Cum Ex Apostolatus and Loss of Office

Of importance in the Sedevacantist debate is the interpretation of the 1559 bull Cum Ex Apostolatus of Pope Paul IV, issued during the Tridentine period regarding to the question of what procedures ought to be enacted against those prelates who have lapsed into heresy. In this article, the Sedevacantist interlocutor unsuccessfully attempts to argue that the last five popes were invalidly elected based on faulty reasoning taken from Cum Ex Apostolatus, while defensor fidei Ryan Grant defends the integrity of the papal office using citations from history, the 1917 Code of Canon Law, Vatican I, and the teaching of Pius XII. This article is a repost of an article originally featured on the blog Athanasius Contra Mundum on September 3, 2009.

Our Sedevacantist interlocutor begins by leading into a discussion of the Bull Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio (1559) of Pope Paul IV, which explicitly taught that only Catholics can be elected to the Holy See, thereby excluding non-Catholics and former Catholics who were public and manifest heretics. The interlocutor will attempt to demonstrate that this Bull renders the post-Conciliar popes ineligible to hold the papal office; implicit, of course, is the assumption that the post-conciliar popes were public and manifest heretics. Let us begin with the interlocutor’s background of Cum Ex Apostolatus (throughout this dialogue, the Sedevacantist’s words will be italicized:

“In particular, Pope Paul IV wished to bar from the papacy in the next conclave Giovanni Cardinal Morone (1509-1580), whom he suspected of being a secret Protestant heretic, and whom he even imprisoned in the Castel’ Sant’ Angelo. It was for planning to sell out to the Lutherans on the doctrine of justification that Paul IV barred Morone from papal office as a heretic and threw him in jail. (See Francesco Ricossa, “L’heresie aux Sommets de l’Eglise,” 50-1.) This, of course, is exactly what the heretics Ratzinger and John Paul II did in 1999: sold out the Catholic teaching on justification to the Lutherans.”

Nonsense. There are some serious problems with this argument:

(1) The Catholic-Lutheran Joint Decree on Justification which the interlocutor refers to was revised by Benedict XVI when he was Prefect of the CDF, who recognized its theological deficiencies.

(2) Furthermore, this document was not even an act of the ordinary Magisterium, and never promulgated as teaching, so even if it did promulgate a heresy, in the end it never became an official formulary of the Church.

(3) The Joint Decree on Justification neither appears nor is cited in any teaching document of the Church, hence it can’t be brought for consideration any more than Honorius’ private letters can be considered acts of the Magisterium. It is a tremendously weak argument to invoke this document and try to connect it with the specifications laid down in Cum ex Apostolatus.

The interlocutor continues by denying a fundamental interpretive principle of canon law:

“You begin by saying, again, to your own benefit, that “one of the principles of canon law is that when a legal document is restricting a law it is read restrictively, and whenever it is permitting something it is read in the widest possible sense”, when that doesn’t really matter and is irrelevant.”

It absolutely matters, as we will see.

“You then say that “once the Pope is elected, he is judged by no man as he has no earthly superior, and therefore could not be removed except by God or condemned by a future Pope”, when that is false and in the very Bull [Cum Ex Apostolus] Paul IV says otherwise.

Where in the bull does it say otherwise? Where does it say that a sitting pope may be judged by the Church and removed? It only says that a pope invalidly elected is not a true pope. That is restrictive, and thus is not applicable beyond the points enumerated. The document does not give any indication that a validly elected, sitting pope may lose his office, only that an invalidly elected pope was never pope to begin with.

“It is simply ironic that you say this, while also speaking of the Bull, because, look at what the very own Bull says:

1. “Whereas We consider such a matter [i.e. error in respect of the Faith] to be so grave and fraught with peril that the Roman Pontiff, who is Vicar of God and of Jesus Christ on earth, holds fullness of power over peoples and kingdoms, and judges all, but can be judged by none in this world—(even he) may be corrected if he is apprehended straying from the Faith.”

Apparently you missed this part of the Bull eh? How appropriate!”

How appropriate that you should highlight my point for me. Thanks! Saves me the trouble. That he is caught and corrected only re-enforces my point, that the Bull does not envision the pope losing his office to heresy. To be removed from office is not a correction; if the pope is “corrected” it only establishes that he retains his office.

“The very own Bull says that “the Roman Pontiff, who is Vicar of God and of Jesus Christ on earth, holds fullness of power over peoples and kingdoms, and judges all, but can be judged by none in this world” may be apprehended if he was merely “caught” deviating from the Faith! The verb in the Latin phrase si deprehendatur a fide devius connotes not just a pope who is “found” to have deviated from the faith, but one who is “caught”—as in “caught red-handed” in a crime.”

Again, caught? “Caught” does not equal deposed; caught does not equal ipso facto loss of office in spite of what anyone else thinks; “caught” does not mean that if the pope should say something heretical he will have lost his office. Caught means that the pope maintains his office and the Church can rebuke him, as St. Paul rebuked St. Peter for failing to enforce his own ruling at the Council of Jerusalem.

If anything this proves the example set by the Avignon Pope John XXII, who was caught red handed introducing a heresy into the Church. He was rebuked by theologians, to the point where he established a commission and submitted to their judgment. If Paul IV intended to say that a sitting Roman Pontiff loses his office due to being a manifest heretic, he would have included the Roman Pontiff in the list of those whose offices are deprived. However he does not, which suggests what? Paragraph 1 says nothing of the loss of office. Therefore why should it be relevant to paragraph 5? It isn’t. This is a case of you not having any material on your Sedevacantist websites to use, so you tried to wing it on your own, and failed miserably. How you equate the Church rebuking a sitting pope for erring as a private individual is equivalent to the pope losing his office is beyond me.

The Sedevacantist interlocutor goes on about some semantics of the word “rebuke”:

“Then there is the verb redargui—rebuke. What “rebuke” did Paul IV envision for a pope caught this way? Not, as you or anyone of the likes of Chris Ferrara might have us think, forty years of open letters/we-contradict-you-to-your-face articles written by laymen for some Counter-Reformation equivalent of The Angelus, Fatima Crusader, or Catholic Family News.

Rather, Paul IV promulgated the Bull to automatically deprive or bar from office those who had defected from the faith, whether secretly or openly.

Then you say that “In that list, the Roman Pontiff does not appear once. Hence we must restrict those who lose their office for heresy to these categories, namely everyone below the Pope, because they all have earthly superiors.”, did you not read paragraph 1 in the Bull?”

This is a non sequitur; you are drawing conclusions not supported by your premise. Why is the sentence: “The Roman Pontiff shall be deprived of his office if he is a manifest heretic” not present any where in this bull? Redargui (rebuked) and Deponere (deposed) are entirely different concepts. This is one of the more fallacious arguments you have presented so far.

“The Bull can be applied to any of the last five antipopes in any case, because it can be proven that either of them held to heresies before their “election”, but that’s a separate debate and issue which is not even necessary to get into to prove sedevacantism. But if you want, we could apply the Bull only to Albino Luciani or to Wojtyla, for some “traditionalists” have the impression that Paul VI didn’t held to any heresies before his “election.”

You are conflating terms, and if you can prove it then I urge you to prove it. Even if it can be proven that they “held to heresies” how does that amount to being formal heretics? Without a judgment of the Church—and public judgment according to canon law—it is impossible to know if these figures are formal heretics. Moreover, no one at the time of the election of Bl. John XXIII or Pope Paul VI claimed they were heretics. If their heresy was so manifest, someone would have said so. For four years after the election of Pope Paul VI not one theologian or cleric maintained anywhere in the world that the election was invalid. Why did the original Sedevacantists drop the ball for so many years?

As for John Paul I, I don’t know why he is even an issue as he was dead after 30 days. Let’s skip straight to Pope John Paul II. What heresies did he hold prior to his election? Can you prove that he was a formal heretic? Did he receive correction at any time by the Magisterium to which he was obstinate in rejecting? Did he express an actual will to disregard the regula fidei proposed to us by the Magisterium? Of course all of it is irrelevant anyway as we shall see in the abrogation of Cum Ex Apostalatus Officio and the teaching of Cardinal Billot, echoed by many other theologians about the nature of an uncontested papal election.

“Then you say: ‘Even those, are canonical sanctions which can be undone by future Popes, and in fact they were. Pope Pius XII declared, that for the purposes of papal election Cardinals otherwise interdicted could be elected’. Here, again, like in the previous example of Pope Pius XII, you and every other “traditionalist” have managed to once again get this wrong as well, and got the notion that a heretic could be the Pope.”

No, rather I have shown that the canons of this are no longer in force. The question of whether a pope can be a heretic is by no means settled doctrine, having not been settled by magisterial teaching. My quoting Pius XII on this subject was to show that the provisions of Cum Ex Apostolatus could in fact be overturned, as we are dealing here with an issue that is primarily juridical and not doctrinal. Thus a discussion of major and minor excommunication was not necessary, especially given that Pius XII fails to distinguish which offenses one who is interdicted from may vote under. He does not distinguish between major and minor excommunication.

“As I have already shown, it’s a dogma that (1) heretics are not members of the Church; and (2) that a pope is the head of the Church. It is a dogmatic fact, therefore, that a heretic cannot be the head of the Church, since he is not a member of it.”

But you still can not prove that any specific popes are heretics. It is mere private judgment on your part. No one in the world thought that John XXIII and Paul VI were heretics at the time of their election, not even the original Sedevacantists. No one in authority condemned or corrected the writings of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Moreover, since they write in the style of modern theology, which does not have the exactitude of scholastic exposition, there are many possible interpretations of their writings. The burden of proof is on you to show that the heresy is so manifest that no one can deny it—and frankly, many do deny it. Within the whole Magisterium of Paul VI no one ever said “Hey this Wojtyla guy is a problem.”

“What, then, does Pope Pius XII mean in Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis? First off, one needs to understand that excommunication can be incurred for many things. Historically, excommunications were distinguished by the terms major and minor. Major excommunications were incurred for heresy and schism (sins against the faith) and certain other major sins. Those who received major excommunication for heresy were not members of the Church. Minor excommunication, however, did not remove one from the Church, but forbade one to participate in the Church’s sacramental life. Pope Benedict XIV made note of the distinction.”

The rest of your section attempting to “educate me” on something I already know very well (namely minor and major excommunication) will be deleted because Pius XII makes no mention of minor and major excommunication. He declared in the document:

“None of the cardinals may in any way, or by pretext or reason of any excommunication, suspension, or interdict whatsoever, or of any other ecclesiastical impediment, be excluded from the active and passive election of the supreme pontiff. We hereby suspend such censures solely for the purposes of the said election; at other times they are to remain in vigor” (Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis 34).

Thus you have Pius XII (whom you would assume understands dogmatic theology) and again, whom one would assume understood Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio, teaching us that an excommunicated person can be elected Roman Pontiff. To read into this document distinctions which Pius XII did not put in is to essentially redefine the law contrary to the intentions of the law giver. The interlocutor will try to get around this plain fact:

“Notice, heretics are not excluded from the Papacy by merely ecclesiastical impediments, but impediments flowing from the divine law. Pius XII’s legislation doesn’t apply to heresy because he was speaking about ecclesiastical impediments: “…or any other ecclesiastical impediment…” Thus, his legislation does not show that heretics can be elected and remain popes, which is why he didn’t mention heretics. Pope Pius XII was referring to Catholic cardinals who may have been under excommunication.”

But that assumes the prescriptions of Cum ex are of Divine Law, whereas in reality they are not. This bull was abrogated by the 1917 Code of Canon Law which incorporated these penalties, but never for a pope prior to his election (let alone after). It only says:

Ob tacitam renuntiationem ab ipso jure admissam quaelibet officia vacant ipso facto et sine ulla declaratione, si clericus A fide Catholica publice defecerit. (Can. 188.4)


Omnes a christiana fide apostatae et omnes et singuli haeretici aut schismatici incurrunt ipso facto excommunicationem. (Can. 2314 1.1)

Again, none of these address what to do about the Roman Pontiff. If Cum Ex Apostolatus was still in force, the Code of Canon Law would have taken note of it. The editors of the 1917 Code did not put it in because of the problematic nature of actually enforcing Cum Ex. No dogmatic theology textbook references it, and not one work of ecclesiology from any of the authors you site (Dorsch, etc.) or other recent authors such as Billot, Franzelin, Van Noort, Palmieri or Berry. As the Sedevacantist journal Sodalitum frankly admits:

This task [proving an election invalid by the precepts of Cum Ex] however in the current state of affairs, shows itself doubly arduous. To begin with, it is necessary to prove the formal and notorious heresy of the errant one. Failing a (hypothetical) admission of the guilty party, an intervention of the Church and its Magisterium then takes place, in accordance with the words of St. Paul to Titus: “A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, avoid.” What Paul IV perhaps did not foresee—like all the classical writers on the question of the “heretical pope”—was that no authority would arise in such a case to make the admonitions required by scripture and canons.

The second difficulty consists in the current juridical value of the Constitution of Paul VI. The sixth canon of the Code of Canon Law prescribes that what is not taken up again in the 1917 Code should be considered as abrogated, unless the law is evidently by divine right. Now the prescriptions of Paul IV are only partially resumed by the Code (Can. 188.4 and 2314.1) without any mention of the case of the supreme pontiff. Doubt therefore remains about the character of Paul IV’s proclamation—whether it belongs to divine law, and thus is always valid, or to ecclesiastical law.” (Sodalitium, no. 14 pp. 9-10)

Why would the major Sedevacantist journal in Europe not consider it obvious that the bull of Paul IV still applies if it was so evident that it is of divine right and still in force? For the simple reason that it does not.

There is still one more point to consider. What does the 1917 Code of Canon Law say about the loss of office?

“Actus jurisdictionis tam fori externi quam fori interni positus ab excommunicato est illicitus; et, si lata fuerit sententia condemnatoria vel declaratoria etiam invalidus, salvo praescripto can. 2261.3 secus est validus.” (2264)

“An act of jurisdiction carried out by an excommunicated person, whether in the internal or external forum is illicit; and if a condemnatory or declaratory sentence has been pronounced, it is also invalid, without prejudice to Canon 2261.3; otherwise it is valid.”

This is a major problem for your argument. You assert that “a heretic can not conduct his office” to be dogmatic fact. Yet the Church’s law tells us something entirely different: where the Church has failed to declare someone a formal heretic, the powers and uses of his office are still considered valid, though illicit. Thus, if a pope had lapsed into heresy, and he received no correction from the Church (rebuke), his acts would continue to be valid but gravely illicit. Only once the Church had made a judgment of some kind, or better, a rebuke (as in the case of John XXII) could we consider the pope a formal heretic.

Even then, however, there is the question of the right to judge. Either way this is not the case of the last five popes. This is because you refuse (or else are entirely ignorant of canonical distinctions) to admit the difference between a formal heretic—one who has been condemned by the Church and is obstinate—and someone who has not been officially condemned by the Church. If you are going to maintain that ipso facto a heretic is unable to exercise his office, you are going to have to square with the fact that the 1917 Code of Canon law takes the opposite approach. Unless you want to adopt the line from the guy I referenced in a previous refutation who denies that Benedict XV was a true pope, which would then allow you to deny the 1917 Code.

Finally, the Code of Canon Law grants jurisdiction to excommunicated of all classes (vitandi and tolerati) in order to hear confessions if the penitent is in danger of death (Can. 2261). Thus it is inherently possible for the Church to grant jurisdiction to the excommunicated, which means again, it is by no means certain beyond a reasonable doubt that a material heretic could not remain pope, or even a formal one.

The Sedevacantist goes on to quote Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis of Pius XII:

“To further prove the point, let’s assume for the sake of argument that Pope Pius XII’s legislation did mean that a heretical cardinal could be elected pope. Notice what Pius XII says:

“We hereby suspend such censures solely for the purposes of the said election; at other times they are to remain in vigor.”

Pius XII says that the excommunication is suspended only for the time of the election; at other times it remains in vigor. This would mean that the excommunication for heresy would fall back into force immediately after the election and then the heretic who had been elected pope would lose his office! Thus, no matter what way you look at it, a heretic could not be validly elected and remain pope.”

As we saw above, he could indeed continue in the office illicitly according to the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Thus, I can only echo the great honesty of the Sodalitium article, which noted that all proponents of the hypothesis of a heretical pope could not foresee what the Church could do in such a situation.

“Moving on, you quote the rest of St. Francis de Sales’s quote, which proves that a heretical Pope loses his office ipso facto, like if it proves that a heretical Pope doesn’t lose his office! A few comments on this:

St. Francis de Sales, after declaring that an explicitly heretical Pope loses his office ipso facto (immediately, without any declaration), says that “the Church must either deprive him or, as some say, declare him deprived, of his Apostolic See, and must say as S. Peter did: Let another take his bishopric.”

Now, I ask you: what does this quote say, other than that when an explicitly heretical Pope loses his office ipso facto, the Church should formally remove him and elect a new Pope? Does this quote in any way, shape or form says that the explicitly heretical Pope, who just lost his office ipso facto, is still the Pope, until the Church formally removes him? Do you really believe that?”

The Code of Canon Law says that the office is still exercised validly but illicitly. Since it does not mention the Roman Pontiff falling into heresy ANYWHERE, it can only be assumed that the Canon is applicable in such a case.

Moreover you are perverting the quote from St. Francis De Sales; he said nothing of the kind. This is why I said there is too much in Sedevacantist teaching denying Vatican I. St. Francis’ teaching only applies to a pope who teaches heresy ex cathedra, unless you have a quote besides the one in The Catholic Controversy.

“Does the fact that the Church, or the Roman Clergy or whatever you prefer, does the formal deposing and declaring of his vacant office, in any way means that the said explicitly heretical Pope remains the Pope until the Church does the deposing? What if all the Clergy or what would-declare the Pope deposed follows him into his heresies? Does he remain the Pope? Are we supposed to wait until some “formal deposing”, and still regard him as the valid Pope? Any honest and good-willed person will see the falsity and absurdity of such a position.”

Every single writer on the heretical pope which you have cited thus far has said that it is impossible, but that if this could happen, God would provide. If all the clergy followed him into heresy, what then is there to conclude but that God did not provide? That would be blasphemous.

“Then you proceed to corrupt and twist St. Francis’s own words by saying: “Therefore, if we break this down, in light of Vatican I’s clarification, St. Francis is saying virtually the same thing. Not that for merely believing something heretical does the Pope lose his office, but for obstinately teaching the whole Church in an erroneous manner. At that time it would be clear, and the whole Church could then depose such a man, according to St. Francis. St. Francis is not saying that a Pope who may believe this or that which is ambiguous, which taken in a strict sense would be heretical will lose his office, and that the Popes for an entire generation would lose their office! And even if he did, a saint’s opinion does not matter in comparison with Vatican I’s teaching.”

Did St. Fancis say that a Pope would lose his office “for merely believing something heretical” or “for obstinately teaching the whole Church in an erroneous manner”? No! He said a Pope who is “explicitly a heretic” and nothing else. Your added conditions are false and irrelevant.”

On the contrary, they are completely relevant. But as usual your argument is weakest when you have no material on Sedevacantist websites to use. Read the quote from St. Francis again, which is so falsely exploited by you and Trailer Park monastery:

“Under the ancient law the High Priest did not wear the Rational except when he was vested in the pontifical robes and was entering before the Lord. Thus we do not say that the Pope cannot err in his private opinions, as did John XXII; or be altogether a heretic, as perhaps Honorius was. Now when he is explicitly a heretic, he falls ipso facto from his dignity and out of the Church, and the Church must either deprive him, or, as some say, declare him deprived, of his Apostolic See, and must say as St. Peter did: Let another take his bishopric. When he errs in his private opinion he must be instructed, advised, convinced; as happened with John XXII, who was so far from dying obstinate or from determining anything during his life concerning his opinion, that he died whilst he was making the examination which is necessary for determining in a matter of faith, as his successor declared in the Extravagantes which begins Benedictus Deus. But when he is clothed with the pontifical garments, I mean when teaches the whole Church as shepherd, in general matters of faith and morals, then there is nothing but doctrine and truth.” (The Catholic Controversy, pg. 305-306)

Take serious note of how you are distorting the passage. St. Francis de Sales is saying that one must be an explicit (formal) heretic, and moreover, that one must be obstinate. That means that while John XXII did not lose his office because he was “far from obstinate”; were he obstinate he would have lost his office.

Thus, if you will pull your head out of Trailer Park Monastery with its fake brothers peddling a bunch of nonsense to swindle people out of their money (how else do they make a living?) and actually read the whole reference, one will see that it is only an obstinate heretic here who is under consideration. Obstinacy is in the will; how can you or I or the lamp post be certain that the last five popes were heretics? Particularly when smarter people than you or I who lived with some of those popes, such as Cardinal Ottaviani, saw no heresy in either John XXIII or Paul VI? We would have to question how we could know he was obstinately denying some element of Catholic doctrine. Moreover, how can you say that Pope John Paul II, or that Pope Benedict did not merely err as private individuals, most especially when they were never corrected by the Church? We do not and cannot know if they were obstinate (that is assuming their works are completely heretical with no possibility of being read in an orthodox manner), since that is apart of the internal forum.

Ryan Grant, “Cum Ex Apostolatus and Loss of Office,” Unam Sanctam Catholicam, Sept. 3, 2009. Available online at