If I had to say what I thought caused the biggest harm to the stability of the Church and acceptance of her teachings, I would say it was the loss of respect and obedience to the Holy Father when he teaches, and the assumption that when the Pope teaches what we dislike it means he must be an idiot or a heretic.

In the period of 1968-2013, this behavior was seen in those Catholics who were at odds with the teachings on sexual morality and women in the priesthood. They believed (and still do) that the Church went wrong on those teachings and, until the Pope reversed those teachings, they could “legitimately” disobey him. They argued that, since these teachings were not defined ex cathedra, they were not protected, and could be in error.

In response, Catholics began stepping up to defend the authority of the papacy. They pointed out that the authority of the Pope was binding when he intended to teach and, even if we should wind up with a morally bad Pope, God would prevent him from teaching error (whether by guidance or by diverting him from attempting to implement a false teaching).

There were warning signs we should have seen however. Because some of the Church teaching on moral issues superficially coincided with conservative values, it became easy to confuse the two. When Popes wrote on other issues, these Catholics fretted that the Church was “moving left” or argued that the Pope was just expressing an “opinion” where his Polish (St. John Paul II) or German (Benedict XVI) background gave him a distorted view of the West.

Beginning in 2013, we saw the first non-European Pope. He was solidly orthodox, but had a different perspective on the world, based on different experiences than Catholics in the US and Western Europe had. Misinterpreting these perspectives as a “change of teaching,” we soon wound up with same problem but with different actors and reasons for dissent. Because he spoke out on the social justice teachings of the Church—the ones the defenders of his predecessors wrote off as opinion—we saw the Catholics who confused Church teaching with conservatism begin to question him, then challenge his orthodoxy.

And, similar to before, the superficial similarities between Catholic teaching on social justice and political liberalism leads some Catholics to assume that the Church was finally agreeing with them, despite the fact that the Pope confirmed that he held the teachings of the Church, calling himself a “son of the Church.” [§]

Both of these factions of dissenters lost sight of the Catholic understanding of cum Petro et sub Petro—with Peter and under Peter. This is the recognition that one must be in communion with the Pope and offering religious submission of intellect and will to him when he teaches. This was the obedience of the saints even in darker times when some Popes were more interested in self than in God.

Professing that God protects His Church is not some misplaced trust in the holiness and knowledge of the individual on the Chair of St. Peter. It’s faith in God that we can trust Him to protect His Church under the headship of the Pope, even if some of the Popes should prove to live unworthily.

If we believe this, we can understand why we give obedience to each Pope when he teaches—even if we don’t particularly like him or his behavior—because we can trust God to protect His Church and prevent it from teaching error when we give obedience to the visible head of the Church. But if we refuse to give religious submission of intellect and will to the Pope when he teaches, if we refuse to be cum Petro et sub Petro, we are not faithful Catholics. We’re merely schismatics (cf. canon 751).



[§] It should be noted, despite the constant predictions of Pope Francis changing teachings on contraception, woman priests, homosexuality, etc., he has always strongly reaffirmed Church teaching on these subjects. Maybe it’s time to stop listening to the critics and alarmists.


Image: Adobe Stock

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David Wanat holds a Masters Degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. He has been blogging in defense of the Catholic Church since 2007. His personal blog is at http://www.ifimightinterject.com/.

Cum Petro et Sub Petro

8 Responses

  1. Chris dorf says:

    So glad you laid out the narrative in this fashion. Many of us in the church have been watching this unfold since the 70s.
    You’re even handed exposition is greatly appreciated and should be widely disseminated disseminated.

  2. Raphael Wong says:

    Professing that God protects the Church is faith. Professing that God protects the Pope only is a little problematic.

    The saints’ character of virtue should be emulated, but not necessarily their specific actions

    • Mike Lewis says:

      The Church holds that the pope receives divine assistance in his teachings on faith and morals, even when not invoking infallibility. The pope also has the fullness of the power and can’t be judged by Canon Law. He can essentially snap his fingers and make a change to the official catechism of the Church.

      If God entrusts the pope with so much power, but didn’t protect the office from teaching errors, what good is even having a pope?

    • jong says:

      Raphael Wong
      If thats the caae why would you even trust a single word and and action of the Dubia Cardinals et, al. We dont deceides and set conditions on what a Pope must do. The Wisdom of God place before us is very clear and it is shown and teach to us by the faith example of Jesus and Mama Mary, a humble obedience to God and God ordained servants. Read Romans13:1-2. Unam Sanctam

  3. M. says:

    I read this on “If I Might Interject.” Yours was the first site I ever found that supported Pope Francis and made arguments in his defense that a layperson could understand. I gobbled your writings up like manna in the desert. How wonderful it is to see you writing for WPI!!! Hooray, a match made in heaven! Keep them coming, please!

  4. jong says:

    You started the year 1968-2013, i guess it is close to the year when St.Pope Paul VI stated that the “smoke of satan” has entered the Church.If Im not mistaken St.Pope Paul VI notice the “smoke of satan” had entered the Church. What is the purpose of smoke?
    Smoke is attributed to clouding the vision, and this is the tactics satan had employed to cloud the vision on the New Evangelization Mission of the Church at the dawn of the Third Millenium.
    How the “smoke of satan” undermine the Vatican II Church mission? Pope BXVI said, satan had established a Council of Media to spread confusions by presenting and painting a bad image of Vatican II Church.
    What is the result? satan had inspired clergy and laity to separate themselves from the Vatican II Church.
    Satan already anticipated that sowing confusions will result to divisions. So, what did Satan do? Blessed Sheen perfectly prophesied this, saying Satan will establish a counterfeit church that resembles catholic tone.
    St.JP2 sees a two church will collide soon and he called it the Final Confrontation.
    The Vatican II is at war right now with the counterfeit catholic church, the realization of Akita prophecy.
    Cardinal vs cardinal and Bishop vs bishop.
    Both this prelates are possessing catholic faith. What is the difference?
    The true Cardinals and Bishops are united to the Vicar of Christ, as St.Paul described the true church must be “one in mind and heart” with the Vicar of Christ.(1Corinthian1:10). All those Cardinals and Bishops who oppose the Pope are outside the Church, but they claimed too that they are the true catholic who are faithful to the 2000 years tradition of the Church and to Christ orthodox teachings.
    Can you be a true catholic and at the same time ignore Peter whom Jesus appointed as His Chief Shepherd?
    Who is the shepherd of the Rad Trads?
    Pope Francis is preaching the Mercy of God, while the Dubia Cardinals et, al is preaching the “anti-gospel” by closing the door on the lost & wounded souls seeking healing and mercy. The Dubia Cardinals uses Jesus own words to condemn the wounded souls but forgetting the important scene when Jesus rescued a prostitute and saying “has anyone condemn you? neither I wont condemn you..”
    God sent Jesus not to condemn souls but to save.(John3:17)
    I hope we can see the real situation of the Church right now from the point of view of our beloved Pope Francis.
    We must be in “one mind and heart” with Pope Francis in these end times.
    The Final Confrontation is now becoming visible and the Akita prophecy were already unfolding right before our eyes. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to see in these Age of Confusion who are the wolves in sheep clothing or the cardinals and bishops infected by the Spirit of Judas as Pope Francis called it Clericalism.
    How will you know this wolves? Satan hated the Mercy of God, and he was cast out of his lofty position in Heaven.
    Who are the Cardinals and Bishops cast out from their position and opposing Pope Francis calling his teachings “false mercy”.
    This is the state our church today. We have two catholic church, one is preaching the Mercy of God and the other calling it “false mercy”.
    Get ready faithful and true Catholic, let us defend and fight the forces of darkness united to our Luminous Pope Francis with the mighty intercession of Pope Emeritus BXVI.
    In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph.
    Silence and conversion is our weapon as Pope Francis implore all the faithful to embraced this virtue and be docile to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
    John1:5 and Exodus14:14

  5. Jim the Scott says:

    >I would say it was the loss of respect and obedience to the Holy Father when he teaches, and the assumption that when the Pope teaches what we dislike it means he must be an idiot or a heretic.

    Actually for me the problem is during the reign of Pope St John Paul II not only liberals but Radtrads hated on the Pope and the later hated on him to such a degree they made Hans Kung & Rosemary Radford Ruther look like a JP2 Fanboyz/girlz by comparison. This was unjust and extreme on their part. It was also a lot of crying wolf and in the story when the wolf finally did show up nobody believed the Shepard boy and he was eaten.

    Well Pope Francis is not a wolf . At least I hope he isn’t one(I don’t think Viganno should be dismissed). But he has done some things that are more than a bit off and very very dodgy. Enter the Radtrad crowd who who exagerate the problem and or mix some legitimate criticism with some over the top nonsense and that obscures legitimate concerns & tarnishes legitimate critics. Additionally SSPX’ers and Sedes point to Pope Francis’ mistakes or ambiguity to try to take advantage and push their agendas which are invalid.

    Also don’t even get me started on the “This is all Vatican II’s fault and if we went back to the Old Mass this would all go away” crowd.

    I often pray the next Pope will be a Traditionalist. If only because I suspect the people who will complain loudest about his reign will be the trads themselves. Be careful what you pray for…. God might give it too you just to teach you a lession.

  6. Well, so one is stuck with either “Francis” and being Evolutionist with him, or Pope Michael, or some Antipope less heterodox than “Francis” (Alexander IX, canonically best option for those considering the lay conclave in 1990 invalid in its election, but Feeneyite, the fourth Pope now – I think – of Palmar de Troya, the successor, if any, to John Gregory XVII in Canada) and be marginal with one’s choice. But, with at least three of the four, Creationist. As in Young Earth.

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