Don’t Panic! The Formal Correction is on the way!

April 22, 2018 (Steven O’Reilly) – Having been distracted these past months by other matters, I have not had a moment to pen a new blog post until now.  In that time, not much has appeared to have happened on the “formal correction” front. I sense, as a consequence, there is a degree of growing despair out there among concerned Catholics that the thought of a  “formal correction” has been shelved.  While I have no inside information on the question, I do not believe there is any reason to suggest this is the case.  The process must necessarily be a slow and deliberate one – the correction, I believe, is on the way (The Wheels of the Formal Correction turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine).  Don’t panic!

My belief a correction has not been shelved is based on at least a couple considerations.  First, the original “Dubia Cardinals” must have considered the various paths the crisis might take before they even drafted the Dubia. I consider it a certainty the Cardinals, even at the earliest moment of their collaboration, would have understood a “formal correction” to be among those possibilities, no matter how remote they hoped it to be. It seems improbable they would have started down the Dubia road unless they were willing to go the full distance. Furthermore, in November 2017, there were the comments Cardinal Burke gave in an interview to Edward Pentin.  The interview may be found in the online National Catholic Register (see  “Cardinal Burke Addresses the ‘Dubia’ One Year After Their Publication” published November 14, 2017).  Pentin’s last question to Cardinal Burke in that interview was:

“Despite you and many others, including more than 250 academics and priests who have signed a filial correction, clearly having very serious misgivings about the effects of these passages in Amoris Laetitia, and because you have so far received no response from the Holy Father, are you here making a final plea to him?” 

To which the Cardinal replied:

Yes, for these grave reasons, one year after rendering public the dubia, I again turn to the Holy Father and to the whole Church, emphasizing how urgent it is that, in exercising the ministry he has received from the Lord, the Pope should confirm his brothers in the faith with a clear expression of the teaching regarding both Christian morality and the meaning of the Church’s sacramental practice.

Thus, as far back as November 2017, Cardinal Burke made his “final plea” to Pope Francis.  “Final plea” before what?  I think it can only mean one thing.  A “final plea” before presenting a private warning to the Pope. While, prognostication is difficult with the speed at which things generally happen in Rome, I believe that at some point over the last five months that Pope Francis was given a private warning with regard to Amoris Laetitia and the Dubia.

This now brings us up to Cardinal Burke’s talk in Rome from a couple weeks ago, entitled: “The limits of papal authority in the doctrine of the Church” (see Edward Pentin’s blog reporting here and the English translation of the Cardinal’s talk provided by LifeSiteNews here).  I will not discuss the Cardinal’s talk in detail, other than to say that in my opinion, Cardinal Burke’s survey of the historical opinions of canonists on the limits of papal authority establishes the necessary premise for a public correction of Pope Francis.

“The Church was a society to save souls. Heresy and sin impeded salvation. Any act of the pope in quantum homo which was heretical or sinful in itself or might foster heresy or sin threatened the foundations of society and was therefore void.[16]

In other words, the notion of fullness of power was carefully qualified.

It was understood that it did not permit the Roman Pontiff to do certain things. For example, he could not act against the Apostolic Faith. Also, for the sake of the good order of the Church, it was a power to be used sparingly and with the greatest prudence.” (see The plenitudo potestatis of the Roman Pontiff in service of the unity of the Church by Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke [April 7, 2018] as reported by LifeSiteNews)

Here Cardinal Burke establishes that any act of the pope which is “heretical or sinful in itself or might foster heresy or sin” is void, as a pope cannot act “against the Apostolic Faith.” What happens to a pope should he act in such a manner? The Cardinal gives a brief mention of a 13th century canonist (Hostiensis) who said such a pope should be “warned” of his error and “publicly admonished”, but “he could not be put on trial if he persisted in his line of conduct.”  Burke does not provide any further comment on this opinion, saying only:

“Time has not permitted me to examine the question of the correction of the Pope who abuses the fullness of power inherent to the primacy of the See of Peter. As many will know, there is an abundant literature on the question.”

Some have seen the Cardinal’s statement as perhaps a dodge on the question of a formal correction of Pope Francis. I don’t think so. That such a correction is still on the table is clear from his quotation of the 12th century canonist Gratian from his Decretals, which concluded the Cardinal’s talk: “Let no mortal being have the audacity to reprimand a Pope on account of his faults, for he whose duty it is to judge all other men cannot be judged by anybody, unless he should be called to task for having deviated from the faith” (emphasis added).  So, no, I don’t think it was a dodge.  Despite passing on the details of a formal correction in his recent talk, the Cardinal already touched briefly on what a formal correction might look like in August 2017 (see “Cardinal Burke Outlines Formal Correction of Pope Francis’ Teaching” by Edward Pentin).  Consequently, there was no need on this occasion to do so again.  Rather, I think his talk was an effort to begin to make the case for why a public correction is justified based in canon law. Here his goal was to establish the legal premise for a correction.

Essentially, if the pope acts in a way that deviates from the faith, he may be judged. This happens when a pope acts in a way that is “heretical and sinful”, or when he acts in a way that “fosters heresy or sin.” But has Pope Francis committed heresy in Amoris Laetitia?  I don’t believe it is clearly the case he has. Pope Francis has thus far studiously avoided commenting directly on the specific cases he intended in Amoris Laetitia where communion is allowable (i.e, “certain cases” found in AL 305 (351), as discussed here).  However, even so, more foolhardy “Francis apologists” – in an attempt to save Pope Francis from the potential of error –  have crawled further out on the heretical limb than Pope Francis has thus far been willing to go in contradicting the Magisterium of the Catholic Church (see Amoris Laetitia and the Confusion of those contradicting the Magisterium of John Paul II).  Yet, Pope Francis has not corrected them.

For there to be a formal correction, it need not be demonstrated that Pope Francis has committed heresy. That a pope may be severely judged for having fostered or favored heresy, even if only through negligence, has been established by the case of Pope Honorius (See “Guilty Only of Failure To Teach” by Steven O’Reilly, and “White is Wrong” by Steven O’Reilly). Unfortunately, there is an uncanny resemblance between the case of  Pope Honorius and Pope Francis (see here, here, here).  As Cardinal Burke’s talk shows, a pope’s acts need not be clearly heretical to draw a warning and public admonishment.  Heresy and or sin may be promoted even when a papal act or statement is ambiguous or ambivalent, admitting various interpretations (i.e., both orthodox and heretical). Acting on the ambiguity of Amoris Laetitia, many Francis apologists have already contradicted the Magisterium of the Church (see Amoris Laetitia and the Confusion of those contradicting the Magisterium of John Paul II).  The position of this blog is that Amoris Laetitia 305 (351) is certainly unclear (see here, here, here, here, here, here) and in need of clarification.  The failure of Pope Francis to clarify the evident ambiguity of Amoris Laetitia, and indeed even seeming to encourage it, now requires – nay, demands – a formal correction.  Thus, I expect the formal correction will be here soon enough (see The Coming Storm).  Briefly, I expect the “formal correction” will likely do something like the following:

(1) The teachings of prior popes and of the Catholic Church related to the five Dubia will be clearly stated and cited (e.g. Familiaris Consortio, Veritatis Splendour, Council of Trent, Catholic Catechism, etc)

(2) Also specifically cited will be the erroneous opinions and practices that contradict these teachings, which are currently circulating among members of the Church (e.g., the communion guidelines of Malta, Germany, Rome)

(3) The Pope will be asked to do two things.  First, he will be asked to publicly affirm and profess the Catholic teachings cited and conform his actions to them. Second, he will be asked to explicitly and publicly reject – without reservations – the erroneous opinions and practices circulating which contradict those teachings, even if he himself had previously held, shared, or written such opinions himself as a private person and theologian.

(4) The Formal Correction will either itself be the first warning, or if not, it will possibly state a first one (or second one, if the “formal correction” is the first canonical warning) will be issued if the Pope fails to do as requested after a specified period of time (six months?).

For Pope Francis to refuse or fail to respond to what such a “formal correction” asks –even by silence – would suggest the Pope is being pertinacious and obstinate. Qui tacet consentire videtur, ubi loqui debuit ac potuit (“who is silent seems to agree, where he ought to speak and was able to”). In such a case, it would appear that the Church could rightly interpret silence and inaction as a clear sign of the pope’s pertinacious and obstinate consent to heresy.  God forbid it goes down this path, but if it does, this process may drag out over another year or more after the issuance of the “formal correction,” depending on the time periods given with each warning.  In sum, there is no quick end or solution to the crisis.

In conclusion, I do believe it probable that Pope Francis has already received a private warning.  The first public correction or admonishment is coming – perhaps in the next two or three months.  How this all plays out is the big unknown.  Pope Francis can count on a large, majority segment of the College of Cardinals to support him. That said, I do suspect that his recent and past Scalfari interviews have created suspicions among many bishops that he holds heretical opinions regarding the fate of the damned. His seeming willful ambiguity on this point, might lead to more support for a formal correction with regard to Amoris Laetitia than might otherwise have been expected among so many careerist-minded bishops not wanting to rock the boat.  If the crisis comes to a head while Francis still lives, the result will quite possibly lead to a schism. Thus, there is probably a lot of pressure in private on Cardinal Burke from other cardinals to wait until the death of Francis, after which a synod or an ecumenical council might settle the question under a new pope.  After all, they may argue, the Church waited forty years before Pope Honorius, who fostered heresy through negligence, was corrected by the Sixth Ecumenical Council – so why do we need to rush a correction of Pope Francis?  I don’t agree with that argument, but I suspect there are many cardinals – who accepting there are problems with Pope Francis – would prefer to defer the hard decisions to another day, and another set of cardinals.

Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He lives near Atlanta with his family. He has written apologetic articles and is working on a historical-adventure trilogy, set during the time of the Arian crisis. He can be contacted at (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA). He asks for your prayers for his intentions.









12 thoughts on “Don’t Panic! The Formal Correction is on the way!

  1. ‘Pope Francis has thus far studiously avoided commenting directly on the specific cases he intended in Amoris Laetitia where communion is allowable [i.e, “certain cases” found in AL 305 (351)]…’

    1 of 3) The Sarah case:
    2 of 3) The case for absolution:
    3 of 3) A possible reply to the dubia:

    Feel free to comment on:
    a) whether the Sarah case could conceivably fall under one among the ‘certain cases’ of AL footnote 351,
    b) whether the ‘less rigorous’ approach to sacramental discipline as detailed in # 1 above is doctrinally wrong, and if yes, how so?
    c) with respect to # 2 above, whether there is an obex to absolution, and if yes, what precisely?


    1. JN, thanks for the comments and questions. Whether your Sarah question falls within the Pope’s “certain cases” is really a question for the pope. Not me. I am glad you have found time to answer the dubia….if only Pope Francis would similarly find some time to do so, as his primary task is to “feed the sheep” and “confirm the brethren.”

      That said, I will briefly address your Sarah case. Your Sarah example essentially falls under the umbrella of those general types of alleged “certain cases” offered by others (e.g., Buttiglione, Walford, Coccopalmerio). These alleged exceptions I treat in one of my blog posts (“Amoris Laetitia and the Confusion of those Contradicting the Magisterium of John Paul II” see

      Therefore, in terms of a general response to you, that sufficiently addresses your questions, I would say the magisterium has already provided you an answer. Specifically addressing the question of whether there are exceptions to FC 84 (of which your purports to be one), the CDF has said ‘no’ and that the teaching of FC 84 “cannot be modified because of different situations.” So, your “different situation” is not a valid exception to FC 84 or a valid answer to the dubia.

      Thanks again for the questions.


      1. Steven, please bear with the length of this post and for this thread being resurfaced after so much time…

        At, you point to the following…

        ´…the case of a woman forced by circumstances to continue her sexual relations with a new partner.´

        ´…A case where the woman – outside of an existing valid marital bond – is forced by her circumstance to remain in a new union. (per Buttiglione)…´

        …A case where a woman – outside of an existing valid marital bond – remains in a new union because her departure might negatively impact her partner or his children from a prior marriage or relationship. (per Cardinal Coccopalmerio)…

        ..¨one may not do evil that good may come of it”… the “end does not justify the means.”…´

        And you say that the Sarah case (which I referred to above) ¨essentially falls under the umbrella of those general types of alleged “certain cases” offered by others (e.g., Buttiglione…Coccopalmerio)¨

        But this seems to be a misunderstanding or a straw-man – for the Sarah case does *not* fall under that umbrella, and it therefore leads me to wonder whether you actually read the entirety of the three posts associated with the Sarah case (as opposed to merely a cursory glance – which could have led to a failure to grasp the nuances).

        At, Cardinal Coccopalmerio speaks of a woman´s ´inability to put desire into practice now because that would harm innocent persons…wants to change but cannot change´.
        However, tacitly, a willful choice to commit adulterous acts seems to be involved on the part of the woman. This is clear because he later points out that if a couple abstains from conjugal relations, this could create a crisis for one or both spouses and could lead to a breakdown in fidelity or the breakup of the marriage >> implying thereby that sexual relations are indeed being willfully engaged in, by a divorced and remarried person. Here of course, the point you cited earlier applies, viz., one may not do evil that good may come of it…the “end does not justify the means.”

        At, Buttiglione is pointing to a different situation. He initially speaks of a woman who ¨is forced to have sexual intercourse against her will.¨
        But then he says: ¨This does not mean unmarried people can legitimately engage in sexual activity…¨
        And later, he says: ¨One cannot plausibly promise never to commit a certain sin if they live in a situation in which they are exposed to the irresistible temptation of committing it.¨
        From those three quotes of Buttiglione, what else can we conclude but that we are dealing there with a case where there is a sexual act/sin which is ¨irresistible¨ and which is ¨committed¨ by the woman, – thereby indicating consent on her part? In other words, there is an act of evil that is indeed done or chosen by the woman.

        But contrast both of the above with a situation where the woman does not so choose or consent at all.

        Perhaps, a loose analogy may clarify:
        As an inmate of a concentration camp, your rights are being severely violated. You could attempt an escape and no longer have to endure this. But you fear that an escape would jeopardize the rights of the other prisoners who may be subjected to greater rights violations or even be shot in batches in reprisal for every prisoner that dares to escape. If you ‘decide’ not to attempt an escape out of anxiety and concern for your fellow inmates, does that equate to your deliberately and willfully choosing the evil that continues to come upon you? Is your ‘choice’ to stay really ‘free’ such as to make you morally culpable? Would it be fair to accuse you of *wanting to be violated*?

        With the above analogy in mind, consider what is actually happening in the Sarah case (in contrast to that pointed out by Buttiglione and the cardinal):

        Divorced, civilly remarried Sarah has a conversion experience and wants to live only as sister & brother. But her partner Mohammed disagrees, threatens divorce and forces himself on her from time to time. Among the reasons for Sarah reluctantly putting up with, and silently bearing this, is fear and anxiety that her children by Mohammed will: (a) be psychologically affected by divorce, (b) grow up without one parent at home, (c) lose out on a Catholic upbringing through their mother if a civil court grants custody of the children to Mohammed in a contested divorce.
        Her ‘decision’ to stay, among other things, is out of fear, anxiety and concern for the children’s welfare. But that does not equate to her choosing to be violated. Wouldn’t footnote 351 of Amoris Laetitia apply here? (‘In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments.’) Is there an obex that hinders absolution followed by admittance to Communion (*privately*, so as to avoid scandal to those who may not be privy to the situation she finds herself in?)

        That is a summary of the Sarah case, but I suggest that you (re)read the three posts – for their author presents more arguments and nuances (and dare I say – some other subtle hints!)

        At, you refer to the CDF´s 1994 letter which says: ´In recent years, in various regions, different pastoral solutions in this area have been suggested according to which, to be sure, a general admission of divorced and remarried to Eucharistic communion would not be possible, but the divorced and remarried members of the faithful could approach Holy Communion in specific cases when they consider themselves authorised according to a judgement of conscience to do so…´

        [Sarah is not directly approaching Holy Communion but the Sacrament of Reconciliation – so the question of her ´considering herself authorised according to a judgement of conscience to approach Holy Communion´ does not arise. The question is whether she can be granted absolution which can then lead her to receiving Communion (privately / remoto scandalo.)]

        To resume the excerpt from the CDF letter: ´This would be the case, for example, when they had been abandoned completely unjustly, although they sincerely tried to save the previous marriage, or when they are convinced of the nullity of their previous marriage, although unable to demonstrate it in the external forum or when they have gone through a long period of reflexion and penance, or also when for morally valid reasons they cannot satisfy the obligation to separate…´

        But it is obvious from the tenor of all the examples that the CDF *takes for granted* that the situations cited involve a willful sexual act by a person *as opposed to a sexual violation where there is no consent*.

        As you are undoubtedly aware, the CDF´s letter goes on to cite FC 84: ´…The faithful who persist in such a situation may receive Holy Communion only after obtaining sacramental absolution, which may be given only “to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when for serious reasons, for example, for the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they ‘take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples'”. In such a case they may receive Holy Communion as long as they respect the obligation to avoid giving scandal…´

        Thus FC 84 & the CDF affirm that sacramental absolution can indeed be granted in a particular instance.

        Has Sarah repented of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ?

        Is she sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage?

        Is Sarah ready to take on the duty to live in complete continence?

        Is her partner Mohammed ready for that?

        Has FC 84 or the CDF specifically considered that scenario?

        Has FC 84 or the CDF addressed a situation such as that of Sarah where there is fear and anxiety over the welfare of children on the part of one party that prevents her from actively resisting a sexual violation?

        FC 84 and the CDF´s 1994 letter came up to a point – ´take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence´ – …and stopped there.

        The point at which they stopped is the scenario that envisages *both* parties *jointly* taking on the duty to live in complete continence.

        But then, what can be the course of action in situations not discussed or considered by FC 84 or beyond the point at which the CDF had stopped in 1994? (as illustrated in the Sarah case, where one party is ready to undertake the duty to live in complete continence, while the other is not.)
        Simply referring back to FC 84 and the 1994 CDF letter, and saying ´the objective condition of life is all that is pertinent´ is unhelpful. Making no distinction between a willful sexual act and an unwelcome sexual violation is injustice and a violation of the truth / facts.

        You say: ¨The CDF has said ‘no’ and the teaching of FC 84 “cannot be modified because of different situations”…¨
        But what the CDF has said ´no´ to, and the different situations which FC 84 refer to, – all presume that willful adulterous acts are involved, – to which, exceptions to commit adultery are being sought. Obviously that cannot be allowed.

        It is here that Amoris Laetitia picks up the thread from where FC 84 and the 1994 CDF letter left off, and lays the grounds for further doctrinal development by providing some leeway for pastors faced with complex situations such as the Sarah case.

        Would it be wise for the CDF or the Pope to explicitly point to, and go into minute detail of every such situation?
        Besides the issue of how feasible and practical it is to consider every possible complex situation, there is also a prudential call involved – and they may need to balance the risks involved – because explicitly citing in detail such situations could lead to the specious charge that they are in reality ¨winking¨ at adultery through detailed ¨escape clauses.¨
        Further, rather than simply sticking to rigid ¨yes¨ or ¨no¨ checklists which have no need for any discernment, they may deem it better to give room for pastors ¨on the ground¨ to exercise discernment in complex situations that were not hitherto considered or faced.

        At times, silence may be better when faced with narrow-perspective / tunnel-vision dubia or all sorts of allegations, ¨corrections¨ and condemnations.


      2. Jn, thanks for the feedback and question. As I believe I said before, I don’t think you’ve provided a true exception.

        CDF has already said there are none. An appeal was made to it asking if there are any…”no” was the answer (with JPII’s approval). There are no exceptions.

        But beyond that. The “Sarah” of your example is really no more than a rewritten example already foreseen by St. Thomas Aquinas, i.e., could one commit adultery to save a kingdom from a tyrant? That is really your example. His answer applies to your example.

        The Dubia Cardinals cited this example themselves…is it licit to commit adultery for a good intention, such as saving a kingdom from a tyrant (really not different than the extreme constraint or coercion you are suggesting). St. Thomas Aquinas replied: “We should not agree with the commentator on this point, since one ought not commit adultery for any benefit just as one ought not tell a lie for any benefit, as Augustine says in is work Against Lying.” (De Malo, Question 15, Article 1, Reply 5).

        Thus, “Sarah” must not let the Tyrant have relations with her, if its within her power to escape. She can do so.

        So, my answer remains the same. I believe I’ve written a few more articles on the Amoris Laetitia question since your original comment/question. Please see my three part rebuttal to Stephen Walford’s book from October 2018. Also, I have another article “On the Doctrine of Mitigating Circumstances” (see which rebuts Pedro Gabriel’s argument (Where Peter Is). In this latter article I also provide an example considered by the Holy Office which, I think, touches upon the issue as well.




    1. I would expect that if and when a formal correction comes, there will be more signatories than Cardinal Burke. I have no inside knowledge, but I would think a dozen at least, or more cardinals, and a few dozen bishops at least. But…we’ll see.


  2. God Bless you for this excellent article….BUT….whatever happened to “I opposed him to his face” by St. Paul. Remember It is in Cannon Law, section Gal, paragraph 2:11. There is nothing wrong with walking up to the Pope and telling him :”you are wrong”, if fact it is quite Biblical and recommended by God himself.

    There is also Canon Law that gives Cardinal Burke the right to speak publicly. forcefully and loudly about AL anytime and anywhere he wants to. It is in section Mark, paragraph 3:17, it’s called the “Sons of Thunder” section TO WHOM JESUS HIMSELF GAVE THE NAME!

    You and I and 70 million Catholics in America need to stop cowering and excusing and start acting Biblically.


    1. Chris, thanks for the comments. I believe every concerned Catholic (not all are, unfortunately) should – at a minimum – let their pastors know how they feel, and their local bishop. Let them know you support a “correction” of the pope.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s