(M. Hickson, LifeSiteNews – May 7, 2019 April 30) Open Letter to Bishops has caused much discussion among Catholic circles. The authors of the letter have appealed to the bishops of the world, for the sake of the salvation of souls, “as our spiritual fathers, vicars of Christ within your own jurisdictions and not vicars of the Roman pontiff, publicly to admonish Pope Francis to abjure the heresies that he has professed.”
Some of the heresies they name flow out of the Pope’s post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, on marriage and the family, and which opened the path to many episcopal guidelines now allowing “remarried” divorcees to receive Holy Communion contrary to perennial Church teaching.
Some Catholic commentators have argued against this Open Letter with the claim that Pope Francis deserves the benefit of the doubt with regard to some of the papal quotations as they are presented by the Open Letter. As Father Thomas Petri, O.P., for example, stated:
I’m disappointed that a group of theologians, some of whom I admire, chose to express themselves by contributing to a letter calling the Pope a heretic. Their citations of him can be all interpreted in a way that gives the Holy Father the benefit of the doubt, which we owe him.
In a similar manner, other commentators have asked whether the authors have ever first contacted the Pope privately, or whether they first went to their own bishops with their objections. For example, the Vice-President for the Center of Legal Studies at the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam), Stefano Gennarini stated on twitter:
I only want to know one thing. Did any of the folks on this list even try to express their concerns with His Holiness privately, through their bishops, or even publicly, before inciting others to schism [sic].
These are objections that should be faced and discussed. Since we are in the middle of an unprecedented situation in the history of the Catholic Church, reasonable people can come to different conclusions here. It must be remembered that during the time of the 14th-century anti-popes there were saints on both sides.
Leila Marie Lawler, wife of Catholic commentator and book author Phil Lawler, commented on this ongoing discussion on Twitter, saying: “Worst take: ‘Give Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt’ – as if criticism is personal and not about objective issues, the defense of which he has ultimate responsibility. Instead, protect those ‘little ones’ exposed to error and its corrosions,” adding in her follow-up Tweet: “The ‘benefit of the doubt’ defense has been used from Day One of this pontificate. Where is charity for the little ones?”
In light of this piercing comment, it is worthwhile bringing to mind just how many Catholics, as children of God, have called out to the Pope for clarifications, corrections and help, and how many learned Catholics – cardinals, bishops, priests and laymen alike – have issued, during the last six years, pleas to Pope Francis himself.
This list of initiatives taken under Pope Francis’ pontificate was started on Twitter by this author, and then substantially enriched by others, such as Leila Lawler and Julia Meloni. The list is now very long, and it will prove how many chances Pope Francis has received to respond to accusations of his allegedly heterodox teachings.
In March of 2013, Pope Francis was elected. In February of 2014, he asked Cardinal Walter Kasper to give a speech to the College of Cardinals, in which he presented his idea to give Holy Communion to some “remarried” divorcees. This speech was hotly discussed at the consistory, with perhaps about 85% of the attending cardinals opposing Kasper’s progressive ideas, according to a report by Marco Tosatti.
This event – together with Pope Francis’ announcement of a two-fold Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family in 2014 and 2015 – inspired the first public attempts at preserving the Church’s traditional teaching.
What follows is a non-exhaustive list of 20 direct attempts by clergy and laity to reach Pope Francis for clarification. Following this is a list of indirect attempts.
Direct attempts by clergy and laity to reach Pope Francis
- In October of 2014, a large U.S. Catholic parish – St. John the Baptist (Front Royal, Virginia) issued an Affirmation of Faith Concerning Marriage and the Family that gained more than 1,000 signatures from parishioners and was sent to Pope Francis.
- On 16 April 2015, the Catholic newspaper The Wanderer published an Open Letter to Pope Francis, in which the signatories asked Pope Francis that he “would celebrate the conclusion of the Synod of the Family with a clear and strong reaffirmation of the Church’s timeless teachings on the indissolubility of marriage, the nuptial nature and definition of marriage and conjugal love, and the virtue of chastity, as presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”
- After the first troubling synod, in December of 2014, the author of this article herself made her own small attempt to defend the Church’s teaching on marriage by writing an Open Letter to Pope Francis, arguing on the basis of her own experience as a child of divorce. This letter was sent to Pope Francis, but was never responded to. It was also sent to the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, but was not responded to, either.
- On 24 April, very shortly after the publication of the papal document, Bishop Athanasius Schneider published a charitable and clear critique of Amoris Laetitia, speaking about the confusion and “contradictory interpretations even among the episcopate” flowing from this papal text, and calling upon the Church’s hierarchy and the laity to beg the Pope for a clarification and an official interpretation of Amoris Laetitia in line with the constant teaching of the Church.
- On July 13, 2016, in a spirit of love, humility, and faithfulness, 16 international life and family advocates asked Pope Francis in a powerful “plea to the Pope” to unambiguously speak the truth of the Catholic faith, to end doctrinal confusion, to restore clarity, and to be the Holy Father that Catholics need.
- In July of 2016, 45 clergy and scholars published their letter to the cardinals of the Catholic Church, in which they “request that the Cardinals and Patriarchs petition the Holy Father to condemn the errors listed in the document in a definitive and final manner, and to authoritatively state that Amoris Laetitiadoes not require any of them to be believed or considered as possibly true.” The letter contains a very detailed list of potentially heretical or heterodox statements that could be drawn out of Amoris Laetitia.
- On 3 August 2016, Professor Josef Seifert published a detailed critique of Amoris Laetitia, listing several errors in the document that could be potentially heretical, and asking the Pope to “revoke them himself.” Seifert was later, in August of 2017, to issue a second text on Amoris Laetitia, with a question addressed “to Pope Francis and to all Catholic cardinals, bishops, philosophers and theologians. It deals with a dubium about a purely logical consequence of an affirmation in Amoris Laetitia, and ends with a plea to Pope Francis to retract at least one affirmation of AL.” That question pertains to AL’s claim “that we can know with ‘a certain moral security’ that God himself asks us to continue to commit intrinsically wrong acts, such as adultery or active homosexuality.”
- On 14 November 2016, four cardinals published a letter to Pope Francis that they had sent to him privately on 19 September and that remained unanswered, which is very unusual. The letter contained the now-famous five dubiaconcerning Amoris Laetitia, for example as to whether those who live in a second “marriage” after a divorce may now receive the Sacraments and as to whether there still exist intrinsically evil acts, that is to say acts that are under all conditions to be regarded as evil. The cardinals requested a papal audience, but were never received. The four dubia cardinals are Cardinals Joachim Meisner, Raymond Burke, Carlo Caffarra, and Walter Brandmüller. (Two of the four dubia cardinals have since died.)
- Subsequently, 15 cardinals, archbishops, and bishops individually expressedtheir support for the dubia, among them Cardinals Joseph Zen and Willem Eijk, Archbishop Charles Chaput and Archbishop Luigi Negri.
- At the end of 2016, two scholars, Professor John Finnis and Professor Germain Grisez, publish an Open Letter to Pope Francis, asking him “to condemn eight positions against the Catholic faith that are being supported, or likely will be, by the misuse of his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia.” They also called upon the bishops to join this request.
- On 23 September 2017, more than a year after the publication of Amoris Laetitia, 62 clergy and scholars issued a “Filial Correction” of Pope Francis, in which they stated: “we are compelled to address a correction to Your Holiness on account of the propagation of heresies effected by the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia and by other words, deeds and omissions of Your Holiness.”
- On 1 November 2017, Father Thomas Weinandy published a letter that he had sent to Pope Francis in July of that year. In that letter, Weinandy says that Francis’ pontificate is marked by “chronic confusion,” and he warns the Pope that a “seemingly intentional lack of clarity [of teaching] risks sinning against the Holy Spirit.”
- On 2 January 2018, three Kazahk bishops – among them Bishop Schneider – issued a Profession of the immutable truths about sacramental marriage in light of Amoris Laetitia, and especially in light of the many episcopal pastoral guidelines permitting Communion for the “remarried” divorcees. These prelates reaffirm the traditional teaching of the Church on marriage and the family. Subsequently, one cardinal and six bishops – among them Cardinal Janis Pujats and Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò signed this statement.
- Also in January of 2018, Cardinal Willem Eijk asked Pope Francis publicly to clarify questions about Amoris Laetitia and to clear the confusion stemming from the document. Eijk proposed that the Pope write an additional document in which doubts should be removed.
- On 7 May 2018, Cardinal Eijk once more raised his voice and asked Pope Francis to clarify questions arising from the discussion among German bishops to give Holy Communion to Protestant spouses of Catholics. He observed that “the bishops and, above all, the Successor of Peter fail to maintain and transmit faithfully and in unity the deposit of faith contained in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture.”
- Pope Francis, over the course of several years, made statements against the death penalty. He finally decided, in August of 2018, to change the Catholic Church’s Catechism, declaring the death penalty to be immoral in all cases. Two weeks later, a group of 75 prominent clergy and scholars issued a public letter to cardinals asking them to urge Pope Francis to recant and rescind this change in the Catechism.
- In August of 2018. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò published a testimony, in which he claims, among many other things, that Pope Francis was aware of the moral corruption of then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and of the fact that Pope Benedict XVI had placed certain restrictions upon him, but that he chose to ignore them. The Archbishop called upon the Pope to resign. When Pope Francis was asked about this document, he answered, saying that he would later respond to it (“When some time passes and you have drawn your conclusions, I may speak.”), but then he never made any response.
- In August of 2018, 47,000 Catholic women worldwide called upon Pope Francis to answer the question as to whether Archbishop Viganò’s claim is true.
- The U.S. Website Church Militant – who up to then had been careful not to criticize Pope Francis for his teaching on marriage and the family – called upon Pope Francis to resign, in light of his complicity with McCarrick’s sins.
- In 2019, Pope Francis signed the controversial Abu Dhabi Statement which says that the “diversity of religions” is “willed by God.” Both Bishop Athanasius Schneiderand Professor Josef Seifert strongly opposedthis formulation and called upon Pope Francis to rescind it. Bishop Schneider, on 1 March, was able to receivefrom the Pope in a private conversation a sort of correction that this formulation really meant the “permissive will of God,” yet both he and Professor Seifert maintain that a public and definite correction is needed.
Indirect attempts by clergy and laity to reach Pope Francis
- Cardinal Gerhard Müller – then the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – published a book The Hope of the Family, in which he maintains the indissolubility of marriage, adding that “Not even an ecumenical council can change the doctrine of the Church.”
- The Voice of the Family, an international coalition of pro-life and pro-family organizations was founded ahead of the first family synod in 2014, establishing a website and organizing conferences in Rome in order to protect marriage and family from perceived threats.
- Five Cardinals – Cardinals Walter Brandmüller, Gerhard Müller, Carlo Caffarra, Raymond Burke, and Velasio De Paolis – write, together with other authors such as Professor John Rist (one of the signatories of the Open Letter to Bishops), a book in defense of the Sacrament of Marriage, called Remaining in the Truth of Christ.
- At the first Synod of Bishops on the Family, in October of 2014, there was a group of bishops strongly opposing to introduce heterodox statements concerning homosexuality and “remarried” divorcees into the synod document; subsequently, neither the Kasper proposal nor a change of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality was included in the final document.
- In 2016, before the publication of Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, tens of thousands of Catholics signed a Filial Appeal, a Declaration of Fidelity to the Church’s unchangeable teaching on marriage. This appeal had also been signed by Cardinal Burke, Cardinal Caffarra, Cardinal Pujats, and Bishop Athanasius Schneider.
- Also before the second family synod, Father José Granados – at the time Vice-president of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome – published a book in defense of the indissolubility of marriage.
- In May of 2015, before the second Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family, nearly 1,000 priests issued a statement asking the synod to affirm the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family.
- In August of 2015, Ignatius Press publishes the Eleven Cardinals Book, called Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family: Essays from a Pastoral Viewpoint. The authors – among them Cardinals Paul Josef Cordes, Dominik Duka, O.P, and John Onaiyekan, but also Robert Sarah and Carlo Caffarra – once more defend the Church’s teaching on marriage and publish proposals for a good pastoral care for marriages.
- In September of 2015, just before the second synod, eleven African prelates – among them Cardinal Robert Sarah and Cardinal Barthélemy Adoukonou – published a book, Christ’s New Homeland: Africa, in which they analyzed and sharply criticized the essential preparatory Vatican documents for the upcoming synod, once more defending the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family.
- In February of 2019, just before the beginning of the 21-24 Abuse Summit in Rome, the two remaining dubia cardinals – Cardinals Raymond Burke and Walter Brandmüller – wrote an Open Letter to the Presidents of the Conferences of Bishops encouraging them “to raise your voice to safeguard and proclaim the integrity of the doctrine of the Church” and also to address the protracted problem of homosexual networks in the Catholic Church.
- At the same time, the Swiss lay organization Pro Ecclesia and LifeSiteNews launched a petition to “Stop homosexual networks in the Church” that aimed at tightening the Church’s law in order both clearly to punish the priests who violate the Sixth Commandment by homosexual acts and those who abuse minors and vulnerable adults such as seminarians.
- Also in 2019, Cardinal Gerhard Müller published his Manifesto of Faith, in which he restated the main tenants of the Catholic Faith and Morals as they have always been taught and as they can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He did so with the expressed reference to the many clergy and laymen who have asked him for such a doctrinal clarification in the middle of a grave confusion in the Church.
- In April of 2019, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI published a letter on the sex abuse crisis, in which he points to the moral and doctrinal laxity that has entered the Catholic Church in the wake of the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Here thereby tried to help to point to deeper explanations of the current sex abuse crisis than the mere references to “abuse of power and spiritual abuse,” as well as “clericalism, as they had been presented at the February 2019 Sex Abuse Summit in Rome.
- Throughout these years, there have been many individuals who have raised their voices. Among the first papal critics were the now-deceased Mario Palmaro and Alessandro Gnocchi (“We do not like this Pope”) and Professor Roberto de Mattei, who accompanied this papacy with numerous articles and commentaries. Then there were also Father Brian Harrison (here and here) and the internationally renowned Catholic philosopher Professor Robert Spaemannwho is now deceased.
- Later on, several books were written which describe in a critical manner Pope Francis’ leadership and doctrinally confusing actions and words. Among them are The Political Pope by George Neumayr, The Dictator Pope by Henry Sire, The Lost Shepherd by Phil Lawler (who subsequently also authored The Smoke of Satan dealing with the sex abuse crisis), and José Antonio Ureta’s book Pope Francis’ Paradigm Shift: Continuity or Rupture in the Mission of the Church? — An Assessment of his Five-year Pontificate
Pope Francis has not responded
This written record of some of the major charitable and urgent initiatives taken by prelates, priests, academics, and earnest laymen is by far not exhaustive, but it sheds light on the many beautiful manifestations of a loyal witness to the Faith that were meant to be pleas both to Pope Francis to amend his ways, as well as to cardinals and bishops to help him decisively act in this regard.
However, Pope Francis has not responded in any visible and clear way – nor met with those who have called upon him (not even with the four dubia cardinals) – to all of these initiatives, except for the recent meeting with Bishop Schneider which, nonetheless, was finally without any clear and unequivocal results.
Despite these pleas, Pope Francis appears to be continuing his course of obstinately revolutionizing the Catholic Church at the cost of doctrinal orthodoxy and her moral clarity.