“Is the Pope Catholic?” used to be a sarcastic rhetorical question that could only be answered “Yes.” But now, in the latest spasm of what might be called Francis Derangement Syndrome, 19 Catholic priests and academics are urging bishops to denounce Pope Francis as a heretic, in the latest ultra-conservative broadside against the pontiff.
The accusations range of topics from communion for the divorced to religious diversity.
The most prominent of the group is Father Aidan Nichols, a 70-year-old British priest of the Dominican order who has written many books and is one of the most recognised theologians in the English-speaking world.
The others are, however, lesser known.
In a 20-page open letter to Catholic bishops, the signers of the letter say they are writing “to accuse Pope Francis of the canonical [offense] of heresy, and second, to request that you take the steps necessary to deal with the grave situation of a heretical pope.”
The letter attacks Francis for allegedly softening the Church’s stance on a range of subjects. They say he has not been outspoken enough against abortion and has been too welcoming to homosexuals and too accommodating to Protestants and Muslims.
It was published on Tuesday by LifeSiteNews, a conservative Catholic website that often is a platform for attacks on the pope. Last year, it ran a document by the Vatican’s former ambassador to Washington, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, calling on the pope to resign.
The letter, which includes dozens of footnotes, Bible verses, pronouncements by previous popes, and a separate bibliography, is inviting people to join an online signature drive.
Addressing the bishops, the letter says;
“We therefore request that your Lordships urgently address the situation of Pope Francis’s public adherence to heresy.”
It asks them to “publicly to admonish Pope Francis to abjure the heresies that he has professed”.
UK Reuters reported that the Vatican spokesman had no comment on the letter.
The letter, although a bad badge to the pope’s reputation, doesn’t deliver the goods, and may actually work to the pope’s advantage in the Catholic culture wars, according to some critics.
“Heresy,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is “the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and Catholic faith or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same.”
So what evidence do the dissident conservatives offer for the argument that Francis is a heretic?
The signatories condemn the Pope for language in “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), a 2016 document that has been interpreted as permitting divorced and remarried Catholics in some cases to receive Holy Communion. Among the passages the authors of the letter apparently find shocking is one in which Francis says that divorced and remarried Catholics;
“need to feel not as excommunicated members of the church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the church.”
But mostly the signers of the letter infer heresy from Francis’ actions and associations. As the letter puts it:
“It is possible to demonstrate belief in a proposition by actions as well as by words.”
This allows the signers to accuse the pope of repudiating the church’s teaching against homosexual acts because he promoted or praised prelates who were accused either of sexual misconduct involving males or of failing to deal firmly with abusers (Cardinal Donald Wuerl). Even if you think the pope has been insufficiently vigilant about sexual abuse by clerics, that’s a different matter from accusing the pope of denying church doctrine.
Another allegation of “heresy” involves Francis’ approval of an agreement with China that gives the government some say in the selection of bishops (an arguably unwise but not unprecedented accommodation to secular authorities).
Then there is the bizarre claim in the letter that at a 2018 ceremony the pope carried a pastoral staff “in the form of a ‘stang,’ an object used in satanic rituals.” Crux, a Catholic news service, reported that the allegedly diabolical staff was actually “an artistic representation of Christ on the cross presented to the pope at a youth event in Rome.”
This letter is only the latest of a series of criticisms of Francis from church conservatives, some indirect or veiled but others overt and aggressive. In the latter category is the hysterical “testimony” of retired Vatican diplomat Carlo Maria Vigano, who last year accused Francis of rehabilitating McCarrick and being close to prelates who belong to a “homosexual current” in the Vatican.