No, You Cannot Privately Disagree with the Church: “Dissent” is Heresy. It’s all or nothing

I was at Byzantine Vespers the other night, and it was the feast of St. Athanasius. The liturgy praised how he defeated “men of evil minds,” and that really struck me.

There’s a popular notion since Vatican II that Catholics can “privately disagree with” the Church, and that’s not the same thing as heresy. This particularly comes up across the otherwise spectrum of ideologies in regard to divorce and birth control.

Tortured dissent, which is supposed to be *tortured*, is not the same thing as plain old dissent, which is why it’s “tortured.” Further, the “I can disagree with the Church privately” thing doesn’t seem to hold water in people who are *talking* about their disagreements with the Church.

Even on theological matters, I generally find that “disagreements with the Church” tend to be to justify some personal sin the person wants to excuse. I always use the example of the great “Reformers”–Luther was after sex, Calvin was after money, and Zwingli was after food–not that there weren’t plenty of priests, bishops and Popes int those days after the same things, but if you compare those three to the great Counter-Reformers, it’s no contest. Peter of Alcantara lived in a cave for 30 years. Francis Borgia gave up all the wealth of the Borgia dynasty to be a Jesuit. Francis Xavier traveled the world, making disciples of all nations, and condemning the priests sitting back at the universities instead of evangelizing. Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and Ignatius are obvious. Put those people up against Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Henry VIII or even Elizabeth I. . . .

Anyway, prior to the 1960s, it was considered a pretty big deal that Catholics ought to conform to the Church’s teachings in mind, body and spirit. Prior to Vatican II, priests were required to preach on a rotation of specific doctrinal topics throughout he year (including contraception twice a year). Before Protestantism, it was understood that one had to adhere to a set of Christological principles to even be considered Christian. Now people insist that Mormons and JWs, who adhere to some of those very heresies, are “Christians.” Many Protestant denominations adhere to teachings on Christ that are condemned by the early Ecumenical Councils, and many day-to-day Catholics have practical beliefs that are objectively heretical–especially beliefs that have been filtered down to them by “spirit of Vatican II” clerics, religious and theologians.

When the great Dietrich von Hildebrand was converting, he told the priest, “I agree with the Church’s teachings on everything except birth control. That one just strikes me as totally irrational, and I cannot support it.” The priest told him, “Then you cannot be a Catholic. It’s all or nothing.” DvH replied, “Then I say with St. Augustine, ‘I believe in order to understand.'” He went on to be one of the greatest philosophical exponents on the Church’s teachings on sexuality and birth control, to the point that Bl. John Paul II credited him as one of the major inspirations for _The Theology of the Body_.

Bottom line: if you think you can get along with “privately dissenting” against the Church’s teachings, then think again. You’re gambling with your immortal soul. The Church’s teachings are a guaranteed path to Heaven. Jesus *may* give one a pass for sincerely disagreeing with the Church on some infallible teaching, based upon personal sincerity, invincible ignorance and all that, but it’s not worth the gamble. If you know what the Church teaches, you’ve gotta obey it or go to Confession. Period.

16 responses to “No, You Cannot Privately Disagree with the Church: “Dissent” is Heresy. It’s all or nothing

  1. The SINGULAR subject I am in dissent on-the right of men to migrate for work or commerce- it is indeed a very tortured dissent. I can admit that it would be a far better world ideally if the church was right. I can even go so far as to say illegal immigrants will always find a dry roof, a couch, and a meal in my home. But everything I know about church teaching on economic justice says until my close neighbors are fed, clothed, and sheltered, the stranger has no more right to a meal than they do. And so my money goes not to help the illegal immigrant, but rather the homeless veteran.

  2. Hi, Ted, you’re not a dissident. The Church does *not* support illegal immigration. The Church supports generous immigration laws.

  3. the Inlaw Josey Wales

    Actually the Church now dissents from parts of the Church’s history.
    In 1520 in Exsurge Domine, Pope Leo X declared “against the Catholic Faith” Luther’s saying that to burn heretics was an act which is against the Holy Spirit. Now the Church via freedom of religion statements in Vatican II agrees with the young Luther even though the older Luther was no gentle soul toward a peasant revolt…..and the Church then dissents from Exsurge Domine by Pope Leo X in that one part.
    John Paul II called “deportation” an intrinsic evil in section 80 of “Splendor of the Truth”…yet Benedict did not agree with such a blanket generalization and in May of 2010, Benedict silently dissented and permitted Italy to deport two muslim students who had planned to kill Benedict.
    John Paul II dissented unconsciously from God in Leviticus 25:44-46
    where God gives the Jews the right to perpetual chattel slavery. John Paul wrote in section 80 mentioned above that slavery was an intrinsic evil….it’s not….it’s evil when it is no longer necessary in a culture.
    Do not turn Catholicism into a Simon says experience…..unless you are talking about the clearly infallible….not the maybe infallible. See canon 749-3(c).

    • Amazing the lengths people will go to to make that point:
      First, the problem with *ALL* your examples is that they do not involve doctrine or dogma. They all involve prudential judgements of Popes.
      As for the Old Testament contradiction, you can find tons of apparent contradictions between the Old Law and the New–divorce, for example. The Old Law was meant to prepare God’s People for the Messiah, to purge sin from their midst. Jesus brought salvific grace, through the Sacraments, so that the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit would strengthen people to live as God intended “from the beginning”; as opposed to the Old Law which was designed to account for human wickedness.
      I don’t know your background, but the apparent contradictions between Vatican II era teachings on religious freedom and just about everything that came before Vatican II are obviously the main impetus of the “traditionalist” movement, and while I have my own “take” on the subject, I’ll leave it to the talks between the Vatican and SSPX to sort that out.
      In any case, disagreements between Popes about matters of interpretation of doctrine do not qualify laity or priests to openly “dissent” against Papal teaching.

  4. the Inlaw Josey Wales

    The only prudential judgement I gave was Benedict dissenting from the mistaken condemnation of all deportation in section 80. But section 80 as source is a mistake and that is possible because very few encyclicals involve infallibility. But you want to believe that Popes are always correct in morals. Ludwig Ott says they are not in the Introduction to Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma….the Intro itself is free online. Please read it lest God at some point has to correct you by hurt rather than simply by words. Here is the relevant Ott section from the online Intro:

    ” With regard to the doctrinal teaching of the Church it must be well noted that not all the assertions of the Teaching Authority of the Church on questions of Faith and morals are infallible and consequently irrevocable. Only those are infallible which emanate from General Councils representing the whole episcopate, and the Papal Decisions Ex Cathedra (cf. D 1839). The ordinary and usual form of the Papal teaching activity is not infallible. Further, the decisions of the Roman Congregations (Holy Office, Bible Commission) are not infallible. Nevertheless normally they are to be accepted with an inner assent which is based on the high supernatural authority of the Holy See (assensus internus supernaturalis, assensus religiosus). The so-called “silentium obsequiosum.” that is “reverent silence,” does not generally suffice. By way of exception, the obligation of inner agreement may cease if a competent expert, after a renewed scientific investigation of all grounds, arrives at the positive conviction that the decision rests on an error.”

    Sir….again..I referred to documents not prudential judgements as source….source. You are using an argument that doesn’t apply here except in Benedict permitting deportation.
    Read the sources I gave: Exsurge Domine…article 33 condemned as “against the Catholic Faith”….that burning heretics is against the Holy Spirit. That is an error.
    “Splendor of the Truth” section 80 has several mistakes also…slavery cannot be an intrinsic evil because God gave it to the Jews. An intrinsic evil means something is evil irrespective of context.

    • I have no idea ofi whom Ludwig Ott is, nor why I should listen to him. However, the passage you cite just says what I said in fancier language: Catholics are obliged to obey even non-infallible decisions of the Pope or Curia. In the cases of contraception and ordination, Paul VI and BJPII used language that could qualify as exosuit Cathedra, but Ratzinger and others said they can’t belkin exosuit Cathedra since both are reiterating what Councils already declared.

  5. the Inlaw Josey Wales

    The phrase is ex cathedra. Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma was the main source for graduate dogmatic students and priests in mid 20th century. Since then Germain Grisez and others (and Grisez was recently enlisted by Rome to defend marriage in a Jesuit periodical that erred)…. they have spoken about dissent of non experts since many laymen now have much better educations than many priests. Grisez wrote “Way of the Lord Jesus” for seminaries….see page 854 of vol.I. Don’t do dogmatics or moral theology if you are not reading.
    We now know that several thousand heretics at least (an Inquisition Secretary had said 31,000 writing in 1800) were burned at the stake under papal mandate. The Church needed dissent on that issue beginning in 1253 A.D. and there was no dissent because people didn’t want to be burned themselves. Heresy by the way is only possible if canon 749-4(c) is satisfied….it demands that an issue is clearly infallible before there can be a heresy trial. Do this. Go to Ed Peter’s list of ex communications and see if your pet issues ever result in an excommunication from Rome…not from a local Bishop.

  6. the Inlaw Josey Wales

    correction canon 749-3 not 4

  7. Why should I bother reading some textbook when I can read what Popes actually teach?
    Sounds like you’re bending over backwards to defend contraception and abortion, calling them my “pet issues.”
    I’m sick and tired of arrogant liberals with liberal theology degrees by liberal Post-Vatican II theologians telling me I’m not allowed to talk about theology because I don’t have a liberal theology degree.
    I don’t have a theology degree because I’m disabled. Of course, abortion supporters like you just want to kill disabled people.

  8. It may not be “heresy” in the legal sense, BTW, but you’ll still go to Hell for thinking it.

    • One more thing: I intended to say “ex Cathedra,” but I was typing on my phone.
      People like you just disgust me, though. Your whole purpose is to defend people’s use of birth control, and those people are going to Hell because you tell them it’s OK if they think it’s OK, even though the Church says it’s not, and even though the Bible clearly says it’s not.

      You are trying to send people to Hell. You are doing the work of Satan.

  9. the Inlaw Josey Wales

    Apparently you see your issues inside other people without their ever saying a thing. I never mentioned abortion or contraception anywhere. This mind reading of yours means nothing good. The condemnation of abortion is infallible in section 62 of Evangelium Vitae in clear words as canon 749-3 requires…John Paul polled all Bishops by mail and email and thus was able to get unanimity against abortion but apparently not on contraception…from all Bishops worldwide….watch the words which are a lot like the ex cathedra wording of the IC….but this is a substitute for ex cathedra based on all bishops under the Pope:

    “Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops-who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine-I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.”

  10. What do you mean you never mentioned them? That’s what this post is about, the false notion that people can privately “dissent” from the Church’s moral teachings, and you’re objecting to my argument. Ergo, you want to justify people’s “dissent.”

  11. the Inlaw Josey Wales

    Dissent is needed not about infallible things where it is sinful but about the non infallible. Christ needed dissenters against Romanus Pontifex by Pope Nicholas V in 1454 wherein the Pope gave Portugal the right to despoil natives who resisted the gospel. and enslave them perpetually. If you are ever mugged in Brazil, you can thank that Pope in part. Christ needed dissent against Exsurge Domine by Leo X and its support of burning heretics. Dissent was absent….people who help you jump your car on a cold day….Protestants….were burned in those days because Catholics did not dissent. Goodbye sir. Learn to distinguish.

  12. You’re the one who can’t distinguish. You’re talking about prudential judgements about how to apply the Church’s teachings.
    You’re trying to compare things like burning heretics at the stake–which at the historical time you’re talking about may have been a pragmatic necessity–to the Church’s consistent, perennial condemnation of contraception. It doesn’t hold water.

    And you’re also failing to understand the difference between positive and negative law. You need to read _Veritatis Splendor_.

    A pope saying, “Yeah it’s OK to mug Natives” or “Yeah, it’s OK to burn heretics” and someone saying, “I think I’ll choose not to, thanks” IS NOT DISSENT. NONE of the cases you cite is a matter of negative law. They’re all cases of positive law, which we are not permitted to “dissent” from but permitted to apply in proportion to our own judgement of the situation.

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