October 17, 2019 (Steven O’Reilly) – The month of October wears on, as does the Amazon Synod in Rome. While I have been following the goings on in Rome, I have not had time to put fingers to keyboard until now. Events have dictated otherwise. My wife’s mother passed away on September 30 (God rest her soul), and I have been working on readying the first book of my forthcoming historical fiction trilogy (PIA FIDELIS) for publication and release by the end of October (if all goes well). Pia Fidelis, set in the midst of the Arian crisis, is a tale of adventure, war and romance, and the rise of the Shadow of the Antichrist in the person of Julian the Apostate (see The Historicity of Miracles: The case of Julian the Apostate and a lesson for our time).
I mention Pia Fidelis here, not so much as to plug my book (believe me…I will do that at some future date!), but to only note that the timing of the release of this historical tale of betrayal, heresy and apostasy seems to find many parallels in our current day crisis. And here I do not specifically have in the mind the controversy over the “Pachamama” idol, as horrendous as that truly is. Rather, I am speaking of the controversy over the news that the Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari reported that Pope Francis does not believe in the divinity of Christ. If true, this would make Pope Francis an Arian and or an apostate.
I commented on this news on my twitter account when it first was reported, and others have written articles and blogs on the subject. Therefore, I will not rehash it all again in great detail. We may simply note the following. Whether Scalfari is considered reliable or not by others, Francis — by the mere fact he continued interviews and conversations with him over a long period of time — must have believed him trustworthy and reliable. Therefore, it is Francis who has given Scalfari credibility. While the Vatican press office on occasion has provided limp-wristed explanations and ‘denials’ regarding Scalfari’s reporting on alleged controversial statements made by Francis, these are insufficient. Pope Francis has never directly denied any of Scalfari’s representations (e.g., regarding the damned being annihilated).
Scalfari now claims Francis denies the Divinity of Christ. While such a claim long, long ago — after the first unrecorded interviews — might have been written off as incredible and unbelievable, it cannot be so easily dismissed by this point. The Vatican press office’s non-denial denails are ineffectual and worthless because no one from that office has ever been present for any of the Scalfari-Francis conversations. Only Francis can defuse this crisis.
Francis is supposed to be the successor of St. Peter, but he does not comport himself as such. Time after time he insults the faithful, their beliefs and piety, and he makes statements, or issues documents that can be interpreted in a heterodox fashion. It has become a truism or at least practically so from the outset of this pontificate that faithful Catholics hold their breath every time Francis speaks or writes. There always appears to be some controversial statement or remark. He has not exhibited the least fatherly concern for the faithful who suffer from the confusion he causes. He appears to take delight in it. Time after time. It has gotten to the point where one might rightly wonder, how can it be so difficult for Francis to even be accidentally orthodox on occasion?
So now we have the Scalfari claim: Francis does not believe in the divinity of Christ. Though some have tried to do so out of respect for Pope Francis, I do not believe Catholics following this story can lightly dismiss Scalfari’s claim given the background of Francis’s friendship with Scalfari, and their many interviews and conversations. While Francis might be excused for Scalfari misquoting and misinterpreting him one or two times, he cannot be excused beyond that. Why would Francis continue conversing with Scalfari if he so misrepresented his words and deeply held beliefs? The answer is obvious, he would not — which thus gives rise to the grounded suspicion that Scalfari is on to something. If Scalfari is a serial misinterpreter, Francis should never have granted him another interview after this had become apparent long, long ago. The truth is, as described in press accounts, the two are long term friends. No. Catholics cannot lightly dismiss Scalfari’s claim. Nor should they. Even accounting for Scalfari’s interview and recording methods (or lack thereof), how could he be so seriously mistaken as to whether Francis — his long term friend with whom he conversed many times — even believes in the Divinity of Christ?
Catholics, especially bishops and cardinals, not only have a right, but they indeed have the duty to demand of Pope Francis — if they are to follow him as a shepherd — that he publicly denounce Scalfari as a liar and his claim as false; and that Pope Francis, specifically and directly addressing the accusation, publicly reaffirm the divinity of Christ in unambiguous terms. Thus far, the ‘denials’ emanating from the Vatican are not sufficient to lift the reasonable doubts about Pope Francis. If Pope Francis does not address Scalfari’s claim immediately, cardinals and bishops should form an imperfect council to publicly call upon Pope Francis to personally refute Scalfari’s claim; and if he fails to do so, this imperfect commission or council should consider the evidence both for and against the orthodoxy of Pope Francis.
St. Robert Bellarmine was of the opinion a pope could not fall into heresy (NB: This has always been my personal theological opinion as well). Though that was his opinion, he did consider what should be done if a pope did fall into heresy. If we had not already been presented with such evidence of heresy till now (see here, here and here), we are now presented with ‘eyewitness’ testimony from Eugenio Scalfari — a friend of Francis who means him no harm — that the pope is an apostate. Therefore, what cardinals and bishops that can be found in Rome must form and begin a formal inquiry (an imperfect council if you will) to ascertain the facts, beginning with Scalfari (to the extent he is cooperative). It does not matter if the inquiry begins with only a few cardinals or bishops. They should invite as many as wish to join them. If it might be said, arguably, the pope’s comments in and on Amoris Laetitia, the Death Penalty, Hell, God willing other religions, etc., were ambiguous or debatable, a potential denial of the divinity of Christ is not. He either denied it, or he did not.
It is absolutely necessary that Francis repudiate Scalfari as a liar, and that Francis — specifically addressing Scalfari’s claim — reaffirm the divinity of Christ in clear terms and without mental reservation. Anything short of this is indefensible and unacceptable. There is no defensible reason as to why a good shepherd could or should refuse this request from the sheep. The ‘accusation’ comes from Francis’s personal friend, not his enemy.
This formal inquiry of cardinals and bishops (an imperfect council) should issue a very public call for Pope Francis to respond within a set time period. Any pope — worthy of the chair of St. Peter — would be obliged to respond by the very nature of an inquiry involving, potentially, his own words clearly suggesting his apostasy. To refuse or fail to answer – even by silence – would be perilous for such a pope alleged to have made an explicit statement of apostasy. 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, for its own defense, could and should rightly interpret such silence as a clear sign of the pope’s heresy or apostasy from the Catholic Faith of his predecessors (see High Noon: Musings on a Formal Correction of a Pope ).
That this imperfect inquiry or council be called seems to me a necessity. The findings will dictate the course of action to be taken. Even if the few cardinals and bishops comprising this formal inquiry (or imperfect council) do not feel it has the authority to declare a heretical or apostate pope deposed, its findings would be a helpful and necessary warning to the faithful to steer clear of such a pope. It seems long past the time for an imperfect council to consider the case of an imperfect pope.
Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. A former intelligence officer, 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 StevenOReilly@AOL.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA).