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).
But 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.
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.