“On the Papal Deposition of Bishops”—A First Reply to John Lamont’s Study

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“On the Papal Deposition of Bishops”—A First Reply to John Lamont’s Study
“On the Papal Deposition of Bishops”—A First Reply to John Lamont’s Study

On December 18, 2023, the same day that the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith released Fiducia supplicans, Dr. John Lamont published a study “On the Papal Deposition of Bishops” in Rorate-Coeli.1 It was an attempt to refute my article titled “Why a Good Bishop Should Not Ignore but Obey His Unjust Deposition by a Pope,”2 about Bishop Joseph Strickland’s removal from the Tyler, Texas diocese. The Christmas and New Year festivities and the follow-up to the debate surrounding Cardinal Fernandez’s bombshell document explain the relative lateness of this rejoinder.

The core of the controversy is whether the pope has the power to dismiss from his diocese a bishop who has committed no severe misconduct and absent some proportionate reason that makes it necessary. The issue is not whether an arbitrary removal is licit—it is not—but whether it is valid. The dismissed bishop can only ask the pope to reconsider his decision if it is valid. He cannot appeal to any lower authority (prima sedes a nemine iudicatur—the first see is judged by none). Here, we do not consider the case where revocation would occur for a reason of faith and amount to heresy on the part of the pope. Otherwise, the dismissed bishop must cede his post to the administrator or Vatican-appointed successor, as did Bishop Strickland and other bishops whom Pope Francis unjustly removed. The same was done by Cardinal József Mindszenty, whom Pope Paul VI unjustly removed from Hungary’s primatial see of Esztergom. If the removal were null or invalid (which would be difficult to establish because the pope dictates the law; who could judge that except the pope himself or a successor?), the deposed bishop would have every right to remain in possession and consider his pope-appointed replacement as an intruder.3

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In turn, the validity or invalidity of this arbitrary removal depends on the immediate origin of episcopal power. Since the Middle Ages, theology and canon law have distinguished between two powers in the episcopal office: The fullness of the power of order, aimed at the sanctification of the faithful, and the power of jurisdiction, aimed at teaching and governing the flock. All theologians admit that the fullness of the power of order is received directly from God at the episcopal consecration. However, there is disagreement as to the immediate origin of a bishop’s power of jurisdiction. The Jesuit theologian Domenico Palmieri (1829-1909), quoted at length in Dr. Lamont’s work in an excellent translation which we thank him for, briefly describes the two positions and their respective consequences for the matter in dispute:

No one denies that this power [of jurisdiction] is from Christ, since all power in the Church is from Him, or that it is immediately from God in that God acts immediately in and with the action of all other causes…

There are some who suppose that the ordinary jurisdiction of bishops is received immediately from Christ…Many others think that although Christ instituted the episcopate willing that His Church be ruled by bishops, ordinary jurisdiction is conferred by the pope on individual bishops…

In the first hypothesis, it is asserted that the Roman pontiff cannot licitly and validly remove or restrict the jurisdiction of a bishop without just cause: once the condition of the Roman pontiff having assigned subjects to a bishop is satisfied, the jurisdiction received by bishops is given by God, for it is this jurisdiction of divine origin that is exercised. The Roman pontiff may indeed regulate and modify this jurisdiction for reasons derived from just causes. He can even in certain cases declare that this jurisdiction has been lost, in virtue of his right to interpret divine law. He cannot however directly remove jurisdiction from a bishop, because this jurisdiction does not exist in its subject through him, but by divine law; and divine law takes precedence over papal authority.

In the second hypothesis, the pope cannot indeed licitly remove a bishop without cause, but he can certainly validly do this, and his act will have force on its own; a bishop in this situation cannot claim jurisdiction for himself on the pretext that there is no just cause for his removal (p. 5).

The discussion about the immediate origin of the power of jurisdiction arose in the twelfth century, shortly after the distinction between the powers of order and jurisdiction was made in Western theology and canon law. Following in the footsteps of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the majority current, which included authors of great authority such as Saints Bonaventure and Robert Bellarmine, asserted that the power of episcopal jurisdiction came from the canonical mission granted or corroborated by the pope. Since the Second Vatican Council, the once minority position has prevailed, according to which episcopal consecration, “together with the office of sanctifying, also confers the office of teaching and governing” (Lumen gentium, no. 21). Otherwise, the “collegiality” novelty that all bishops also possess supreme and permanent power over the universal Church headed by the pope and in communion with him would lose its foundation. Therefore, the conciliar innovators had to premise the thesis that one becomes a member of the episcopal college, the juridical subject of this supreme power, by virtue of consecration.

In his study, Dr. Lamont decidedly sides with the post-conciliar current, now in the majority. Dr. Lamont does not put forward arguments used by neo-modernist theologians, defenders of collegiality and pioneers of synodality, who consider the distinction between the power of order and the power of jurisdiction outdated and technical, and insist on the indivisible unity of the three munera (sanctifying, teaching, and governing). He does accept this distinction in a bishop’s powers but tries to base the direct divine origin of the power of jurisdiction on the few authors of the minority current before Vatican II. However, his analysis contains several errors, which I will briefly point out in this and subsequent articles.

For now, however, leaving aside underlying issues, I limit myself to showing three inconsistencies that weaken Dr. Lamont’s argument from an external point of view: 1. Mistranslation of an important text and misrepresentation of the thought of the two leading authors he quoted; 2. Overvaluation of Vatican II’s magisterial authority; and 3. Insufficient explanation of an insurmountable historical-canonical obstacle.

A Mistranslation of the Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique

The first section of Dr. Lamont’s study is titled “Theological Positions on the Origin of Episcopal Jurisdiction and the Nature of Papal Authority” (p. 3). He begins with a quotation from the Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, which he translates as follows: “Some maintain that jurisdiction is conferred immediately by Christ on bishops in the very act of episcopal consecration.” “Others think, with St. Thomas, that the jurisdiction of bishops is directly connected to that of the vicar of Christ, to whom not only a portion but the whole of ecclesiastical power has been granted” (p. 3).

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Then he adds that “the claim that God has granted the pope the whole of ecclesiastical power provides the justification for the claim that bishops receive the power of jurisdiction directly from the pope and only mediately from God, and hence that the pope can remove a bishop from office at will” (p. 3). Yet he again uses the expression “the whole of ecclesiastical power” (p. 3) and in another instance, “the pope has all the power of jurisdiction” (p. 3).

Dr. Lamont labels this position “the strong view of papal jurisdiction” (p. 3) since it holds that the pope possesses “not just supreme power of jurisdiction, but the whole of the power of jurisdiction” (p. 3) and the opposite position, which denies it, “the moderate view of papal jurisdiction” (p. 3).

It turns out that the translation of the Dictionnaire serving as the basis for characterizing the current he calls the “strong view” is incorrect. The French original says that the pope has been entrusted with “la plenitude du pouvoir ecclésiastique” (p. 35) literally, “the fullness of ecclesiastical power,” not “the whole of ecclesiastical power.” The first meaning (fullness) is all the more precise because the phrase refers to chapter 3 of the dogmatic constitution Pastor aeternus, which, referring to the pope’s primacy, quotes the Council of Florence’s statement that “to him [the pope], in blessed Peter, full power has been given by our lord Jesus Christ to tend, rule and govern the universal Church.” Further on, the constitution refers to the “supreme power which the Roman Pontiff has in governing the whole Church.”4

Now, saying that the pope enjoys full and supreme power (plena potestas pascendi, regendi et gubernandi—“full power was given to him…to feed, rule, and govern” says the Council of Florence5) is very different than affirming that he received “the whole of ecclesiastical power,” meaning that he is the only one who holds power in the Church and that all other powers would be a delegation of his. Dr. Lamont recognizes the difference between the two concepts, as he attacks the windmill he created with his mistranslation by stating (this time with a correct translation): “‘Plenitude of power’ in this conciliar text [Pastor aeternus] means having all the power of jurisdiction that it is possible to have, not all the power of jurisdiction that exists” (p. 3).

Misrepresentation of the Thought of Domenico Palmieri

It so happens that this restricted interpretation of plena potestas is exactly the position of the theologian Domenico Palmieri, whose Tractatus de romano pontífice Dr. Lamont quotes at length but mistakenly calls the “best case for the strong view” (p. 4; i.e., “the whole of ecclesiastical power”). It is enough to quote his own words to prove that Palmieri upholds the narrow interpretation that Dr. Lamont subscribes to and calls the “moderate view of papal jurisdiction”:

The [pope’s] plenitude of power that is being discussed is not absolute, but is relative to the society that is ruled; it is plenitude of power in a polity and for a polity. To give clarity, we can say that it can be understood in two ways: only positively, or exclusively. It is understood in a positive sense only, if the supreme ruler can by his ordinary legal authority perform everything that is useful and necessary for the entire polity and every one of its subjects, although there are subordinate powers together with him and under him, that exercise authority that is not derived from him. It is understood in an exclusive sense, if the supreme ruler’s authority is such that every power in the polity is either his own power, or is derived from his own power in such a way that the supreme power either formally or virtually contains every other power by which the polity is ruled. Such is the power of absolute monarchy in a political society.

It is easy to show that the plenitude of power belongs to the Roman Pontiff in the first sense (p. 4).

What Dr. Lamont calls the “strong view,” Domenico Palmieri calls the “exclusive sense,” which he rejects; and what Dr. Lamont calls the “moderate view,” Palmieri calls the “positive sense,” (p. 4) the restricted sense he defends. Therefore, it is absolutely inappropriate to classify it as a “best case for the strong view.”

Unfortunately, this misrepresentation of the position of those who deny that the power of jurisdiction is granted to bishops at consecration—as if they thought that bishops are mere delegates of the pope, who supposedly would hold “the whole of ecclesiastical power”—runs through and disqualifies Dr. Lamont’s entire study.

Misrepresentation of the Thought of Francisco de Vitoria

But he misrepresented not only Domenico Palmieri’s position, but also that of Francisco de Vitoria, the author he introduces as the supposed champion of the thesis of the sacramental origin of the power of episcopal jurisdiction. In his eyes, Vitoria’s Relectiones are the ones that best represent the “moderate view on papal jurisdiction.”

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In the long text quoted, the great theologian and founder of the Salamanca School begins by proving, with the support of passages from Scripture, that the Twelve received the apostolic mission and consequent power directly from Jesus Christ and that “every apostle had ecclesiastical power covering the whole world, for all the acts that Peter had power to do” (p. 10), except those that belong exclusively to the supreme pontiff, such as convening a general council. Vitoria then goes on to maintain that “any of the apostles aside from Peter could leave a successor, not a universal one, but in any province that he wished, who would be the true bishop of that province” (p. 11)—as Saint Paul did with Titus and Timothy. Furthermore, “not only the apostles could leave successors, but any of their successors could similarly do so” (p. 11) because “at that time it could have been of the greatest importance that a bishop nominate his successor during his lifetime” (p. 12) since “it would not only be possible and proper but necessary at all times. How could a dead bishop in the farthest reaches of India await a mandate from Peter to meet the need of a new bishop?” (p. 12). Vitoria goes even further by stating that “any bishop, even without consulting the see of Peter, can establish a law stating that priests elect the bishop, or that bishops are instituted by some other form” (p. 12).

He concludes: “This is the reason why the authority and dignity of a bishop can be derived successively from one bishop to the next until it reaches us, and through the bishop all other inferior power” (p. 12). This power would not contradict the pope’s plenitudo potestatis because “the successors of Peter can at their discretion create bishops in new provinces, abolish existing laws on the succession of bishops, establish new laws on this subject, divide provinces, and do all things pertaining to these matters by their own judgment and power” (p. 12).

Our purpose here is not to analyze Vitoria’s proposal that a bishop’s election and the transmission of jurisdiction be done by his predecessor or a method established by him without the intervention of the Holy See. We want to emphasize that at no point does Vitoria say that the power of jurisdiction is granted directly by Christ in the act of episcopal consecration, which is the real issue under discussion.

On the contrary, he categorically states that “Peter’s power was greater” (p. 10) than that received by the other apostles because “Firstly, it was an ordinary power, whereas the power of the apostles was an extraordinary one” (p. 10). “Secondly—which follows from this—the power of Peter remained in the Church, whereas the power of the apostles did not” (p. 10). And then he concludes: “Aside from the holy apostles, no one else in the Church received ecclesiastical power from Christ…and thus we have the first origin of ecclesiastical power; for the twelve apostles were the first and only persons to receive this power from Christ, our Lord and Redeemer” (p. 10).

Furthermore, at the end of the passage from Relatione II, quoted by Dr. Lamont, Vitoria says, “It was said to Peter, ‘Feed my sheep,’ with no limitations or exceptions. Therefore all direction pertains to Peter without any exception, and in consequence even the creation of bishops falls under his power(p. 12). He continues: “From this the corollary clearly follows that one cannot now become a bishop except according to the forms laid down by the supreme pontiff, and that if anyone attempts to do otherwise, nothing will result; such an attempt will be null and void. I state this however about the authority of jurisdiction, for what pertains to consecration is different. Secondly, it follows that all ecclesiastical power, whether of orders or of jurisdiction, depends mediately or immediately on the see of Peter” (p. 12).

In this paragraph, Vitoria clearly distinguishes between the power of order (granted directly by Christ), whose transmission without a license from the pope renders it illicit but not invalid, and the power of jurisdiction, whose transmission without a canonical mission granted or recognized by the pope renders it null and legally invalid.

If the issue under discussion were whether the apostles received jurisdiction directly from Christ or through Saint Peter, Vitoria’s long quotation would serve its purpose. But that is not what Dr. Lamont is questioning in my article, which is not even remotely about that. He wanted to prove that the bishop receives the power of jurisdiction immediately from Christ at his consecration. The quotation from Vitoria is totally inappropriate and even counterproductive for this purpose, because the Salamanca theologian explicitly says that no one after the apostles received jurisdiction directly from Christ.

Underrating Pius XII’s Teaching

As mentioned, the thesis of the immediate reception of jurisdiction from the pope’s hands enjoyed the support of the vast majority of the best theological authors and treatises before Vatican II. What is more, it was explicitly put into practice in the 1917 Code of Canon Law and was taught in three documents by Pius XII: the encyclical on the Church, Mystici corporis Christi (1943), and the encyclicals Ad sinarum gentem (1954) and Ad apostolorum principis (1958) addressed to the Chinese Catholic bishops and people. In my article, I stated that the Second Vatican Council “opposed the Church’s traditional magisterium when declaring that the ‘episcopal consecration, together with the office of sanctifying, also confers the office of teaching and governing’ (no. 21).” Dr. Lamont asks: “Is Mr. Ureta right in claiming that the teaching of the theological school that he supports is taught by the magisterium?” (p. 2).

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He develops the theme in section III of his study, titled “Magisterial Teaching on Papal and Episcopal Jurisdiction” (p. 18), which begins by recognizing that “the position of the magisterium on this subject is not expressed in a simple manner. A careful analysis of a number of magisterial texts is required in order to identify what this position is” (p. 18).

The first text Dr. Lamont analyzes is Leo XIII’s encyclical Satis cognitum, which affirms what no one denies, namely that “if the authority of Peter and his successors is plenary and supreme, it is not to be regarded as the sole authority,” since “by the fact that the bishops succeed the apostles, they inherit their ordinary power, and thus the episcopal order necessarily belongs to the essential constitution of the Church” (p. 18). However, the pope adds, it is necessary to bear in mind “that nothing was conferred on the apostles apart from Peter, but that several things were conferred upon Peter apart from the apostles” (p. 18), so that “whatever authority and office the apostles received, they received in conjunction with Peter” (p. 18). Quoting his predecessor and namesake Saint Leo the Great, Pope Leo XIII even seems to contradict Francisco de Vitoria’s thesis: “If the divine benignity willed anything to be in common between him [Peter] and the other princes, whatever He did not deny to the others He gave only through him. So that whereas Peter alone received many things, He conferred nothing on any of the rest without Peter participating in it” (S. Leo M. sermo iv., cap. 2)” (p. 18).

Let us remember that the debate is not whether the apostles received power directly from Our Lord or through Saint Peter. In any case, even Vitoria, who supports the former, explicitly states that this would have been the Twelve’s exclusive and non-transferable privilege. However, if Saint Leo the Great and Leo XIII maintain that even the apostles received power through the mediation of Peter, a fortiori, they would be inclined to maintain that bishops receive jurisdiction indirectly from God but directly from the pontifical mandate, although they do not specifically address the issue.

Despite this, and without any textual support but based solely on his misrepresentation of Palmieri’s position, Dr. Lamont draws the opposite conclusion. At first, he limits himself to saying that Leo XIII’s description of the jurisdiction of the pope and the bishops on the face of it “expresses the moderate view” (p. 19). This is true if, by “moderate view,” one means what the whole world agrees on, namely that the pope does not have “the whole of ecclesiastical power.” But it is incorrect to ascribe to Leo XIII the opinion that bishops receive jurisdiction directly from Christ, as Dr. Lamont does later on, stating: “The assertion that episcopal consecration confers the office of teaching and governing is a recognized position in Catholic theology…It is supported by the teaching of Leo XIII” (p. 23). The quoted papal text does not support this statement.

Even the last sentence of the encyclical quoted by Dr. Lamont would incline one to deduce the opposite. Speaking of bishops who deliberately secede from Peter and his successors, Leo XIII says: “they are exiled from the Kingdom, the keys of which were given by Christ to Peter alone” (p. 18). As is well known, all theologians teach that the keys represent the power of jurisdiction.

In addition to misinterpreting the encyclical Satis cognitum, Dr. Lamont attempts to diminish the magisterial value of Pius XII’s encyclical Mystici corporis, which states unequivocally that although the bishops’ jurisdiction is inherent in their office, “they receive [it] directly from the same supreme pontiff” (p. 19), a statement he repeated in the encyclicals Sinarum gentem and Ad apostolorum principis, nine and fifteen years later respectively. Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani went so far as to say that these statements by Pius XII meant that the traditional majority opinion that bishops receive jurisdiction from God not directly but indirectly “should now…be rated as absolutely certain” (p. 19).

Dr. Lamont is right to question this statement by the last great holder of the Holy Office, explaining that “in order to end a dispute of this kind by a magisterial intervention, such an intervention must clearly describe the question, express the intention of settling it, specify the position being taught, and make it clear that the teaching is binding on all Catholics” (p. 21).

Eternal and Natural Law: The Foundation of Morals and Law

Even assuming that this is not the case, we would be in the situation Pius XII mentioned in Humani generis:

Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in encyclical letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such letters the popes do not exercise the supreme power of their teaching authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: ‘He who heareth you, heareth me’ (Luke 10:16); and generally what is expounded and inculcated in encyclical letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the supreme pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians.6

However, from Cardinal Ottaviani’s supposedly exaggerated remark—dato non concesso—Dr. Lamont draws a conclusion that could be misleading. He states that “the passages from the encyclicals of Pius XII that are cited above cannot be seen as a proper and responsible exercise of the papal teaching office” (p. 21). This could be understood by people less versed in theology to mean that the ordinary papal magisterium does not constitute a proper and responsible exercise of the papal teaching office, which would consist of the promulgation of dogmas of faith. I do not believe Dr. Lamont thinks that, but it is one of the meanings of his phrase.

Unfortunately, readers could be led to interpret it that way because, he implies right afterwards that this would not even have been Pius XII’s opinion as a private doctor: “One may speculate that these passages were included in the texts of these encyclicals by drafters at the Holy Office (of which Cardinal Ottaviani was the head at the time) in order to further the cause of a theological opinion that they accepted” (p. 21). Regretfully, in attributing this passage from Mystici corporis to Cardinal Ottaviani or his staff, Dr. Lamont failed to check dates and made a historical error: The encyclical was published in 1943, but Cardinal Ottaviani was only appointed secretary of the Congregation of the Holy Office—of which the pope was the prefect—in 1959, sixteen years later. It is hard to imagine that Ottaviani would have had enough influence in 1943 to insert a theological opinion different from Pope Pacelli’s in one his most important encyclicals.

Overrating Vatican II’s Magisterial Authority

In defending his position, Dr. Lamont not only downplayed the magisterial value of Mystici corporis, but magnified the magisterial value of Vatican II’s dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium by taking advantage of the adjective “dogmatic” in its title to deduce that its teachings are definitive:

The documents of the Second Vatican Council are of different kinds, and many of these kinds of document—decrees, declarations, etc.—do not have a great degree of authority. The case of a dogmatic constitution is different. Such constitutions are a recognized form of conciliar teaching; the documents Dei Filius and Pastor aeternus of the First Vatican Council are dogmatic constitutions. They express by their titles the intention of teaching Catholic dogma in an authoritative fashion. A dogmatic constitution has a much higher degree of authority than the encyclicals of Pius XII cited above, which are the only magisterial statements that support Mr. Ureta’s position (p. 23).

This parallel between Vatican I and Vatican II constitutions is absolutely improper because it is based on an entirely secondary aspect, such as a title. A document’s title is not enough to express “the intention of teaching Catholic dogma in an authoritative fashion” (p. 23) as Dr. Lamont correctly stated when denying the binding character of the passages quoted from Pius XII’s encyclicals. As already mentioned, to be definitive, “such an intervention must clearly describe the question, express the intention of settling it, specify the position being taught, and make it clear that the teaching is binding on all Catholics” (p. 21). None of the Vatican II documents—including Lumen gentium—express the intention of definitively settling a theological question, making it binding on all Catholics.

While no one doubts that the latest Council enjoyed supreme magisterial authority, everyone recognizes—except for supporters of the hermeneutic of rupture—that the Council Fathers renounced exercising their infallible authority to give it the pastoral character that John XXIII suggested in his inaugural speech.

This is particularly true of Lumen gentium, for which Paul VI ordered to be annexed as an appendix to the statement issued at the 123rd general congregation. It reads:

A question has arisen regarding the precise theological note which should be attached to the doctrine that is set forth in the Schema de Ecclesia and is being put to a vote.

The Theological Commission has given the following response regarding the Modi that have to do with Chapter III of the de Ecclesia Schema: “As is self-evident, the Council’s text must always be interpreted in accordance with the general rules that are known to all.”

On this occasion the Theological Commission makes reference to its Declaration of March 6, 1964, the text of which we transcribe here:

“Taking conciliar custom into consideration and also the pastoral purpose of the present Council, the sacred Council defines as binding on the Church only those things in matters of faith and morals which it shall openly declare to be binding. The rest of the things which the sacred Council sets forth, inasmuch as they are the teaching of the Church’s supreme magisterium, ought to be accepted and embraced by each and every one of Christ’s faithful according to the mind of the sacred Council. The mind of the Council becomes known either from the matter treated or from its manner of speaking, in accordance with the norms of theological interpretation.”7

The manner of speaking of the First Vatican Council’s constitutions Dei Filius and Aeterni Patris clearly expresses the will to define and concludes with anathemas for those who deny its teachings. For example, the chapter on the primacy of the pope begins by saying “We teach and declare that…” It continues by saying “We promulgate anew the definition of the ecumenical Council of Florence, which must be believed by all faithful Christians.” And it concludes by saying, “Therefore, we condemn and reject the opinions of those who hold that…” And, further, “So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours; let him be anathema.”8

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Absolutely none of this can be found in Lumen gentium’s manner of speaking or any other document of Vatican II. Furthermore, at the close of Vatican II, Paul VI explicitly declared that in the Council, “the teaching authority of the Church…[did] not [wish] to issue extraordinary dogmatic pronouncements.”9

Why, then, was Lumen gentium titled “dogmatic” constitution? A malicious observer would say it was to mislead the unwary. We prefer to follow the assessment of Arnaldo Xavier da Silveira in addressing this objection: “The adjective ‘dogmatic’ only means that the subject matter is related to dogma. Just as everything that can be read in a manual of Dogmatic Theology is not dogma.”10

For all of the above, Dr. Lamont errs when he affirms “The statements of Lumen gentium on episcopal jurisdiction are therefore authoritative and final, and must, as far as they go, be accepted” (p. 23). On the contrary, it is precisely their character as an ordinary, non-dogmatic magisterium that allows scholars to question with great freedom the theological novelties of these documents, which, in their natural sense, seem to break with the traditional teaching of the Church. They include, among others, religious freedom, the salvific character of heretical or schismatic sects, and “collegiality,” which breaks with the dogma of papal primacy by affirming the existence of two permanent supreme powers in the Church and which departs from the teaching of Pius XII and the past’s majority current of theologians by affirming that the power of jurisdiction is received directly from God at the episcopal consecration.

It is surprising that a traditionalist author like Dr. Lamont states “It cannot be claimed to be a view that was introduced into the document by modernists wishing to advance their cause” (p. 23) to defend this Lumen gentium novelty. He seems unaware that chapter III of Lumen gentium provoked the greatest reaction from the Coetus Internationalis Patris and even prompted a letter to Paul VI signed by twenty-five cardinals and thirteen superiors of religious orders. In it, they denounced precisely the pressure from the progressive wing to have the “collegiality” novelty and the sacramentality of the power of jurisdiction accepted. The letter, sent by Cardinal Arcadio Larraona on everyone’s behalf, states:

The new doctrine has become neither more certain, nor objectively more probable than before as a result of the disturbing campaign of pressure groups who have deplorably politicized the council and disconcerted some episcopates…Nor has it become more certain as a result of the actions of many audacious experts who, unfaithful to their true ministry, made biased propaganda instead of objectively enlightening the bishops by acquainting them with the status quaestionis. And, finally, it has not become probable through wide coverage of the press, which, with its characteristic methods—methods utilized by the progressives—has created an atmosphere which makes calm discussion difficult, fettering and hampering true liberty by making those who do not show approval appear ridiculous and unpopular. In such an atmosphere scientific reasoning can no longer exert its legitimate influence in any practical way and does not even get a hearing.11

Indeed, it can be claimed that the less probable view on the origin of episcopal jurisdiction was introduced into Lumen gentium by modernists wishing to advance their cause.

An Insufficient Explanation for an Unavoidable Historical-Canonical Objection

Cardinal Enrico Dante, the famous prefect of Pontifical Ceremonies of Pius XII and John XXIII, was one of the signatories of that letter by twenty-five cardinals. During the debates of the Council’s Third Session, discussing collegiality, he wrote Pope Paul VI a long letter raising one of the greatest historical-canonical obstacles to the thesis of the immediately divine origin of the power of episcopal jurisdiction.

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The difficulty: For many centuries, the Church considered acts of jurisdiction taken before episcopal consecration by clerics appointed diocesan bishops and by popes who were simple deacons when elected as fully valid. This was based on the consensus that the new pope had already been granted by Christ the power of jurisdiction at the acceptance of his election and the new bishop at his acceptance of the power of jurisdiction granted by the papal appointment. The 1917 Code of Canon Law even established a three-month period for a new bishop to be consecrated. If jurisdiction were received at the consecration, all previous acts of bishops would have been null and void, and, a fortiori, so would the bulls promulgated by popes before their episcopal consecration and enthronement.

In his letter to Paul VI, Cardinal Dante complained about the shallow answer the conciliar commission studying this matter gave his objection: “Textus, ordinis generalis, ad casum tam particularem attendere non potest” [the proposed text, of a general order, cannot attend to such a particular case]. And he insisted:

A long catalog can be made both of popes who were elected without being bishops, and of the acts of government implemented in the period between the election and the consecration:…Was the Church wrong in believing that those men were supreme pontiffs already prior to their consecration and that their decisions were valid?…(The Commission) believes that it is enough to appeal to the fact that they had the will ‘accipiendi consecrationem seu votum consecrationis’ [to accept the consecration or the desire of the consecration]. Does this mean that the desire to receive a sacrament, which confers power, is sufficient to have such power? The answer given by the Commission is as absurd as saying that a seminarian who has the desire and will to be ordained a priest can already validly celebrate the Holy Mass by virtue of his ‘votum ordinationis’ [desire to be ordained]…(They say) that it will be up to theologians to try to explain how historical facts can be reconciled with the doctrine of the Schema. But the problem lies precisely here: Can these facts be reconciled with this doctrine?12

In a 2013 article for Civiltà Cattolica, Gianfranco Ghirlanda, then Professor emeritus of Canon Law at the Pontifical Gregorian University, created a Cardinal in the latest consistory, said this traditional doctrine is clearly expressed in canons 109 and 219 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, confirmed by Pius XII with the apostolic constitution Vacantis apostolicae sedis (1945), with the motu proprio Cleri sanctitati (1957), and with his speech at the Second International Congress for the Apostolate of the Laity (1957). The cardinal added: “On this issue, there have been magisterial and authoritative interventions by at least six Roman pontiffs between the eleventh and twentieth centuries, which indicate the acceptance of the election to the supreme pontificate as the moment of reception by the elected of the supreme and full power over the universal Church, even if in the perspective of the subsequent episcopal consecration, if the chosen one was not yet bishop.”13

Vatican II innovators were so cognizant of this obstacle that, when drafting the new Code of Canon Law, they explicitly stipulated that the new bishop has the right to govern his diocese only after episcopal consecration unless it is a transfer of see. In the case of the papal election of a non-bishop, the post-conciliar decrees stipulate that he be consecrated immediately after accepting the election and before receiving the act of submission from the cardinals and appearing on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. Quite differently from Saint Gregory the Great, who ruled for almost a year as a deacon, and Stephen II and Adrian V, who died without consecration.

Fr. Umberto Betti, a conciliar expert and later rector of the Lateran University and cardinal, offered this hesitant explanation for the historical and canonical precedent contrary to the new doctrine: “It is not possible to give an answer that is absolutely satisfying. On the doctrinal level, the solution would consist, perhaps, in saying that God supplies Himself, by an anticipated effect of the episcopal consecration to which they are ordered by an intrinsic necessity from the moment of their election.”14

Dr. Lamont has no such hesitations and confidently suggests an alternative: “This jurisdiction can be explained as papal jurisdiction supplied to its possessor, which is replaced by properly episcopal jurisdiction when its possessor is consecrated” (p. 14). But in this hypothesis, the transitory jurisdiction would not be properly episcopal. It would not be ordinary but pontifically delegated, like that of any apostolic delegate or apostolic administrator. We would then have to conclude that many of the successive prelates who have governed some of the most important dioceses in Europe should be removed from the annals because they would not have been real bishops. For example, many bishops in the dioceses of the Holy Empire’s Prince-Bishops remained simple tonsured clerics until the end of their lives and obtained from the Holy See the appointment of a “chor bishop” (a kind of auxiliary bishop) to carry out on their behalf all activities required by the episcopal munus sanctificandi they did not possess.

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In any case, this explanation, for which Dr. Lamont presented no support in theology or in Church practice, is insufficient to resolve the penetrating objection Cardinal Dante formulated to Paul VI during the discussion of the schema on collegiality.

In a forthcoming essay, I will address important underlying issues, such as the philosophical and theological arguments Dr. Lamont presents in favor of the sacramentality of the power of jurisdiction’s origin.

As seen on: Rorate Caeli

Photo Credit:  © f11photo – stock.adobe.com


  1. John Lamont, “On the Papal Deposition of Bishops,” Rorate-caeli.blogspot.com, Dec. 18, 2023, https://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2023/12/on-papal-deposition-of-bishops-dr-john.html. For the convenience of readers, quotes from Dr. Lamont’s study are taken from its pdf version (available at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1JjRjM2hZ-SXzM7d3WON1pxEmPnnhrPfR/view) and only page numbers are shown in this essay. Original emphases in quotes are always shown using italics. My emphasis in quotes is always shown in bold.
  2. José A. Ureta, “Why a Good Bishop Should Not Ignore but Obey His Unjust Deposition by a Pope,” TFP.org, Oct. 20, 2023, https://www.tfp.org/why-a-good-bishop-should-not-ignore-but-obey-his-unjust-deposition-by-a-pope/
  3. Fr. Gerald Murray recently published an article titled “Strickland’s removal was against canon law” (available at https://newdailycompass.com/en/stricklands-removal-was-against-canon-law). He analyses the canonical irregularities incurred in the procedures to remove these bishops, which would make them invalid. While his analysis is conclusive and worthy of endorsement, it addresses the issue from an exclusively canonical rather than a theological perspective in which the current controversy with Dr. Lamont is being held.
  4. First Vatican Council, dogmatic constitution Pastor aeternus (July 18, 1870), ch. 3, nos. 1, 6, accessed Feb. 12, 2024, https://www.papalencyclicals.net/councils/ecum20.htm.
  5. Henry Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, trans. Roy J. Deferrari (Fitzwilliam, N.H.: Loreto Publications, n.d.), 230 ; Denz.-Rahner 694.
  6. Pius XII, encyclical Humani generis (Aug. 12, 1950), no. 20, accessed Feb. 12, 2024, https://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_12081950_humani-generis.html.
  7. Second Vatican Council, dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium, Appendix, accessed Feb. 12, 2024, https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vatii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html.
  8. First Vatican Council, dogmatic constitution Pastor Aeternus (July 18, 1870), ch. 1, no. 1; ch. 3, no. 1; ch. 4, no 1, end, accessed Feb. 12, 2024, https://www.papalencyclicals.net/councils/ecum20.htm.
  9. Paul VI, Closing Speech (Dec. 7, 1965), accessed Feb. 12, 2024, https://www.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/speeches/1965/documents/hf_p-vi_spe_19651207_epilogo-concilio.html.
  10. Arnaldo Vidigal Xavier da Silveira, Can Documents of the Magisterium of the Church Contain Errors? (Spring Grove, Penn.: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, 2015), 28.
  11. Roberto de Mattei, The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story, ed. Michael J. Miller, trans. Patrick T. Brannan, Michael J. Miller, and Kenneth D. Whitehead (Fitzwilliam, N.H.: Loreto Publications, 2010), 350, accessed Feb. 12, 2024, https://archive.org/details/secondvaticancou0000dema/page/n1/mode/2up.
  12. Albert Kallio, “Collegialità nel Vaticano II: una nuova dottrina?” Chieseepostconcilio.blogspot.com, June 23, 2018, https://chiesaepostconcilio.blogspot.com/2018/06/collegialita-nel-vaticano-ii-una-nuova.html.
  13. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, “Cessazione dall’ufficio di Romano Pontefice”, Civiltà Cattolica, quaderno 3905, 2013 v. 1. fn 15, https://www.laciviltacattolica.it/articolo/cessazione-dallufficio-di-romano-pontefice/#_ftnref15
  14. Kallio, “Collgialità” fn30.

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