My Thoughts on the Open Letter Accusing Pope Francis of Heresy


I would imagine some of my readers will be disappointed with this article, but that’s why we have the virtue of charity and the grace of friendship for: to sharpen each other. If I can be shown wrong, I would please ask any reader to provide their reasons in the comments, and I will seriously consider them. Also, the below does not subtract any from my response to Jimmy Akin on this whole ordeal. For now, here are my thoughts on the open letter prominent clergy and scholars which accuses Pope Francis of committing heresy.

I have said this before in different venues, and I’ve been saying this since AL was released : Pope Francis is not committed to negating Tradition *anywhere* in Amoris Laetitia. The tradition on indissolubility, the fact that re-marriage is sinful, and that re-married divorcees are blocked from communion, due to its inherent compromise of God’s will and the possibility of scandal, is all maintained in the text of Amoris. Yes, it is.

This is not the ball field that Pope Francis is working with. And if we are trying to correct him in baseball when he is really playing basketball, then we need to change our perspective. Whoever helped him with AL was clever enough to know how to fly the X-wing through the traffic of the death star’s surface and make it out in once piece. In other words, the clever theologians who aided in the production of Amoris Laetitia knew Denzinger in and out like Forrest Gump knew how to clean his rifle. They knew enough to how to dodge the sort of accusations that they surely foresaw many would have.

The logic of Amoris is that while re-marriage is sinful, while marriage is indissoluble, and while the eucharistic communion requires worthy preperation (i.e. state of grace), there are some people whose complex circumstances situate them in a position, however sinful, where the gravity of their guilt is not enough to penetrate the line dividing venial and mortal sin. And if they are within the circle-realm of venial sin, then no barrier to communion exists….technically and theoretically.

There is no instance where Amoris is advocating a new path of holiness in re-marriage, as if God would require adultery in order for people to be holy or make it to sainthood. There is a part in Amoris where Pope Francis says that some couples who are entangled in the mess of adultery might be doing “what God is asking” (303) amidst their complexity. This is not to be understood as though this were the new will of God for this couple, nor does it mean that there is no room for said couple to perform the full duty of repentance by fully purifying themselves of the sin of adultery. What Pope Francis is saying, rather, is that there might be a complexity to the situation which makes their refusal to quit their sin compatible with the state of grace, and by way of a reduction to personal culpability (an intrinsic component to the state of mortal sin). What this envisions is a case of someone whose full deliberation to commit the sin is inhibited by certain external circumstances, and therefore reduces their culpability for the evil committed, and thus leaves the couple retaining some sort of supernatural friendship with God, however weak it is, and even prone to abrogation.  So this is not an open green light to sin unmitigated, and then receive communion. The spiritual confessor who truly understands AL will always tell fornicating couples that they must never repeat an act of intercourse again in their life! But, if he is also following AL, he is also going to be mindful that he has the opportunity to tell them “Well, you must not ever do this again, but if you do, your circumstances dull the gravity of the sin, and so you can stand in line tomorrow for communion without fear“.

That is what Amoris is saying.

However, that doesn’t make it any better. In fact, one could argue well that this makes it even more dangerous. At least, in the case of clear heresy, we’d have more probability in some sort of action to be taken by the Episcopal College against it. It could also be worse precisely because it dodges all the charges of heresy from the OPEN LETTER theologians/clergyman, and can only be resolved by regaining the common sense of holy men and woman of old. Who in the world would think that there are good chances that people are knowingly engaging in acts which gravely compromise God’s law will remain in the circle-realm of venial sin? I just can’t see how the vision of Amoris Laetitia makes any pastoral sense at all. The first word of the gospel is “Repent”, and that must mean something for everyone as a condition for salvation.

As much as I can make white knuckles in anger over it, Amoris is technically not a negation of past dogma, but is a massive change on the level of prudence. That also doesn’t make it better. Requiring someone to be able to juggle with 5 balls for 5 minutes straight as a condition for people applying for a job as a Pizza delivery driver might theoretically be possible, but is it prudentially practical? You probably won’t hire anyone unless you can pay enough to beat the salary that an acrobat receives. But you get the point. One can possibly err on the side of prudence, and take all souls to hell with it. I can “prudentially” admit the general necessity of prayer, but program myself to barely ever do it, and barely lead my family to do it, and this would likely ruin us all. But we cannot confuse doctrinal negation with imprudence, even if sometimes the former might not (if it is inculpably material) lead to everlasting perdition where the latter can.

On the matter of the document on Human Fraternity where the text says God wills all religions, I have to say, very quickly, that the Pope has personally clarified this as well as publicly by admitting that what is meant by it is the permissive will of God which results from the positive will of making free creatures who are immune from coercion in religious beliefs. I’ve written about it here on February 11th.

Now, what is strikingly odd is that this open letter says nothing about the issue of the recent revision to the Catholic Catechism (CCC2267) where the death penalty is said to be, as a result of the Gospel, inadmissible. Besides being somewhat ambiguous , this seems to afford far more confrontation with past Ecclesial tradition, as Dr. Ed Feser & Joseph Bessette have argued in their book. To be honest, if you want my opinion on where we need to park along the lines akin to what the clergyman and theologians are wanting to say, I would say this recent revision is where one should do it. Next, I would urge we begin revisiting the logic and prudence behind the Prayer Meeting of Assisi (1986), and all of its conceptual flowering in modern Ecumenism. And right there next to it is this business of Amoris Laetitia. But we need to be more accurate in understanding where the damage lies. Certainly, in the case of Amoris, the matter is not doctrinal negation, and even if one could argue this for the other issues I’ve mentioned, it is not in the prerogative of lay persons and priests to convict the Pope of heresy.

6 thoughts on “My Thoughts on the Open Letter Accusing Pope Francis of Heresy

  1. “Well, you must not ever do this again, but if you do, your circumstances dull the gravity of the sin, and so you can stand in line tomorrow for communion without fear“.

    How does this make an inch of sense? Whether you agree with it or not, the Church says if you are divorced and remarried you are committing adultery. What circumstances could possibly “dull” the gravity of the sin.

    • I agree with your puzzlement. I am sure the odds are next to none. But, in the world of all possibilities, you might picture the situation of a woman who is divorced and forced to fend for herself and 5 kids in the broken ghettos of Venezuela, and “re-marries” for the sake of providing the basic needs of survival for herself and her children. She knew it was dissallowed by the Church but did not really understand why, and she thought just maybe the Church would later hear her story and allow herself and her new “spouse” to be married in the Church.

      When she musters up the courage to return to Church, she finds that her plan failed and her new “marriage” cannot be recognized , and that she has to do the best she can to avoid all sexual intercourse with her new “husband”. However, if she does that, he announced that he would leave her and the kids.

      Here you have a situation where a person knows what they are doing (full knowledge) , is engaged in a grave evil (2nd condition for mortal sin), but her freedom to choose is inhibited by external fears of dreadful homelessness for her and her kids, and so she is not fully deliberating , one could try and say. With the last part, not all conditions for mortal sin are there (theoretically). And so a priest following Amoris might say that she is in a desperate spot where she can receive communion as a way to help her along the way to eventually rectify her situation fully with full trust in God.

      Now, this is not to say she is doing the “ideal” , nor that she has chosen the right decision by continuing in sexual intercourse with her provider, but that the circumstances make it so that she is not like the party girl living in America who just wants another man in her life, and thus is categorically in venial, rather than mortal, sin.

      I myself have trouble conceding to this as a human possibility, but I could at least imagine a circumstance like this. And if one exists, how many others might?

      • This answer here is congruent with what Stephen Walford, for instance, have written. It does not match the situation described in Amoris Laetitia: which is “be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin”.

        For comparison this is what the magisterium taught about negative precepts, circumstances, and the ability of the just to follow them:

        Veritatis Splendor: “The negative precepts of the natural law are universally valid…he can never be hindered from not doing certain actions, especially if he is prepared to die rather than to do evil.”

        Innocent X condemned as heretical: “Some of God’s precepts are impossible to the just, who wish and strive to keep them, according to the present powers which they have; the grace, by which they are made possible, is also wanting.”

        If a child of mine had said the quote from AL and not the pope: I would tell them not to speak heresy.

  2. You right Eric: Pope Francis is playing a different ball game. Every document he produces is akin to a party manifesto, in which the operatives pick out the implicit directives and implement them to be on the good side of the leader. Therefore if the producers of the open letter aim to pin him down, they have their work cut out. However, in my opinion, they’ve made a good go of it.

  3. Erick,
    Thank you for your thoughts.
    Lay people can call out a heresy when they see it, but it is not for them to demand of the pope an accounting for his heresy, or to render a judgment that he is a formal heretic. This is why the Open Letter makes its case to the bishops.

  4. Thank you for this Eric!
    I will come out and just say it: I think Amoris is a terrible document! Arguable one of the worst ever (at least that I have read).
    1. It is too darn long. Dear God! I am not allergic to long books but even my wife would ask, “Does this thing ever end!”
    2. It requires a very precise and well-trained theological mind to navigate it intricacies and minutiae. Was that the authors intent? Or was it for the rank-n-file? If for the average lay person it failed.
    3. Chapter 8 was so confusing! We have a marriage group and most of us are smarter and well adept in the basics of our Faith. We came up many varied and differing interpretations. What did the author mean?
    4. If Amoris doesn’t deviate from Catholic doctrine and tradition why are so many interpreting it as though it does and using the text to justify the change? Granted, evil men will do evil things but had the document been more precise, honest about intent, and shorter would these evil men have as much weight behind their deviation?
    5. For a man who opts for prudent application of new norms, Pope Francis is rather imprudent. He does not yield great results from his words and actions. We could talk about his great insanity and possible heretical-leaning statements about Martin Luther and the Reformation but suffice it to say, he a very poor communicator if his objective is to be clear and get his points across to the hearers without a knee-jerk reaction of resistance. He has now habituated everyone (serious Catholics) to always be skeptical about whatever he says!

    Ad Jesum per Mariam!

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