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 Laetitia; Mr. 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 – Addendum; Why 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, set during the time of the Arian crisis. The first book of the trilogy should be out later this summer or by early fall. He asks for your prayers for his intentions. He can be contacted at StevenOReilly@AOL.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA).
- 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). “