May 29, 2019 (Steven O’Reilly) – On April 30, 2019, a group of 19 scholars and theologians published an Open Letter accusing Pope Francis of the canonical delict 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. My initial thoughts on the Open Letter may be found in Regarding the Open Letter accusing Pope Francis of Heresy.
Now, almost a full month later, Pope Francis has finally made his first public comments on the Open Letter. These comments were made in a Spanish language interview which the Catholic New Agency has reported on here. Pope Francis, according to CNA, said of the accusations in part:
“It does not hurt me at all. Hypocrisy and lies hurt me, these hurt me. But such a mistake, where there are even people who have filled their heads with … no, please, you have to take care of them too.”
CNA goes on to report that in this interview, published May 28, 2019:
Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki asked the pope how he took the accusation that he was a heretic, to which he responded, “With a sense of humor, my daughter.”
“I also pray for them because they are wrong and poor people, some are manipulated. And who are those who signed…?” Pope Francis added, alluding to an open letter signed by a group of 19 Catholics who accused the pope of “the canonical delict of heresy.”
It is unfortunate that this is the extent of the Pope’s remarks. Perhaps he plans more, or plans to have the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) respond to the accusations of the Open Letter for him. However, given the Pope’s consistent pattern of remaining silent in the face of controversy; more than likely than not, this is all we should expect to hear from him on the question. I have not seen the full Spanish language interview. I hope there were more questions regarding the Open Letter than seem to be suggested in the CNA report – – not that I would have expected any answers to these either.
Pope Francis called the accusations “hypocrisy and lies.” This amounts to a denial of them, I suppose, in Francis-speech. It would have been nice to have heard the ‘father and teacher’ of all Christians opine on whether he believes the Open Letter accurately describes the substance of his teaching or not. And, if it does not, where does he believe it goes wrong — and why? Or, if the Open Letter does accurately describe his teaching, why does he reject the charge of heresy, where does the accusation go wrong — and why?
Unfortunately, all we will get is more silence. What seems clear is that the Pope continues his tap dance. He ignores the merits of the accusations made against his words and actions while lingering long enough to launch an ad hominem attack against his perceived enemies, who in this case are the authors of the Open Letter (“and who are those who signed?”). This, too, is a pattern of Pope Francis, i.e., the ad hominem attacks we’ve seen made by him on many others, including Archbishop Vigano. The interviewer should at least be commended for getting any answer out of Pope Francis on a doctrinal question. Cardinal Burke, et al., have been waiting years for a simple “yes” or “no” to the Dubia.
Pope Francis is playing for time, and he is “winning.” His strategy has been effective thus far — and his theologically-orthodox opponents in the episcopacy have given him no cause to alter it. Until they change the dynamics of this battle, Francis is going to go on damaging the Church in the same way he has for years. Since the Dubia were publicized, two of the four authors of that effort have passed away. Nothing has come of the various appeals to the Pope by the laity or theologians, and there has been no public outcry from the episcopacy whatsoever — or at least not beyond a few exceptions. Episcopal commentary on the recent Open Letter has also been lacking; and where it has come, it has been mealy-mouthed and — for the most part — negative. With time, more and more bishops and cardinals resign, retire or die, while new ones of the same mind as Francis will fill their places. Given Francis’s weak appointments to the Sacred College, the outcome of the next conclave already looks grim. Perhaps the few good bishops and cardinals that remain are waiting for a meteor to strike, or for the Three Days of Darkness to come in order to to bail them out of doing something.
In sum, the strategy of waiting Francis’s pontificate out is suspect. No, the Church must be rallied to both reject and fight error. We need bishops and cardinals, even if few in number, to step forward and take up the challenge of the Open Letter, the Filial Appeal, the Dubia, the Abu Dhabi statement, the Death Penalty fiasco, etc., etc., etc.
For example, taking but one of Francis’ apparent errors noted in the Open Letter, it is sufficiently clear from the Buenos Aires guidelines regarding the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, and Pope Francis’ response to them (‘there is no other interpretation’), and inclusion of both in the AAS; that it is more probable than not that Pope Francis rejects the teaching reaffirmed in Familiaris Consortio 84, etc. This is also confirmed by the Pope’s preface (see here) to a book which supports communion for the civilly divorced and remarried in certain cases.
Regarding this example, the Pope’s silence on the Dubia, the Filial Appeal and rejection of the Open Letter is revealing. So-called ‘opponents‘ of Amoris Laetitia see that this Apostolic Exhortation can be read in a heretical manner, while most supporters accept and advance this heretical interpretation as the intended meaning of the Exhortation. Pope Francis has not corrected either side of the argument although he has been presented both the time and multiple occasions to do so. Given his non-responsiveness, the Latin proverb seems to apply: 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 this case, or so it seems to me, all the bishops and cardinals need do is either affirm or deny that the propositions related to the errors outlined in the Open Letter are in fact heretical. If one or more of them are in fact heretical, then if Francis is presented with a formal request to reject each specified error but continues to remain silent — when he can dispel the doubt with a word — he has convicted himself of heresy. The bishops and cardinals need only give him a sufficient canonical period for warnings and time to provide that word. But, if he still does not, his meaning is clear and he then suffers the consequences of formal heresy.
Granted, what I suggest above as an amateur might not be the proper way to handle the investigation, trial and correction; but surely there is a proper manner to adjudicate an accusation of formal heresy, and whatever that manner is — the bishops and cardinals need to get on with it. If nothing else, the case that Francis — in the manner of Honorius –is favoring heresy appears to be a strong one on its face. A veritable slam dunk. If nothing else, he can be formally warned to stop. But, perhaps this process determines his guilt goes beyond favoring heresy into formal heresy. If that is what the findings really demonstrate then the canonical consequences will necessarily suggest themselves to the bishops and cardinals. If that is what it comes to, we will then have the answers to old academic questions — i.e., whether a pope can fall into formal heresy and what to do with one if he does — in the same instant.(1)
That ‘the bishops and cardinals willing to make such a stand are too few to make a difference’ does not seem to me a good enough reason not to do anything. The good bishops and cardinals are few in number regardless, whether they do something or nothing at all. What is clear is, we have seen what doing nothing has gotten the Church. The Church of Rome is burning. Francis is fiddling.
Still, if the bishops and cardinals cannot manage to go that far, they can at least issue a profession of faith to be signed by all bishops and cardinals so inclined (see here and here). Countering the errors of our time, such as those identified in the Open Letter, this profession of faith should state the true faith on the disputed questions (e.g., such as those surrounding Familiaris Consortio 84) and reject the specific opposing errors as being contrary to the faith. Such a profession would help clarify the battle lines. It might also be beneficial to have as a public document going into the next conclave, as it might aid in framing the debate on the errors of our time that need to be addressed by the next pope.
Come on, bishops and cardinals…now is the time to act!
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. A former intelligence officer, 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. His articles can be read on www.RomaLocutaEst.com. He can be contacted at StevenOReilly@AOL.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA)
- If, hypothetically, it should get to that stage…I would still hold out hope that a “pope” so deposed for formal heresy would turn out to have been a false pope all along. Prescinding from the question of Francis, how that might be squared with the understanding a pope is pope once accepted by the entire Church is difficult to say — indeed, likely impossible. However, in either event, whether false pope or a pope fallen due to formal heresy, such a hypothetical “pope” would be known not to be pope from that moment of the declaration. Hypothetically, a future pope could rule on evidence of infractions of papal conclave/election rules, e.g., outside interference (e.g., If they would interfere in a presidential election — why not a papal one?) or potential infractions of ecclesiastical or divine laws (e.g., Curiouser and Curiouser: Who Dispensed Jorge Bergoglio SJ from his vows?), and declare his supposed predecessor to never having been a true pope. That all said, while I might hold out hope there might be a possible scenario, I do not see where the wiggle room for it might be. In any event, hypothetical or present day possibilities included, the declaration is not for the individual Catholic to make.