April 30, 2019
Prominent clergymen and scholars including Fr. Aidan Nichols, one of the best-known theologians in the English-speaking world, have issued an open letter accusing Pope Francis of committing heresy. They ask the bishops of the Catholic Church, to whom the open letter is addressed, to “take the steps necessary to deal with the grave situation” of a pope committing this crime.
The authors base their charge of heresy on the manifold manifestations of Pope Francis’ embrace of positions contrary to the faith and his dubious support of prelates who in their lives have shown themselves to have a clear disrespect for the Church’s faith and morals.
“We take this measure as a last resort to respond to the accumulating harm caused by Pope Francis’s words and actions over several years, which have given rise to one of the worst crises in the history of the Catholic Church,” the authors state. The open letter is available in Dutch, Italian, German, French, and Spanish.
Among the signatories are well-respected scholars such as Father Thomas Crean, Fr. John Hunwicke, Professor John Rist, Dr. Anna Silvas, Professor Claudio Pierantoni, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, and Dr. John Lamont. The text is dated “Easter Week” and appears on the traditional Feast Day of St. Catherine of Siena, a saint who counseled and admonished several popes in her time.
The 20-page document is a follow-up to the 2017 Filial Correction of Pope Francis that was signed originally by 62 scholars and which stated that the Pope has “effectively upheld 7 heretical positions about marriage, the moral life, and the reception of the sacraments, and has caused these heretical opinions to spread in the Catholic Church,” especially in light of his 2016 exhortation Amoris Laetitia.
The authors of the open letter state in a summary of their letter (read below) that it has now become clear that Pope Francis is aware of his own positions contrary to the faith and that the time has come to go a “stage further” by claiming that Pope Francis is “guilty of the crime of heresy.”
“We limit ourselves to accusing him of heresy on occasions where he has publicly denied truths of the faith, and then consistently acted in a way that demonstrates that he disbelieves these truths that he has publicly denied,” the authors state.
They clarify that they are not claiming Pope Francis has “denied truths of the faith in pronouncements that satisfy the conditions for an infallible papal teaching.”
“We assert that this would be impossible, since it would be incompatible with the guidance given to the Church by the Holy Spirit,” they state.
In light of this situation, the authors call upon the bishops of the Church to take action since a “heretical papacy may not be tolerated or dissimulated to avoid a worse evil.”
For this reason, the authors “respectfully request the bishops of the Church to investigate the accusations contained in the letter, so that if they judge them to be well founded they may free the Church from her present distress, in accordance with the hallowed adage, Salus animarum prima lex (‘the salvation of souls is the highest law’). The bishops can do this, the writers suggest, “by admonishing Pope Francis to reject these heresies, and if he should persistently refuse, by declaring that he has freely deprived himself of the papacy.”
The authors first present in detail – and with theological references to substantiate their claims – the different positions against the faith Pope Francis has shown himself to hold, propagate, or support, including “seven propositions contradicting divinely revealed truth.”
One of the heresies the authors accuse Pope Francis of committing is expressed in the following proposition: “A Christian believer can have full knowledge of a divine law and voluntarily choose to break it in a serious matter, but not be in a state of mortal sin as a result of this action.” Many of these heretical statements touch on questions of marriage and the family and are to be found in Amoris Laetitia, but there is also a new claim made by Pope Francis in 2019 – namely, that the “diversity of religions” is “willed by God” – that is listed in the open letter.
In one section of the open letter, the authors list the many prelates as well as lay people, who, despite openly dissenting from Catholic doctrine and morals — either by word or by deed — have been by Pope Francis either publicly praised (such as Emma Bonino) or raised to influential positions (such as Cardinal Oscar Rodrigez Maradiaga). On this list are names such as Cardinal Blase Cupich, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, and Bishop Juan Barros.
The fact that Pope Francis never responded to the dubia (questions) concerning Amoris Laetitia published by Cardinals Carlo Caffarra, Joachim Meisner, Walter Brandmüller, and Raymond Burke is mentioned. Moreover, the authors point out that Pope Francis has changed the members of the Pontifical Academy for Life to such an extent that orthodox Catholic experts have been replaced by heterodox experts, such as Father Maurizio Chiodi.
Addressing the bishops of the world – among whom are to be found all the present 222 cardinals – the authors of the open letter express their gratitude toward those bishops who have defended Catholic doctrine by their own personal witnesses.
“We recognise with gratitude that some among you have reaffirmed the truths contrary to the heresies which we have listed, or else have warned of serious dangers threatening the Church in this pontificate,” they state. Here, the dubia cardinals, but also Cardinal Willem Eijk, are mentioned. The authors also thank Cardinal Gerhard Müller for his Manifesto of Faith.
The authors believe, however, that at this time in history, six years into the Francis pontificate, more is needed, namely a more direct and authoritative approach. They recognize their own limits when they tell the bishops: “Despite the evidence that we have put forward in this letter, we recognise that it does not belong to us to declare the pope guilty of the delict of heresy in a way that would have canonical consequences for Catholics.”
“We therefore appeal to you as our spiritual fathers, vicars of Christ within your own jurisdictions and not vicars of the Roman pontiff, publicly to admonish Pope Francis to abjure the heresies that he has professed. Even prescinding from the question of his personal adherence to these heretical beliefs, the Pope’s behaviour in regard to the seven propositions contradicting divinely revealed truth, mentioned at the beginning of this Letter, justifies the accusation of the delict of heresy. It is beyond a doubt that he promotes and spreads heretical views on these points. Promoting and spreading heresy provides sufficient grounds in itself for an accusation of the delict of heresy. There is, therefore, superabundant reason for the bishops to take the accusation of heresy seriously and to try to remedy the situation,” they state.
The authors make it clear that it is up to the bishops to take action and that they do not need a majority among the bishops to do so.
“Since Pope Francis has manifested heresy by his actions as well as by his words, any abjuration must involve repudiating and reversing these actions, including his nomination of bishops and cardinals who have supported these heresies by their words or actions. Such an admonition is a duty of fraternal charity to the Pope, as well as a duty to the Church,” they state.
“If – which God forbid! – Pope Francis does not bear the fruit of true repentance in response to these admonitions, we request that you carry out your duty of office to declare that he has committed the canonical delict of heresy and that he must suffer the canonical consequences of this crime,” they add.
Thus, the authors state, “these actions do not need to be taken by all the bishops of the Catholic Church, or even by a majority of them. A substantial and representative part of the faithful bishops of the Church would have the power to take these actions.”
A petition launched by the organizers of the open letter to support their initiative can be found here.
Summary of open letter to bishops as presented by the authors themselves:
The Open letter to the bishops of the Catholic Church is the third stage in a process that began in the summer of 2016. At that time, an ad hoc group of Catholic clergy and scholars wrote a private letter to all the cardinals and Eastern Catholic patriarchs, pointing out heresies and other serious errors that appeared to be contained in or favoured by Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia. The following year, after Pope Francis had continued by word, deed, and omission to propagate many of these same heresies, a ‘Filial Correction’ was addressed to the pope by many of the same people, as well as by other clergy and scholars. This second letter was made public in September 2017, and a petition in support of it was signed by some 14,000 people. The authors of that letter stated however that they did not seek to judge whether Pope Francis was aware that he was causing heresy to spread.
The present Open letter to the bishops of the Catholic Church goes a stage further in claiming that Pope Francis is guilty of the crime of heresy. This crime is committed when a Catholic knowingly and persistently denies something which he knows that the Church teaches to be revealed by God. Taken together, the words and actions of Pope Francis amount to a comprehensive rejection of Catholic teaching on marriage and sexual activity, on the moral law, and on grace and the forgiveness of sins.
The Open letter also indicates the link between this rejection of Catholic teaching and the favour shown by Pope Francis to bishops and other clergy who have either been guilty of sexual sins and crimes, such as former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, or who have protected clergy guilty of sexual sins and crimes, such as the late Cardinal Godfried Danneels. This protection and promotion of clerics who reject Catholic teaching on marriage, sexual activity, and on the moral law in general, even when these clerics personally violate the moral and civil law in horrendous ways, is consistent enough to be considered a policy on the part of Pope Francis. At the least it is evidence of disbelief in the truth of Catholic teaching on these subjects. It also indicates a strategy to impose rejection of these teachings on the Church, by naming to influential posts individuals whose personal lives are based on violation of these truths.
The authors consider that a heretical papacy may not be tolerated or dissimulated to avoid a worse evil. It strikes at the basic good of the Church and must be corrected. For this reason, the study concludes by describing the traditional theological and legal principles that apply to the present situation. The authors respectfully request the bishops of the Church to investigate the accusations contained in the letter, so that if they judge them to be well founded, they may free the Church from her present distress, in accordance with the hallowed adage, Salus animarum prima lex (‘the salvation of souls is the highest law’). They can do this by admonishing Pope Francis to reject these heresies, and if he should persistently refuse, by declaring that he has freely deprived himself of the papacy.
While this Open letter is an unusual, even historic, document, the Church’s own laws say that “Christ’s faithful have the right, and, indeed, sometimes the duty, according to their knowledge, competence, and dignity, to manifest to the sacred pastors their judgment about those things which pertain to the good of the Church” (Code of Canon Law, canon 212.3). While Catholics hold that a pope speaks infallibly in certain strictly defined conditions, the Church does not say that he cannot fall into heresy outside these conditions.
The signatories to the Open Letter include not only specialists in theology and philosophy, but also academics and scholars from other fields. This fits well with the central claim of the Open Letter, that Pope Francis’s rejection of revealed truths is evident to any well-instructed Catholic who is willing to examine the evidence. The signatures of Fr Aidan Nichols OP and of Professor John Rist will be noted. Fr Nichols is one of the best-known theologians in the English-speaking world, and the author of many books on a wide range of theological topics, including the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Ratzinger. Professor Rist, who is known for his work in classical philosophy and the history of theology, has held chairs and professorships at the University of Toronto, the Augustinianum in Rome, the Catholic University of America, the University of Aberdeen, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The Open Letter is released just after the celebration of Holy Week and Easter Week, in the hopes that the present ‘passion’ of the Church will soon give way to a full resurrection of God’s saving truth.
Clergy and academics who wish to sign the open letter may send their name and credentials to organizers at this email address: email@example.com. All requests will be thoroughly vetted.
List of signers:
- Georges Buscemi, President of Campagne Québec-Vie, member of the John-Paul II Academy for Human Life and Family
- Robert Cassidy, STL
- Fr Thomas Crean, OP
- Matteo d’Amico, Professor of History and Philosophy, Senior High School of Ancona
- Deacon Nick Donnelly, MA
- Maria Guarini STB, Pontificia Università Seraphicum, Rome; editor of the website Chiesa e postconcilio
- Prof. Robert Hickson, PhD, Retired Professor of Literature and of Strategic-Cultural Studies
- Fr John Hunwicke, former Senior Research Fellow, Pusey House, Oxford
- Peter Kwasniewski, PhD
- John Lamont, DPhil (Oxon.)
- Brian M. McCall, Orpha and Maurice Merrill Professor in Law; Editor-in-Chief of Catholic Family News
- Fr Cor Mennen, JCL, diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Netherlands), canon of the cathedral Chapter. lecturer at de diocesan Seminary of ‘s-Hertogenbosch
- Stéphane Mercier, STB, PhD, Former Lecturer at the Catholic University of Louvain
- Fr Aidan Nichols, OP
- Paolo Pasqualucci, Professor of Philosophy (retired), University of Perugia
- Dr. Claudio Pierantoni, Professor of Medieval Philosophy, University of Chile; former Professor of Church History and Patrology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile
- Professor John Rist
- Dr. Anna Silvas, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, Faculty of Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences and Education, University of New England
- Prof. dr. W.J. Witteman, physicist, emeritus professor, University of Twente