Accusations of Heresy: One Perspective
Catholics, still reeling from the conflagration which devastated her beloved Notre Dame Cathedral, was rocked a few days later by the publication of an open letter to the bishops of the Catholic Church which accused Pope Francis of heresy, and requested that the bishops “take the steps necessary to deal with the grave situation of a heretical pope.”
You can read the letter in its entirety at this link: https://www.documentcloud.o… It’s twenty pages, but twenty pages well worth reading regardless of your inclination to agree or disagree with its contents.
Whether it’s a former papal nuncio (like Abp. Viganò), prominent on-line laymen (Michael Voris at Church Militant, et. al.), or the signers of this letter, there’s a natural tendency these days to immediately respond with an ad hominem hip shot branding the dissidents as judgemental/Pharisee-like/
Still and all, the signers are indeed on thin ice. I’m not sure what the job market looks like for unemployed theologians these days, but it’s pretty much a guarantee that, as the saying goes in Hollywood, “you’ll never work in this town again!” Not only have they pulled the tail of the massive tiger that is the Pope and his loyal cardinals, they pretty much yanked it completely off! In much the same way as the signers of the Declaration of Independence put a figurative British noose around each and every of their own necks, so the signers of this letter have destroyed their standing among all those in the powerful Church hierarchy who have a vested interest in this papal agenda.
Descriptions you might see in other online articles branding these signers as petty and vengeful reactionaries are, I think, completely unjustified (as were those characterizations of Viganò’s motives months earlier). Right or wrong, it took guts to do what they did, and they believed enough in their message to be willing to take the consequences on the chin. So my recommendation for those trying to get to the bottom of this tragic turn of events is to not consider any base motivations, but rather concentrate on the message itself and the circumstances which brought it about.
Why has it gotten to the point where regular lay people have to concern themselves with the terrifying question of whether Peter’s Successor is or is not promulgating teachings contrary to Church doctrine so egregious as to perhaps approach even the level of material (let alone formal) heresy? For that matter, why do we laity have to be subjected to the confusing and often false teachings of so-called “celebrity priests” who continually put forward ideas which stand in stark contrast to thousands of years of Judeo-Christian teachings or the progressive bishops seemingly more interested in educating us about the mortal dangers of plastics in the ocean rather than sins in our souls?
It comes down to bad leadership on the part of our priests and hierarchy. Even if it turns out that each and every one of the specifications in the open letter were simple misunderstandings and in no way heretical, each and every one of them represent a leadership failure when it comes to clearly teaching and restating the timeless dogmas of our Faith. And, in the case of throwing faithful Chinese Catholics under the bus by kowtowing to the brutal Communist overlords in Beijing, the leadership failure took on the additional aspect of burning a pinch of incense to Caesar (or Mao, in this instance).
This document was a disaster from the git-go. And before anyone says, “It’s perfectly clear and it’s fine. You’re seeing stuff that isn’t there when you try and read between the lines,” let me ask you why it’s now permissible to define adultery by zip code? Liberal bishops in Germany are saying “come one, come all!” When it comes to divorced & civilly remarried Catholics receiving the Eucharist, citing AL, while next door is (still) Catholic Poland, things are as they were before this document came out. Which is the true and authentic interpretation of Christ’s own words in the Gospel concerning marriage? For two thousand years, Catholics knew the answer. Now, it’s suddenly up for grabs.
This vagueness seems intentional in order to allow for the desired intent to surface without actually having to pull the trigger yourself. And yes, orthodox Catholics got upset by this. It’s no wonder that the “H-Word” started getting whispered for the first time when AL came out.
Francis is not considered to be a leading theologian, even by his supporters. And that’s fine; being a world-class theologian has never been a prerequisite for being pope, nor should it be. Having said that, it’s worth comparing the appeal to situational ethics to be found in AL with those writings of a man considered to be a rather accomplished theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas.
Pope Francis seemed to downplay moral absolutes in AL, saying that a negative moral precept such as the one prohibiting adultery is good as a general principle, but “in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations” (par. 304)
Aquinas is a little more direct and uncompromising when he says that some human acts, “have deformity inseparably attached to them, such as fornication, adultery, and others of this sort, which can in no way be done morally.” (s, 9, q. 7, a. 2) This idea is backed up by Pope JPII in his encyclical when he confirms “the absolute validity of negative moral precepts which oblige without exception.” (VS 76)
Call me a rigid traditionalist, but I’m going with the Big Ox on this one.
Authentic teachings on faith, doctrine and morals coming from the Chair of Peter shouldn’t be this difficult to interpret. It confuses the laity. It confuses more than a few respectable theologians and cardinals. Didn’t somebody in the New Testament say something along the lines of “Let your ‘yes’ be yes, and your ‘no’ be no?”
If Francis wanted a liberalization of the rules (with its inevitable clash with the words of God Himself), why didn’t he just come out and say so? Instead, he throws together AL and waits to see how various groups of bishops will interpret it. He refused to answer the , which remains a set of honest questions posed by honest men, and instead kept mum until a bunch of South American bishops came up with the liberal/heterodox interpretation he wanted. Then he declared that those guys’ interpretation of AL was the correct and “magisterial” one.
Since when do we define doctrine and promulgate Church teaching by playing this kind of game? “I’m thinking of a number between one and twenty. Can you guess what it is? If so, you win a prize!”
We’ve seen the train wreck caused by our hierarchy’s handling of the clerical sex abuse crisis. If they weren’t participating directly, they were facilitating cover ups. And if they weren’t facilitating cover ups, they were trying to simply pretend the problem didn’t exist. Once they were called on the carpet, they solemnly assured us that the problem was fixed in 2002. Well, it wasn’t.
Theodore McCarrick. Cdl. Cupich “not going down that rabbit hole.” Cdl. Wuerl “not some massive, massive crisis.” The USCCB attempting to deal with the problem last October, only to suddenly be issued a perplexing “cease & desist” command by Francis, assuring them that everything (everything!) would be fixed at the Feb ’19 “Abuse Summit.” Cupich stepping forward mere seconds after the Vatican’s had been announced, and assuming the role as papal cheerleader, almost as if he had advance knowledge of what was coming from Rome.
As had been predicted by many cynics (myself among them), the much ballyhooed February “summit” completely sidestepped the underlying problem of rampant homosexuality in far too many seminaries, rectories, and chanceries throughout the Church. The discussions focused on the abuse of minors, particularly those young enough to be considered victims of pedophilia, rather than identifying very significant numbers of post-pubescent males as victims of pederasty (which has definite homosexual implications).
To his credit, Pope Francis finally acted to oust McCarrick, and Canon law has been modified to raise the age of consent (which means that a much broader group of victims can be rightly identified as vulnerable minors). And, the pontiff has given occasional lip service to the incompatibility of homosexuality with the priesthood.
And yet, the Lavender Mafia continues to rein supreme within the hierarchy. Remember the fun-filled gay cocaine party at Cdl. Francesco Coccopalmerio’s digs over at his Vatican apartment? The party was so swingin’ hot that the police had to be called in to break it up. Guess who’s still a cardinal in good standing with the Holy Father?
This isn’t an overly compelling argument. Failing to address this problem of clerical sex predation decades earlier remains just that: a failure (and one epic in its tragic consequences), regardless of who was at the helm. JP2 and B16 both let us down here as well. Francis, however, is the one currently leading the Church, and his continued promotion of men sympathetic to the whole homosexualist agenda is troubling and destructive.
I am not a sedevacantist. Neither am I in the jury pool for judging a sitting pope’s heresy trial (Spoiler Alert: NOBODY on earth is qualified to do that. The only man capable of judging a pope is a subsequent pope. That may indeed happen at some point in the future, but there’s nothing to be done about it at present. Might as well accept that fact.)
I am, however, a member of the Roman Catholic Church, and as such, I am expected to be discerning. Discerning whether or not a cleric (be he priest, pope or cardinal) is talking nonsense is NOT a matter of judging them, but of remaining true to the authentic teachings of the Church which have existed for upwards of two thousand years.
Can we as good Catholics be critical of our priests, theologians, prelates, and even our pope? You bet! (Spoiler Alert #2: I checked GoogleTranslate, and as it turns out, the term “ex cathedra” does not translate as “from an Italian airliner at 35,000 feet over the Atlantic.”) Not everything a pope says must be taken as binding on belief. In a time where the average Catholic is woefully under-catechized or mal-catechized, that subtle distinction is often lost.
Is it a sin to call the pope out when he is engaging in teaching or enacting policies which are dangerous to the Faith? No. (Spoiler Alert #3: The Catholic Church is the Mystical Body of , NOT the mystical body of the pope—this one or any other!) We are to remain faithful to Christ even when our shepherds are not.
So…do I declare Pope Francis to be a heretic? . It’s not in my lane. Do I consider him a bad and ineffective pope who is doing more harm than good for the Faith? Yes, definitely, much to my sorrow and consternation. Should the bishops finally come to recognize the gravity of the crisis of faith which is escalating across the Catholic Church and formally address the Holy Father and correcting him where’s he demonstrably wrong? Yes, oh yes. Do I wish that he’d repent of his heterodox teachings, cease sowing confusion and ambiguity, and return to the authentic principles which have animated the Catholic Church since her founding by Christ Himself? With all my heart.
Whether you consider Francis the Number One Nicest Guy In The World Today, or something considerably less, we as Catholics have an obligation to pray for him. In fact, the graver your concerns, the more earnest your prayers should be.