U.S. Representatives Challenge Papacy and Hint at Old Heresies

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On May 10, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and 17 other Catholic U.S. Representatives issued a communiqué expressing their concern over the “Pope’s statement warning Catholic elected officials that they risk excommunication and would not receive communion for their pro-choice views.”1

It is quite possible that these Democratic congressmen reviewed the declaration hastily and signed on to it without realizing its full gravity.
Nevertheless, the statement raises concerns, for it suggests a state of revolt toward the Papacy and insinuates State supremacy over the Catholic Church. In so doing, the document suggests something of the errors of Gallicanism2 and Jansenism,3 which centuries ago took France under Philip the Fair,4 and Austria under Joseph II,5 to the brink of schism.

As the great papal historian Ludwig von Pastor explains, Joseph II maintained that “[t]he Church was no longer to enjoy universal respect, as a value superior to all others; it was to be reduced to the rank of an assistant and handmaid of the almighty State and its welfare.”6
A sprinkling of Joseph II’s theory on Church subservience seems to be at play in the communiqué of the 18 Congressmen. The Church must give sway—they seem to say—to their liberal political views and understanding of the U.S. Constitution. I quote from the document :

The fact is that religious sanction in the political arena directly conflicts with our fundamental beliefs about the role and responsibility of democratic representatives in a pluralistic America—it also clashes with freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution. Such notions offend the very nature of the American experiment and do a great disservice to the centuries of good work the Church has done.

These congressmen appear to transpose their congressional immunity in certain civil affairs to all matters spiritual. They even go beyond this, since, for them, the Church has no business imposing “religious sanction in the political arena.”

They seem to reject the great lessons of History such as that given by Saint Ambrose of Milan who banned the all-powerful Theodosius from entering his cathedral (a sanction), because of the Roman Emperor’s responsibility in the massacre of innocent people in Thessalonica (political arena).

Moreover, they seem to reject Scripture and apostolic teaching, such as Saint Paul’s solemn admonition to Timothy to preach the Gospel, even in face of adversity:

I charge thee, before God and Jesus Christ, who shall judge the living and the dead, by his coming, and his kingdom: Preach the word: be instant in season and out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine. For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables. (2 Tim. 4:1-5).

What these Catholic Congressmen seem to want is a Church that will not criticize, much less sanction or punish, any political authority even when it acts against the dictates of natural moral law.

The subservient Church these Congressmen seem to want is a ‘national Church,’ in the sense of a Church that does not oppose their implementation of the “American experiment.” Theirs would be a kind of “Constitutional Church,” not unlike that established in 1790 by the French National Assembly during the French Revolution under the influence of Gallicanism and Jansenism.7

It would be interesting to ask the 18 signing congressmen to clarify their position and answer the following questionnaire:

As baptized Catholics invested with political authority, as U.S.

Representatives — Do you believe that the political order is above the moral order and that, therefore, a congressman does not need to observe the precepts of natural and revealed morals in his public life?
Do you believe that a Catholic, in his capacity as a member of Congress, is not subject to the dogmas, morals, and discipline of the Catholic Church?
Do you believe that the Vicar of Christ does not have the right to make a statement on matters of faith or morals or to take disciplinary measures toward Catholics anywhere in the world?
Do you deny the universal character of the Catholic Church and would you reduce the Church to the status of a “National Church,” subject to the temporal power?

Yes, History might be repeating itself. We might witness once more the sight of bad Catholics who hide behind the power of the State, the ‘secular arm,’ in their attempt to impose their erroneous religious beliefs and morals on the Catholic Church.

* * *

The May 14 statement was signed by the following Democratic Congressmen: Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut Joe Baca of California Joe Courtney of Connecticut Anna Eshoo of California Maurice Hinchey of New York Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island James Langevin of Rhode Island John Larson of Connecticut Carolyn McCarthy of New York Betty McCollum of Minnesota Jim Moran of Virginia Bill Pascrell of New Jersey Tim Ryan of Ohio Linda Sanchez of California José Serrano of New York Hilda Solis of California Mike Thompson of California.



  1. “Catholic Members of Congress Express Concern Over Church Sanctions,” May 10, 2007, at www.house.gov.
  2. “According to the Gallican theory …. papal primacy was limited, first, by the temporal power of princes, which, by the Divine will, was inviolable; secondly by the authority of the general council and that of the bishops. … This idea made its appearance as early as the reign of Philip the Fair, in some of the protests of that monarch against the policy of Boniface VIII.” (Antoine Degert, s.v. “Gallicanism,” at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06351a.htm/.
  3. Cf. Pope Pius VI condemned as heretical the proposition of the Jansenist Synod of Pistoia which states “that the power of ecclesiastical ministry and of rule is derived from the COMMUNITY of the faithful to the pastors.” (Denzinger-Deferrari, n. 1502). Cf. J. Forget, s.v. “Jansenius and Jansenism,” at www.newadvent.org/cathen/08285a.htm; s.v. “Synod of Pistoia,” at www.newadvent.org/cathen/12116c.htm; Michael T. Ott, s.v. “Pope Pius VI,” at www.newadvent.org/cathen/12131a.htm.
  4. Cf. Georges Goyau, s.v. “Philip IV, surnamed Le Bel (the Fair),” at www.newadvent.org/cathen/12004a.htm; Alejandro Xavier (Alejandro Rey-Stolle Pedrosa, S.J) Bonifacio VIII, (Barcelona: Petronio, 1971).
  5. “Josephinism …. was fostered in the second half of the eighteenth century by the spread of Febronian and Jansenist ideas, based on Gallican principles.” H. Franz, s.v. “Joseph II (1741-90),” at www.newadvent.org/cathen/08508b.htm.
  6. Ludwig, Freiherr von Pastor, The History of the Popes, vol. 34 (Pius VI (1775-1799), (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1952), p. 434.
  7. Cf. Georges Goyau, s.v. “French Revolution,” www.newadvent.org/cathen/13009a.htm.

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