There are two types of teachers of heresy within the Church:
First, there are those who teach that the Church is simply wrong, that Her definitive infallible teachings are erroneous, and need to be changed or corrected by the members of the Church. This type of false teacher typically obtains the content of his or her teaching from sinful secular society. The heresies being taught include ideas such as: that contraception is moral, that direct abortion is not always immoral, moral relativism, the equality of all ideas about religion, that homosexuality is not a disorder, that same-sex marriage is good, that women can and should be priests and bishops, and that a host of grave sexual sins are good and moral. This is the type of heresy that they teach.
This type of teacher of heresy admits to what the Church teaches, and then tells you that you should reject that teaching, because the Church is wrong. This type of heretic is, more or less explicitly, telling you to commit the sin of heresy by freely choosing to reject what you know to be the definitive teaching of the Magisterium.
There are many such teachers in the Church today. Some teach openly under their own names, proudly and happily leading people away from the teachings of Christ, to the teachings of sinful secular society. Others teach anonymously, typically over the internet, attacking the teachings of the Catholic Church, while they purport to be Her members, but always hiding behind anonymity. If what you teach is also what you believe, and if that teach is truly what the Church teaches, why are you anonymous?
But at least this first type of teacher of heresy tells you, more or less correctly, what the Church teaches. For example, such a teacher will tell you that the Church teaches that contraception is always gravely immoral. Then that teacher will go on to claim that contraception is not always immoral, but instead a moral duty, thereby openly contradicting the teaching of the Magisterium.
Second, there are those in the Church who teach heresy in a much more insidious and harmful manner. This type of teacher of heresy explains an heretical idea, while claiming that it is nothing other than the teaching of the Church. The other type of heretical teacher distinguishes between Church teaching and his or her own claims. But this insidious type tries to convince you that his heretical ideas are not contrary to magisterial teaching, are the prevailing view among Saints or faithful theologians, or are a correct understanding of magisterial teaching.
This second approach to teaching heresy is very effective. With the first approach, those faithful who desire to believe and live according to Christ’s teaching know to reject the heresy; the heresy is presented as an idea in opposition to Church teaching. But with the second approach, many of the faithful are fooled into thinking that an heretical idea is sound theology or magisterial teaching. So while the first approach conquers those unfaithful Catholics who are willing to openly reject the Church as Teacher, the second approach conquers those faithful Catholics who have been poorly instructed in doctrine, or who are weak in intellect.
Examples of this second type of heresy:
* the claim that contraception, even abortifacient contraception, is not immoral or is not even really contraception, if it is done with a non-contraceptive intention, or for a medical purpose, or in dire circumstances;
* the claim that the Magisterium has no teaching on the immorality of contraception outside of marriage;
* the claim that direct abortion becomes indirect and moral whenever the life of the mother is in grave danger;
* the claim that laws permitting abortion and euthanasia are not intrinsically unjust, because they only permit a grave sin, rather than require its commission;
* the claim that intrinsically evil acts become moral and no longer intrinsically evil, by a change in intention, or a change in circumstances;
* the claim that what makes an act intrinsically evil is partly of intention, and partly of circumstances;
* the claim that lying is not intrinsically evil and therefore always immoral;
* the claim that intrinsically evil sexual acts become moral by being done with the intention of preparing for natural marital relations (i.e. as foreplay);
* the claim that intrinsically evil sexual acts become moral by being done in the context of an act of natural marital relations;
* the claim that God does not will all persons to be saved;
* the claim that the baptism of desire and the baptism of blood are unavailable to little children (the heresy of mitigated Feeneyism);
* the claim that some persons are predestined to Heaven, without respect to the choices of free will;
* the claim that the damned in Hell are passively omitted from predestination to Heaven, without respect to the choices of free will;
* the claim that Jesus is not physically present in the Eucharist;
* the claim that the molecules of bread and wine do not change at all by the consecration;
* the claim that penance is essential to the validity of a confession;
* the claim that some souls in Hell are perfectly happy and free from punishment;
* the claim that all the anathemas issued by all Ecumenical Councils are currently null and void;
and there are many other false teachings and severe distortions of doctrine that are being taught, by Catholics to Catholics, with the claim that these ideas are compatible with, or in fact represent a correct understanding of, magisterial teaching.
The harm done by heresy to the Church is immense. I believe that the vast majority of Catholics today are in a state of at least material heresy, and many are in a state of formal heresy. The result of this wide acceptance of heretical ideas is that many Catholics commit objective mortal sins frequently and without repentance. They use contraception, use abortifacient contraception, support legalized abortion, obtain abortions, help others obtain abortions, divorce and remarry, and commit all manner of serious sexual sins. All this occurs because they have fallen away from belief in the Magisterium as our teacher and guide. Heresy is not merely a disagreement about abstract ideas. It is a grave sin that harms the individual and the Church immensely, taking the heretic away from the path of faith, morals, and salvation established by Christ, and harming other souls by scandal.
And yet many Catholic leaders are actively teaching heretical ideas, with the claim that these ideas are not heresy, but are Church teaching. They have succeeded in convincing many of the faithful to believe heresy, and to live according to that heresy, all while claiming to believe and act according to magisterial teaching.
Mere material heresy occurs when a person believes an heretical idea or rejects a required belief, without realizing that one idea is heretical or that another idea is a required belief. Formal heresy occurs when a person does the same, but with correct knowledge of the teaching of the Church on that subject. Formal heresy carries the penalty of automatic excommunication under Canon law. But even if there were no such Church law, the sin of formal heresy automatically excommunicates the sinner by the very nature of the act. The Pharisees of the Church would have you believe that heresy is only a juridical matter, pertaining only to Canon Law and its meticulous convoluted interpretation. But I say that heresy is a grave sin, by which a person may lose the state of grace (if it is an actual mortal sin), and that this sin, by its very nature, excommunicates the sinner who knowingly chooses the heresy. And this occurs under the eternal moral law, before the eyes of God, no matter what a Canon Lawyer or a famous blogger or your favorite priest may tell you.
Those persons who not only commit formal heresy, but also lead others to commit formal heresy, have a greater guilt. But those persons who commit formal heresy, and lead others to commit formal heresy, and claim that the heretical idea is really just the teaching of Christ and His Church, have a still greater guilt. Truly these teachers of heresy fit the description of Christ:
“For you close the kingdom of heaven before men. For you yourselves do not enter, and those who are entering, you would not permit to enter…. For you travel around by sea and by land, in order to make one convert. And when he has been converted, you make him twice the son of Hell that you are yourselves.” (Mt 23:13, 15)
These false teachers do not enter the way of salvation themselves, for they adhere to their own heresies. Neither do they allow others to enter the way of salvation, for they spread their heresies far and wide. These false teachers spread their heresies over the internet, quickly reaching more persons than if they traveled by sea and by land. Some of their listeners then become twice as devoted to these heresies than the heretical teachers themselves.
Heresy is Hilarious
I hesitate to talk about formal heresy and automatic excommunication yet again, because these ideas have become a joke in the Church. Literally, a joke. This post was occasioned by a video I saw of a Catholic nun, Sister McBride — who authorized a direct abortion at a Catholic hospital and was therefore automatically excommunicated — receiving an award from a group of heretical Catholics (‘Call to Action’) specifically for her role in authorizing that abortion. During her talk, she ridiculed the ‘hierarchy’ of the Church for their teachings, and the audience laughed. Heresy is so very funny. This nun is automatically excommunicated, both because she is unrepentant from authorizing an abortion, and for the sin of formal heresy. Automatic excommunication is also hilarious (apparently). And much of her audience is automatically excommunicated for this heresy, and probably other heresies as well. They no longer have Christ; they are cut off from Christ and His Body the Church. But at least they have a sense of humor.
When I write articles proving that certain prominent Catholic teachers, well-liked and well-accepted among the faithful, are actively teaching and promoting heresy on multiple grave matters of faith and morals, it is treated as a joke. An attitude prevails among many Catholics that people can believe and even teach whatever they like, whatever they think is right, regardless of magisterial teaching. And the magisterial teaching that formal heresy carries the penalty of automatic excommunication is ignored or ridiculed.
Part of the joke is that, as many Catholic realize, a theological explanation can be invented to support almost any position, and a new interpretation can be invented to change the meaning of almost any magisterial teaching. There are enough persons now, within the Church, who are greatly attached to one sin or another, that any theological rationalization for sin will have a ready and eager audience.
So when the Magisterium teaches that contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, it is easy for various unfaithful Catholics to claim that the meaning of contraception, or the meaning of intrinsic evil, or the principle of double effect, or some newly-invented principle, is to be understood such that contraception can be justified. And when the Magisterium teaches that direct abortion is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, the same process of re-interpretation of magisterial teaching occurs, so as to justify the abortion. Direct abortion is re-defined so as to be indirect; intrinsic evil is redefined to depend on intention and circumstances. Et cetera.
When Catholic theologians at any Catholic university teach heresy openly, what happens? They are not fired. They do not lose the support of their peers. Many theologians and many of the faithful will openly support such a teacher of heresy. What happens when a nun authorizes a direct abortion and publicly boasts that she did the right thing? She is not removed from her order; she is not denied Communion. She is not ostracized by other religious or by the faithful. No, instead she literally receives an award for the grave sin of authorizing a direct abortion in a Catholic hospital. She literally stands in front of a large group of persons, who call themselves Catholic, and with their full approval, on camera, and ridicules the teaching of the Church against abortion. And they all laugh.
Formal heresy and automatic excommunication have become a joke in the Church today. Truly, the great apostasy is very near.
Edited to add this quote from the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich:
“Among the strangest things that I saw, were long processions of bishops. Their thoughts and utterances were made known to me through images issuing from their mouths. Their faults towards religion were shown by external deformities. A few had only a body, with a dark cloud of fog instead of a head. Others had only a head, their bodies and hearts were like thick vapors. Some were lame; others were paralytics; others were asleep or staggering.
“I saw what I believe to be nearly all the bishops of the world, but only a small number were perfectly sound. I also saw the Holy Father — God-fearing and prayerful.
“I see many excommunicated ecclesiastics who do not seem to be concerned about it, nor even aware of it. Yet, they are excommunicated whenever they cooperate to enterprises, enter into associations, and embrace opinions on which an anathema has been cast. It can be seen thereby that God ratifies the decrees, orders, and interdictions issued by the Head of the Church, and that He keeps them in force even though men show no concern for them, reject them, or laugh them to scorn.” (‘The Life of Anne Catherine Emmerich’ by Carl E. Schmoeger)