I do not want this blog to turn my readers into “heresy hunters” since recognizing heresy is not enough to obtain eternal life. Also, there is so much heresy in current “Catholics” (both lay and clergy) that your “heresy hunting” would become an exhausting effort.
But this blog is worth writing because there is an odd gnostic-myth floating around Catholic circles today that a heretic in the hierarchy can only be recognized by either a group of Cardinals or an obsolete battery of canonical trials. While it is true that the saints seem to delineate between “material heresy” (small points) and “manifest heresy” (obvious heresy) the latter is held by saints to be easily-identified by your average faithful lay-man or lay-woman living in sanctifying grace. To believe secret wisdom on recognizing orthodoxy belongs to a shifty group of Cardinals is peak-gnosticism. (Gnosticism is the old and tired heresy that only a certain group of “enlightened-elites” have access to “secret” divine-knowledge.)
Rather, the Catholic Church has always taught you only need the true faith and blue-collar common-sense to identify a manifest heretic. This means you do not need a group of Cardinals behind you with “an imperfect council” or canonists forming a “canonical trial” to recognize an obvious enemy of the Catholic faith. (This is important because a manifest-heretic, by definition, ceases not only to be a member of the hierarchy, but even a member of the Catholic Church.)
Although a “material-heretic” could historically be judged a “formal-heretic” only by a canonical trial, Fr. Paul Kramer asserts in his recent book that “any prelate can be judged for heresy by his inferiors” in regards to obvious (or manifest) heresy. In other words, if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck—it is a duck! And, as such, “the duck” heretic must be avoided as a non-Catholic intruder (even if he purports himself to be part of the hierarchy) by your average member of the lay-faithful. (The key-word here is faithful, as in catechized and orthodox.)
I realize this is the opposite of what most of the traditional Catholic faithful currently believe.
Fr. Paul Kramer quotes early saints and later Popes to prove this: Pope Gregory XVI…explicitly cites Ballerini’s doctrine as the basis for his own position on this question; and Ballerini’s teaching is most clearly stated in the following passage: “For any person, even a private person, the words of Saint Paul to Titus hold: ‘A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, avoid: knowing that he that is such a one, is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned by his own judgment.’ (Tit. 3, 10-11). He undoubtedly, who having been once or twice corrected, does not repent, but remains obstinate in a belief contrary to a manifest or defined dogma; by this his public pertinacity which for no reason can be excused, since pertinacity properly pertains to heresy, he declares himself to be a heretic, i.e. to have withdrawn from the Catholic faith and the Church by his own will, so that no declaration or sentence from anyone would be necessary . Conspicuous in this matter is the explanation of St. Jerome on the commended words of Paul: “Therefore, by himself [the heretic] is said to be condemned, because the fornicator, adulterer, murderer, and those guilty of other misdeeds are driven out from the Church by the Priests: but heretics deliver the sentence upon themselves, departing from the Church by their own will: this departure is seen to be the condemnation by their own conscience.”
Fr. David, here: A smart-but-suspicious reader would now ask this question: But can these admonitions to abjure heresy go from so-called “inferiors” to so-called “superiors”? First of all, the required “admonitions” against “obstinacy” alluded to above have already been executed—even if by so-called “inferiors” to so-called “superiors”—in this 21st century Catholic Church crisis many times over against our most famous heretics. Many public heretics who now claim to be in the hierarchy have repeatedly revealed themselves to be public heretics by ignoring what good lay people (and priests) have written them as they beg them to abjure their manifest heresy. Fr. Paul Kramer answers this question brilliantly:
Fr. Paul again: Moynihan mentions that there was such “a tradition already prevalent as far back as the seventh century.” The doctrine that any prelate can be judged for heresy by his inferiors has been asserted since the late Patristic period, namely, by St. Isidore of Seville, “the last scholar of the ancient world ” (c. 560–636); and the proposition that the pope can be judged for heresy was already explicitly asserted by St. Columban (540–615). In the year 636, St. Isidore wrote in his Sententiarum, Lib. II, c. 39, “The rulers therefore are to be judged by God, and by no means are to be judged by their subjects… but if the rector strays from the faith, then he is to be accused by his subjects; but for objectionable moral behaviour he is more to be tolerated rather than to be segregated from the people…” St. Columban wrote to Pope Boniface IV: “For if these things are certain rather than fables, then vice versa your children have become the head, but you the tail (Deut. 28:44) which is even painful to say, and for that reason those who have preserved the orthodox faith will be your judges, whoever they may be, even if they are seen to be your juniors those orthodox and true Catholics, who have neither received nor defended any heretics or suspected heretics at any time, but have persevered enduringly in the zeal of the true faith.” With the words, neque hæreticos neque suspectos aliquos [neither heretics nor those suspected as such] the saint makes it clear that the subjects have the right in conscience to judge and reject (literally “not to receive”) not only superiors who are notoriously manifest heretics, but also those who positively manifest themselves to be reasonably considered suspected heretics.
—On the True and False Pope, excerpts from pages 39 and 45, by Fr. Paul Kramer.
And specifically on the papacy:
“If someone, for a reasonable motive, holds the person of the Pope in suspicion and refuses his presence, even his jurisdiction, he does not commit the delect of schism nor any other whatsoever, provided that he be ready to accept the Pope were he not held in suspicion. It goes without saying that one has the right to avoid what is harmful and to ward off dangers.”