Search This Blog

Monday, March 6, 2017

Question for Monday: Did Francis Formally Profess Heresy?

Guest Post

By David Martin

In an interview with Catholic World Report (CWR) in December 2016, Cardinal Raymond Burke, archbishop and patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said that if a pope were to "formally profess heresy he would cease, by that act, to be the Pope."

The cardinal was reiterating Church teaching, as expressed by famed canonist Franz Wernz in his Ius Canonicum: "In sum, it needs to be said clearly that a [publicly] heretical Roman Pontiff loses his power upon the very fact." Burke stressed that he was "not saying that Pope Francis is in heresy," but was simply pointing out that it "could happen" that a pope could formally profess heresy.

Formal heresy occurs when a baptized member of the Church, having sufficient knowledge and having given sufficient reflection, obstinately denies an infallible article of faith. Canon law defines formal heresy as "the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith." (1983 Canon 751) Canonical tradition recognizes that "a given pope can fall into personal heresy and that he might even promote such heresy publicly."

An example of formal heresy would be the adamant denial of the historicity of the Resurrection or the Virgin Birth, or the assertion that Catholic priests are not vested with the power to forgive sins, as was alleged by Martin Luther.

Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetita appears to contain such heresy. Paragraph 297 states: "No one can be condemned forever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel! Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves."

According to Francis, unrepentant sinners of any kind, be they rapists, thieves, pedophiles, killers, abortionists, thugs, Mafia members, or apostates, will never be condemned eternally to the fires of hell.

This clearly contradicts the Church's dogmatic teaching on divine justice. Benedict XII declared in his Dogmatic Constitution Benedictus Deus: "The souls of those who die in a personal grievous sin descend immediately into hell, where they will be tormented by the pains of hell." Dz 531. Cf. Dz 429, 464, 693, 835.

Unfortunately, these torments are eternal. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) teaches that "the reprobate" will receive "perpetual punishment with the devil." Dz 429. Cf. Dz 40, 835, 840. The Athanasian Creed likewise teaches that "they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire." Holy Writ makes it clear that the torments of the dammed "shall ascend up forever and ever." (Apoc. 14:11)

If Francis had asserted his denial in the context of one of his "plane ride" interviews or at the local cafe, it could perhaps be argued that the heresy was material, and not formal, but given the fact that he said this in the context of an authoritative papal document, and very emphatically at that—after serious reflection and full consent—it appears to leave no question as to the nature of the heresy.

Francis’ rationale for denying eternal punishment is that it is "not the logic of the Gospel." Let us turn then to the Gospel to see the verdict which Christ himself will declare to the negligent upon His Second Coming in Majesty: "Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink... And these shall go into everlasting punishment." (Matthew 25:41,42,46)

Again the Gospel says: "If thy hand, or thy foot scandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee. It is better for thee to go into life maimed or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into everlasting fire." (Matthew 18:8)

There has been much controversy in recent months over the four cardinals in request of clarification of Francis' position on granting Communion to those living in adultery, but maybe they should seek clarification as to whether or not Pope Francis really denies the reality of eternal punishment. Because as it reads, his statement in Amoris Laetita 297 constitutes a radical break from what the popes and saints of the past 2000 years have taught concerning punishment and hell.

This is not to mention the ongoing contempt Francis has shown for Apostolic tradition, even dubbing "idolatry" strict adherence to this tradition against the tide of change. Should the pope continue in dubia of Church tradition, the faithful have no recourse but to resist his errors, in keeping with the Papal Bull Cum Ex Apostolatus (1559) which states that in the case of a bishop or pope that might fall into "some heresy," it is always the right and duty of the faithful to resist and repudiate their errors.

Even so, as Cardinal Burke says, members of the College of Cardinals would have to be the ones to declare the pope is in formal heresy, as it is not the place of the laity to do this. Burke said there is a process within the Church for dealing with such a situation.

In the meantime, it could very well be that the man sitting on the Throne of Peter has already lost his Petrine powers through his fall to heresy. The declaration of the cardinals simply makes official what already is the case, it doesn't establish the fact.

So while concerned cardinals are engaged in dispute over the hot-button issue of granting Communion to civilly remarried adulterers, it might behoove them to diverge a bit and take the magnifying glass to paragraph 97 of Amoris Laetita, and to consider what this could mean for the Church. According to Cardinal Burke, such inquiry would reflect a true love of the Papacy and the Church.

Concerning his own dubia over Pope Francis' unwillingness to clarify his position on Communion to adulterers, Burke said: "I have absolute respect for the Petrine office. If I didn’t care about him [Francis] and his exercise of the Petrine office, I would just remain silent and let everything go as it is. But because in conscience I believe he has an obligation to clarify these matters for the Church, I made it known to him, not just on this occasion, but on other occasions. The publication of the dubia was done with complete respect for his office. I am not the enemy of the Pope."


  1. Thanks David,

    This article has interesting and useful information on what constitutes heresy, but I think the statement you cite doesn't support that the pope has committed it. The pope is unclear. A possible interpretation is that he is talking about there being no unforgivable sin before death rather than there is no sin that can lead one to hell at all.

    Certainly many women who commit abortion and regret it are afraid they have committed the unforgivable sin. It is a valid interpretation of the pope's comment that he is addressing issues like that in his unclear and confusing way. I don't think an accusation of heresy can stand on such an ambiguous statement.

  2. Paragraph 297: "No one can be condemned forever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel! Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves." From paragraph 296: "The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for ever; it is to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart… "
    While David's analysis is quite plausible, these two paragraphs fall under the heading "The discernment of irregular situations," not "Heaven, Hell, and Salvation." In context, P. Francis is speaking to Catholics in irregular marriages/cohabiting and their pastoral care. But these bold statements are a very strange way of communicating that idea. There is never a hint that people could imperil their souls, but only of the Mercy of God and pastoral ways to help such as these. I believe P. Francis is planting his true beliefs amidst these concerns, with just enough plausible deniability to avoid another dubia.

  3. Mary, he's talking about unrepentant sinners not those who feel horrible about their sin and seek forgiveness. So, those who are not repentant will be punished...forever, which the pope said isn't the gospel but it is the gospel from the mouth of Jesus our Lord!!!

  4. Mary Ann,

    He is talking about unrepentant sinners...obviously the women you talk about feel horrible about their sin. His point is that Jesus Himself called unrepentant sinners to punishment in hell forever. So for the pope to say that no one can be condemned forever, that isn't the logic of the gospel, is very anti gospel since Jesus himself talked about hell..which is forever punishment.

  5. I agree with you, Dan. He seems to sow deliberate confusion while giving himself the loophole of "plausible deniability."

  6. Good post, with one quibble. You say, "unfortunately, these torments (of Hell) are eternal." Saying this is "unfortunate" blasphemously castigates His Divine Will and denies His Perfect Justice. Perhaps that's not what you meant.

  7. No matter what Pope Francis says, I'm staying Catholic.

  8. Francis makes it clear that he is not speaking only of those in irregular marriages or cohabitation, "but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves." He goes out of his way to say he makes no exception. So according to Francis, anyone in any situation, whether they commit murder or rape, forgivable or unforgivable sin, or whether they are repentant or unrepentant, can never be condemned forever. What he is denying is the idea of eternal condemnation, as Origen did. His ideas were condemned by the Synod of Constantinople.

    If in fact [as Dan suggested] Francis is speaking only of those in cohabitation, then he is speaking of those who are not repentant, since there in no sincerity or repentance in shacking up, so their chances of receiving eternal condemnation with no mercy is all the greater. It would make Francis' statement all the more absurd.

    According to Francis, such people do not need to repent and ask forgiveness, evidenced by the way he blesses their sinful lifestyle, thereby deceiving them with false mercy. Mercy is granted only to the contrite and humble, but hardened sinners who continue in their "concrete situations" will be banished to the fires of eternity without repentance. There is nothing in these relationships that needs to be "discerned." Sin is sin, and adultery is adultery, and those living in these situations can receive no blessing in this life, or the life to come. The sacraments they now receive only augment their reprobation, which is no mercy to them.

    What these people and their pope need to do is "discern" Holy Scripture a little better. To them St. Paul says: "Know you this and understand, that no fornicator, or unclean, or covetous person (which is a serving of idols), hath inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." (Ephesians 5:5)

  9. As Fr. George Rutler recently said, "Wolves in sheep's clothing are dangerous, but wolves in shepherd's clothing are much worse!"

  10. God is just and does not forgive if the sinner is not repentant. God respects the decision of the sinner. It is unrepentant sinners that are sent to hell, or more accurately decide to not go to heaven because they are unrepentant. That's what it comes down to. It is a hopeful idea that all will be saved but rather unrealistic.

  11. "While Francis is vague and ambiguous it cannot be said that his magisterium is heterodox, but rather non-existent for how confusing it is." - A Buenos Aires journalist

    And the day he actually pontificates that Islam is an Abrahamic Faith and Allah is the same as our God, and that all religions are one is the day he will ipso facto be a heretic like his buddy Martin Luther. I pray for his conversion however it's incredibly hard. Nevertheless, maybe Bergoglio's conversion will be the way God will save His Church.

  12. In fairness to David, I do believe P. Francis holds to some form of universalism, but it is hidden out in the open in paragraphs 296 and 297, where he can insist he only refers to Catholics in irregular marriages/relationships. If the 4 dubia cardinals thought they had the goods on P. Francis on this issue, I believe they would have included this passage. That they didn't is significant.