Amoris Laetitia · Catholic Controversies · Pope Francis

The Pope is Incorrect.

There: I said it. The Pope is incorrect.

Posters criticizing pope Francis on a wall in Rome, Italy, 04 February 2017. Below the photograph of the pope is the following caption: 'You've put congregations under supervision, removed priests, decapitated the Maltese and Franciscan orders and ignored cardinals... But where is your compassion?' Francis' main message as pope has been compassion. His reformist policies are meeting resistance within the church. Photo: Lena Klimkeit/dpa
Posters criticizing pope Francis on a wall in Rome, Italy, 04 February 2017. Photo: Lena Klimkeit/dpa

Faithful Catholics have agonized over how to deal with Pope Francis. We want to be true to the teachings of Jesus Christ, whom we love, and His Church, which we also love. Yet one of the teachings of that Church is that the Pope is infallible when he speaks ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals. How do we conduct ourselves when the Pope says something that seems to contradict the magisterial teachings of the Church, which were themselves promulgated by popes and saints and fathers of the church and Sacred Scripture? That is the situation we face today.

Our first responsibility is to tell the truth.

The Pope is incorrect.

Notice I do not say that the Pope is “wrong,” as that implies moral culpability. Nor do I say that he is “mistaken,” as that implies honest mistakes. I do not know his state of mind. Neither do you. Nor do I have the authority to judge or sanction him. Neither do you, unless you wear a red beanie. So, let’s get that out of our minds. Agonizing over things we cannot know, cannot control, or have no legitimate authority over: that is a waste of time. We cannot afford to squander our energy.

The two Synods on the Family, called by Pope Francis and the publication of Amoris Laetitia under his name, created confusion about key Catholic doctrines that had been clear. Pope Francis was incorrect to create this confusion.

The Famous Five Dubia of the Four Cardinals succinctly summarize the doctrinal situation. The answers to these questions are not difficult, if one intends to read Amoris Laetitia in harmony with the settled magisterium of the Church.

The answers are:
1. No, a divorced and civilly remarried person living “in a marital way” with another person cannot licitly receive communion.
2. Yes. Veritatis Splendor is still valid. There are still absolute moral norms that are binding without exception.
3. Yes. a person who habitually lives in contradiction to a commandment of God’s law, as for instance the one that prohibits adultery, finds him or herself in an objective situation of grave habitual sin.
4. Yes, Veritatis Splendor is still valid. “Circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act ‘subjectively’ good or defensible as a choice.”
5. Yes. Veritatis Splendor is still valid. “Conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object.”

Pope Francis has the authority and the responsibility to dispel this confusion. He is incorrect to allow the confusion on these points to remain.

But, what about papal infallibility? If we allow ourselves to think that Pope Francis is incorrect, aren’t we somehow denying the teaching of papal infallibility? I don’t think so.

Strictly speaking, he has not taught ex cathedra that divorced and civilly remarried people can receive communion. Both supporters and critics of Amoris Laetitia have argued that it does not actually change doctrine. The heterodox practices and teachings have emerged from the cloud of confusion.

Let us be clear: the pope’s letter to the Argentine bishops is not an ex cathedra pronouncement. Neither is a press conference on an airplane. The teachings of the bishops of Malta are fallible. So are the twitter feeds of papal associates.

Pope Francis has come right up to the edge of making an official magisterial pronouncement. Perhaps, the Holy Spirit Himself is preventing Pope Francis from crossing that line. In which case, his refusal to answer the dubia may be a blessing.

Nonetheless, he is not fulfilling one of the most basic duties of his office: to protect the Deposit of Faith, as handed down to us from the Apostles.

Dealing with this crisis of truth, in a Christ-like manner, requires us to be scrupulously truthful ourselves. That means saying only what we know to be true. Speculation about motives, intentions and states of mind does not serve us or the Church. It is a distraction, from doing what we can and should be doing, (which I will discuss in a future post.)

I will not promote this post myself in any way, except on my personal Facebook page. I close with this prayer:

Lord God, if these words be of service to the Church, let them be spread far and wide. If my words be not helpful, let them die here in obscurity. Amen.

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