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Gerard O’ConnellApril 22, 2017

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.

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Christopher Altieri
7 years 2 months ago

Serious question: from what, exactly, are the people involved in the conference dissenting?

The HF has claimed repeatedly - in person and through his appointed mouthpieces - to be teaching nothing in AL.

He has said repeatedly - most notably in the exhortation itself - that he is offering a pastoral reflection that presupposes the integrity of the Church's constant teaching on marriage and discipline with regard to Communion.

There are ambiguities of expression in the text, which nevertheless ought not create difficulty for any candid reader if those expressions are allowed to be controlled by the HF's own caveats.

Here we come to the rub: certain bishops and sometimes whole conferences have decided to apply the HF's pastoral guidelines in a manner not in keeping with the very tradition the HF himself says must control the interprrtation - and, we are given therefore to understand, application - of his pastoral thinking.

The HF has seemed from time to time to encourage those pastoral applications.

This has created confusion.

My purpose in all this rehearsal is not to defend AL's critics in either the substance or the mode of their criticism.

I only wish to know how their desire for clarity in these regards may be fairly described as dissent.

Tim O'Leary
7 years 2 months ago

Christopher - I do not align myself with the speakers at this conference, and do not like their style either. but I do think it would be good for the dubia to be addressed, to clear up the confusion. I think Pope Francis does not address it because he doesn't know what to say, exactly. This might not happen until the next pontificate.

I also smile at the use of the term "dissenter" in the title, when it is typically frowned upon when used in the comments section by the editors and others as overly critical (even when there is clear departure from Catholic teaching as formally described) of disagreements with the Magisterium. No matter how critical one is about AL, it cannot be doctrinal dissent against AL doctrine since the Holy Father and the CDF have multiple times emphasized there is no new doctrine in AL - they would have to be departing from the Catechism when they are all clamoring for adherence to the Catechism!

Dissent should not be used to describe people who are critical of a pope or bishop. It should only be applied to cases of knowing departure from formalized teaching (as in the Catechism, etc.).

Dominic Deus
7 years 2 months ago

I deleted a post which repeated an existing one. I need coffee.


Dominic Deus
7 years 2 months ago

Dominic Deus here.

It's not dissent. It's puffery. I await the response to your question. Perhaps it will be published in Latin, thereby making all matters clear and referencing ancient heretics, popes and saints who could not possibly have foreseen the future history of the world and the Church.

Best wishes,


Lisa Weber
7 years 2 months ago

I find it interesting that Anna Silvas is so critical of Pope Francis, but praises "Humanae Vitae." "Humanae Vitae" has been rejected by the Catholic laity in the USA because Catholic couples use contraception at the same rate as the general population - and those are the people who remained in the Church. How many people have abandoned the Catholic Church over "Humanae Vitae"? Pope Francis is trying to give pastors leeway to take into account human needs and situations. His critics seem to want a condemning and unwelcoming church - as though the Church is not losing members fast enough to suit them.

Dominic Deus
7 years 2 months ago

I, Dominic Deus, say "Piffle and piffle again!" ( FULL DISCLOSURE: I have previously referred to this this matter as "posh" and "drivel" hoping that it would flesh itself out beyond the dyspepsia of Four Cardinals.

Well, not yet.

Six dissenters, professors and clergy or not, meeting in Rome is a men's group getting together for cappuccino and cannoli until proven otherwise.

Adding one hundred attendees moves it from the bistro to the Holiday Inn small conference room used just last week by the World Conference of the Flat Earth Society.

This leaves us with the gravitas of the opinions expressed and ideas presented and, on that matter, I second the comments of my fellow posters above.

I would be happy to peer review the original texts of the presentations but first have to see a summary statement by each speaker and a synopsis of conclusions. Essentially, I'm suggesting a rigorous approach to evaluating the dubious *dubia*.

I hope that's not asking too much. iIf it is, there is always the bistro where critical thinking has to be compatible with coffee, sweet cream and pastries. It's the best atmosphere for resolving "fraternal" differences. ;-)

Oh, and about that "fraternal" things-- what with "Amoris Laetitia" being about family, maybe we should ask for "sororal"* corrections to "fraternal" huff and puff.

*Yes, it's a thing, a word, an adjective. It's about women--the other half of humanity without whom there would be no families?

Robert Killoren
7 years 2 months ago

Yes. I find similarities in their church-speak with those who deny climate change, hate environmentalists and everything that science has demonstrated to us about psychology, sociology, and creation of the universe.

John Schoonover
7 years 2 months ago

My goodness, why do we give so much attention to 100 people (out of 1.2 billion) who are willing to howl and publically dance about over a grace-filled exhortation by the Holy Father? It is fine to be outraged at their refusal to accept a magesterial teaching, but must we give them a bigger voice than they deserve by publicizing it? The secular media bite on these offerings by the far right every day (much to their delight) and then tut-tut frantically. Perhaps America could review their rantings, remark "Oh, how strange" to themselves, take their fingers off their keyboards and move on to something that is really important.

John Schoonover
7 years 2 months ago

Oops. Submitted twice and can't seem to delete. Sorry

Thomas Severin
7 years 2 months ago

Anna M. Silvas, an Australian an academic, linked the crisis in the Church today to the issue of 'modernity' and to "that mood in the Church that so greatly prizes 'modernity' and follows it at all costs. "
This quote says it all. We are witnessing the same mentality that led to the publication of "The Syllabus of Errors," which was a reaction to any and all of the contributions the Enlightenment made to our collective understanding of humanity and to our history and the world. It is anti science and anti reason and places all truth into the hands of a duly appointed hierarchy. There is no room for genuine theological inquire which involves "faith seeking understanding" using our life experience and our God given reason to do so.

Gay Timothy O'Dreary
7 years 2 months ago

Heresy this, sin that, it all makes for great theater and their need for attention.
They villified St Pope JP II for dozens of things: excommunication of SSPX, praying in Assisi with various religious leaders, stating salvation can be achieved outside of the Church, supporting Vatican II, supporting the Novus Ordo, praying with Jewish Rabbis, declaring the death penalty is unnecessary today (the horror!), allowing female altar servers, yada yada yada.


These people purport to be the "authentic" church all the while crucifying Christ gleefully with utter self-confidence.


Viva el Papa.

Word has it that Ramond Cardinal Burke hasnt been seen lately because she is lost in her cappa magna. I know a few drag queens who would love to get a hold of all that red silk! They would do a marvelous impersonation of her worshipfulness but with less look of constipation.

Robert Killoren
7 years 2 months ago

My uncle was a radioman on bombers during WWII living in California during training. It was the first time he was out of Kansas. He met a girl, fell in love and got married by a priest before he shipped out. He found out that the marriage didn't affect her dating habits one bit, and she had many "affairs." This happened to a lot of boys. Girls would marry them for the death benefits or for pity without any real commitment. After the war he attempted to get an annulment. The bishop of his diocese did not believe in annulments and never granted them. He got remarried outside of the Church. He and his wife (who did not convert because she would immediately be guilty of adultery) went to Mass every Sunday and supported the parish Church fully. They had seven children that they raised in the Church. It took 40 years and repeated attempts to annul the first marriage but finally they were free to have their marriage blessed by the Church. My aunt converted immediately. Do I believe that he lived all those years in adultery? No. He was treated unjustly by the Church and by the bishop who saw everything in black and white. Today there would be no question that the marriage should have been annulled but there are still dioceses where that attitude still exists. Why are there such hard-hearted people? Give to pastors the ability to treat special situations in a special way. Let them give annulments if necessary. Otherwise we might as well get rid annulments because we need to take Jesus literally: what God has joined together let NO ONE separate.

Richard Booth
7 years 2 months ago

I just came across this article and thought to myself, Is this topic still getting yet more print space? Francis should not answer the dubia. Let the "dissenters" figure it out for themselves - if they have the capacity to do so. Few professors, I suspect, would unravel the entirety of "King Lear" for their students because students need to learn how to think things through for themselves, with guidance. Tradition and orthodoxy should be guidance enough for the skull-capped Wunderkinds.

7 years 2 months ago

As a hospice and hospital Chaplain, I have heard countless stories from people living at the margins of life lamenting their alienation from the Church of their birth because of errors--and yes, sin--in their earlier lives. They long for reconciliation, but have heard only dogmatic directives over time. Fortunately for some, there have been a few presbyters who have heard "the cry of the poor" and have reached out to them. But apparently not enough of us--lay and ordained--have taken to heart our Lord's injunction to "Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners" (Mt. 9:13). I am not advocating an abandonment of the Tradition or a misguided sense of indulgence, but I will argue that, as a priest friend once remarked, "To read the Bible does not absolve one of the responsibility of thinking; " to which I would add, the obligation to reflect seriously on the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:10-14).

Mike Evans
7 years 2 months ago

Everybody has their own favorite "heresy." For me it would be to Ordain women as deacons, priests, bishops and even Pope. I have worked directly alongside many women clergy, even substituted to lead their congregations in Sunday worship. I grew up among dedicated and cheerful sisters who I still consider friends. This current trend to elevate every Tridentine gesture as the Lord's own rubrics for absolute universal assent is Today's most repugnant heresy. Let them sing, pray and even dance to their own culture, gladness and content.

Bruce Snowden
7 years 2 months ago

Plain and simple, if moral theology to be useful and effective, it should be informed by human realism, as Pope Francis knows and lives. Many laity too know this, priests as well know this, but too many of the ordained are tied to lifeless theological texts having little or nothing to do with "the smell of the sheep" being nothing other that "clashing cymbals and sounding brass" noisy and flashy, rigid and cold. This the opinion of a Catholic layman who knows a little about many things, but not very much about anything. One of the things he knows, is, Holy Father Francis is right, the Dubia, wrong.

James Scott
7 years 1 month ago

In the light of the contents of the article, including as it does the observation: "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," I for one find it worrying that the reporter should then choose to single out the contribution by the only woman involved, Dr Anna Silvas, herself an expert on patristics and so inevitably au fait with technical Greek language based terminology, in the terms he did viz as a " long, negative, and highly critical analysis."

Given the issues at stake, would he have preferred a power point presentation? Or a few jokes? Does he think that she and the other contributors came to the podium with anything but the heaviest of hearts and the most serious of intentions?

Has she in her academic and church roles "got form," as we say in British English, as a dissenter (sic), still less as a serial dissenter against papal teaching such as might lead her to come insouciantly to a public event of this gravity with a light heart and a merry quip or two? Perhaps even a twinkle in her eye such as would immediately win the hearts of journalists covering the event?

On the second part of the headline, is it not more than a trifle disingenuous of Pope Francis to constantly stress the need for pastors to relish "the smell of the sheep" yet persist himself in obdurately treating the apparently heartfelt concerns of 4 cardinals, one of whom sadly for his credibility seems to think that raiding the dressing up box is an essential element of church leadership, with quite the frigid disdain that he still does?

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