Can The Church Depose An Heretical Pope?: Four Opinions Written by Robert J. Siscoe

Can The Church Depose An Heretical Pope?

Four Opinions

Written by Robert J. Siscoe

John of St. Thomas discusses at length the four opinions enunciated by Cardinal Cajetan (41) regarding this question. Of these four opinions, there are two extreme opinions and two middle opinions.

The two extreme opinions are: That a Pope who commits the sin of heresy falls from the pontificate ipso facto without human judgment. The second holds that the Pope has a superior over him on earth, and therefore can be judged and deposed. Both of these opinions are shown to be false and therefore rejected. (42)

Within the two extreme opinions, there are two middle opinions: The first maintains that a Pope does not have a superior on earth unless he has fallen into heresy, in which case the Church would be superior to the Pope. This is a variant of Conciliarism and is therefore rejected. This leaves the second middle opinion which holds that the Pope has no superior on earth, even in the case of heresy, but that the Church does possess a ministerial power when it comes to deposing a heretical Pope. This opinion avoids the error of Conciliarism by affirming that the Church has no authority over a Pope, nor does the Church herself depose the pope, but only performs the ministerial function required for the deposition. The ministerial function consists of those acts which are necessary to establish that the Pope is indeed a heretic, which is then followed by a public declaratory sentence of the crime. It is God himself, however, who causes the man to fall from the Pontificate, but not without the Church herself performing the ministerial functions necessary to establish the crime.


41) Conciliarism & Papalism, Idem, p 83

42) Ibid pp 73-83