The scholarly gathering will examine canonical issues surrounding heretical pontiffs
by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D. • ChurchMilitant • March 16, 2017
PARIS – An upcoming gathering of canon lawyers, theologians and scholars will explore the extraordinary question of the mechanisms for deposing a pope. Titled “Deposing the Pope: Theological Premises, Canonical Models, Constitutional Challenges,” the conference is inspired by the recently published book by Laurent Fonbaustier, “The Deposition of the Heretical Pope.”
Sponsored by several French universities, including the Sorbonne, the itinerary will include 15 speakers offering talks on topics like “Conciliarism and the Deposition of a Pope Through the Prism of Gallicanism,” “The Downfall of the Pope: Between Renunciation and Deposition,” and “The Deposition of John XXIII and Benedict XIII at Constance, 1415–1417.”
Fonbaustier’s book itself was inspired by a renewed interest in Gratian’s decretal: “The pope is not judged by anyone — unless he deviates from the Faith.”
The site of the conference is significant: It was in the 1300s that the University of Paris explored the question of the possibly heretical Pope John XXII. A debate erupted over the primacy of the pope, with some scholars issuing the Defensor Paces, which argued that all Church power, including that of the pope, must be subject to the State. The document was anathematized by papal bull in 1327, condemned by the University of Paris, with theologians defending the primacy of the pope.
As explained by Deacon Nick Donnelly,
Determined to meet the challenge of Pope John XXII’s error head on, King Philip VI called a meeting of the theological faculty of the University of Paris. On December 19, 1333 a commission of 23 masters of theology assembled under the presidency of the Dominican patriarch of Jerusalem, Peter de la Palud, and in the presence of the kings of France and Navarre, and many bishops, priests, and lay faithful. They unanimously declared their firm belief in established and continual Catholic teaching on the righteous soul’s immediate reward of the Beatific Vision on death and individual judgment.
The commission drew up a profession of faith which they signed, and submitted to Pope John XXII. The profession of faith was accompanied with a letter to the Holy Father which was polite and respectful, but also expressed clearly and firmly the result of their deliberations. They reminded Pope John XXII that he had declared that he had spoken as an individual theologian, not as Head of the Church infallibly defining a doctrine. They also expressed the hope that the Holy Father would give his apostolic sanction to their decision.
Pope John XXII ultimately withdrew his heretical views after the demand for a retraction.
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Two of the speakers at the upcoming conference include Professors Nicolas Warembourg and Cyrille Dounot, who signed a letter in June 2016 along with other scholars offering a theological critique of Amoris Laetitia, the pope’s apostolic exhortation on marriage and the family. The cover letter read:
As Catholic theologians and philosophers, church historians and pastors of souls, we are writing to you in your capacity as Dean of the College of Cardinals to request that the College of Cardinals and the Patriarchs of the Catholic Church take collective action to respond to the dangers to Catholic faith and morals posed by the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia issued by Pope Francis on March 19th 2016. This apostolic exhortation contains a number of statements that can be understood in a sense that is contrary to Catholic faith and morals. We have specified the nature and degree of the errors that could be attributed to Amoris laetitia in the accompanying document. We request that the Cardinals and Patriarchs petition the Holy Father to condemn the errors listed in the document in a definitive and final manner, and to authoritatively state that Amoris laetitia does not require any of them to be believed or considered as possibly true.
Dr. Joseph Shaw, spokesman for the group, later issued a letter in December, signed by 23 scholars, supporting the dubia cardinals.
“As Catholic scholars and pastors of souls, we wish to express our profound gratitude and full support for the courageous initiative of four members of the College of Cardinals, Their Eminences Walter Brandmüller, Raymond Leo Burke, Carlo Caffarra and Joachim Meisner,” the statement, released on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, began.
Shaw spoke with Church Militant at the time. “[W]hat we are facing today is open and official disunity of belief and Communion,” he remarked. “Bishops and bishops’ conferences are drawing up public guidelines on the basis of incompatible theological principles, and are openly and systematically admitting or refusing to admit to Communion completely different groups of people.”
The dubia, or questions, issued to the Holy Father in September by the four cardinals, come in light of confusion from Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia, particularly paragraphs 300–305, used by liberal bishops to promote opening up the sacraments to the divorced and civilly remarried, among other things, contrary to longstanding Church teaching and practice. Currently, multiple dioceses have issued contradictory guidelines implementing the apostolic exhortation.
The letter signed by 23 scholars sounds an ominous warning about the future of the Church.
With the reigning Pontiff now sounding a very uncertain trumpet in this battle against the “principalities and powers” of the Enemy, the barque of Peter is drifting perilously like a ship without a rudder, and indeed, shows symptoms of incipient disintegration. In such a situation, we believe that all Successors of the Apostles have a grave and pressing duty to speak out clearly and strongly in confirmation of the moral teachings clearly expounded in the magisterial teachings of previous popes and the Council of Trent.
The conference on deposing the pope will take place March 30–31 at the Center for Law and Religious Societies of the Legal Faculty Jean-Monnet of the University Paris-Sud in Sceaux, a suburb of Paris.