The following is a piece of satire.
Satire, of its nature, can be biting – but the author offers this with the best wishes towards those satirised herein. He hopes that it may make our position clearer to those who do not understand it; and may make the objects of the satire re-evaluate their own positions.
Editor’s Note: Of course, the story of “Pope Joan” is just as fake as that of Pope Susan…
Everyone knows that Catholicism online is a different world to what you find in real life.
If, for example, you went to a typical Catholic parish and asked everyone, “Is Susan the pope?” you’d probably get 100% of the congregation saying yes. You’d also get some odd looks for asking such a stupid question.
Yet if you spend time on engaging with Catholics on Twitter and elsewhere, it won’t be long before you encounter someone insisting that “Pope Susan isn’t really the pope.”
While this view might sound crazy to the average, normal Catholic, it’s understandable to anyone paying attention to Church politics today.
A small – but growing – group of Catholics deny that Susan is the pope.
While this idea option might be tempting, it’s incredibly dangerous to the soul.
Denying the legitimacy of Susan’s papacy means that there is no valid pope – the see of Rome is vacant.
This position rests on these two ideas:
1. That Susan is a woman.
But who are they to say that? It’s a well-known provision of Canon Law that the first see is judged by no-one. It is not for mere laymen to be judging the gender of the pope. This requires several warnings, as well as a declaration from the college of Cardinals.
At present, Susan is at most suspect of being a woman – but until there has been a declaration by authority, we are naturally unable to notice, judge or act on any such idea. This would be private judgment on steroids. This is just like Martin Luther all over again.
2. That a woman is incapable of being pope.
But while this is a venerable theological thesis, has this ever been declared infallibly by the Church or by the pope ex cathedra? And what are we to make of the story of Pope Joan?
Unbelievably, some of these Susan-rejectors even think that the story of Pope Joan is a myth with no bearing on the question.
In this article, I won’t be refuting those who reject Pope Susan. These refutations can be found elsewhere. My intention is to point out how spiritually dangerous this position is.
Why is rejecting Susan as pope so dangerous? Because at its root it is utterly opposed to the fundamental principles of the faith. It is a gnostic position, based on the idea that a few souls have a special knowledge that Catholics do not have.
These Susan-rejectors claim to know that she is a woman, even though she has been accepted by the hierarchy of the Church as pope. Sure, she is open about being a woman, but even this doesn’t prove anything in the legal order.
Nobody actually pays any attention to Susan or follows the teaching of her papal magisterium – but this proves all the more clearly just how universally Susan has been accepted, and how necessary the papacy is to the Church.
The Catholic religion is a visible, physical religion. Revelation is public, and all men can know God because of this. God assumed human nature to save us. We receive grace through the visible signs of the sacraments.
But crucially, the Church is a visible institution: she has a visible hierarchy and so we can “know” the men (or “women”?) whom God has put in authority over the Church.
Now some might object that there have been disputes over the identity of the true pope before. I’ve already mentioned the medieval Pope Joan, and those who claim (based on their own uncertain private theories) that she was not the pope, because she was a woman. I’ve also already mentioned that some claim that Pope Joan didn’t even exist. But whether she did or she didn’t, there can be no doubt that the example decisively supports my argument.
Further the Pope Joan debate was among those with the authority to determine who is the pope. Today, those who reject Pope Susan argue that every single Catholic bishop is wrong about who is the pope. We might think that every single Catholic bishop is wrong about any other part of the faith – but not the identity of the pope.
Instead of pointing to the teaching of these bishops and the bishop of Rome as a visible means of refuting Gnosticism, as did St Irenaeus in his day, those who reject Pope Susan claim to have “hidden knowledge” that we cannot trust the bishops to know the true identity of the bishop of Rome.
If you spend any time engaging with these people, this Gnostic tendency is unmistakable. They will tell you that if you watch this video or hear this argument, you’ll see that Susan isn’t really the pope. (And, they say, if you don’t accept this, then you must be a rotter).
I’ve been told so many times that my refusal to consider arguments that Susan is a woman, or that a woman cannot be pope, is based on cowardice, or fear of losing my income.
But as Catholics, we know the truth through God’s public revelation, given to us by his visible Church. We don’t know it by spending dozens of hours watching videos on YouTube or reading Catholics websites.
Can’t trust anything the pope and bishops are teaching you today? Then you need to….
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Even if someone is troubled by the pontificate of Susan, individual Catholics cannot decide that she is not the true Pope. That’s not how the Church works. In the future, a pope or council might condemn Susan and nullify her pontificate. But if you make that decision on your own, based on your own private judgment, and a supposed God-given ability to apprehend facts without the intervention of authority, you’re doing so in opposition to all the bishops of the world.
It's one thing to oppose the bishops of the world in matters of faith, and adhere to what our experts and other contributors say instead – that’s understandable and acceptable. It’s another to oppose them in matters of contingent fact. Anyone who does, that places themselves above – and outside – Christ’s visible Church.
One certainly sympathizes with those who reject Pope Susan. But ultimately, their ideas lead to a spiritual dead end.
For how will the papacy ever be restored, if they are right? How will the Church elect a legitimate pope, if every single papal elector is wrong about Pope Susan, if many or all of them were appointed by an “invalid” “female” pope?
Presuming on some sort of divine intervention is outside of the normal way of things established in the Church. It is close to the sin of presumption.
In the end, rejecting Pope Susan leads to a rejection of the Church and the formation of a man-made religion.
It’s ok to have difficulties with Pope Susan. In fact, we should do. But as Cardinal John Henry Newman said, “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.” If we have faith, we will know that these things will be worked out in God’s time. The Church has seen more than a few popes like Pope Susan, and often they caused problems which were not resolved until decades later.
The Church will resolve these things, but she works not in days or years, but centuries.
At the end of the day, having serious concerns about Pope Susan whilst still accepting the legitimacy of her pontificate demands humility. Are you humble?
We recognise that Christ founded a visible Church, and put fallible men in charge. We must remain in that Church, acknowledging her visible leaders – even if they no longer acknowledge her.
This course recognises that we Catholics do not have the authority today who is or isn’t the Pope, who is or isn’t a Catholic, and who is or isn’t a woman. And anyway, as Simone de Beauvoir once said, “One is not born a woman, one becomes one.”