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Catholic Clergy, Scholars Accuse Pope Francis of ‘Heresy’

Pope Francis looks on during a mass for the Cardinals and Bishops who have died over the course of the year at the Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on November 3, 2018. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP) (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images
THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, PH.D.

A group of 19 Catholics, including clergy and scholars, have accused Pope Francis of heresy in an open letter to the bishops of the Catholic Church.

The letter, dated “Easter Week,” follows on similar letters and petitions over the last several years questioning the pope’s theological orthodoxy, particularly after the publication of his 2016 post-synodal apostolic exhortation on marriage and the family bearing the Latin title Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love).

Since it offers little new material, the present letter would be unremarkable in this regard were it not for the endorsement of Dominican Father Aidan Nichols, one of the most prominent Catholic theologians in the English-speaking world.

A prolific author, Father Nichols has published over 50 books and was the first John Paul II Memorial Visiting Lecturer at the University of Oxford from 2006 to 2008, the first lectureship of Catholic theology at that university since the Reformation.

The 20-page letter lays out its intentions in the very first line: “first, to accuse Pope Francis of the canonical delict of heresy, and second, to request that you [the bishops] take the steps necessary to deal with the grave situation of a heretical pope.”

The letter writers base their accusation on the pope’s alleged embrace of positions contrary to the Catholic faith as well as his overt support for prelates who have shown disrespect for the Church’s faith and morals.

Much of the material offered as evidence of heresy comes from Amoris Laetitia, and deals with sexual ethics and sacramental theology, while a large section of the letter is devoted to showing the pope’s misconduct by “praising clerics and laity who advance these heresies, or by naming them to influential posts, or by protecting clerics of this kind from punishment or demotion when they have committed gravely immoral and criminal acts.”

Among the clerics and prelates promoted or defended by Francis who have allegedly shown disrespect for Catholic teaching, the letter mentions Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, Cardinal Blase Cupich, former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Bishop Gustavo Óscar Zanchetta, Bishop Juan Barros, and Father James Martin, SJ.

“We take this measure as a last resort to respond to the accumulating harm caused by Pope Francis’s words and actions over several years, which have given rise to one of the worst crises in the history of the Catholic Church,” the letter declares.

The text follows the 2017 “Filial Correction of Pope Francis,” which claimed that the Francis had “effectively upheld 7 heretical positions about marriage, the moral life, and the reception of the sacraments, and has caused these heretical opinions to spread in the Catholic Church.”

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