Pope Francis “needs to be fraternally corrected” because he has issued “Amoris Laetitia,” the post-synodal exhortation on the family, “that implies heresies,” and although he “does not directly contradict the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage, he does so indirectly,” Professor Claudio Pierantoni, an Italian who teaches in a university in Chile, stated at a conference in Rome today.Describing the situation in the church today as “very serious” because the pope is “defending heretical points,” the Italian professor compared it to two previous moments of crisis in the history of the papacy. First, when Pope Honorius in the 7th century was condemned by an ecumenical council for heresy and, secondly, when Pope Liberius was called “a traitor” by Saint Athanasius and other bishops for supporting a position not in accord with apostolic tradition, though he was not actually condemned for heresy.
The Italian professor was the most outspoken of the six speakers at a day-long conference titled “Seeking clarity to Amoris Laetitia, one year later,” held at the Hotel Columbus in Rome, a stone’s throw from the Vatican. The conference, which challenged Pope Francis’ teaching in Chapter 8 of “Amoris Laetitia,” was organized by two Italian news outlets with distinctly traditionalist leanings: Il Timone, a monthly review, and La Bussola Quotidiano, an online daily, edited by Riccardo Cascioli, a member of the Communion and Liberation movement. Both publications were supportive of the teachings of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI but have distanced themselves from that of Pope Francis.
The conference brought together six lay people from different countries “to reflect on the post-synod apostolic exhortation that has aroused grave perplexities and widespread unease in numerous components of the Catholic world.” It was presented as a follow-up to the letter (Sept. 16, 2016) sent to Pope Francis by four cardinals: Walter Brandmüller, Raymond L. Burke, Carlo Caffarra and Joachim Meisner, in which they presented a number of dubia (literally, “doubts”) regarding the church’s teaching in Chapter 8 of “Amoris Laetitia” and demanded “yes” or “no” answers. But when Francis did not answer their doubts, the letter was given to media friendly to their cause and made public (Nov.14, 2016), seeking to put pressure on the pope to do so, but without success.
Today’s event, attended by some 100 people, mostly laity, could be described as an extension of that public pressure-tactic, the difference being that it involved not cardinals or bishops but lay people: five men and one woman. Two of the five—Anna M. Silvas (Australia) and Claudio Pierantoni (Chile)—were among the signatories of a letter (Dec. 8, 2016) from 23 academics and pastors in support of the four cardinals’ request. Pierantoni also signed an earlier letter of dissent from “Amoris Laetitia” signed by 45 academics in June 2016, and has since called for a new council to settle the matter.
Another speaker, Douglas Farrow, from McGill University, Canada, expressed himself in a more nuanced though no less critical way of the pope. He had already made his general position abundantly clear in a March 2017 article, “Discernment of Situation” in the review First Things. Now he told the conference that “there is a crisis in the Church today, a crisis in several dimensions. There is a crisis of morality. There is a crisis of doctrine. There is a crisis of authority. There is a crisis of unity.” He compared this to the period of the Reformation when the Council of Trent “had to defend the sacraments governing confession, communion, and conjugality from coordinated, if somewhat chaotic, attacks” and he said, “the same three sacraments are threatened again today.”
Then as now, Farrow said, there is an urgent need for “the rooting out of heresy and the reform of conduct” but unlike at the time of the Reformation, “today there is the uncertainty that people inside the church feel about the pope’s own approach to the crisis.” While saying he saw much good in what the pope is doing and in “Amoris Laetitia,” nonetheless he declared, “I do share the concern of many around the world that the situation has evolved in such a way, not without some encouragement from the pope, that the dubia—we might even say, the notorious dubia—were deemed necessary.”
In the face of this crisis, he said, the church “must once again face—inside itself, precisely as the church—the question of its allegiance to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It “must decide, and give answer. And that answer ought to be voiced without hesitation by the successor of Peter.”He described the present crisis as one that has been much exacerbated (though not caused) by “Amoris Laetitia,” because that “well-grounded system” has begun to come apart, as it did in the 16th century. Where the Protestant reformers tried and failed to put it back together, the Council of Trent succeeded; but it can no longer be said, even in the Catholic Church, that “the preaching of the Church is everywhere consistent, and continues in a stable course” (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.24). On the contrary, bishop vies with bishop, and it must in all honesty be said of “Amoris Laetitia” that it appears to “think differently in regard to the same things at different times” (ibid.).
Anna M. Silvas, an Australian academic, linked the crisis in the church today to the issue of “modernity” and “that mood in the church that so greatly prizes ‘modernity’ and follows it at all costs.” Under St. John Paul II, she said, “we seemed to have something of a push back for a while, at least in some areas, especially his intense explication of the nuptial mystery of our first creation, in support of ‘Humanae Vitae.’” This continued under Pope Benedict XVI, “with some attempt to address liturgical decay, and the moral ’filth’ of clerical sexual abuse.”
But now, she said, “in the few short years of Pope Francis’ pontificate, the stale and musty spirit of the seventies has resurged, bringing with it seven other demons. And if we were in any doubt about this before, ‘Amoris Laetitia’ and its aftermath in the past year make it perfectly clear that this is our crisis.”
She charged “that this alien spirit appears to have finally swallowed up the See of Peter, dragging ever widening cohorts of compliant higher church leadership into its net, is its most dismaying, and indeed shocking aspect to many of us, the Catholic lay faithful.”
In her long, negative, and highly critical analysis she argued that “within the church, Francis and his collaborators deal with the matter of doctrine, not by confronting theory head on, because if they did so they would be defeated, but by an incremental change of praxis, played to the siren song of plausible persuasions, until the praxis is sufficiently built up over time to a point of no return.” She expressed her conviction that “the end game is a more or less indifferent permission for any who present for Holy Communion. And so we attain the longed for haven of all-inclusiveness and ‘mercy’.”
Then in a final blast at Francis, in whom she seemed to find nothing good, she charged that in the church today, “the pope is a skandalon (Greek word), the rock has become the stumbling block.” Fortunately, the other three speakers at the conference: a German journalist, Jűrgen Liminski; a French philosopher, Thibaud Collin; and an academic from the Cameroon, Jean-Paul Messina (Cameroon), did not go down such a negative track.
Correction: An earlier version of this story identified the publication,La Nuovo Bussola Quotidiano as La Bussola Quotidiano. Also, Professor Claudio Pierantoni was misquoted saying Pope Francis “needs to be formally corrected.” He said the pope needs to be "fraternally corrected."
This story has been updated.