For some time the question of the loss of papal office has been of interest to certain segments of Traditionalism. One of the many “Francis-effects” we could speak of, however, is that this question has gone mainstream due to the Pontiff’s many gaffes or statements that at least leave one scratching their head to figure it out, even amongst some conservatives who are not Traditionalists. In fact, Francis’ papacy is causing a lot of discussion on a lot of issues regarding the Papacy as such, and in particular in the conservative world, as can be seen from Antionio Socci, a conservative, non-Trad Medjugorie devotee, who questions Francis’ election and even published a book on the subject. Now I’m not saying Francis is a heretic or not really the Pope, even though I can properly say I am perplexed and often annoyed when he says nearly anything. Regardless of what I think, this is becoming an increasingly discussed issue.
So, in order to add something positive to the question, I have provided Suarez’s assessment of the loss of Papal office, which will be an interesting addition to the more generally known opinion of his Jesuit confrere St. Robert Bellarmine.
De Fide, Disputation X, de Summo Pontifice. Translated by Ryan Grant
Whether One Who is a True Pope Should Necessarily Exist as Such While he Lives; or Whether he Could Fall from the Papal Dignity for Some Reason.
- The First Assertion is Proven from Law.
I say firstly that the Pope can lay aside the dignity of his own will. It is defined thus, and at times it has happened which is clear from history; but there can be a controversy on whether it would be fitting for him to await the consensus of the Church, or at least the Cardinals in order that his renunciation might be valid. Certainly this question pertains more to canonists than to us, still I do not think it is necessary. For the Pontiff teaches in the above citation simply that he can freely resign; and also because while other it is not valid for other bishops or prelates to freely resign their charge because they have the Pope for a superior, they ought to await his consent. But the Pope has no such superior; and therefore just as he was established without a superior, so let him renounce without a superior, as Glossa says in De Renuntiatione.
- A Dubium, in which it is argued for the negative side – The Affirming Opinion o Others – Their Foundation – Firstly Confirmed – Secondly Confirmed from the Fathers – Confirmed from Reason
A special question is whether the Pope could be deprived against his will, because it does not appear he may be deprived by someone; he is never deposed immediately by God, since there is no ordinary divine law on the matter, nor should it be considered that God would do it by some extraordinary manner. Again, it seems he cannot be deposed from the pontificate by any man, because the Pope does not have an earthly superior. The opinions are heaped up on this matter, in each manner on account of the different reasons the Pope could be deprived of the dignity. For, in the case of heresy, they say he is immediately deposed by God, without any regard to the judgment of men. Thus Turrecremata thinks, as well as many others. The Foundation is, that all jurisdiction in the Church is founded on faith, according to what is read in 1 Corinthians III: “No man can place any foundation apart from that which has been placed, etc.” Augustine explains this: “If Christ is the foundation, so also the faith of Christ;” and in the first chapter to the Colossians: “Being founded in faith.” Therefore, if faith is the foundation of the Church, therefore it is also the foundation of the pontificate and of the very hierarchical order of the Church. It is confirmed for that reason, that in Matthew XVI Christ seems to demand a confession of faith from Peter first, before he would promise this dignity to him. It is confirmed secondly: the Fathers often show that no one lacking faith can have jurisdiction in the Church. Thirdly it is confirmed by the common argument, that a heretic is not a member of the Church, therefore he cannot be the head. Likewise, a heretic ought not be greeted, but altogether shunned, as Paul and John teach; therefore much less obeyed. Lastly a heretical Pope denies Christ and the true Church; therefore even his own dignity, therefore because of this very thing he is deprived of the dignity.
- The Second Assertion, also concerning which de Legibus speaks, bk 4, ch. 7 at the end –
Against this opinion I say secondly: in no case, even of heresy, is the Pontiff deprived form his dignity and power immediately by God himself, without undergoing the judgment and sentence of men. So today it is commonly thought by Cajetan, Domingo de Soto, Melchior Cano, Corduba and others. And among other things dealing with the penalties for heretics we will relate, and show that generally no one at all is deprived from dignity ecclesiastical and jurisdiction for the fault of heresy by divine law. Now the reasoning is briefly given a priori, because since this would be the most serious penalty, that it should be incurred ipso facto, it is fitting that it be expressly by divine law; but no such law is discovered, which either states the fact generally on heretics, or particularly on bishops, or most specially on the Pope; likewise tradition holds nothing certain on the matter; nor can the Pope truly fall ipso facto from his dignity on account of human law, because that would be imposed whether by an inferior, such as a council, or by an equal, namely a preceding Pope; but neither of these has coactive force that it might avail to punish an equal Pontiff, or a superior; because etc.
- The Instance is answered. – Another Instance is rejected.
You will say that law can be an interpreter of divine law. Still this is an invention, because no such divine law is advanced; besides no law hitherto from Councils or Popes has been imposed that interprets divine law. It is confirmed, because a law of this sort would be pernicious to the Church; it cannot be believed that it was established by Christ; the foregoing is proven, because if the Pope were a secret heretic, by that law he would fall from the dignity, and everything done by him would be void. You will say this reasoning at least does not prove the case concerning a notorious and public heretic. But it is still opposed, because if he is also a heretic on the outside, but it was still concealed, yet he can be a true Pope, he will be able to be so for the same reason, be the crime made known, as long as a sentence would not be pronounced concerning him; both because no one falls into a penalty unless it is either ipso facto, or through a sentence; and because greater inconveniences would thus follow; we would certainly fall into doubt in regard to how infamous he ought to be so that he would be reckoned to fall from the dignity; thus schism would ensue and everything would be thrown into perplexity, especially if, after the infamy, through force or some other means he would retain possession of his see, and exercise many more acts of his office. Secondly it is very forcefully confirmed, because if it should happen that a Pope would become a heretic on the outside, but it was still concealed, that afterward he would recover his senses and truly punish, the perplexity would altogether be avoided, for if through heresy he fell from the dignity, he ought altogether to yield the pontificate, which is very serious, and it is almost against the law of nature for him to give it up; but he could not retain the episcopate because it would be intrinsically evil. Wherefore, the authors of the contrary opinion affirm, in that case he could retain the episcopate, and really be Pope, which is the common opinion of the Canonists with Glossa in Nunc autem, d. 21. From which point the obvious argument is taken up against them; for the Papal dignity is not restored by God through penance, as grace is; it is unheard of, that one who was not a true Pope, is made Pope without the election and ministry of men. At length, faith is not necessary in every sort of thing, that a man should have the capacity for spiritual and ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and he could exercise true acts examining such jurisdiction; therefore, etc. The foregoing is clearly manifest, nay more in extreme necessity a heretical priest can absolve, as is taught in the matter on penance and censures, because he is not without jurisdiction.
- On the contrary foundation in number 2 – On the First Confirmation in the same place – On the Second – On the Third.
From there, the foundation of the contrary opinion comes to ruin; just as faith is not a necessary foundation to the power of order, which is more outstanding in its mode, so neither for jurisdiction. Furthermore, no author, I believe, will say to this with a shadow of probability, that the papal dignity is lost through interior heresy alone, although it would be certain that he lost faith. Nor are testimonies adduced to the matter, because the discussion is not on the foundation of ecclesiastical jurisdiction and dignity, but on the primary foundation of the whole Church and justification, and of all spiritual goods, which is Christ and his faith. Moreover, it is not a probable argument taken up form the deed of Christ with Peter; one could say other things in the same manner, e.g. charity is the foundation of the pontifical dignity, because Christ also asked Peter whether he loved him; therefore, as we said above (section 4, num. 4,) Christ only wished to show what was necessary in a Pontiff, that he could fittingly exercise his office; and in almost the same mode the Fathers speak, who besides would have it that a heretic is deprived of all dignity and jurisdiction; sometimes they also treat on deprived bishops, supposing ecclesiastical law, on which we will speak further down. To the third confirmation it is responded in one word, that a heretical Pope is not a member of the Church, in regard to substance and form whereby they are constituted members of the Church, still he can be the head in regard to office and influence. This should not be marveled at, because God does not influence the first and special head by his virtue, but just as instrumentally and the vicar of the first head [Christ], because he is capable of giving spiritual influence to the members, just as through the bronze head; for a proportional reason sometimes he baptizes through heretics, sometimes he even absolves through them, as it was said.
- The Third common Assertion –
I say thirdly, if a Pope were a heretic and incorrigible, when first a declaratory sentence of the crime were to be advanced against him through the legitimate jurisdiction of the Church, he ceases to be Pope. This is the common teaching of Doctors; it is gathered from Clement I in his first epistle, where he says Peter taught a heretical Pope must be deposed. Moreover the foundation is this, that it would be a very serious harm to the Church to have such a pastor, nor could it assist itself in such a grave danger; besides it goes against the dignity of the Church to remain subject to a heretical Pope, nor can the Church dislodge him by itself; for of what type the prince and priest he is, such the people are usualy reckoned: likewise the reasons of the prior opinion confirm this, especially by the fact that heresy crawls as a crab, on account of that evil of a heretic, in so far as he can become one, must be shunned, but how much more a heretical pastor; still, how can he be shunned, if he does not cease to be a pastor?
- The First Dubium on the Assertion – The Response of Some – a Truer Response
On this conclusion, however, there are several things that must be explained. Firstly, by whom a sentence of this sort ought to be imposed. Some say it must be imposed by the Cardinals; and some that the Church could also commit this case to them, especially if from a consensus or ordination of the supreme Pontiffs it were so established, just it was done on his election; but we have not read to this point that this judgment was consigned to them; and therefore it must be said that in itself it pertains to all Bishops of the Church; for since they may be ordinary pastors and columns of the Church, it must be believed a case of this kind is of importance to them, and since there is no greater reason by divine law concerning the former than the latter, and nothing is stated by human law on this, necessarily it must be said to pertain to all, and thus to a general Council, and so the common opinion of the Doctors has it. It seems that some things on this point have been sufficiently treated by Cardinal Albanus, in his work on the Cardinals, quaest. 35, and it is contained among the treatise of the edition of the year 1584, in tom. 13, p. 2.
- The Second Dubium. – It is Resolved in two ways.
Then we run into the second dubium, how can such a Council be legitimately gathered, since the legitimate gathering [of a Council] pertains to the Pope. Firstly it may be said it is not fitting to compel a proper general Council, and it would be enough to convoke provincial Councils in individual regions or perhaps national ones by Archbishops, or primates, and for all to come together in the same opinion. Secondly, since a general Council is fitting to define matters of faith, or to impose universal laws, then it would be fitting, that it might be legitimate, to be declared by the Pope; but to this business which peculiarly concerns the Pontiff himself, which is in a certain measure contrary to him, it could be legitimately gathered either by the College of Cardinals, or from a consensus of Bishops; and if the Pope would attempt to impede a gathering of this sort, he would not be obeyed, because he would abuse his supreme power against justice and the common good.
- The Third Dubium. – The Response of Cajetan is Refuted. –
From here the Third uncertainty arises, by what law could the Pope be judged by that congregation, since he would be superior to it? Cajetan is marvelously vexed in the matter, lest he would be compelled to admit the Church or a Council stands above the Pope in the case of heresy; at length he concludes they indeed stand above the Pope, but as a private person, not as Pope. This distinction does not satisfy, for in the same mode that he affirms the Church validly judges the Pope and punishes him, not as Pope but as a private person; likewise, because the Pope is superior in so far as he is Pope, it is nothing other than that person by reason of his dignity that is exempt from all jurisdiction of another man, and has jurisdiction over others, as is clear from each and every other dignity; and it is explained, for the pontifical dignity does not make one abstractly and metaphysically superior, but really in the individual superior and subject to none; therefore etc. Moreover, the Council gathered on this matter in the time of Pope Marcellus, when it declared “The First see is judged by no one,” it said that concerning the very person of Marcellus, who was certainly a private person; so also Pope Nicholas relates in his epistle to the Emperor Michael, where he mentions a similar decree published in the Roman Council under Sylvester I, and we could bring many more things to bear.
- A difficult Response of Others – An Easier Response – It is Declared when a silent objection occurs, with which the author agrees, l. 4 contra Jacobum, c. 6, n. 17 – Many Different Ways –
Therefore, others affirm the Church is superior to the Pope in the case of heresy, but this is difficult to say. For Christ the Lord constituted the Pope as supreme judge absolutely; even the canons indifferently and generally affirm this; and at length the Church does not validly exercise any act of jurisdiction against the Pope, nor is the power conferred to it by election, rather he merely designates a person upon whom Christ confers the power by himself; therefore when the Church would depose a heretical Pope, it is not as a superior that excels him, but from the consensus of Christ the Lord it juridically declares him to be a heretic, and even altogether unworthy of the dignity of Pope; and then ipso facto he is immediately deposed by Christ, and deposed he would remain inferior, and could be punished. Yet, it must be added, although the Church before its declaration could not coerce a heretical Pope through the manner of a superior and as one having jurisdiction over him, still by natural law for its defense could coerce him, if by chance he plotted some harm against the Church, or tried to impede the gathering of a general Council. For that reason it is certain, that by divine law the Pontiff would be deposed by the Church latae sentetiae, firstly I respond that I brought the testimony of Clement from the mouth of Peter; secondly the Holy Scriptures, which command heretics to be shunned sufficiently show this; thirdly, it is so held from the common consensus of the Church and the Popes, fourthly, natural reason so teaches, because it is scarcely believable that Christ left the Church destitute of all remedy in such a danger; furthermore it appears especially suited to be adduced to the case on which we are disputing.
- The Fourth Dubium – The Response of Cajetan – On What Agreement the Said Response Might be Acceptable –
It can fourthly be doubted on a Pope who once had been a heretic, yet afterward would have emended. Cajetan teaches above that he ought not or cannot be deposed, because he would no longer be a heretic, as is contained in the heading Dixit Apostolus, 24, q. 3, and can be gathered from the deed of Marcellinus, under the heading Nunc autem, distinction 21, where Glossa agrees; as well as the heading Si Papa, distinction 40, where the Canonists opine that, it also seems to be the true opinion, especially with the management of Cajetan, that the Pope must be admonished, e.g. that he is a heretic, once and again, and if he becomes reasonable again he must not be deposed; because if he was too contumacious, or certainly relapsed I believe he could and ought to be deposed, even if he would correct his errors, and swear perseverance, according to that in 1 Timothy. Thirdly: “A heretic, after the first and second warning is avoided:” nay more, Jacobatius says, in the eighth book de Concilio, in the second article, that the mind of the Canonists is plain, to proceed thus when the Pope falls into heresy and has not yet been publicly condemned by the Church, and he, taking notice, immediately comes to his senses; yet if he had erred contumaciously against the truth which has already been defined, there must be no more wait, rather he must be deposed on the spot; and because he already sensed once and was admonished a thousand times, it will not afterward be urged by any greater authority than that matter was on which he had defected; and because by his loftiness danger always threatens, lest he might feign conversion. All of which certainly may be said to be probable; still they proceed by supposing a true Pope can fall into heresy. But although many affirm it has the appearance of truth, still to me briefly and more pious and probable it seems, that the Pope can, as a private person, err from ignorance, still not from contumacy. Certainly, although God could effect that a heretical Pope would not harm the Church, still the manner of divine providence is sweeter, that because God promised that the Pope would never err in definitions, consequently he would provide lest he would ever be a heretic. Add, that to this point it has never happened in the Church, that it was thought by the ordination of God and providence that it could happen. And the same inconvenience would follow, if a secret heretic were chosen to be Pope, a fact that no one whom I have seen would deny it is possible; if such a thing would happen, it does not seem to be doubted that a Pontiff of this sort could persevere with his heresy. Yet, whatever might be the truth on these cases, altogether it must be believed that God would never allow that the Church would deviate into these narrow straights, they [the Canonists] suppose such doubts over effects; for if any such Pope would begin to administer the Church, either God would remove him from our midst immediately, or certainly he would provide by some cause that such an evil would be extinguished in short order, as we see he has always done in less pressing matters to this point.
- The Fifth Dubium –
Now it is expedient to deal with two other dubia which occur. The Fifth was, if an innocent Pope were to be proven a heretic, could he be deposed; and if he were to be deposed, would it hold in fact. Firstly, I would deny such a case would be possible, not only because the Holy Spirit would not permit an affair so pernicious to the universal Church, but even because the Pope could not be proved to harm the Church juridically, even if after a legitimate Council were gathered to this case; moreover it could not be gathered legitimately, unless it was after he would begin to be notorious and the crime of the pontiff were sufficiently manifest; but that would be difficult to believe, if the crime were false, and he never publicly professed, and it were be able to be evident in the estimation of all. Secondly, by admitting the case, it [the Church] would not be able to arrive at a just sentence of deposition, since being innocent, he will easily abjure all heresy, and very probably at least show signs of his innocence. Moreover whoever conducted himself in this fashion could not be justly deposed, as we said. But if, at length, the case were exercised in a manner that he could be justly condemned, that if he were accused of false crimes, and proven to relapse, it must be said in that as he is held to obedience, and on account of a doubt on whether he could be the true pastor of the Church, be obliged to renounce of his own will, that he would avoid the supreme condemnation of the Church. But if he were disinclined to renounce, I believe he would remain truly deposed, because the sentence is simply just, nor could he be sufficiently assisted by the Church in any other way.
13 The Sixth Dubium is Answered
The Sixth dubium was, what must be said in the present question if the Pope were a heretic exteriorly. Briefly the response is: if he were to exercise an act of idolatry by co-active force, or subscribe to a heresy, and afterward confess it was against his will that he did it, and he would deny that he so thought or still thought, he could not in that event be condemned or deposed, as it is certain from the acts of Pope Marcellus; still if he were to have considered it voluntarily, and were to have professed a heretical doctrine outwardly just as it was from his own opinion, whatever might be his interior faith, by the same reasoning and manner he can be proceeded against, in the same way as against every other heretic; not in as much as the Church judges on interior or secret matters; as much as because such a Pope harms the Church no less, than if he were a true heretic. Wherefore, if he would persist in a heresy even to condemnation and deposition, even if he inwardly never lost the faith, the sentence would be valid and obtain its effect: nor should care be given on the aforesaid of one, no matter how much he would declare in earnest that he had never denied the faith inwardly.
 Cap. 1 de Renuntiatione, in 6.
 Can. Nunc autem,, d. 12.
 John Turrecremata, bk 2, ch. 102, bk 4, 2p, et 18; Augustine of Ancona, de Potestate Papae, art. 5; Paludanus in Pousc. Ejusdem argumenti; Driedo, de libertate Christiana, bk 1, ch. 14; Cast., de Justa haereticorum punitione, 2, ch. 22, et 23; Simanchas, Instit. Cathol., c. 21; Jacobat., de Conciliis, 7, art. 1; Salmeron., Tom. 12, tract. 83.
 De fide et operibus, ch. 16.
 Cyprian is related in cap. Novatianus, 7, q. 1, cap Didicimus, 24, q. 1; Ambrose, cap. Verbum, de Poenitentia, q. 1; Pope Gelasius, c. Achatius, 1, and Alexander II, cap. Audivimus, 24, q. 1; Augustine, epistle 48 ad Vincent., and liber de Pastoribus; St. Thomas, II IIae, quaest. 39.
 Titus III; 2 John.
 Cajetan, de Auctoritate Papae, c. 18 et 19; Soto, 4, d. 22, quest. 2, art. 2; Cano de Locis, 4, c. ult. Ad 12; Cordibua, bk 4, q. 11.
 St. Robert Bellarmine, de Romano Pontifice, bk 4, ch. 7. (This was added by the editors of the Paris edition, 1858; Suarez himself does not directly cite Bellarmine on this matter. –Translator’s note.)
 See Albert Pighius, Ecclesiasticae Hierarchiae, bk 4, c. 8; Simancas, in Institutionibus Catholicis, title 12, number 14.
 See de Censur., disputant. 4, sect. 7, n. 8.