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.
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 StevenOReilly@AOL.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA). He asks for your prayers for his intentions.