A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another. - St. John 13:34
I try not writing about subjects that are too "inside baseball." Not everyone spends the amount of time that I do discussing the minute details of the Faith online and I am cognizant about writing on bigger issues that touch the lives of more people.
But I have to make an exception in this case. There is a very simplistic argument circulating that goes like this:
Once you know the pope is a public heretic, you, as a lay person, are obligated to break communion with him.
The textual grounds come from this quote by a 3rd century Saint:
"To adhere to a false Bishop of Rome is to be out of communion with the Church." St. Cyprian (200-258), Doctor of the Church
Otherwise our adherence to the error which is contrary to faith would ruin the virtue in us, and we would become heretics.
The cousin of this argument goes like this:
If you believe any false theological position - on baptism or ecumenism for example - you are not in communion with the Church and will go to Hell.
These arguments are completely wrong and incredibly misleading.
St. Cyprian was referring to a Catholic who adheres to an anti-pope that has been declared by the Church to be an anti-pope. He was saying if the Church declares someone to be an anti-pope and you adhere to him as the Pope you are out of the Church. And that is completely reasonable and correct. What he absolutely did not say was that it was up to the person in the pews to decide who is or isn't an anti-pope.
St. Cyprian and the Doctors of the Church have never put the responsibility of determining what Pope is or isn't "in communion with the Church" on the person in the pew. They have, quite wisely, left that to God to sort out in HIS Church. Which he ALWAYS does.
The argument is misleading and false.
As to the second argument - that if you believe in any false theological position you are liable to hell - is equally scurrilous.
Do you really think that God, upon death, questioned some simple peasant farmer in 14th century France on the finer details of canon law and theology? Do you believe that God would damn a simple lay person based on the arcane aspects of the Faith?
Of course He would never do so. It is absurd to think that upon death God will ask you "do you believe in baptism of desire?" and if your answer is incorrect will damn you to hell for it.
God is not a jerk.
God looks at the state of your soul upon death - Do you love God? Did you love your neighbor as yourself? Are you baptized? Did you belong to the Church that He founded and obey its precepts and confessed them to God when you failed? - and makes the decision that He deems to be just. He does not play some silly gotcha game with the precious immortal soul of a person that He loves so much.