Unfortunately, I don’t see how anyone who is aware of the facts can deny that Pope Francis is pertinacious in rejecting various doctrines that are proposed by the Church as truths of divine faith. Despite being urged by many people to do so, he refuses to express his adhesion to the Church’s teaching on matters of general and special morality, and on justification. He continues to promote the errors contrary to these teachings, by word and by deed.

How do we respond to a pope pertinacious in heresy? Unlike the sedevacantists, I don’t believe that the individual Catholic has the right to declare that a pope, or bishop, has lost his office for heresy, and that a new pope needs to be appointed. To have legal force, such a declaration has to come from a body with sufficient legal standing within the Church: the college of bishops or the sanior pars thereof, or the college of cardinals, or perhaps the other patriarchs.

Before such a declaration occurs, does a heretical pope have the right to act as pope? Hardly: a heretic does not have the right to be head of the Catholic Church. In this sense we might perhaps say that such a pope has lost his office ‘before God’, though not yet ‘before the Church’; but I am not sure what authority for such a phrase exists.

Does that mean we have the right to disobey his laws and precepts? No, not as such. Until a proper legal declaration of a pope’s loss of office has been made, the public life of the Church, which is a society governed by law, must surely proceed on the basis that he still holds his office. It may be that if some future pope or council condemns Pope Francis for heresy, that pope or council may also declare that he lost his office from the moment that he began to manifest pertinacity, i.e. from the moment that he began to assert things which he knew to be contrary to what the Church teaches as revealed (and let us remember that he has promoted Holy Communion for the invalidly married from his first Angelus address.)

In that case, the future pope or council would have to decide which of Pope Francis’s actions had been legally valid. I suppose that they would say that jurisdiction had been supplied to him by Christ, Supreme Head of the Church, whenever he had posited an act which pertained directly to the salvation of souls. For example, his episcopal appointments would be judged valid, for if the diocesan bishops were not duly in possession of their sees, they could not give faculties to priests, and so penitents would not have been validly absolved. On the other hand, they could judge that the acts of Pope Francis which did not pertain directly to the salvation of souls had been invalid or at least doubtful: for example, canonisations.

The public life of the Church, then, must be based on that which legally obtains. The private life of Catholics seems like a different matter. If a person is convinced that Pope Francis is pertinacious, and therefore does not have the right to act as head of the Church, I am not sure that he need give any kind of assent to his teachings (I mean, even those teachings which are not open to some other obvious objection.)