A group of clergy and lay scholars from around the world have taken the very rare step of presenting Pope Francis with a formal filial correction, accusing him of propagating heresies concerning marriage, the moral life, and reception of the sacraments.
Entitled Correctio filialis de haeresibus propagatis, meaning ‘A Filial Correction Concerning the Propagation of Heresies,’ the 25 page letter was delivered to the Holy Father at his Santa Marta residence on Aug. 11.
The Pope has so far not responded to the initiative, whose 62 signatories include the German intellectual Martin Mosebach, former president of the Vatican Bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, and the superior general of the Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay (he learned of the document only after it had been delivered to the Pope and signed it on behalf of the Society).
The letter begins by saying that with “profound grief but moved by fidelity to our Lord Jesus Christ, by love for the Church and for the papacy, and by filial devotion toward yourself” the signatories feel “compelled” to take this action “on account of the propagation of heresies.”
They cite in particular Francis’ apostolic exhortation on marriage and the family, Amoris Laetitia, and “other words, deeds and omissions.”
They accuse the Pope of upholding seven heretical positions about “marriage, the moral life, and the reception of the sacraments” which, they say, has “caused these heretical opinions to spread in the Catholic Church.”
The clergy and scholars “respectfully insist” that Pope Francis condemn the heresies that he has directly or indirectly upheld, and that he teach the truth of the Catholic faith in its integrity.
The filial correction, the first to be made of a reigning Pontiff since Pope John XXII was admonished in 1333, is divided into three main parts.
In the first, the signatories say they have the “right and duty” to issue such a correction. They make clear the doctrine of papal infallibility has not been contradicted as the Pope has not promulgated heretical opinions as dogmatic teachings of the Church, but they maintain that Francis has “upheld and propagated heretical opinions by various direct and indirect means.”
The second part deals with the correction itself. Written in Latin, it lists the passages of Amoris Laetitia in which, they argue, the Pope insinuates or encourages heretical positions. They mention those who claim these texts can be interpreted in an orthodox way, but the correction lists examples of when it is clear “beyond reasonable doubt” that the Pope “wishes Catholics to interpret these passages in a way that is, in fact, heretical.” In particular, they say the Pope has advocated the belief that obedience to God’s moral law can be impossible or undesirable, and that Catholics should sometimes accept adultery as compatible with being a follower of Christ.
In the third part, the signatories highlight two causes of this crisis: modernism and the influence of Martin Luther. They argue that the embrace of modernism, which they define as the belief that God has not delivered definite truths to the Church which she must continue to teach in exactly the same sense until the end of time, means that faith and morals become “provisional and subject to revision.” Such thinking, they point out, was condemned by Pope St Pius X. Regarding Martin Luther, they show how some of the Pope’s ideas on marriage, divorce, forgiveness, and divine law correspond to those of the German Reformation monk, and draw attention to the “explicit and unprecedented praise” the Pope has given the 16th century heresiarch.
No accusation of formal heresy
The signatories stress they are not accusing the Pope of formal heresy (when a person departs from the faith by doubting or denying some revealed truth with a full choice of the will), and are making “no judgment about Pope Francis’s culpability in propagating the seven heresies” as it is “not their task to judge about whether the sin of heresy has been committed.”
But they also note that some faithful who have spoken up in defense of the Catholic faith have been subject to reprisals within the Church and Church institutions. They therefore say the signatories “speak for a large number of clergy and lay faithful who lack freedom of speech.”
The addition of Bishop Fellay, as well as the SSPX’s district superior in Britain, Father Robert Brucciani, are notable for the fact that the Society continues to be in talks about returning to full communion with Rome. Pope Francis has been open to reconciliation with the Society, which has had differences with Rome over some teachings of the Second Vatican Council.
This is the sixth major initiative in which both clergy and laity have expressed concerns about the Pope’s teaching, particularly emanating from Amoris Laetitia. Despite the repeated pleas and warnings of chaos and confusion, Francis has refused to respond or acknowledge the initiatives which are as follows, in chronological order:
- In September 2015, just ahead of the second Synod on the Family, a petition of nearly 800,000 signatures from individuals and associations around the world including 202 prelates was presented to Pope Francis, calling on him to issue words of clarity on the Church’s teaching on marriage and family. The signatories, from 178 countries, expressed concern about “widespread confusion” arising from the possibility that “a breach” had been opened within the Church at the previous synod.
- In July 2016, a group of 45 Catholic scholars, prelates and clergy sent an appeal to the College of Cardinals asking that they petition Pope Francis to “repudiate” what they saw as “erroneous propositions” contained in Amoris Laetitia. They said the apostolic exhortation contains “a number of statements that can be understood in a sense that is contrary to Catholic faith and morals.”
- On Sept. 19, 2016, four cardinals — Carlo Caffarra, Walter Brandmüller, Raymond Burke, and Joachim Meisner — presented the Pope with dubia, five questions on disputed passages of Amoris Laetitia with the aim of obtaining clarification and resolving confusion over diverse interpretations of the controversial passages among various bishops and episcopal conferences. The Pope did not acknowledge the dubia, nor did he respond to the cardinals’ request for an audience in May.
- In February this year, confraternities representing thousands of priests worldwide issued a statement saying a clarification of Amoris Laetitia was “clearly needed” in the wake of “widespread” differing interpretations of the apostolic exhortation. They also thanked the four cardinals for submitting the dubia.
- In April this year, six lay scholars from different parts of the world held a conference in Rome in which they drew attention to the same controversial passages of Amoris Laetitia, showing the extent of concern and unease among the laity over the papal document and its interpretation.