Pope Francis’ October Surprise: 24 Shocking Possibilities

It is clear to my mind, from everything Pope Francis has said and done so far, that the holy Pontiff has significant changes in mind for the Church. Now the most likely timing for him to promulgate those changes will be the Synod of Bishops meeting beginning October 4th of 2015. Pope Francis has been building up to the Synod of Bishops meeting in 2015 for over a year. He held an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October of 2014. It was only the third extraordinary Synod of Bishops ever held. The 2015 meeting is the 14th Ordinary General Assembly. So the use of the Extraordinary meeting to prepare for the Ordinary one indicates he is placing great import on this 2015 event.

A word of caution: In the Catholic Church, a change to discipline or a new definition of doctrine is not effective or binding until it is promulgated. For a doctrine, the teaching usually needs to be published in a document of the Pope or the Holy See. For discipline, the change needs to be implemented in Canon Law, or set forth in a published document of the Pope or the Holy See. No matter how clear it may seem that the Pope is about to teach or rule on doctrine or discipline, nothing is binding until he actually teaches or rules.

Can. 7 A law is established when it is promulgated.

The topic of the Synod of Bishops is “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World”. This subject area is so broad that Pope Francis could make a wide range of changes to discipline and issue new definitions of doctrine in many areas of theology, while easily relating these rulings and teachings to the topic at hand. The ideas of vocation, mission, family, the Church, and the world cover or relate in some way to almost every part of the Faith.

What is the Pope able to teach or rule at the Synod? The Pope is the head of the Church on earth; he is the representative of Christ. He holds the two “keys” of Saint Peter: the teaching authority and the temporal authority. These two types of authority govern doctrine and discipline, respectively. At any time, he can change his mind and decide not to issue a document, or not to change an aspect of discipline. So we cannot be certain what will happen in October of 2015. But if you follow the news on the Pope, I think you might agree with me that the Pope desires to teach new doctrines and to make substantial changes in discipline. And he seems unwilling to wait much longer.

Pope Francis is the Roman Pontiff of the Catholic Church. It is a dogmatic fact that Francis is a valid Pope. And no Pope can ever fall into apostasy, heresy, or schism, for the Church is indefectible. His teachings at the Synod might seem like new ideas or innovations to his critics. But I believe that he will teach the truth from Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, truths always found at least implicitly in Divine Revelation. No matter how “new” a teaching of any Pope might seem, it is always a teaching of Jesus Christ, based on the Sacred Deposit of Faith (Tradition and Scripture).

As for discipline, the Pope has the authority to make whatever changes he wishes. A discipline is not a teaching. And although good discipline is related to doctrine, it is absurd to try to conflate an apparent error or imprudent decision of discipline into a denial of doctrine. If you do not like a decision of the Pope on discipline, you are free to disagree. But if you then claim that a supposedly unwise discipline is equivalent to heresy, and that the Pope has fallen away from the true Faith, you are sadly mistaken. No Pope can fall into heresy. And discipline is not doctrine. But if you insist on rejecting the Pope, then it is you who has fallen away from the Faith. Each Pope is the Vicar of Christ, and you are not.

Below is a list of the doctrines and disciplines which I believe are likely to be promulgated in October of 2015. I am NOT saying that Pope Francis will issue all of these teachings and rulings at that time. In all likelihood, the teachings and rulings at the Synod will be a subset of this list. It is also likely that the Pope will offer some teachings and rulings not found on the list, things which I did not anticipate.

** Note well that these proposed possible teachings and rulings are my own speculation as to what the Pope might teach and rule in the future. In my opinion, these teachings are in complete accord with the teachings of Tradition, Scripture, and the Magisterium, and, in my opinion, these changes to discipline are compatible with the practice of the Catholic Faith. But at this point in time, you might disagree.

On Matters of Doctrine:

1. Pope Francis might teach that the Church has the authority to ordain women to the diaconate. The Magisterium has already infallibly taught that the Church lacks the authority to ordain women as priests and bishops, but the question of ordination to the diaconate is still open.

2. Pope Francis might teach that non-Catholic Christians can be saved without converting to Catholicism.

3. Pope Francis might teach that non-Christian believers can be saved without converting to Christianity.

4. Pope Francis might teach that non-believers (atheists, agnostics) can be saved without converting to belief in God.

In my understanding of salvation theology, the above three points are already implied by past magisterial teachings. But many conservatives and traditionalists disagree; they greatly narrow the possibility of salvation outside of Catholicism and outside of Christianity. I believe they are mistaken, and I expect the Magisterium to clarify Church teaching on this subject.

5. Pope Francis might teach that the non-infallible teachings of the Church can err to a limited extent, though never to such an extent as to lead the faithful away from the path of salvation.

6. Pope Francis might teach that some faithful dissent from non-infallible teachings is possible, to a limited extent.

The above two points are not new; there are a few magisterial documents supporting these ideas. However, a strong statement from the Magisterium on this subject would be controversial.

7. Pope Francis will likely reiterate the Church’s teaching that the use of contraception is always gravely immoral.

8. Pope Francis will likely reiterate the Church’s teaching that direct abortion is always gravely immoral.

9. Pope Francis might clarify Church teaching on Natural Family Planning, and propose a new push to teach Catholic couples about NFP.

A Synod on the subject of the Family cannot ignore the topics of abortion and contraception. Pope Francis is liberal but orthodox. He is not going to change the teaching of the Church on morality, as some liberals hope that he might.

10. I hope that Pope Francis will take this opportunity to reiterate the Church’s teaching against simony, including (by extension) the charging of fees, under various excuses, for baptism preparation, the baptism ceremony, and especially weddings.

11. Pope Francis might respond to those critics who are already intimating that they might accuse him of heresy. His likely response would be to teach that no Pope can ever fall into apostasy, heresy, or schism.

12. Pope Francis might choose to exercise Papal Infallibility to teach some new definition of doctrine, on one or more of the above points, or on some other point that I have not anticipated.

Some commentators expect liberal Popes, Cardinals, and Bishops to be less “dogmatic” and more “pastoral”. But I believe that liberal Church leaders are no less likely to exercise their proper authority. And I notice that Pope Francis has exercised his authority as Pope to make various changes in discipline, including reforms to the Vatican curia. He will not shy away from issuing authoritative teachings and rulings.

On Matters of Discipline:

1. Pope Francis might permit divorced and remarried Catholics might be permitted to receive Communion on a good conscience basis.

2. Pope Francis might open up new paths for divorced Catholics to obtain annulments, bypassing the Marriage Tribunals in many cases. For example, after a preliminary examination of the case, he could permit only the signatures of the couple and the parish pastor on a document to declare an annulment.

3. Pope Francis might rule that various “marginalized” Catholics to be permitted to receive Communion on a good conscience basis, perhaps including: divorced and remarried Catholics (absent an annulment), gay “married” Catholics, cohabitating Catholics, and other persons guilty of objective mortal sin. The basis for this ruling would be the distinction between objective mortal sin and actual mortal sin.

4. Canon 915 presently reads: “Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” This canon is likely to be changed or nullified by the Pope at the Synod. It is not compatible with his view on who should be permitted to receive Communion.

5. Pope Francis might permit flexibility in liturgical form. Priests might be permitted to make minor changes ad hoc to the form of the Mass, without permission from anyone. He might also place restrictions on the Latin form of the Mass.

6. Pope Francis might grant broad permission for married men to become priests in the Latin Rite. (There have long been some married priests in the Latin Rite, so this is a change of discipline, not doctrine.)

7. Pope Francis might permit or require dioceses and parishes to baptize and educate the children of gay couples and other persons not living in full accord with Catholic moral teachings. He might forbid Catholic schools from refusing to hire or admit as students such persons.

8. Pope Francis might grant a broad forgiveness from various Church penalties, ranging from interdicts to excommunications.

9. If Pope Francis teaches that women can be ordained to the diaconate, he will also make the necessary accompanying changes to discipline and Canon law. If he so teaches, he will also plan to begin ordaining women deacons in the near future. (I think this will begin in January of 2016.)

10. Pope Francis might change the rules and laws of the Church for priests and others accused of child abuse. I would expect these changes to be aimed at greater protection for children, with harsher treatment of accused perpetrators and the opening of Church records to law enforcement and the courts.

11. Pope Francis might decide to appoint some women Cardinals, who would be non-ordained (lay persons) at first, and perhaps latter ordained to the diaconate.

12. I expect more than a few changes to Canon Law may accompany the promulgation of changes to discipline at the Synod.

And now a Question:

If the Pope teaches or rules in accord with some of the above points, how will you react? Which points are of greatest concern to you, and which do you find entirely unacceptable?

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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30 Responses to Pope Francis’ October Surprise: 24 Shocking Possibilities

  1. Bobby says:

    3. Pope Francis might rule that various “marginalized” Catholics to be permitted to receive Communion

    The Pope might allow
    gay “married” Catholics, cohabitating Catholics, and other persons guilty of objective mortal sin into communion?

    The Holy Scriptures and Tradition and the Magisterium are clear that homosexual acts are gravely depraved. There are no excuses for these sins of the flesh – all know that these sins are against nature therefore all are condemned. A person cannot commit these sins without knowing that are gravely contrary to the moral order since it is built into the very nature of our bodies. Practising homosexuals cannot be in a state of grace.

    Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men.

    Our Lady of Fatima:
    More souls go to hell for sins of the flesh than for any other reason.

    So can you explain to me please how a practising homosexual can be in a state of grace?

    • Ron Conte says:

      False premise: “all know that these sins are against nature therefore all are condemned. A person cannot commit these sins without knowing that are gravely contrary to the moral order since it is built into the very nature of our bodies.”
      False conclusion: “Practicing homosexuals cannot be in a state of grace.”

      The Magisterium has NEVER taught that every human person must necessarily know that homosexual sins or other grave sins are gravely immoral. Catholics have the fullness of truth. But persons who are living very secular lives, who lack the benefits of Catholic teaching, can be mistaken, can be deceived by the errors of culture and society A person can mistakenly think that abortion is moral to save the life of the mother, or that abortifacient contraception is moral, or that torturing a terrorist to save innocents is moral, or any of a number of other grave sins. The fallen sinner, especially living in such a severely misguided culture, and lacking the insights we have through faith, can be in a state of grace and yet mistakenly think that certain gravely immoral sexual acts are not immoral.

  2. Bobby says:

    Ron Conte wrote:
    The fallen sinner, especially living in such a severely misguided culture, and lacking the insights we have through faith, can be in a state of grace and yet mistakenly think that certain gravely immoral sexual acts are not immoral.

    So you argue that practising homosexuals can be a state of grace and thus is union with God and saved because they do not know that homosexual sexual acts are wrong?

    So therefore, by logical extension to the premise above you would argue those who practise bestiality, paedophilia and other sexual abominations are potentially in a state of grace in the presence of God because they mistakenly think that these gravely immoral acts are not immoral?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Beyond a certain level of sinfulness, even a non-Christian fallen sinner, raised by a sinful society, cannot be in good conscience when committing certain sins, such as rape or genocide or terrorism. But it is difficult to know, in many lesser cases, what the state of an individual’s conscience might be. I think some homosexuals are fooled by society and their own concupiscence into thinking that homosexuality is not disordered. I think that a caring intelligent person might mistakenly conclude that God does not exist. So we cannot conclude that such persons are necessarily not in a state of grace. Some are and some are not.

  3. Bobby says:

    Thanks Ron for taking time to reply.. this is an honest attempt to come to an understanding of this issue —

    The Doctors and the Saints of the Church seem to teach that those who practise homosexuality do commit mortal sin and are not in a state of grace, that is they need to repent in order to be saved.

    Saint Jerome (340-420)
    Saint Jerome is both Father and Doctor of the Church. He was also a notable exegete and great polemicist. In his book Against Jovinianus, he explains how a sodomite needs repentance and penance to be saved:
    “And Sodom and Gomorrah might have appeased it [God’s wrath], had they been willing to repent, and through the aid of fasting gain for themselves tears of repentance.

    Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)
    “But they act in a contrary way, for they come full of impurity to this mystery, and not only of that impurity to which, through the fragility of your weak nature, you are all naturally inclined (although reason, when free will permits, can quiet the rebellion of nature), but these wretches not only do not bridle this fragility, but do worse, committing that accursed sin against nature, and as blind and fools, with the light of their intellect darkened, they do not know the stench and misery in which they are. It is not only that this sin stinks before me, who am the Supreme and Eternal Truth, it does indeed displease me so much and I hold it in such abomination that for it alone I buried five cities by a divine judgment, my divine justice being no longer able to endure it. This sin not only displeases me as I have said, but also the devils whom these wretches have made their masters. Not that the evil displeases them because they like anything good, but because their nature was originally angelic, and their angelic nature causes them to loathe the sight of the actual commission of this enormous sin.

    This is my final post on this as I have a lot of thinking and praying to do!!

    • Ron Conte says:

      Those quotes do not say or imply that every practicing homosexual is in a state of actual mortal sin. The sin itself is strongly condemned. Sometimes it is an actual mortal sin. But there is no teaching of the Magisterium saying that it is an actual mortal sin in every case.

  4. Matt says:

    If a Christian presents to a person who does not know that a particular sin they are engaged is gravely immoral, and that person rejects what is presented to him, what becomes of that person at judgement?

    • Ron Conte says:

      It is still a matter of conscience. We all realize that any individual’s claims about morality are opinions which could be mistaken. You might disagree with a fellow Catholics views on morality. So the person is not condemned just because he did not recognize the truth presented to him.

  5. Maria says:

    Ron, excuse me but are you saying that after practicing an unnnatural sexual act such as sodomy one may still be in a state of grace and recieve the Holy Communion worthly without confess?

    • Ron Conte says:

      In my opinion, anyone who commits an objective mortal sin, even if it lacks the full knowledge and full deliberation of an actual mortal sin, should not receive Communion without first repenting and confessing. Objective mortal sins include contraception, abortion, unnatural sexual acts between husband and wife, masturbation, use of pornography, any sexual acts outside of marriage, interior sins of lust, hatred, greed, pride, and teaching or adhering to any heresy. The vast majority of Mass-going Catholics have committed some of these sins, and they should not receive Communion until they repent and confess.

      However, it is possible for someone to commit an objective mortal sin, without the full realization that the act is gravely immoral, and therefore to remain in a state of grace. If the Pope wishes (contrary to my own opinion), he has the authority to permit anyone who is not conscious of actual mortal sin to receive Communion. For Jesus Christ touched the leper before He healed him; he did not wait until the leper was cleansed before touching him.

  6. Paul Vander Voort says:


    You sure shocked me, I can’t believe what I just read. Long story short — I stumbled onto your blog and then this post while looking into excommunication for heresy. Ironically, I thought promoting Holy Communion for adulterers was heresy. I didn’t think these options were even possible officially. I thought I had a working knowledge of the Catholic Church (Latin Rite), boy was I wrong. From now on I’ll have to observe and limit my comments.

    There is going to be a lot of excited people if things unfold as you predict. This wouldn’t do anything for me but I’d expect numerous Protestant converts to Catholicism, especially from the major denominations. What kind of losses do you think will occur among the Traditional Catholics? Do you predict the Eastern Rites will follow Rome?

    If things don’t unfold as predicted, what do you think the Liberal Catholic reaction will be?

    • Ron Conte says:

      I expect most traditionalists and many other conservatives to depart from the Church. After all, we are talking about the great apostasy. I think there will be many schismatics in the East as well as the West. I doubt that a liberal policy of who may receive Communion will bring many liberals back to the Church. The liberals want the Church to change more than She possibly can.

  7. Dot says:

    It’s very simple… if their own pastor gives his blessing, the practicing homosexual persons believe they are in a state of grace. New Ways Ministries publishes a list of “gay-friendly” parishes who are functioning as if it’s only a matter of time…
    As for the women Cardinals… I imagine most married priests that are ordained tend to be mature men. I welcome a spot among cardinals for mature women, particularly mothers and grandmothers, many of whom would already be widowed. Pope Francis is calling for a theology of women. I can’t wait !

    • Ron Conte says:

      I don’t believe the Church will ever approve of gay marriage or of homosexual acts. But the Pope might broaden the availability of Communion based on conscience and confession. The problem is that already few Mass-going Catholics go to confession. So while I support the Pope’s right and authority to make decisions on discipline, I won’t necessarily agree with each decision.

  8. Dot says:

    I personally know of some modern day Joans of Arc, most often forced into leadership by an absence of leadership, by confused or lazy fathers, husbands, and priests. They suffer terribly for this and they are not enviable. But when God finds the poor souls, such as they are, what can he do… He sends them. There is no unlearning what these women have learned at great personal cost, the cost of their very femininity, plus the hatred of traditionalists (you?). These women are too numerous because good men are so few. But they make fine soldiers, even while most women do not. If there had been ONE woman Cardinal privy to the child sexual abuse scandal, I guarantee you, it would not have proceeded such as it did, year after year, child after child.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I agree that a woman can take an ad hoc role of leadership in the family and to some extent in the Church. I also believe that the Church has the authority to ordain women as deacons (not priests or bishops). I personally think it would be imprudent to have women Cardinals. But the “one woman cardinal” claim is false. Both men and women are fallen. Women commit mortal sins, just as men do. Most abortions involve the sin of both men and women. So it is not a certitude that a woman Cardinal would behave differently, and would not sin by covering up child sexual abuse cases. I’m sure there were many women working in diocesan and parish offices, who knew about particular accusations of child abuse, and did not act. Women are no less fallen than men.

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