Catholic fact check: Pope Pius IX on Liberal Catholics

The following quotation is attributed to Pope Blessed Pius IX:

Liberal Catholics are the worst enemies of the Church.

(While I'm not sure that the rule is ironclad, I was taught that people with more than one title have the titles listed in order of rarity. ‘Pope’ is less common than ‘saint’ or ‘blessed,’ so I put ‘Pope’ first.)

Says who?

The header image is from the Lepanto Institute. It appears in a variety of places, including ChurchPop, the SSPX's website, and Newsday.

A first pass

Keyword and phrase searches (“liberal cath”, enemies, enemy) on Papal Encyclicals turned up nothing. “Worst enemy” did give me one (unrelated) result for Pope Pius X:

Moreover, since in the clash of interests, and especially in the struggle against dishonest forces, the virtue of man, and even his holiness are not always sufficient to guarantee him his daily bread, and since social structures, through their natural interplay, ought to be devised to thwart the efforts of the unscrupulous and enable all men of good will to attain their legitimate share of temporal happiness, We earnestly desire that you should take an active part in the organization of society with this objective in mind. And, to this end, whilst your priests will zealously devote efforts to the sanctification of souls, to the defense of the Church, and also to works of charity in the strict sense, you shall select a few of them, level-headed and of active disposition, holders of Doctors’ degrees in philosophy and theology, thoroughly acquainted with the history of ancient and modern civilizations, and you shall set them to the not-so-lofty but more practical study of the social science so that you may place them at the opportune time at the helm of your works of Catholic action. However, let not these priests be misled, in the maze of current opinions, by the miracles of a false Democracy. Let them not borrow from the Rhetoric of the worst enemies of the Church and of the people, the high-flown phrases, full of promises; which are as high-sounding as unattainable. Let them be convinced that the social question and social science did not arise only yesterday; that the Church and the State, at all times and in happy concert, have raised up fruitful organizations to this end; that the Church, which has never betrayed the happiness of the people by consenting to dubious alliances, does not have to free herself from the past; that all that is needed is to take up again, with the help of the true workers for a social restoration, the organisms which the Revolution shattered, and to adapt them, in the same Christian spirit that inspired them, to the new environment arising from the material development of today’s society. Indeed, the true friends of the people are neither revolutionaries, nor innovators: they are traditionalists.1 (emphasis added)

The first finding

Fortunately, someone already asked my question on Reddit in 2016.2 One of the comments reads:

The 2nd post from this link on “Pius IX – Liberal Catholics…worst enemies” has similar quotes from him that are in the book “Liberalism is a Sin.”

The first quoted phrase links to a dead Fish Eaters page. The second quoted phrase links to a dead EWTN page (All of my EWTN links that are more than a few years old are dead - maybe they had a server migration, or changed how their online library works). In any case, because the commenter actully described the link, it was fairly simple to find the book by Dr. Don Felix Sarda Y Salvany, Liberalism is a Sin, originally published in 1899 and reprinted by TAN Books in 1993.3

Salvany quotes Pius IX extensively in Chapter 10:

On the 18th of June, 1871, responding to a deputation of French Catholics, Pius IX spoke thus: “Atheism in legislation, indifference in matters of religion, and the pernicious maxims which go under the name of Liberal Catholicism are the true causes of the destruction of states; they have been the ruin of France. Believe me, the evil I denounce is more terrible than the Revolution, more terrible even than The Commune. I have always condemned Liberal Catholicism, and I will condemn it again forty times over if it be necessary.”

In a brief, 6th of March, 1873, addressed to the Circle of St. Ambrose of Milan, the Sovereign Pontiff thus expresses himself: “People are not wanting who pretend to form an alliance between light and darkness and to associate justice with iniquity in favor of those doctrines called Liberal Catholicism, which, based on the most pernicious principles, show themselves favorable to the intrusion of secular power upon the domain of spirituals; they lead their partisans to esteem, or at least to tolerate, iniquitous laws, as if it were not written that no one can serve two masters. Those who thus conduct themselves are more dangerous and more baneful than declared enemies, not only because, without being warned of it, perhaps even without being conscious of it, they second the projects of wicked men, but also because, keeping within certain limits, they show themselves with some appearance of probity and sound doctrine. They thus deceive the indiscreet friends of conciliation and seduce honest people, who would otherwise have strenuously combated a declared error.”

In the Brief of the 8th of May of the same year, speaking to the Confederation of the Catholic Circle of Belgium, the same Holy Father said: “What we praise above all in your religious enterprise is the absolute aversion which, as we are informed, you show towards the principles of Liberal Catholicism and your intrepid determination to root them out as soon as possible. In truth you will extirpate the fatal root of discord and you will efficaciously contribute to unite and strengthen the minds of all in so combating this insidious error, much more dangerous than an open enemy because it hides itself under the specious veil of zeal and of charity, and is so endeavoring to protect the people in general from its contaminating influence. Surely you, who adhere with such complete submission to all decisions of this Apostolic Seat and who know its frequent reprobations of Liberal principles, have no need of these warnings.”

In the Brief to the La Croix, a Belgium journal, on the 24th of May, 1874, the Pope expresses himself thus: “We cannot do less than to praise the design expressed in this letter, which we know your journal will satisfactorily fulfill, the design to publish, to spread, to comment on and inculcate in all minds all that the Holy See teaches against the perverse or at least false doctrines professed in so many quarters, and particularly against Liberal Catholicism, bitterly striving to conciliate light with darkness and truth with error.”

On the 9th of June, 1873, Pius IX wrote to the president of the Council of the Catholic Association of Orleans, and without mentioning its name, depicts pietistic and moderated Liberalism in the following terms: “Although you have not, strictly speaking, to combat impiety, are you not perhaps menaced on this side by as great dangers as those of the group of friends deceived by that ambiguous doctrine, which, while rejecting the last consequence of error, obstinately retains the germs, and which, not willing to embrace the truth in its fullness, and not daring to abandon it entirely, exhausts itself in interpreting the traditions and teachings of the Church by running them through the mold of its own private opinions.”

In an address to the Bishop of Quimper, and speaking in reference to the general assembly of the Catholic Association of that diocese, the Pope said: “Assuredly these associations are not wanting in the obedience due to the Church, neither on account of the writings nor the actions of those who pursue them with invectives and abuse; but they might be pushed into the slippery path of error by the force of those opinions called Liberal; opinions accepted by many Catholics who are otherwise honest and pious, and who, even by the very influence which gives them their piety, are easily captivated and induced to profess the most pernicious maxims. Inculcate, therefore, Venerable Brother, in the minds of this Catholic assembly that, when we have so often rebuked the sectaries of these Liberal opinions, we have not had in view the declared enemies of the Church, whom it would have been idle to denounce, but rather that those of whom we are speaking are such as secretly guard the virus of Liberal principles which they have imbibed with their mother's milk. They boldly inoculate this virus into the people's minds, as if it were not impregnated with a manifest malice, and as if it were as harmless to religion as they think. They thus propagate the seed of those troubles which have held the world in revolution so long. Let them avoid these ambuscades. Let them endeavor to direct their blows against this perfidious enemy, and certainly they will merit much from their religion and their country.”

With these utterances from the mouth of the Vicar of Jesus Christ our friends as well as our enemies must see that the Pope has said in diverse briefs, and particularly in the last citation, in a general way all that can be said on this question, which we are studying in its details.

While all of these quotations are obviously and unambiguously condemnatory, nowhere do we see anything with the exact phrase “Liberal Catholics are the worst enemies of the Church.” The spirit is similar, but the wording isn't quite there.


In the very next chapter of Salvany's book, we find this:

In his Brief to Mgr. de Segur in regard to the latter's well-known work Hommage Aux Catholiques Liberaux [Hommage to Liberal Catholics] [sic], the Pope calls it a “perfidious enemy”,— in his allocution to the Bishop of Nevers, “the present real calamity”; in his letter to the Catholic Circle of St. Ambrose of Milan, “a compact between injustice and iniquity”; in the same document he speaks of it as “more fatal and dangerous than a declared enemy”; in his letter to the Bishop of Quimper, “a hidden poison”; in the brief to the Belgians, “a crafty and insidious error”; in another brief, to Mgr. Gaume, “a most pernicious pest.” All these documents from which we quote may be found in full in Mgr. Segur's book, Hommage Aux Catholiques Liberaux.

Monsignor Segur's book, published 22 years earlier, is online for free.4

Blessed Pius is quoted throughout (“pie IX”), and seem to match what Salvany quoted.

Until I become fluent in Latin and French, this will have to be enough confirmation for me. As it is, I am fortunate that Salvany included exact dates and audiences/occasions of Pius’ quotes.

Did he say it?

While Pius IX may not have said the exact phrase, “Liberal Catholics are the worst enemies of the Church,” if the two sources above (Salvany and Seguer) are accurate, then Pius said many things in the same vein. It's clear that the quotation under review is very much in the spirit of Pius’ sentiments.

What is not clear to me is if the Liberal Catholicism of Pius IX, a specific movement confined to mid-19th century Europe, can be used interchangeably in good faith with the liberal Catholicism of today. I would not consider myself an expert on this point, but the two liberal Catholicisms do not seem exactly identical to me - although I suspect Pius IX would be opposed to both iterations.


  1. Pope Pius X. Notre Charge Apostolique. 1910.

  2. u/StevenSeagalsFist. “Pope Pius IX Quote.” Reddit, r/Catholicism, 2016.

  3. Salvany, F.F.S. Liberalism Is a Sin. TAN Books, 1993.

  4. Ségur, and Pie. Hommage Aux Jeunes Catholiques-Libéraux. Cihm/Icmh Microfiche Series = Cihm/Icmh Collection De Microfiches ;No. 13442. Québec: J.A. Langlais; Cercle catholique de Québec, 1877. //

Sharon Kabel
Librarian; Nuisance

I like Catholic newspapers, amateur data visualizations, and walls of text.