Reply to the Seven Accusations of Heresy

The Foolish Correction accuses Pope Francis of propagating seven heresies. This article will consider each claimed heresy, to see whether it is heresy and if so, whether Pope Francis has propagated each one.

Introduction

This section therefore contains the Correctio properly speaking, and is that to which the signatories intend principally and directly to subscribe.

The signatories, by the very fact of signing the Correction, are principally and directly subscribing to this seven-part accusation against the Roman Pontiff.

By these words, deeds, and omissions, and by the above-mentioned passages of the document Amoris laetitia, Your Holiness has upheld, directly or indirectly, and, with what degree of awareness we do not seek to judge, both by public office and by private act propagated in the Church the following false and heretical propositions:

The English translation of the Latin is inaccurate. Here’s the Latin: “quali quantaque intelligentia nescimus nec iudicare audemus”. A more literal translation is: “with what type and degree of awareness, we do not know and do not dare to judge”. This expression suggests that perhaps the Pope is aware that he is propagating heresy, with a type and extent of awareness that would be formal heresy or perhaps even an actual mortal sin. The question of the type of awareness and its extent pertains to the distinction between inadvertently propagating material heresy versus doing so knowingly, which would be the grave sin of formal heresy. And it also pertains to the distinction between a sin that is objectively grave but lacks full knowledge of its grave immorality versus an actual mortal sin, which deprives the person of the state of grace.

So that is one nasty stretch of Latin text. Essentially, the signatories are saying something like: “We don’t know if the Pope is guilty of formal heresy or guilty of actual mortal sin, for propagating seven heresies by many different words, deeds, and omissions as well as by an Apostolic Exhortation. We don’t dare to judge whether he might be guilty, and therefore be automatically excommunicated for formal schism, and have fallen from the state of grace. We wouldn’t dare to judge such a thing — but we are suggesting that this might be the case, and we are making our suggestion before the whole world.”

Wow. It’s like something a frenemy would say on a reality TV show or a soap opera. It’s a very malicious set of inferences, thinly-disguised as the type of correction a son would offer to his father, (if he thought him to be the worst father ever). And some papal critics are in fact saying that Pope Francis is the worst Pope ever. They do not dare to judge? But really, they are judging and condemning, based on false accusations, as we shall see below.

First Assertion

1). ‘A justified person has not the strength with God’s grace to carry out the objective demands of the divine law, as though any of the commandments of God are impossible for the justified; or as meaning that God’s grace, when it produces justification in an individual, does not invariably and of its nature produce conversion from all serious sin, or is not sufficient for conversion from all serious sin.’

This assertion is directly contrary to a number of dogmas issued by the Council of Trent, including:

CANON XVIII — If anyone says that the precepts of God are impossible to observe, even for a person who is justified and constituted in grace: let him be anathema.

So the first assertion is a heresy, opposed by several different dogmatic canons of Trent, and also opposed by the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium through many centuries.

But Pope Francis did not teach that heretical doctrine. Rather, he acknowledges, with our Lord, that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt 26:41). He takes into account the teaching of Trent on our fallenness and our susceptibility to sin:

CANON XXIII — If anyone says that a person, once justified, is not able to sin any more, nor to lose grace, and therefore he who falls and sins was never truly justified; or, on the contrary, that he is able, in all of life, to avoid all sins, even [those that are] venial — except by a special privilege from God, as the Church holds in the case of the blessed Virgin: let him be anathema.

And his position also takes into account what St Paul said in the Letter to the Romans:
{7:14} For we know that the law is spiritual. But I am carnal, having been sold under sin.
{7:15} For I do things that I do not understand. For I do not do the good that I want to do. But the evil that I hate is what I do.

In Amoris Laetitia and elsewhere, Pope Francis is not teaching or implying that fallen sinners, once justified, are unable to avoid grave sin. But he acknowledges, just as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, that many different factors might make an objective mortal sin not also an actual mortal sin. Only if his words and actions are interpreted without charity and faith will it seem, to fallen sinners filled with pride in their own understanding, that Pope Francis is contradicting the teaching of the Council of Trent on sin, grace, and justification.

Second Assertion

2). ‘Christians who have obtained a civil divorce from the spouse to whom they are validly married and have contracted a civil marriage with some other person during the lifetime of their spouse, who live more uxorio with their civil partner, and who choose to remain in this state with full knowledge of the nature of their act and full consent of the will to that act, are not necessarily in a state of mortal sin, and can receive sanctifying grace and grow in charity.’

The Latin term “more uxorio” means “in the manner of a wife”. It refers to a couple who have sexual relations, as if they were married, when they are not validly married. Recall what Jesus said in his encounter with the Samaritan woman.

[John]
{4:16} Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and return here.”
{4:17} The woman responded and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her: “You have spoken well, in saying, ‘I have no husband.’
{4:18} For you have had five husbands, but he whom you have now is not your husband. You have spoken this in truth.”
{4:19} The woman said to him: “Lord, I see that you are a Prophet.

The Samaritans practiced an altered version of the Jewish faith, so they were not pagans or unbelievers. Jesus calls him her “husband”, even though he knows they do not have a valid marriage. And she admits this truth. So, even though she was in much the same situation as the divorced and remarried today, Jesus does not spurn her. And she brought many souls from her city to Jesus, telling them that she believed him to be the Christ, thereby helping them along the path of salvation. Pope Francis has the same attitude as Jesus had toward persons in much the same situation.

The second assertion above is a heresy, but only because it specifies that the person has “full knowledge” and “full consent of the will”, which conditions, along with an objectively grave act, constitute the definition of actual mortal sin. And only actual mortal sin deprives the soul of the state of sanctifying grace.

However, Pope Francis did not teach this heretical idea. Instead, he considered that persons who are committing the objective mortal sin implied by divorce and remarriage (given the criteria stated above) might not have full knowledge and full consent of the will, due to mitigating factors. In such a case, the Pope teaches, the person can be in the state of grace and can grow in grace.

The Catechism refers to “affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety, or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability.” [CCC 2352]

That CCC passage is on the sexual sin of masturbation, but it certainly can be applied to other sexual sins. For example, an unmarried couple, who are considering marriage or who are engaged might find themselves falling into the objective mortal sin of fornication. But if they repent and confess, they may receive Communion. And they may do so if they fall again, and each time repent.

“Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.” [CCC 1735]

Again, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is teaching, non-controversially, that an objective mortal sin might not have the full culpability of an actual mortal sin due to many different factors.

“The Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations. Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace. More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule. A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding “its inherent values”, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin.” [Amoris Laetitia 301]

Why does the Pontiff speak of mitigating factors? It is because the divorced and remarried are committing objective mortal sins. But, due to mitigating factors, they might not be also in a state of mortal sin and might not be deprived of sanctifying grace.

But when he says that the concrete situation “does not allow him or her to act differently”, he does not mean this in an absolute sense. A person can always cooperate with grace and thereby overcome any grave sin. Instead, the Pontiff is saying that the person is limited by these mitigating factors and their own fallen state, similar to the limitations of invincible ignorance. The invincibly ignorant person is able, in the absolute sense, to overcome their ignorance by grace and the light of natural law. And yet we say that the person is “invincible ignorance”, because, given their limitations and failings, they are not guilty of actual mortal sin for this failure. Similarly, Pope Francis is saying that the person is constrained in the same way, and therefore might not be guilty of actual mortal sin.

The point I just explained is very important. It explains why Pope Francis is not teaching the errors he is accused of teaching. And all that is required is to interpret his teachings with charity and in the light of other magisterial teachings. But the papal critics and Correction signatories are not willing to do so. They are like the Pharisees, who were not willing to listen to Jesus with charity and faith, because then they would lose their self-appointed positions as the leaders of the faith.

So we have two major consideration for the divorced and remarried. Perhaps their objective mortal sin is not also an actual mortal sin, due to the factors above that reduce culpability. Or perhaps it is an actual mortal sin, but they repent, confess, and then receive Communion. Nowhere does Pope Francis tell the divorced and remarried to avoid Confession, in fact, he supposes that they will receive that Sacrament. He tells pastors to encourage “frequent Confession” [Amoris Laetitia 227].

Pope Francis says that “Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.” [n. 305] And then the footnote proposes that in “certain cases”, not all cases, this can include Confession and Communion. So it is unjust to accuse Pope Francis of dissuading the divorced and remarried from repentance and confession, prior to Communion. And nowhere does the Pontiff claim that the divorced and remarried, when their knowledge and deliberation is full, are nevertheless in the state of grace.

In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis states: “In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur….” [n. 307] Therefore, accusations that Pope Francis has contradicted or abandoned the teaching of the Church on marriage and fidelity to one’s spouse are false. Rather, he is simply being merciful to fallen sinners, who feel trapped in their own sins and have great difficulty changing their behavior and their lives.

Third Assertion

3). ‘A Christian believer can have full knowledge of a divine law and voluntarily choose to break it in a serious matter, but not be in a state of mortal sin as a result of this action.’

This assertion is poorly phrased. We all know that, when the matter of an act is gravely immoral, and both the knowledge and the deliberation are full, then the act is by definition an actual mortal sin. (Note that I would translate the Latin as “grave matter” instead of “serious matter”.) But the third assertion does not state that the deliberation is full, but only that the choice is voluntary. In ethics, a choice can be voluntary, to some extent, and also have reduced culpability due to the factors stated in the CCC (quoted previously). Thus, the third assertion is not actually a heresy, because the wording does not state full deliberation.

However, a corrected version of the third assertion would make the statement a heresy. Even so, Pope Francis did not teach or promote this error. He has never stated or implied that the three conditions for an act to be an actual mortal sin can be met, without the person losing the state of sanctifying grace, without the person falling into the state of mortal sin.

This accusation is based on the consideration and emphasis by Pope Francis of the mitigating factors, such that some divorced and remarried persons might not be in the state of mortal sin. But another possibility is that they commit an actual mortal sin, and then they repent, confess, and return to Communion. As I have already pointed out, the Pontiff proposes Confession and Communion, as the Sacraments that help fallen sinners return, again and again, to the path of salvation.

Fourth Assertion

4). ‘A person is able, while he obeys a divine prohibition, to sin against God by that very act of obedience.’

This assertion is a heresy. In so far as we are obeying God, we are not sinning. For sin is always a type of disobedience to God. It is possible to obey God, as by helping those in need, and perhaps, unfortunately, commit some venial sins along the way. But whenever we sin, in so far as we sin, we disobey God.

“Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal.” [Amoris Laetitia 303]

It is uncharitable to interpret the Supreme Pontiff’s words as asserting that a person obeys God by sinning, or that a person sins against God by obeying. The first thing he says is that “a given situation”, such as divorce and remarriage, “does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel.” So he does teach that the acts of the divorced and remarried (more uxorio) are objective mortal sins. But some persons, due to their fallen state, various mitigating factors (stated in the CCC), and a longstanding habit of sin, might find it very difficult to change their behavior.

So then, “what God himself is asking” is not to commit a grave sin, but rather to continue to struggle against sin, and to work toward complete freedom from all objective mortal sin. God still loves that person. And they remain in the state of grace, if their objective mortal sin is not also an actual mortal sin. Thus, God continues to help them grow in grace and continue along the path to salvation, and eventually to a life without mortal sin of any kind.

“A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding “its inherent values”, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin.” [Amoris Laetitia 301]

A difficulty in understanding the inherent value of a prohibition against a gravely immoral act can mitigate the sin, such that the knowledge is not full. For full knowledge is not merely an intellectual comprehension of the meaning of the words in the prohibition. There is also a subjective comprehension of the gravely immoral of the act and the value of the teaching that underlies the prohibition. And such a factor can decrease culpability.

The situation is said to not allow the person “to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin”, NOT because obeying the diving prohibition would be a sin, but because the person has misunderstood the moral law. If a person commits an act which is moral (such as obeying a divine prohibition), but in the sincere but mistaken belief that it is a sin, then that act is a sin for that person. This situation is also similar to invincible ignorance. A person may be acting according to their own conscience, in so far as they think, mistakenly, that leaving their current civil spouse to be a sin because it will cause some emotional pain to others.

Fifth Assertion

5). ‘Conscience can truly and rightly judge that sexual acts between persons who have contracted a civil marriage with each other, although one or both of them is sacramentally married to another person, can sometimes be morally right or requested or even commanded by God.’

This assertion is heresy. Pope Francis did not teach or propagate this heresy. As explained above, Pope Francis was speaking about persons whose conscience is mistaken. A conscience can be sincere but mistaken, and therefore not lose its dignity [Gaudium et Spes 16].

Sixth Assertion

6). ‘Moral principles and moral truths contained in divine revelation and in the natural law do not include negative prohibitions that absolutely forbid particular kinds of action, inasmuch as these are always gravely unlawful on account of their object.’

This assertion is a heresy. Pope Francis did not teach this heresy.

I find it very disturbing that the signatories and other papal critics ignore the many conservative Catholics who are undermining and denying this teaching of the Magisterium: that intrinsically evil are always immoral, regardless of intention or circumstances. They are in fact guilty of teaching the above stated heresy. And then they falsely accuse the Pope of teaching this error, which is in fact taught by many conservatives (just as I have explained at length in many of my past posts).

This is the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who falsely accused Jesus and John the Baptist and the Apostles of sin, while they themselves

Seventh Assertion

7). ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ wills that the Church abandon her perennial discipline of refusing the Eucharist to the divorced and remarried and of refusing absolution to the divorced and remarried who do not express contrition for their state of life and a firm purpose of amendment with regard to it.’

This assertion is not a heresy. Rather, it is a dispute about what Jesus wills on a matter of discipline (who may receive Communion) and on a matter of judgment (when to give or withhold absolution).

On the latter point, Trent teaches that the confessor priest has the authority to decide whether to absolve sins or to withhold absolution. This decision is guided by the teaching of the Magisterium, but its application is not automatic. Instead, it is similar to a judicial act, whereby a sentence is pronounced by him, as if by a judge. So a priest may judge that a person is not guilty of actual mortal sin due to mitigating factors, and therefore may judge that their contrition, for the sins that they understand to be grave, is sufficient.

It is not the role of the conservative Catholic subculture, nor of the signatories and papal critics, to make rules for the priest in the confessional, as to when and under what conditions he forgives or retains sins.

However, at least imperfect contrition is needed, and every actual mortal sin (not mere objective mortal sins) must be confessed in kind and number. Beyond these requirements, though, it is for the priest to judge and pronounce sentence.

On the first point, any discipline can be changed, even if it is perennial, even if it is a discipline issued by God in Sacred Scripture. For the entire set of disciplines of the Old Testament were dispensed by Christ (just as the Council of Florence infallibly taught). So it is not true that a discipline, which is perennial, cannot be dispensed or changed.

Irony

I would like to point out that signing the Filial Correction is itself an objective mortal sin. But perhaps some of the signatories are not guilty of actual mortal sin, due to mitigating factors, such as a misunderstanding of the teaching of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium. The signatories are therefore in much the same situation as those among the divorced and remarried, who do not have full culpability for their objective mortal sin, due to a lack of full knowledge. Ironically, if the signatories were themselves judged by the measure that they have used to judge others, they would be condemned.

Pope Francis: “Naturally, if someone flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal, or wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches, he or she can in no way presume to teach or preach to others; this is a case of something which separates from the community (cf. Mt 18:17).” [Amoris Laetitia 297]

The signatories are flaunting the objective mortal sin of schism, by their public false accusations of propagating heresy, which is tantamount to accusing the Pope of teaching material heresy. They are also committing the objective mortal sin of scandal and of bearing false witness against their neighbor. And so, based on the teaching of the Magisterium in Amoris Laetitia, the signatories are not fit and should not presume “to teach or preach to others”.

See Also: ‘Filial correction’ of pope marked by glaring hypocrisy, risible accusations by Stephen Walford

by
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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One Response to Reply to the Seven Accusations of Heresy

  1. Francisco says:

    Great posts by you Ron and also by Stephen Walford.

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