Regarding the Open Letter accusing Pope Francis of Heresy

April 30, 2019 (Steven O’Reilly) – A group of twenty Catholic scholars just released an open letter which accuses Pope Francis of heresy (see Prominent clergy, scholars accuse Pope Francis of heresy in open letter).  The full document issued by these scholars may be found here.

All should read the document. It is a must read for all Catholics. It provides a very strong case for the accusation it makes, one which the cardinals and bishops of the Church would be derelict not to take up and sincerely consider. Unfortunately, for all the early talk about a “formal correction” of the Pope from Cardinal Burke, the leadership in the Church has for the most part been quite disappointing during this prolonged moment of crisis. There have been laudable efforts to raise the alarm, such as the Filial Correction and the critique of Amoris Laetitia offered by 45 theologians. It appears to be undoubtedly true that at least a few cardinals believe Francis should be corrected, but they have for various reasons held back from doing so (see What to do with a heretical pope…Nothing?).

It has been the position of Roma Locuta Est that the most charitable thing to be said of Pope Francis’ words and actions, without descending into false flattery, is that he has, at best, been ambiguous and confusing (i.e., saying things which might be interpreted in either an orthodox or heretical manner). There are many ways to show this ambiguity and the resulting confusion, but recent articles on this blog have shown an example where  even those who are self-described defenders of Pope Francis contradict one another in irreconcilable ways (see Confusion at Vatican Insider?;  Comments on the Remnant, Mercy and Amoris LaetitiaMr. Walford’s “appeal” and why it rings hollow). That is, even Pope Francis’ defenders disagree on how to interpret him — and thus “dissent” from one another. Yet, all the while, they deny there is a need for Pope Francis to clarify his meaning.  I (and others) have often compared this ambiguity and confusion to the words and actions of Pope Honorius (e.g., Honorius Redivivus – AddendumWhy the Case of Pope Honorius Matters, Mr. Alt — as just a couple examples on this blog). However, while Pope Honorius, guilty of favoring heresy, might be excused of holding to heresy; the extension of the same courtesy to Pope Francis is, again at best, difficult. Just as one example, Pope Francis — and cardinals he favors — supported Mr. Walford’s recent defense of Amoris Laetitia ( See note 1 below) which contains many of the errors outlined in the recent accusation against Pope Francis (NB 5/9/2019: Pope Francis wrote a letter to Mr. Walford, essentially endorsing the project. A substantial portion of this letter comprises the book’s preface, credited to Pope Francis. In it, the Pope states he is “certain” the book will be helpful to families, and he “prays” for this.  See my discussion of this preface in my article Pope Francis, the Open Letter and the Pesky Preface which was also kindly republished by OnePeterFive as well, here).

While I do note the LifeSiteNews article provides an email address for other clergy and academics to sign on to the effort, I can’t help but feel the impact of the document in question has been blunted by having so few signatures attached to it upon its release. My comment here is not meant as a criticism, but it seems to me the academic-based critiques of Pope Francis to date have had far too few signatories at the outset, allowing others to more easily dismiss them. I hope I am wrong — but I fear we may see this again. Could there not have been 100, 200 or 500 signatures on the initial document? World headlines proclaiming “500 theologians accuse Pope” are not as easily set aside or ignored by cardinals and bishops as “20 theologians accuse Pope.”  Again, that is not a knock against the present signatories or their courage.  What they have done is courageous, and they will likely suffer real consequences as a result. However, is the Catholic theological field so barren that there were not many others who could have and would have added the weight of their names to this document at the outset? It’s unfortunate, and I hope I am wrong….but this may well be a flash in the pan. I hope not.

I have written it before. The answer to the question ‘what do we do with a heretical pope’ (see What to do with a heretical pope…Nothing?) cannot be “nothing” — nor can we afford to punt that question or its answer to a future generation when we are dealing with error in our own time. The scholar signatories in the document cited above have done a great service to the Church. Let’s hope other academics and clergy — bishops and cardinals, too — join them.  It is for the cardinals and bishops to take up the accusations set out before them. Now is the moment for some of the clerics who have shown courage (Cardinals Burke, Muller, Brandmuller, Sarah, Eijk, and Bishop Schneider), to now muster a great deal more. For one, it is time for the long awaited, and seemingly mythical “formal correction” promised by Cardinal Burke to now come forward. Charity demands there be a public correction, both for the benefit of the pope and the faithful.

At a minimum, the few good bishops and cardinals who have publicly taken a stand on the many theological issues outlined in the accusation should draft a formula or profession of Faith — of the sort suggested by Bishop Schneider (see Guest Op-Ed – Bishop Schneider: On the question of a heretical pope). This formula or profession should be circulated to all Catholic bishops around the world. Those willing to sign it should also be asked to profess it publicly in their own dioceses. This is something a few good bishops, ‘awakened by Divine Providence for this time,’ can do. Such a document would be something the next conclave should have before it, as it would frame the debate and their deliberations over who the next pope should be. Given there have been so many questionable cardinals appointed over the last six years, such a document is very much needed.

In the meantime, we should pray for Pope Francis. Let us pray for Pope Francis that he remembers the Lord’s words to Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou being once converted, confirm thy brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).

Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He and his wife, Margaret, live near Atlanta with their family. He has written apologetic articles and is working on a historical-adventure trilogy, entitled Pia Fidelis, set during the time of the Arian crisis. The first book of the Pia Fidelis trilogy. The Two Kingdoms, should be out later this summer or by early fall (Follow on twitter at @fidelispia for updates). He asks for your prayers for his intentions.  He can be contacted at (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA).


  1.  In the first article (see The Errors of Mr. Walford’s ‘Pope Francis, The Family and Divorce’) of my three part rebuttal of Mr. Walford’s book “The Pope, The Family and Divorce”…I made the following observations:

“Consider. Pope Francis wrote a personal letter to Mr. Walford regarding his book – included in its appendix. Cardinal Tobin, Archbishop of Newark – of “nighty-night baby. I love you” fame (see here) – provided the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur for the book. Cardinal Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa – who is dealing with financial and seminary scandals (see here and here) – wrote the foreward to the book. Along with Cardinal Tobin, embattled Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washingon D.C., and Cardinal Farrell (the  Prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life) – himself a subject of an Italian daily’s racy speculations here and here – were all acknowledged by Mr. Walford for their assistance with his book. Mr. Walford wrote he was “deeply honored to have been the beneficiary of their support for this venture.” Mr. Walford also thanked the late Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor – of Saint Gallen mafia fame – who also has come into some scandal of his own posthumously (see here and here). I am impressed with the assemblage of such firepower behind Mr. Walford’s book, a veritable rogues gallery of prelates straight from the pages of  Archbishop Vigano’s testimony (see here). “


14 thoughts on “Regarding the Open Letter accusing Pope Francis of Heresy

    1. Historically, yes…one bishop was enough in the time of Athanasius, but he was a patriarch of one of the five greatest sees (actually, the second most important after Rome). Today…in a world of what…3000-5000 bishops…in practical terms, I’d like to see several hundred.


      1. Correct because Truth stands on its own and God really does not need anyone to defend him or his Church. In these times of confusion I always go the Sacred Deposit of the Faith and in Scripture, it was Paul opposing Peter. This is my source for ‘only one’.


  1. Perhaps one only needs the law and the backbone to bring it to light. Are you aware of Br. Bugnolo’s recent explication of Canon Law? It can be found here: Note that in paragraphs two and three, reason for rescinding the attempted renunciation were noted and published before February 2013 ended and before the 2013 conclave was called. The question of juridical validity precedes the accusation of heresy. Mr. O’Reilly, I hope that you will read Br. Bugnolo’s work.


    1. Thanks for the comments.

      Regarding your question, I have been aware of various arguments which purport to support the view Benedict XVI is still pope. I have written a number of articles in which I address these various arguments. These can be found on this blog.

      I don’t see it as a question of “backbone.” It is a matter of evidence, and I call the facts as I see them. While I share your concerns about Pope Francis (read my blog), I do not and cannot share your, Ann Barnhardt’s or Br. Bugnolo’s opinion that Benedict is still pope. I respect that each of you are sincere in your belief…but I do believe you each are sincerely wrong.

      In brief, I find the evidence for such an argument lacking. I point you and all others interested in the question to the many articles on this blog which refute the “Benedict is still Pope” (BISP) arguments. In those articles, I’ve tried to fairly present the other side while providing the reasons it should be rejected. As a side note, I am not aware of another blog that has devoted as much space to the question (at least in terms of rebutting BISP arguments).

      Anyway, thanks for reading the blog.




      1. Thank you for your reply. I have read all your anti-BiP articles and I thank you for coining the term, BiP. I haven’t gone point-by-point, but it is likely that each of the points that you raise in those articles is rebutted by Br. Bugnolo. Have you actually read his manuscript that is at the link I gave you? Dominus vobiscum.


      2. Thanks for the reply. I have read Br. Bugnolo’s, Ms. Barnhart’s, etc, arguments. Found them lacking. I’ve glanced through what you sent…seems more of the same…not convincing.




  2. One of the problems I see consistently across the BIP/BISP supporters is the assumption that the evidence they present is so strong and that they are so correct in their position that the Church must prove them wrong. No. It is the other way around. The going in position is that B16’s resignation was valid. (A position held by literally everybody until PF started wreaking havoc on the Church.) The level of proof is not “preponderance of the evidence”. It is not even “beyond a reasonable doubt.” It must be “with absolute certainty in the public forum.” None of the evidence presented to date comes even close to that. And, btw, that also holds true for those who claim that the conclave was invalid due to either irregularities within the conclave process or the collusion of Cardinals before or within the conclave.


  3. Steve: I agree with you that this document will likely go nowhere even though I just read that it is gaining steam with the addition of 30 or so more signatories. It is important for us laymen to know there are learned and prominent Catholics, however few, that are fighting the good fight. It is interesting that PF’s minions have not been out attacking it. It may be that they have so little regard that they won’t even grace it with a simple acknowledgement. However, I think there is another reason. Like the dubia, this document presents highly precise, technical theological, doctrinal, and canonical points. Whenever orthodox prelates, priests or theologians directly stand up for Catholic teaching on homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, communion for everyone, etc., PF’s minions are easily able to garner sympathy from the legions of uneducated and uncatechized Catholics, whether they be the nominal, cafeteria or the SJW variety. These types of Catholics easily fall for (false) accusations that doctrinally orthodox people are uncharitable, unsympathetic, without compassion and lack pastoral sensitivity. Each time, the orthodox Catholic may be right but ends up losing the battle in the court of public opinion. In this case, like the dubia, there is no advantage for them to attack because the discussion of the precise wording of fundamental theological and doctrinal statements will be lost on the larger audience. They cannot win the favor of public opinion when the typical Catholic has no idea what they are talking about.


    1. Thanks for the comments, DC.

      Some of the minions are out there trying to knock it down, such as Faggioli and Ivereigh. Others will join in over the next week or so, and articles will appear in Vatican Insider, etc. As you note, much of the attack will focus on these Catholics and all others with questions about Francis as being “uncharitable” or “lacking in mercy” etc; but the merits of the accusations in themselves will be passed over.


      1. Agreed. I saw the Reuters article, which labeled the authors/signatories as “Ultra-Conservative” and “Extremist.” Name-calling and labeling has to be at the top of anyone’s list of intellectually dishonest debate tactics. The minions don’t have much else.


  4. Steve: I think that it is quite easy as laymen (or even for theologians) to become extremely angry and vocal in our dissatisfaction with the PF pontificate, the sex abuse crisis, the doctrinal crisis and so on and demand that our bishops do something about it. Perhaps, though, we don’t fully appreciate the difficult position that Cardinals Burke, Sarah, Mueller or Bishop Schneider are in. How little would it take, do you think, for any one of them to become the next Marcel Lefebvre? How many orthodox Catholics would gladly and unreservedly follow them over the side of the barque of Peter? I believe that their caution is a heroic effort to keep the Church from entering another major formal schism, a schism which to a degree in practical terms already exists. It may be easy for us to armchair quarterback this, but I don’t think any of them want to be remembered in history for a major schism, especially when they will be the one portrayed as having split from Peter. This cautious approach is not going to satisfy every faithful Catholic and sadly, “our side” continues to splinter (BIPs, sedevacantists, etc.) because of a perceived lack of action. We cannot wave a magic wand and make it all go away. These are dangerous times. This is our cross. Not the one we wanted but the one God gave us. Sedevacantism (or BIP) or even just hiding in our little hole are shortcuts around the cross.


    1. Thanks for the comments, DC. I do agree, In fact, I have not been hard on Burke, et al here, on Roma Locuta Est. Catholic prelates who are orthodox are indeed in a tough position. They are pastors of souls, and are accountable before the Lord as such. So, it is a heavy responsibility, and any course of action cannot be taken lightly.

      That true and said, however debatable their decisions, actions (or inactions) thus far have been, the pace of this crisis appears to be quickening. As I suggest above, I believe a Profession of Faith that specifically addresses the errors outlined could be prepared, and circulated. It need not even mention Francis, though it would be responding to his errors. I would hope that at least a few hundred bishops could be found to sign it. However, given the sad state of the Church. I am not certain ten could be found to even do this minimal thing, let alone sign on to an effort to take part in an imperfect council to potentially depose a pope for heresy.

      Thanks again for reading the blog.



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