s remarks suggest that he fears Traditionalists critiques of Sedevacantism. Rather than responding to arguments and drawing necessary distinctions, Father Cekada resorts to ad hominem attacks and oversimplifications.   TrueofFalsePopeBOOKCOVER.pngbest

The first sign of Father Cekada’s fear is the timing of the video. As Father admits in the first few minutes of the video, he has not even read the new book by Salza and Siscoe, nor could he have because it was not released at the time he made the video. Why would Father Cekada feel the need to attack a book he has not even read yet (other than a preface posted online)? Must he launch this preemptive strike because he fears the unknown text might actually refute his position?   Father Cekada’s only two criticisms of the book (not surprisingly, he has only two since he has not actually read the book) are its reported length and the use of some arguably hyperbolic language on the back cover.

As to the first, I can say having reviewed an advance copy of the book that it is quite long but this is because the book is extremely comprehensive. The authors not only dedicate significant space in the book to explaining and refuting the arguments of the Sedevacantists opinion in general but they present significant information on the theological positions of some of the greatest theologians in Church history who have discussed the possibility of a heretical pope, especially Francisco Suarez and St. Robert Bellarmine. The authors present evidence from these writings which to my knowledge have not been analyzed in the debates over this topic in the past few decades. At a minimum this new book does the service of presenting new historical information to the discussion. In my opinion, a trite argument lacking depth of research is more to be feared than a well-researched and documented argument, although the latter may be a bit intimidating to modern audiences drunk on the thirty-second sound bite and 140-character Twitter limit.

As to the second point, I agree that some of the colorful description of the Sedevacantist opinion on the back cover of the book may be a bit exaggerated in tone. Yet, this style is not uncommon on book covers. Importantly, although they use rather strong language about the Sedevacantist argument the authors in no way insult or personally attack any persons holding the Sedevacantist opinion. Unfortunately, Father Cekada does not reciprocate but instead attacks and calumniates traditionalist figures in his video. Most appallingly, Father Cekada attacks the Society of St. Pius X and His Excellency Bishop Fellay particularly by arguing that they reject the Sedevacantist opinion because it is more lucrative to do so. He argues that there is more money to be made in what he calls the R&R position (recognize and resist) as it is more popular and acceptable to the donating public. He makes these unfounded claims while displaying pictures of Bishop Fellay and the new SSPX seminary under construction in Virginia. Although the money grubbing calumny is more oblique with reference to the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the video still implies financial concerns drove the Archbishop’s thinking. Father Cekada further attacks the Archbishop by suggesting his refusal of the Sedevacantist opinion was due to a closet Gallicanism harbored by the late Archbishop.

In any event, Father Cekada’s assertion that the SSPX rejects Sedevacantism out of human respect because the Traditionalist position is viewed as less extreme lacks basis in reality. Be it those attached to the Conciliar Church or secularists, such a distinction is not recognized. Both Traditionalists and Sedevacantists are treated as beyond the pale and extremists by the “mainstream.” In my own SSPX chapel community, I know of a lady who was fired as a teacher in a diocesan school for merely attending one Mass at the SSPX chapel. So much for the cozy acceptance of the SSPX position in contrast to Sedevacantism. Father should simply recognize that anyone overly concerned with human respect would neither be a Traditionalist nor hold the Sedevacantist position. In addition to the SSPX, Father Cekada calumniates the late Father Nicholas Gruner by also implying a financial motive behind his lifelong apostolate which Father Cekada refers to with the derogatory phrase, “the Fatima Industry.” I know from personal experience that Father Gruner lived in the most simple and humble accommodations. He carefully made certain that the donations made to the Fatima Center were used to make known the message of repentance of Our Lady of Fatima, which Father Cekada dismisses. Contrary to Father Cekada’s suggestion neither Christopher Ferrara nor Father Gruner simply dismissed Sedevacantism on the basis of the Third Secret of Fatima. They, especially Father Gruner, gave the opinion due consideration on the merits. Messrs. Salza and Siscoe have penned hundreds of pages to engaging the issues, rather than dismissing arguments with trite but catchy phrases as in Father Cekada’s video.

Like the Archbishop, whom I have heard discuss the issue in a recording of a conference given in English in the 1970s, Father Gruner did not dismiss the possibility that Paul VI or other post-Conciliar Popes would someday be adjudicated false or anti popes. Is it possible? Both the Archbishop and Father Gruner acknowledged the theoretical possibility but, unlike Father Cekada, they recognized that a single priest or even Archbishop was not competent to definitively declare a man to be an anti-pope and require obedience to such a private judgment. The Archbishop and Father Gruner humbly acknowledged the possibility, leaving the matter to competent authorities and simply kept praying and believing as the Church has always done.

Turning to the two attempts at argument that Father Cekada puts forward in the video, we see that he mischaracterizes what figures such as the Archbishop, Bishop Fellay, Father Gruner, and Messrs. Salza and Siscoe have said. They do not say only a statement stamped with infallibility is to be obeyed. They have consistently maintained that only a legitimate exercise of authority must be obeyed, which statement is simply a perennial Catholic principle. Starting from the premise that all authority comes from God, Catholic theology and philosophy have always held that the binding nature of a command comes not from the human agent who utters it but solely from the authority of God. As St. Thomas explains, the command of a Man holding an office vested with authority binds only to the extent that a command conforms to the Natural and Divine Law. When that Man, be he a pope, king or president, issues a command contrary to the higher law it does not bind in conscience and if it compels violation of higher law it must be refused. Thus, a command to use the Novus Ordo which offends against both the Divine and Natural Law does not bind in conscience not because it lacks a stamp of infallibility but because it fails to participate in God’s sovereign authority. This is the principle of legitimate disobedience to unjust commands.

Secondly, Father Cekada ridicules the analogy of the “bad Dad.” As Father Cekada well knows, analogies are never perfect but merely illustrative as they are analogical and not univocal. The analogy is merely meant to illustrate a corollary to the above defined principle. When a Man in authority issues an illegitimate command the command lacks the quality of authority requiring obedience but the fact of attempting to bind in conscience erroneously does not in and of itself depose the Man from the office which if used correctly could result in commands that require obedience. There are certainly many distinctions between a father and a pope but the analogy is merely meant to illustrate the principle.

Rather than Traditionalists fearing Sedevacantism, it seems that those holding the opinion rather fear the complexity of the crisis God has willed to permit His Church undergo. Rather than the arduous work of sifting through the confusion that has been coming out of the Vatican and chanceries for decades and applying certain Catholic principles to make proper distinctions between legitimate commands and those that lack authority, the opinion of Sedevacantism proposes an alluring simple black and white solution that avoids this difficult work of discernment. Like Conciliar Catholics who unthinkingly accept everything coming out of the Vatican press office, Sedevacantists take an analogous approach of accepting nothing. In different ways both avoid the more arduous path. Traditionalists who hold fast to the principle of discernment have nothing to fear. If Jorge Bergoglio is the Vicar of Christ, they will render obedience when required, if he legitimately commands what is in harmony with higher law, and they will withhold obedience when he exceeds his authority. They will therefore not be led into erroneous actions.

If we learn from the Church someday that he was not a legitimate pope, then we still have nothing to fear. We will have only obeyed commands that are consistent with Divine and Natural Law and we will have made merely an error in factual judgment. We acknowledged a Man who has been accepted as the pope by Catholics throughout the world. We know from the Great Schism that merely being wrong about this factual issue in the context of confusing times does not separate one from the Church of Rome. Canonized saints were incorrect in their assessment of who in fact was the legitimate pope. Thus, we have nothing to fear if someday the Church adjudicates that one or more of the Men of the post Conciliar era were not legitimate popes. We will have held fast to the truths of the Faith and refused any command contrary to Divine or Natural Law and shown ourselves willing to submit to the legitimate authority.

Yet, as we shall see, the longer the crisis in the Church continues the less plausible is the opinion that each and every Man since 1958 has been an antipope (even if perhaps one or the other might have been). Rather, it is those holding the Sedevacantist opinion who should fear the state of affairs they hold to be true. If it were true that no pope has reigned since John XXIII, there are no valid Cardinals, and there is no Roman clergy (by definition if there is no bishop to validly and legitimately ordain and incardinate them into the Roman church), then the Church in her essential nature would have defected. There would be no method for continuing the Roman Church or the election of a new pope. The Sedevacantist opinion was more plausible in the early 1970s when there were pre-Conciliar Cardinals who could restore the papacy (or at least a Roman clergy to elect a pope according to prior practice). The longer the crisis continues the less plausible becomes the Sedevacantist opinion that none of the popes since 1958 have held office because the methods consistent with the Church’s Constitution for a valid papal election become impossible to achieve.

Father Cekada essentially admitted to me in email correspondence several years ago that the Sedevacantist opinion holders have no real answer to the preservation of the Church’s indefectibility. The most he could come up with was a Deus ex Machina assertion that God would in some in explicable way give the Church a pope. Yet, in the 2,000-year history of the Church, this is a complete novelty. Even in the darkest hour of the Great Schism and the Babylonian Captivity, the essential structures of the Church remained intact. God is certainly not bound absolutely by the structures of the Church He created (as He was not bound to transmit the merits of the redemption through a Church) yet having chosen to make use of the structures of the Church, He would not allow those structures to vanish through a complete lapse of a hierarchy for so long that the means of its own preservation have all become extinct.

The Church is a perfect society and as such must always be self-sufficient in pursuing its perfect end. Rather than fearing the misuse of God’s authority that requires subjects to apply the principles of higher law, those holding the Sedevacantist opinion should fear that with every passing year they implicitly deny the indefectibility of the Church.  Source

Comment:

Anybody here afraid of Sedevacantism? Speak!