Sixty-two scholars and priests have issued a “filial correction” of Pope Francis, saying that his words and actions risk leading Catholics into false doctrines.
The signatories emphasise that they do not accuse the Pope of committing the personal sin of heresy, or the canonical crime. But they claim that the publication of Amoris Laetitia, and the Pope’s subsequent words and actions, have led to the spread of “heresies and other errors”.
Others have since added their names to the letter (the full list is here). Most of the document’s first signatories were academics. They include Mgr Prof Antonio Livi, formerly rector of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; Prof Thomas Stark, who teaches at the Benedict XVI Academy of Philosophy and Theology in Austria; and Claudio Pierantoni of the University of Chile. Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the SSPX, is also a signatory, as is Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, former Vatican bank president.
Another signatory, Prof Stéphane Mercier of the Catholic University of Louvain, has been disciplined by the university for voicing his pro-life views.
Some of the signatories put their names to a letter addressed last year to the College of Cardinals, asking them to request that the Pope condemn certain heresies and errors.
But the new text, which was sent to the Pope a month ago, addresses him in language unprecedented in modern Catholic history: “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, we are compelled to address a correction to Your Holiness on account of the propagation of heresies effected by the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia and by other words, deeds and omissions of Your Holiness.”
The signatories say that they are permitted to address the Pope because of natural law – which allows a subject to correct a superior – and by canon law, which permits the faithful to make known their views to their pastors. They also cite the example of St Paul rebuking St Peter in Galatians 2.
Amoris Laetitia, issued in April last year, has provoked diverse interpretations. Several bishops have said that it is compatible with the Church’s perennial teaching, reaffirmed several times in recent years, that the divorced and remarried cannot receive Communion, except possibly when they resolve to live “as brother and sister”.
However, other bishops have contradicted this teaching. The bishops of Malta said that, since avoiding sex outside marriage might be “impossible”, Communion should not be withheld from those who felt “at peace with God”.
The scholars’ letter notes that these guidelines were published in Osservatore Romano, the official newspaper of the Holy See. Addressing Pope Francis, the letter says: “No criticism of these guidelines was made by the Osservatore Romano, which presented them as legitimate exercises of episcopal teaching and authority. This publication was an official act of the Holy See that went uncorrected by yourself.”
The letter lists several other ways in which the Pope has encouraged error. These include his approval – in a leaked letter – of the diocesan guidelines of the Buenos Aires bishops; his silence when asked the dubia, which aimed to clarify that Church teaching on sin, grace and the sacraments was still valid; and several other actions.
The signatories say there is a dual “danger” for Catholics: they will either be led to affirm false doctrines, or they will be led to deny the Pope’s unique prerogatives as Supreme Pontiff. The signatories themselves affirm that “Your Holiness possesses the charism of infallibility, and the right of universal jurisdiction over Christ’s faithful, in the sense defined by the Church.”
But they observe that Vatican I and Vatican II both “noted that the powers of the Roman pontiff are limited in many ways”, so that some statements – for instance, the most controversial passages in Amoris Laetitia – are not infallible.
The correction, which is in Latin, identifies seven errors which Amoris Laetitia and other papal actions could perpetrate. These include: that those who have divorced and remarried can receive the Eucharist without making a firm resolution to avoid sexual relations; that God might permit or even ask someone to have sexual relations outside a valid marriage; and other connected propositions related to the Church’s teaching on marriage, grave sin and the Eucharist.
One signatory, Dr Joseph Shaw, said he “felt an obligation” to sign the letter. He cited canon law, which says the lay faithful have “the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful”
Dr Shaw commented: “This right becomes a duty when to remain silent would be to consent to what in your conscience appears clearly wrong.
“That does not mean that I think I am or the petitioners as a group are infallible; it just means that I feel I must manifest my view.”
Asked whether the letter was disloyal to Pope Francis, Dr Shaw pointed out that the Pope “has explicitly, forcefully, and repeatedly called for honest expressions of conflicting opinions. Not only did he call for parrhesia among the participants of the Synod on the Family, but he has personally thanked those who have written or said things critical of him.”
Another signatory, Anna Silvas of the University of New England, said: “Why would I not sign the letter? Almost on a daily basis the news confirms that Pope Francis’s agenda must be resisted. His cancellation and re-invention of the John Paul II Institute so that it serves the very opposite of the entire spiritual and intellectual mandate given it by St John-Paul (and Caffara) is scary. The next item for demolition, in the usual fog of bland, ‘accompanying’, ‘discerning’ language, is the doctrine of Humanae Vitae.
“And already visible, just around the corner from that, is the formal endorsement of widening Eucharistic hospitality to those in sexually active same-sex relationships.”
Silvas predicted that Catholic teaching will be “neutered as so many nice-sounding ‘ideals’, and buried in something called ‘mercy’.”
The signatories are not the first to express concern about Amoris Laetitia and its aftermath. Two scholars, John Finnis and Germain Grisez, have also asked for the Pope to condemn some interpretations of Amoris Laetitia. Last month the theologian Fr Aidan Nichols suggested that a papal correction might be needed because of the Pope’s actions. The cardinals who presented the dubia may also issue a correction of the Pope this year.