Vatican Corner 05-12-2019

Modern Canon law defines heresy as the “obstinate denial or doubt, atier baptism, of some truth to be believed with divine and Catholic faith.” In other words it is the violations of important Catholic teachings. In the Catholic Church there is much dark history tied to the word heresy. Starting in the 12th century the Church established a powerful office: The Inquisition to root out and punish heresy throughout Europe and the Americas. The Inquisition is infamous for the severity of its tortures and its persecution of Jews and Muslims. Saint Joan of Arc, burned at the stake in 1431 may be the most famous victim accused of heresy. On April 30, 2019 a group of nineteen Catholics, including some prominent academics signed and published a 20 page letter to the bishops of the world accusing Pope Francis of heresy. It is the latest move in a years-long effort to discredit the Pope’s reform agenda. Of the 17 men and two women signing the letter is Rev. Aidan Nichols, O.P., an English priest who has lectured at Oxford University. Other priests, lay theologians and philosophers associated with Catholic universities are part of the group. Their letter lists seven specific areas of Church teaching where they believe the Pope has “through his words and actions, publicly and pertinaciously “demonstrated his belief in “propositions that contradict divine law.” Their complaints point to his supposed teachings concerning sexuality and morality which they claim run contrary to the teaching office of the Church. The letter highlights problem passages in the Pope’s 2016 post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia concerning Catholics in irregular marital situations. The letter accuses the Pope of taking the position that a Catholic can, with full knowledge of divine law, violate that law and not be in a state of grave sin. The letter also makes reference to bishops, cardinals, and priests whom are also heretics that the Pope either appointed or allowed to remain in office, as evidence of his heresy. The letter states that a cross and staff used by the Pope during the 2018 Synod on Young People liturgies were respectively “satanic” and proof of a pro-homosexual agenda. The letter includes criticism of the Pope’s effort to expand relations with China and his work in interfaith dialogue. The letter states that “the evil of a heretical pope is so great that it should not be tolerated for the sake of some allegedly greater good” and that the bishops of the Church have an “absolute duty to act in concert to remedy this evil.” The letter acknowledges “that the Church does not have jurisdiction over the pope, and hence that the Church cannot remove a pope from office by an exercise of superior authority, even for the crime of heresy”. The letter asks the bishops of the world to censure the Pope and cause him to formally renounce his heresies. Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., the academic dean at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. called the letter “unconvincing in both its arguments and its rationale, a hodgepodge of concerns that prevent it being taken very seriously as a whole.” Many have noted that some of the issues raised in the letter are ongoing sources of concern and confusion for Catholics, but labelling the Pope’s teachings and actions to be evidence of the crime of heresy is a deeply flawed premise. The 19 signers of the letter may feel the wrath of canon law themselves since their challenge to Pope Francis’ authority is a crime itself.