Pope Francis a Heretic?

Aidan Nichols OP.jpg
Father Nichols, OP

A quarter century ago, I read Fr. Aidan Nichols’ A Grammar of Consent. It helped me enormously.

From the preface:

Contact with the living past, in all its latent powers of spiritual fruitfulness, is the best cure for intellectual myopia… The ‘pre-Vatican II Church,’ when all is said and done, includes the apostles.

Now Father Nichols, along with other scholars, have accused Pope Francis of heresy.

Some say: “You cannot accuse the infallible pope, the Vicar of Christ, of heresy. ‘Heretical pope’ is an oxymoron.” But you can accuse a pope of heresy. Not everything a pope says enjoys divine protection from error. Pope Francis has never invoked the charism of infallibility. He could be a heretic.

Some say: “You can accuse a pope of heresy, but no one can judge the case.” But they can. The bishops of the Church could conceivably convict a pope of heresy. Under certain circumstances–like “one of the worst crises in the Church’s history”–the bishops might have a duty to do so.

Problem here is: Father Nichols and Co. do not offer evidence clear enough to convict Pope Francis of heresy. You can’t find someone guilty of heresy without clear statements that lack any possible orthodox interpretation. You always have to give a priest or teacher the benefit of the doubt. Namely, that they mean what they say in an orthodox sense, if such a sense exists.

Meanwhile, our weird, wily pope has never really taught anything clearly enough to get convicted of either heresy or orthodoxy.

Father Nichols and Co. do, however, make two points which add to the huge body of evidence. Not of the pope’s heresy, but of his dangerous incompetence as a teacher and shepherd of souls.

1. As I myself tried to point out, when I summed up the Amoris Laetitia controversy back at the end of 2016, the pope and his partisans do not understand the distinction between matters of law and matters of conscience, when it comes to people in invalid marriages.

In chapter eight of his Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis writes that the Church has prohibited invalidly married people from receiving Holy Communion because She presumes that they are not in a state of grace. And the pope insists that this long-standing presumption has to change (para. 301).

marriage_sacramentBut the prohibition against invalidly married people receiving Holy Communion does not spring from a presumption about anyone’s state of grace. The Church does not judge anyone’s state of grace, even in confession. Because even a person’s own conscience cannot make a certain judgment about that.

I can know that my conscience does not now accuse me of any un-confessed mortal sins. Which leads me to hope that I am in a state of grace. Since I trust in God’s mercy and love, and in His will that I be saved. But I cannot know for sure whether or not I am in a state of grace. So certainly no one else can know for sure whether or not I am in a state of grace. The Church does not make rules about such uncertain things.

It is perfectly possible that some people in invalid marriages actually are in the state of grace, with quiet consciences. Annulment tribunals can and do make mistakes. Regrettable. But no one can presume to judge his or her own case. So without a decree from a competent judge establishing the contrary, everyone must presume that his or her first marriage vows still bind.

Therefore: there will always be people who have to choose between trying to live as brother and sister with a civil-marriage spouse, or making a spiritual communion at Mass, instead of a sacramental one. None of this touches on whether or not the person in question is in a state of grace. The governing principle simply is: The marriage laws of the Church are just, and they must be obeyed. Disobeying them is a sin.

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Amoris Laetitia chapter VIII makes a complete mess of this. Why? For an ulterior motive? Does the pope intend to suggest that marriage is temporary? Or that no couple could ever successfully live as brother and sister, for the sake of receiving Communion? Maybe the pope simply does not believe in chastity?

Maybe. Maybe not. Only God knows.

2. A couple months ago, Pope Francis signed a declaration with an imam. The declaration claimed, among other things, that God has willed a diversity of religions.

Now, it seems to me that perhaps a priest or a pope could say such a thing, if everyone understood that he did not mean that God willed all other religions in the same way that He wills the true religion, the religion of Christ.

God willed to make human beings inherently religious. Before the preaching of the Gospel, mankind’s inherent religious tendency produced all the pagan religions. And God also appealed to the ancient Israelites’ inherent tendency toward religion in His direct dealings with them, to prepare the way for the Messiah.

But when asked about this, the pope explained himself altogether differently. He said he meant ‘God’s permissive will.’

Now, what does God’s permissive will mean? It is a venerable theological concept. To understand it, we have to start with this: God wills one thing fully, infinitely: Himself. Everything else, He wills with respect to His absolute willing of Himself.

He positively wills everything good. All good things conform to His own infinite beauty. He also positively wills certain things that are evil from our perspective, but which are fundamentally good. Like punishments for those who deserve them.

But God wills moral evil—the sins of fallen angels and human beings—only permissively. When we do good, God does good in us. But when we do evil by our own choice, God does not do evil in us. He does the good of giving us freedom, and He permits us to do the evil of sinning. He permits it only because a greater good will come of it. A greater good pertaining to His infinite, perfect beauty. Either He will move us to repent, which shows the beauty of His mercy. Or we won’t repent, and He will punish us with His beautiful justice, in hell.

So: For the pope to say that he meant “God’s permissive will” when he signed the document with the imam–ie., that God merely permits the sin of Islam: That totally betrays the whole purpose of the document in the first place. He signed it to build goodwill with Muslims. Then he turns around and explains himself by saying that God wills the diversity of religions in the same way that He “wills” sin.

Hard to make this up. Not a competent shepherd.

Father Nichols and Co. do not prove their case for a heresy conviction. But the pope has shown himself incompetent to govern the Church. That’s the reality we have lived with for some time now.

We march on, loving the Church, loving the papacy, and loving the episcopal office, too. But not lying to ourselves. Not drinking the Kool-Aid about how the current incumbents actually know what they are doing. They do not.

St. Dominic’s Style of Success

A Dominican and a Jesuit argued with each other about which founder achieved more greatness. “St. Ignatius fought the Lutheran heresy!” The Dominican answered, “Yeah. St. Dominic fought the Albigensian heresy. And have you run into any Albigensians lately?”

Pope Benedict XV celebrated the 700th anniversary of St. Dominic’s holy death with an encyclical letter. The Pope pointed out three distinctive characteristics of St. Dominic and his followers. First: love for the Pope and the Apostolic See of Rome. Second: devotion to the Blessed Virgin and diligence in praying the Rosary and teaching others to do so. And third: Solidity of doctrine.

How did St. Dominic “fight” the Albigensians? He used no physical violence. The people of southern France knew him as a gentle wanderer, willing to sell himself into slavery to save a poor man from falling into unbelief.

St. Dominic ‘fought’ the Albigensians by calmly and thoroughly explaining the Catholic religion, basing himself on the Sacred Scriptures. He patiently showed how the Albigensians’ own doctrines made no sense.

Why would God become man with a body—and die an agonizing death—if He does not love man, both soul and body? Why would God dwell in the womb of the Virgin Mary, if she were not truly His Mother? Why would the Lord have celebrated the Last Supper and entrusted His Body and Blood to His Church, if He had no intention of feeding His people throughout the ages with the sacrament?

Faith and reason united; preaching and teaching that flowed from hours of quiet study and contemplation. This is the Dominican way; this is the Catholic way.

But before we turn this into some kind of Olympic medal ceremony for the humble Spanish friar, let’s revisit a question we asked ourselves a moment ago: Have we run into any Albigensians lately?

The Albigensians praised abortion. They refused to give food and water to the terminally ill–and sometimes euthanized them. They preferred temporary concubinage to the permanence of matrimony. They believed in reincarnation. They refused to believe that the God worshipped in the Old Testament is the same loving Father of the New Testament. They accepted some parts of the New Testament–and not others. They considered themselves to be the authentic followers of Jesus, Whom the Church had obscured by Her immoral sham of empty ceremonies. They hated the Pope. They insisted that faith in their doctrines was all that mattered; morals did not matter. They denied that justice could be done on earth at all; therefore, criminals should not be prosecuted in court.

Some of these things sound all too familiar to me. Do I have a calm and gentle explanation ready–for why all of these positions are unreasonable and dangerous?

St. Dominic did. Maybe, if we follow in his soft-spoken footsteps, a generation after we die, all the destructive and ill-founded doctrines of our age will have passed into oblivion. Maybe a few centuries after we die, someone will be able to make a little joke about how successful we were in lovingly standing up for the truth.

Providential Conclaves

The Holy Spirit guides the ultimate outcome of all papal conclaves.

white smokeMany of us exulted with inexpressible joy at the speedy conclusion of the Conclave of 2005.

The Conclave of 1903 was likewise an occasion to glorify the Provident Hand of God.

The “Sage of Baltimore,” H.L. Mencken, anticipated that Conclave in this way:

…We had another Methodist in the office, a reporter named Stockbridge, but he was so pleasant a fellow that no one held it against him…When, in July 1903, Pope Leo XIII died, and the cardinals began hustling to Rome to elect his successor, an office wag put the following notice on the city-room bulletin-board:

The Right Rev. Jason Stockbridge, D.D.,
Bishop of Sodom and Gomorrah in partibus infidelium
Subject to Democratic primaries

The good Lord, however, chose differently. Pope St. Pius X was elected.

menckenPius died eleven years later, on August 20, 1914. We keep his Memorial at Holy Mass today.

Pope St. Pius X defined and refuted the heresy of which H. L. Mencken was certainly guilty, the heresy of Modernism. The Pope explained the problem in his encyclical Pascendi.

Not long ago, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Pascendi. It seemed like a good occasion to contrast the truth of the Holy Faith with the dictatorship of relativism. I gave the following homily:

Continue reading “Providential Conclaves”

Woman on the Ticket

When I heard that there was going to be a woman on the Republican ticket, I thought to myself: This has been done before. And I am not talking about Geraldine Ferraro…

At the time of St. Augustine, there was a heresy which held that it was impossible for Christ to have been born of something so undignified as a woman. The idea was that it was beneath the dignity of God to gestate in the womb. “God would not associate Himself with a woman in that way. He would not submit Himself to a woman. He must have appeared on earth without being born.” This was the idea.

St. Augustine acknowledged that God could have become man without being born of a woman. He could have appeared as a full-grown man. But, in fact, He was born of the Virgin Mary. This must therefore be significant; He must be saying something to us by being born of a woman.

St. Augustine did not hesitate to speak for Christ. This is how the proto-feminist preacher put it:

“It is as though he made them a little speech and said: ‘To show you that it is not any creature of God’s that is bad…I made them male and female. I don’t reject and condemn any creature that I made. Here I am, born a man, born of a woman…Let each sex take note of its proper honor, and each confess its iniquity, and each hope for salvation.”

Now, there obviously is a point at which the analogy between Sarah Palin and the Blessed Mother fails. Someday, perhaps, Sarah Palin will be a candidate not for vice-president, but for president. (Now we’re talking about a woman president…) On the other hand, there is no female Christ. St. Augustine taught that it would have been impossible for God to become a woman. I am not sure why he taught this, but I am not about to contradict the man who is quoted in the Catechism more than any other mortal.

Regardless of this, though–whether or not it is hypothetically possible for God to have become a woman–the fact of the matter is that He became a man. This is why only a man can be a priest, because the priest takes the place of Christ at the Holy Mass. But the Blessed Virgin Mary was on the ticket first—before St. Peter, St. Paul, Pope Benedict, yours truly, or Sarah Palin.  The good Lord Himself put a woman on the ticket first.