On Tuesday, April 30, 2019, twenty or so Catholic theologians and university professors published an Open Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church, inviting them to intervene with Pope Francis, to ask him to renounce the heresies of which he is accused. In case he persists, the canonical crime of heresy would be established, and the pope would then be “subject to the canonical consequences.” The summary published by the authors explains this last point: if Francis obstinately refuses to renounce his heresies, the bishop will then be asked to declare “that he is freely divested of the papacy.”
This summary also explains that this Letter is the third step of a process that began in the summer of 2016. The first consisted of a private letter with 45 signatories, addressed to all the cardinals and eastern patriarchs and denouncing the heresies or grave errors held or supported by the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. The second step presented a text titled Correctio filialis (Filial Correction), signed by 250 participants, made public in September 2017 and supported by a petition signed by 14,000 persons. It asked the pope to take a position on the grave deviations produced by his writings and his declarations. Finally, the present Open Letter, claims that Pope Francis is guilty of the crime of heresy and endeavors to prove it, because Pope Francis’ words and actions constitute a profound rejection of Catholic teaching on marriage, moral law, grace, and the forgiveness of sins. Already more than 5,000 people have signed the petition put online by the authors.
This initiative reveals the growing irritation and exasperation of many Catholics in the face of the writings and acts of the current Sovereign Pontiff. And certainly, there is good reason to worry when faced with Pope Francis’ teaching in moral matters. Moreover, there is a greater disturbance in Catholic opinion today over an error in this domain, than duplicity against the Faith. But the pope’s teaching is also deviant—if not more so—in matters of Faith.
Faced with an apparently unprecedented situation—although Church history, unfortunately, offers examples of time periods that were singularly troubled and close enough to ours—the temptation to resort to extreme measures can be easily understood. The situation of Catholicism is today so tragic, that only with difficulty could one condemn Catholics who try the impossible by reacting to and calling out the pastors to whom the flock is entrusted.
The Fruits of the Council
Nevertheless, it must first be noted that the trouble did not start yesterday. It began with the “third world war” that was, according to Archbishop Lefebvre, the Second Vatican Council. That Council, through its reforms, provoked “the auto-destruction of the Church” (Paul VI), by sowing ruin and desolation in the areas of faith, morals, discipline, priestly and religious life, the liturgy, catechism, and the entirety of Catholic life. But few observers really realize that. Even more rare still are those who will confront this universal destruction in a determined and effective way.
In fact, what we are witnessing with Pope Francis is only the ripening of the fruit. The poisoned fruit of a plant whose seed was developed in the progressive and modernist theological laboratories of the 1950s, like a GMO (genetically modified organism), a type of impossible interbreeding between Catholic doctrine and the liberal spirit. What is appearing today is no worse than Vatican II's novelties, but it is now a more visible and more complete manifestation. Just as the Assisi meeting under John Paul II in 1986 was only the fruit of the seeds of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue deposited at the Council, likewise the present pontificate illustrates the inevitable outcomes of the Second Vatican Council.
A Radical Approach Doomed to Failure
The second observation focuses on the modus operandi. Given the radical way in which the successors of the apostles are called out, we have to question what results are expected from such an action. Is this way of doing things prudent? Does it have a chance to succeed?
Let's ask about the recipients. Who are they? What formation have they received? What theology has been taught to them? How were they chosen? Given the way in which the incriminating texts have been received by the various episcopates in the world, it is highly probable, even certain, that the vast majority of bishops will not react. With a few exceptions, all of them seem to be prisoners of their corrupt formation and of a paralyzing collegiality if, by chance, one or the other wanted to be different.
And if they remain silent? What will happen then? What must be done? If this is not to note the failure of such an initiative that might ridicule the authors and their cause. This Open Letter is a waste of time—an action producing little effect, the fruit of a legitimate indignation but which falls into excess, at the risk of lessening its good influence.
Moreover, the danger of this approach may be in inducing its authors to deviate from the ongoing fight. We risk being captivated by the present evil, forgetting that it has roots, that it is a logical result of a tainted process at its origin. Like a pendulum, some believe they can magnify the recent past to better denounce the present, including counting on the magisterium of the popes of the Council—from Paul VI to Benedict XVI—to oppose Francis. This is the position of many conservatives, who forget that Pope Francis is only drawing out the consequences of the teachings of the Council and his predecessors. We cannot uproot an evil tree by only cutting off the last branch …
The Example of Archbishop Lefebvre
“What to do?”, some ask. Without parochialism or misplaced pride, we can say there is an example to follow, that of the Athanasius of modern times—Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Indeed, he spoke firmly against the direction taken by the modern popes. But in his fight for the Faith, he avoided falling into excess and never claimed to want to resolve all the problems inflicted on Catholic conscience by the crisis the Church that has been going on for more than half a century. He never lost the respect due to legitimate authority, but he knew how to correct firmly without allowing himself to judge it as if he were superior to it, while leaving to the Church of the future the task of resolving a presently insoluble question.
Archbishop Lefebvre fought on the doctrinal front, first at the Council, then with his many writings and conferences to combat the liberal and modernist hydra.
He fought on the front of tradition, both liturgical and disciplinary, to preserve the Church's ancient and august Sacrifice, by assuring the formation of priests chosen to perpetuate this essential action for the continuity of the Church.
He fought on the Roman front, calling out the ecclesiastical authorities on the excesses of Peter's barque, without ever getting tired or hardening, always in the light of a wonderful prudence drawn from prayer and strengthened by the examples and the teachings of 20 centuries of the papacy.
The results have proven that this was the right manner, the right way, as St. Paul said: “Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine” (II Tim 4:2). May the Virgin, our Queen, terrible as an army arrayed in battle, help us to “labor until our last breath for the restoration of all things in Christ, for the spreading of His Kingdom, and for the preparation of the glorious triumph of [her] Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart” (Consecration of the Society of Saint Pius X).