Can the Cardinals issue a formal correction of Pope Francis?

According to the Catholic Herald in the UK:

“Cardinal Burke is one of four cardinals who have written to the Pope asking for a clarification of Amoris Laetitia. They say that the document could be read as contradicting Church teaching on the moral law and on the question of Communion for the remarried. The Pope has declined to reply to the letter.

Asked what would happen if the Pope remained silent, Cardinal Burke replied: “Then we would have to address that situation. There is, in the tradition of the Church, the practice of correction of the Roman Pontiff. It is something that is clearly quite rare. But if there is no response to these questions, then I would say that it would be a question of taking a formal act of correction of a serious error.” “

To the contrary, no such tradition of a “formal act of correction” of the Roman Pontiff by anyone exists in the Church. Each and every Roman Pontiff can err in his personal opinions, can err in matters of discipline, and can err to a limited extent in his non-infallible teachings. And so any of the faithful, not only Cardinals and Bishops, can faithfully disagree. However, no one on earth has the authority to issue “a formal act of correction”, nor does anyone have the role or calling to decide, authoritatively, that a decision or opinion of the Pope is a serious error.

Furthermore, the non-infallible teachings of the Roman Pontiff CANNOT err to a SERIOUS extent. For the teachings of the Papal Magisterium have the help of the Holy Spirit, to avoid serious error when teaching non-infallibly, and to avoid all error when teaching infallibly.

One can point to past errors by Popes, such as the errors of discipline by Pope Saint Celestine V, or the error on the Beatific Vision by Pope John XXII (22nd, not 23rd). But these errors were never corrected by any formal act. No one asserted, in any way that was legitimate and accepted by tradition and by the Church, any authority to correct these Popes.

And the same can be said for Pope Honorius I, who erred mainly by declining to correct a rising problem in the Church on the question of the wills of Christ. An Ecumenical Council, under a later Pope, decided the matter many years after his death. But his errors were not heretical, and were not able to be corrected by anyone in the Church on earth at the time of his Pontificate. See my post: Was Pope Honorius I a heretic?

The First Vatican Council taught the following doctrine, infallibly:

“Since the Roman Pontiff, by the divine right of the apostolic primacy, governs the whole Church, we likewise teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all cases which fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction recourse may be had to his judgment. The sentence of the Apostolic See (than which there is no higher authority) is not subject to revision by anyone, nor may anyone lawfully pass judgment thereupon. And so they stray from the genuine path of truth who maintain that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman pontiffs to an ecumenical council as if this were an authority superior to the Roman Pontiff.”

Pope Francis is the Supreme judged of the faithful. So the Cardinals can certainly write to him, as four Cardinals did in the recent Dubium. But if he declines to reply, or gives a reply that displeases them, they have no authority to revise his sentence, nor to pass judgment on his sentence.

Even an Ecumenical Council, apart from the current Pope, cannot exercise any authority over the Pope. How many Cardinals need to agree, in order to formally correct the Pope? Even if all the Cardinals and Bishops gathered in an Ecumenical Council, they could not formally correct the Pope, as his authority is Supreme, and an Ecumenical Council, apart from the current Pope, is not superior to the Pope.

In fact, an Ecumenical Council is correctly defined as the body of Bishops gathered with the Pope, under his guidance and authority. So any such group which rejects the Pope, or which presumes to teach, correct, or rebuke him, is not an Ecumenical Council at all. For it would be like a body without a head. And the same can be said for any group of Bishops and Cardinals, who presume to oppose or correct or rebuke or condemn any Pope or any decision of any Pope, on discipline or doctrine. They are a body without a head.

A small subset of Cardinals has decided that they have the authority or role to issue a “formal correction” of Pope Francis, because they disagree with his teachings in Amoris Laetitia. Their claim to have authority to correct the Pope is an heretical and schismatic claim, contrary to the infallible teachings of the First Vatican Council.

They can publicly disagree with the Pope. They can publicly state what they understand to be the correct doctrine and discipline. But they depart from his decisions on doctrine and discipline without authority. They are merely expressing a theological opinion. No one on earth has an authority superior to that of the Roman Pontiff. And whosoever makes such a claim is a schismatic and heretic.

Furthermore, as explained in my book, In Defense of Pope Francis, no Pope can teach heresy and no Pope can commit apostasy, heresy, or schism. See also my past post: What Saint Bellarmine really said about Popes and Heresy.

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

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