This is a most interesting post by John R. T. Lamont, PhD. We publish the first paragraphs and the second half of the article. Please go over to RORATE CAELI to read the entire article and for footnotes.
Cardinals Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra and Meiser have performed a signal service to the Church by sending five dubia on the apostolic exortation Amoris laetitia to the Holy See, requesting an authoritative clarification of the meaning of that document, and then making public the text of the dubia when no response to them was given. Cardinal Burke has performed a further service to the Church by explaining this initiative in an interview with Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register on Nov. 15th 2016, and stating that if no response was given to the dubia the cardinals would have to make a formal act of correction of a serious error.
As is proper, the dubia were formulated in a manner appropriate to an official request of this kind, and the formal act of correction to which Cardinal Burke refers is an act with a legal character. Catholics may find it helpful to be given a presentation of the canonical, historical and theological background to the dubia and the suggested act of correction, and to the situation that has led to the action of the Cardinals. This background is no doubt well known to the four Cardinals, but it is less accessible to those who lack their specialised knowledge. This article is intended to help with the comprehension and appreciation of their initiative.
Some Catholic commentators have claimed that Amoris laetitia does not contain any of the heresies described above [See full article on Rorate] or make any statements that are contrary to the Catholic faith. This assertion is not a criticism of the dubia of the cardinals, since these dubia do not offer any interpretation of that document, but it would serve as a basis for criticising any formal act of correction of Pope Francis for teaching error. However, this claim is shown to be false by the actions of Pope Francis and by the statements he has made about the teaching of Amoris laetitia. These actions and statements are relevant to a possible formal correction, so they should be described.
A). Pope Francis personally named a number of bishops and cardinals as participants in the Synod on the Family who would otherwise not have been eligible to take part in it, and who were known for opposing Catholic teaching on marriage, family, and sexual morality. These included Cardinal Walter Kasper, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Archbishop Bruno Forte, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach, Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop Victor Fernández, and Fr. Antonio Spadaro.
B). Pope Francis intervened in the composition of the Relatio post disceptationem for the Synod on the Family. The Relatio proposed allowing Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics on a “case-by-case basis”, and said pastors should emphasize the “positive aspects” of lifestyles the Church considers gravely sinful, including civil remarriage after divorce and premarital cohabitation. These proposals, which were supported by the participants in the Synod named in A) above, were included in the Relatio at Pope Francis’s personal insistence, despite the fact that they did not receive the two-thirds majority required by the Synod rules for a proposal to be included in the Relatio.
C). In an interview in April 2016, Pope Francis was asked by a journalist if there are any concrete possibilities for the divorced and remarried that did not exist before the publication of Amoris laetitia. Pope Francis replied ‘Io posso dire, si. Punto’; that is, ‘I can say yes. Period.’ He then stated that the reporter’s question was answered by the presentation given by Cardinal Schönborn on Amoris laetitia. In this presentation Cardinal Schönborn stated:
My great joy as a result of this document resides in the fact that it coherently overcomes that artificial, superficial, clear division between “regular” and “irregular”, and subjects everyone to the common call of the Gospel, according to the words of St. Paul: “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all” (Rom. 11, 32). … what does the Pope say in relation to access to the sacraments for people who live in “irregular” situations? Pope Benedict had already said that “easy recipes” do not exist (AL 298, note 333). Pope Francis reiterates the need to discern carefully the situation, in keeping with St. John Paul II’s Familiaris consortio (84) (AL 298). “Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God” (AL 205). He also reminds us of an important phrase from Evangelii gaudium, 44: “A small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties” (AL 304). In the sense of this “via caritatis” (AL 306), the Pope affirms, in a humble and simple manner, in a note (351) that the help of the sacraments may also be given “in certain cases”.
He amplified this statement by asserting that Amoris laetitia endorses the approach to the divorced and remarried that is practiced in his diocese, where they are permitted to receive communion.
D). On Sept. 5th 2016 the bishops of the Buenos Aires region issued a statement on the application of Amoris laetitia. In it they stated:
6). In other, more complex cases, and when a declaration of nullity has not been obtained, the above mentioned option may not, in fact, be feasible. Nonetheless, a path of discernment is still possible. If it comes to be recognized that, in a specific case, there are limitations that mitigate responsibility and culpability (cf. 301-302), especially when a person believes they would incur a subsequent wrong by harming the children of the new union, Amoris laetitia offers the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist (cf. footnotes 336 and 351). These sacraments, in turn, dispose the person to continue maturing and growing with the power of grace. …
9) It may be right for eventual access to sacraments to take place privately, especially where situations of conflict might arise. But at the same time, we have to accompany our communities in their growing understanding and welcome, without this implying creating confusion about the teaching of the Church on the indissoluble marriage. The community is an instrument of mercy, which is “unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous” (297).
10) Discernment is not closed, because it “is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized” (303), according to the “law of gradualness” (295) and with confidence in the help of grace.
This asserts that according to Amoris laetitia confusion is not to be created about the teaching of the Church on the indissolubility of marriage, that the divorced and remarried can receive the sacraments, and that persisting in this state is compatible with receiving the help of grace. Pope Francis wrote an official letter dated the same day to Bishop Sergio Alfredo Fenoy of San Miguel, a delegate of the Argentina bishops’ Buenos Aires Region, stating that the bishops of the Buenos Aires region had given the only possible interpretation of Amoris laetitia:
I received the document from the Buenos Aires Pastoral Region, “Basic Criteria for the Application of Chapter Eight of Amoris laetitia.” Thank you very much for sending it to me. I thank you for the work they have done on this: a true example of accompaniment for the priests … and we all know how necessary is this closeness of the bishop with his clergy and the clergy with the bishop. The neighbor ‘closest’ to the bishop is the priest, and the commandment to love one’s neighbor as one’s self begins for us, the bishops, precisely with our priests.
The document is very good and completely explains the meaning of chapter VIII of Amoris laetitia. There are no other interpretations.
E). Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia as president of the Pontifical Academy for Life and grand chancellor of the Pontifical Pope John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. As head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Archbishop Paglia was responsible for the publication of a book, Famiglia e Chiesa, un legame indissolubile (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2015), that contains the lectures given at three seminars promoted by that dicastery on the topics of ‘Marriage: Faith, Sacrament, Discipline’; ‘Family, Conjugal Love and Generation’; and ‘The Wounded Family and Irregular Unions: What Pastoral Attitude’. This book and the seminars it described were intended to put forward proposals for the Synod on the Family, and promoted the granting of communion to divorced and remarried Catholics.
F). Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Kevin Farrell as prefect of the newly established Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, and promoted him to the rank of cardinal. Cardinal Farrell has expressed support for Cardinal Schönborn’s proposal that the divorced and remarried should receive communion. He has stated that the reception of communion by the divorced and remarried is a ‘process of discernment and of conscience.’
G). In a press conference on June 26th 2016, Pope Francis stated:
I think that the intentions of Martin Luther were not mistaken. He was a reformer. Perhaps some methods were not correct. But in that time, if we read the story of the Pastor, a German Lutheran who then converted when he saw reality – he became Catholic – in that time, the Church was not exactly a model to imitate. There was corruption in the Church, there was worldliness, attachment to money, to power…and this he protested. Then he was intelligent and took some steps forward justifying, and because he did this. And today Lutherans and Catholics, Protestants, all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err.
H). In his homily in the Lutheran Cathedral in Lund, Sweden, on Oct, 31st 2016, Pope Francis stated:
As Catholics and Lutherans, we have undertaken a common journey of reconciliation. Now, in the context of the commemoration of the Reformation of 1517, we have a new opportunity to accept a common path, one that has taken shape over the past fifty years in the ecumenical dialogue between the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church. Nor can we be resigned to the division and distance that our separation has created between us. We have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another.
Jesus tells us that the Father is the “vinedresser” (cf. v. 1) who tends and prunes the vine in order to make it bear more fruit (cf. v. 2). The Father is constantly concerned for our relationship with Jesus, to see if we are truly one with him (cf. v. 4). He watches over us, and his gaze of love inspires us to purify our past and to work in the present to bring about the future of unity that he so greatly desires.
We too must look with love and honesty at our past, recognizing error and seeking forgiveness, for God alone is our judge. We ought to recognize with the same honesty and love that our division distanced us from the primordial intuition of God’s people, who naturally yearn to be one, and that it was perpetuated historically by the powerful of this world rather than the faithful people, which always and everywhere needs to be guided surely and lovingly by its Good Shepherd. Certainly, there was a sincere will on the part of both sides to profess and uphold the true faith, but at the same time we realize that we closed in on ourselves out of fear or bias with regard to the faith which others profess with a different accent and language. …
The spiritual experience of Martin Luther challenges us to remember that apart from God we can do nothing. “How can I get a propitious God?” This is the question that haunted Luther. In effect, the question of a just relationship with God is the decisive question for our lives. As we know, Luther encountered that propitious God in the Good News of Jesus, incarnate, dead and risen. With the concept “by grace alone”, he reminds us that God always takes the initiative, prior to any human response, even as he seeks to awaken that response. The doctrine of justification thus expresses the essence of human existence before God.
I). Pope Francis has refused to reply to the dubia of the four cardinals, or to instruct the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to reply to them. Since these dubia ought to have been given an answer according to normal procedure, and since the content of the dubia is a request to rule out heterodox interpretations of Amoris laetitia in order to counter a grave and present danger to the faith of Catholics that is being produced by these interpretations, this refusal cannot be reconciled with the claim that Amoris laetitia is intended by Pope Francis to be understood in a Catholic sense.
Pope Francis has cited the joint Catholic/Lutheran statement on justification as a basis for his claims about Martin Luther’s theology of justification. The joint statement cannot however offer grounds for a defence for his remarks, for the following reasons:
i) it does not address the theology of Luther himself, but of some current Lutherans
ii) it does not state that Catholics and Lutherans have reached entire agreement on justification, but acknowledges important differences between the two sides
iii) it has no magisterial authority
iv) it has been severely criticised by competent Catholic theologians.
Pope Francis has achieved the difficult feat of being unjust to the memory of Martin Luther, since Luther would undoubtedly have rejected indignantly (and probably scatologically) any suggestion that his views on justification could be reconciled with Catholic teaching.
We should distinguish here between statements of Pope Francis that are public, and statements that have a juridical value. Pope Francis’s endorsement of the interpretation of Amoris laetitia given by Cardinal Schönborn had no juridical force, since it was given in an interview with a journalist. Nonetheless it was a public statement and as such constituted a public assertion of heresy. His letter to the bishops of the Buenos Aires region, however, was an official document with juridical force, since it was sent to the Argentine bishops in his capacity as Pope as a confirmation of an official act that was intended to determine the proper interpretation and implementation of Amoris laetitia. It was private in the sense of being addressed to the bishops and not to the general public (although it became known to the public almost immediately and its authenticity was confirmed by the Vatican), but it was not private in the sense of expressing Pope Francis’s personal opinion rather than his decision as Pope.
The cumulative evidence of A) to I) above, together with Amoris laetitia, transforms the nature of these pieces of evidence. In isolation, most of them are not clearly incompatible with the Catholic faith; they could be taken as ambiguous, unfortunately expressed, or inspired by good and Catholic intentions that were not properly thought out. When they are taken as a whole, the doubtful and ambiguous character that each of them possesses individually indicates a deliberate strategy to advance their heterodox content, by a constant promotion of this content that is never quite open enough to force its opponents to take a stand against it.
The formal correction of a pope
The very grave situation detailed above raises the urgent question of what Catholics are to do about it.
St. Thomas Aquinas’s teaching on fraternal correction cannot be bettered as a starting point for answering this question. He states:
The correction of the wrongdoer is a remedy which should be employed against a man’s sin. Now a man’s sin may be considered in two ways, first as being harmful to the sinner, secondly as conducing to the harm of others, by hurting or scandalizing them, or by being detrimental to the common good, the justice of which is disturbed by that man’s sin. Consequently the correction of a wrongdoer is twofold, one which applies a remedy to the sin considered as an evil of the sinner himself. This is fraternal correction properly so called, which is directed to the amendment of the sinner. Now to do away with anyone’s evil is the same as to procure his good: and to procure a person’s good is an act of charity, whereby we wish and do our friend well. Consequently fraternal correction also is an act of charity, because thereby we drive out our brother’s evil, viz. sin, the removal of which pertains to charity rather than the removal of an external loss, or of a bodily injury, in so much as the contrary good of virtue is more akin to charity than the good of the body or of external things. Therefore fraternal correction is an act of charity rather than the healing of a bodily infirmity, or the relieving of an external bodily need. There is another correction which applies a remedy to the sin of the wrongdoer, considered as hurtful to others, and especially to the common good. This correction is an act of justice, whose concern it is to safeguard the rectitude of justice between one man and another. (2a2ae q. 33 a. 1 co.)
St. Thomas teaches that fraternal correction is a matter of precept and must be performed. He asserts that it does not belong solely to prelates:
It is written (Dist. xxiv, qu. 3, Can. Tam Sacerdotes): “Both priests and all the rest of the faithful should be most solicitous for those who perish, so that their reproof may either correct their sinful ways. or, if they be incorrigible, cut them off from the Church.” As stated above, correction is twofold. One is an act of charity, which seeks in a special way the recovery of an erring brother by means of a simple warning: such like correction belongs to anyone who has charity, be he subject or prelate. But there is another correction which is an act of justice purposing the common good, which is procured not only by warning one’s brother, but also, sometimes, by punishing him, that others may, through fear, desist from sin. Such a correction belongs only to prelates, whose business it is not only to admonish, but also to correct by means of punishments. (2a2ae q. 33 a. 3.)
A subject may correct his prelate:
A subject is not competent to administer to his prelate the correction which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment: but the fraternal correction which is an act of charity is within the competency of everyone in respect of any person towards whom he is bound by charity, provided there be something in that person which requires correction. … Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect. (2a2ae q. 33 a. 4.)
This correction should be public if the offence is public: ‘With regard to the public denunciation of sins it is necessary to make a distinction: because sins may be either public or secret. In the case of public sins, a remedy is required not only for the sinner, that he may become better, but also for others, who know of his sin, lest they be scandalized. Wherefore such like sins should be denounced in public.’ (2a2ae q. 33 a. 7.)
St. Thomas allows that fraternal correction directed towards the amendment of the wrongdoer may be omitted if it is foreseeable that such correction will simply make the wrongdoer worse, but he denies that the fraternal correction directed towards the common good may be omitted for this reason (2a2ae q. 33 a. 6).
In the light of this teaching, the duties of Catholics towards Pope Francis are clear.
In the case of the laity, those Catholics who are sufficiently well informed about the statements and actions of Pope Francis detailed above and about the divinely revealed teaching that he is rejecting have a duty to publicly offer him the fraternal correction that is an act of charity. They have the same duty to offer fraternal correction to any Catholics who follow Pope Francis in his errors.
In the case of prelates, they have the same duty of charity to offer fraternal correction to Pope Francis. This duty is stronger than the duty of laymen, since bishops and cardinals are bound to do this in virtue of their office. Cardinals are the counsellors of the Pope and as such have a strict duty to offer him this fraternal correction, a duty whose omission is a mortal sin. Bishops are fellow members of the episcopal college and fellow successors of the Apostles, albeit members and successors that are junior to the Pope. Their duty to a fellow member of this college, to the head of this college, and to the college as a whole binds them to offer this fraternal correction.
It would not seem respectful to offer St. Thomas’s reason for omitting this fraternal correction, and maintain that it should not be practised because it would simply make Pope Francis worse. Moreover, the claim that such fraternal correction would not lead Pope Francis to renounce the heretical statements he has made, but would lead him to increase his support for heresy, implies that Pope Francis is in fact a formal heretic. In that case the steps for dealing with a heretical pope would have to be taken.
Prelates, unlike the laity, are also bound upon pain of mortal sin to the correction that is an act of justice and is directed towards the common good rather than towards the amendment of the sinner. St. Thomas notes that this correction is sometimes accompanied by punishment, which implies that it need not necessarily be so accompanied. In the case of Catholics who are subject to them and who follow the heresies advanced by Pope Francis, they are bound to offer this correction, and may exercise this correction through the means of punishment. In the case of Pope Francis, they are bound to offer this correction in the form of rebuke and admonishment, but may not exercise this correction in the form of punishment, since he does not fall under their jurisdiction and hence they do not have the authority to do so.
The fact that Pope Francis may not be punished by prelates for advancing heresy does not mean that he can promote heresy with impunity, and that they can do nothing about it. The act of fraternal correction to which prelates are bound in the face of Pope Francis’s heretical statements is concerned with the moral sense of heresy insofar as it is motivated by charity towards the Pope, but it also has consequences for the juridical sense of heresy. As well as being an act of charity, it constitutes the warning that is necessary before a person can be judged guilty of the canonical crime of heresy. The dubia of the cardinals and the publication of these dubia is not such an act of warning, but the formal act of correction that Cardinal Burke envisages would be such an act. If such a warning were repeated twice and Pope Francis refused to heed both of these warnings, he would become canonically guilty of heresy.
Some might argue that the dubia and other criticisms of Amoris Laetitia that have been made already suffice as warnings to Pope Francis, and hence that he can now be judged to be guilty of the canonical crime of heresy. These criticisms might be said to make it clear to informed observers that Pope Francis is in fact a heretic rather than simply in error. But for juridical purposes – especially for the very serious purpose of judging a Pope to be a heretic – they do not suffice. The evidence needed for a juridical judgment of such gravity has to take a form that is entirely clear and beyond dispute. A formal warning from a number of members of the College of Cardinals that is then disregarded by the Pope would constitute such evidence.
The possibility of a Pope being canonically guilty of heresy has long been admitted in the Church. It is acknowledged in the Decretals of Gratian, the foundational work of canon law composed in the 12th century. The Decretals were incorporated in the Corpus Iuris Canonici, of which they form the first part.
If the Pope, remiss in his duties and neglectful of his and his neighbour’s salvation, gets caught up in idle business, and if moreover, by his silence (which actually does more harm to himself and everyone else), he leads innumerable hordes of people away from the good with him, he will be beaten for eternity with many blows alongside that very first slave of hell. However, no person can presume to convict him of any transgressions in this matter, because, although the Pope can judge everyone else, no one may judge him, unless he, for whose perpetual stability all the faithful pray as earnestly as they call to mind the fact that, after God, their own salvation depends on his soundness, is found to have strayed from the faith. (Gratian, Decretum, Part 1, Distinction 40, Chapter 6.)
Various explanations have been proposed of how a Pope can be removed from office if he commits the canonical crime of heresy. The explanations seek to explain how the Pope can lose office without being judged by any of his inferiors in the Church on earth. The simplest and possibly the best explanation that has been offered is that the Pope by pertinaciously maintaining heresy effectively removes himself from office. However, all these explanations agree that a Pope who is juridically guilty of heresy can and must be removed from office. There is no dispute among Catholic theologians on this point – even among theologians like Bellarmine who do not think that a Pope is in fact capable of being a heretic.
It is to be hoped that the correction of Pope Francis does not have to proceed this far, and that he will either reject the heresies he has announced or resign his office. Removing him from office against his will would require the election of a new Pope, and would probably leave the Church with Francis as an anti-Pope contesting the authority of the new Pope. If Francis refuses to renounce either his heresy or his office, however, this situation will just have to be faced.