This is not the first time that the Pope’s decision was disobeyed. Some was ending up as sedevacantis and some are schismatic. Most of this disobedience happened during and after the Vatican II. From Pope John XXIII to Pope Francis where this Popes made an act of heresy by accepting other religions and joined their rituals that cause chaos inside the church, while Pope Benedict tried to unite them by maintaining Traditional Latin Mass and defend it until his last breath. In disobedience, Archbishop Lefebvre was very well known for disobeying Pope John Paul II. But Archbishop and the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) still recognize Pope John Paul II and the current Pope as the Supreme Pontiff even though they were branded as Sedevacantist and Schismatic which they are not. The main question is, do we sin if we disobey the Pope or do we sin if we obey him even his words and action are heretical. Before we answer that, we must know why we obey the Pope and why we should disobey him.
OBEDIENCE TO THE POPE
Why we should obey the Pope? Because he is the Vicar of Christ here on earth. When Jesus Christ built His church, he built it upon St. Peter (Matthew 16:18) and after His resurrection, He promises St. Peter his Spiritual Supremacy which is the Papacy (John 21:15-17). This is where the other apostles followed and obey him. There are saints who are obedient to the Pope such as St. Francis of Assisi. There are saints who are an example of obedience even though not directly to the Pope but to their superiors such as St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.
DISOBEDIENCE TO THE POPE
This is one of a dangerous thing to do mostly to the clergy, disobeying the Pope. As our leader and Spiritual Father of the Catholic Church. The Pope’s command must be followed by the clergy. Disobeying Rome has consequences such as removal of the office. Those who resist the papal authority was branded Schismatic and for not recognizing him as the Vicar of Christ will be branded as Sedevacantist. But, are we obligated to follow the pope’s order, words or decision? What if everything he says or he ordered are heretic or blasphemous? Do we still obey?
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the Doctors of the Church:
“It is the teaching of the Church that obedience is part of justice, one of the four cardinal virtues, which are in turn subordinate to the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. Faith is greater than obedience! Therefore, if obedience acts to harm the faith, then a Catholic has a duty not to obey his superior. Now sometimes the things commanded by a superior are against God, therefore superiors are not to be obeyed in all things.”
– Summa Theoligica II-IIQ. 104
It means that if a Pope, Bishop or any church superiors’ words and actions are dangerous to the Faith. We should disobey or not follow his actions. For example, Pope John Paul II is one of the Vatican II popes who attend pagan rituals, the most. Should we follow his actions? No because we will have sin together with him because we disobey the first commandment. Pope Francis, who accepts the LGBT which means a acceptances to the homosexual relationship. Do we have to follow and obey him for this? Simply no. God does not accept a homosexual relationship, that is why He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
Pope Leo XIII stated on his Encyclical Libertas Praestantissimum:
“But where the power to command is wanting, or where a law is enacted contrary to reason, or to the eternal law, or to some ordinance of God, obedience is unlawful, lest while obeying man, we become disobedient to God.”
The Pope is the leader of the Church, but it doesn’t mean that we must also follow the errors of his action. We also disobey if his actions sway us from the Catholic Truth. But, if his orders or words has no danger to the faith, we must obey him.
REBUKING THE POPE
Is it wrong to rebuke the Pope? To criticize him? To correct him? The answer is No. Why? Because the Pope is also a man, who is prone to mistakes. Many of our brethren misunderstood the position of the Pope. It doesn’t mean when a man becomes a Pope, he is already holy or sinless. His position is Holy and he must also maintain the Holiness of the Sit of St. Peter. He is the leader of the Catholic Church that teach and lead us to the Lord. But if his actions cause danger to our faith, we know that his wrong must and correct him.
One of the examples can be found in the Bible where St. Paul rebuked St. Peter, the first Pope:
“But when Cephas was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that some came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them who were of the circumcision. And to his dissimulation the rest of the Jews consented, so that Barnabas also was led by them into that dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly unto the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all: If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as the Jews do, how dost thou compel the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We by nature are Jews, and not of the Gentiles sinners.”
St. Thomas Aquinas supports St. Paul’s rebuking:
“To resist openly and in public goes beyond the measure of fraternal correction. St. Paul would not have done it towards St. Peter if he had not in some way been his equal… We must realize, however, that if there was question of a danger for the Faith, the superiors would have to be rebuked by their inferiors, even in public.”
“that the very head of the Church showed to superiors that if they ever chanced to leave the straight and narrow path, they should accept to be corrected by their inferiors.”
– Summa Theologica IIa, IIae, q.33, art. 4, ad 2
Another example is St. Catherine of Siena where she convinced the Pope to return to Rome from Avignon. But before the Pope departs for Rome, he was influenced by the French cardinals that gives him a second thought. When the saint found out, she rebuked the Pope which made his return to Rome.
When Vatican II changes occurred, the following Popes had made many errors such as meeting, praying and attending pagan rituals or other religions such as those who don’t accept God, some who protest against His Church, allowing women to participate in the Holy Mass, allowing lay ministers and nuns to give communion, allowing communion in the hand and allowing pagan images inside the church including the Vatican. And because of these errors, they were rebuked by some clergy including Archbishop Lefebvre and the SSPX, Archbishop Carlo Vigano, Archbishop Athanasius Schneider, Cardinal Robert Sarah, Bishop Strickland and Catholic Author, Dr. Taylor Marshall.
Brethren, it may look like bad that we oppose or disobey the Pope or other church superiors. But if they are in error, we must correct them according to the Sacred Tradition and the Truth of the Catholic faith. Some will say “What about St. Padre Pio? He obeys his superior and did not do anything to disobey them”. Yes, St. Padre Pio is a great example of obedience to the church. But during his time, the errors have not spread yet. And may be, he knows these errors will spread someday and knows that there are people will fight for the truth and correct these errors.
We should not only correct the errors of the Pope or any church superiors, but also ourselves and the people around us. This is one of the challenges and sacrifices that we must face when we follow our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember, a problem cannot be solved by silence but also in action.
“All the evils of the world are due to lukewarm Catholics.”
– Pope St. Pius V