In an unprecedented demonstration of Catholic unity and dissent, a group of 62 members of the clergy and theologians from 20 different countries have sent a document to Pope Francis titled Correctio filialis de haeresibus propagates, which in English is translated “A filial correction concerning the propagation of heresies.”
A Correctio filialis is rare in the Catholic Church. No Filial Correction has been issued since 1333 when Pope John XXII was admonished over his view on the Beatific Vision. Pope John XXII “sustained the view that the souls of the just, even after their perfect purification in Purgatory, did not enjoy the Beatific Vision of God. Only after the resurrection of the flesh and the general judgment would they be raised by God to the vision of the Divinity.”
In the Filial Correction, these Catholic leaders accuse Pope Francis of propagating heresy by “words, deeds and omissions” and seek to correct him concerning his views on marriage, divorce, and who should receive the sacraments. In the introduction of the document, the signatories explain the reason for the Correction (all quotes are taken from the original document, a PDF copy of which can be downloaded here):
Most Holy Father,
With profound grief, but moved by fidelity to our Lord Jesus Christ, by love for the Church and for the papacy, and by filial devotion toward yourself, we are compelled to address a correction to Your Holiness on account of the propagation of heresies effected by the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia and by other words, deeds and omissions of Your Holiness (emphasis added).
Amoris laetitia, “The Joy of Love,” is an apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis which was released in 2016. Amoris laetitia deals with divorce, sexual mores, and pastoral practice. This apostolic exhortation allows divorced and remarried persons to take Communion under certain circumstances.
Amoris laetitia proved to be a controversial document. As a result, four cardinals sent a dubia to Pope Francis asking him to provide clarification on some of the statements in Amoris laetitia. The dubia consisted of five questions, or “doubts,” in which the cardinals requested a “yes” or “no” answer from the pope about Amoris laetitia. But, as Correction notes, “Those cardinals . . . who have submitted dubia to Your Holiness, in order that by this time honored method the truth of the gospel might be easily affirmed, have received no answer but silence.”
Concerning Amoris laetitia, the signatories wrote: “Scandal concerning faith and morals has been given to the Church and to the world by the publication of Amoris laetitia and by other acts through which Your Holiness has sufficiently made clear the scope and purpose of this document. Heresies and other errors have in consequence spread through the Church.”
The signatories reminded the pope that “the Petrine ministry has not been entrusted to you that you might impose strange doctrines on the faithful.” The Correction was issued “to protect our fellow Catholics – and those outside the Church, from whom the key of knowledge must not be taken away (cf. Lk. 11:52) – hoping to prevent the further spread of doctrines which tend of themselves to the profaning of all the sacraments and the subversion of the Law of God.”
The signatories list twelve passages from Amoris laetitia, which they say that, in conjunction with acts, words, and omissions of the pope, serve to propagate seven heretical propositions within the church.
Words, Deeds, and Omissions
The signatories then list the words, deeds, and omissions of the pope, which, together with the twelve passages from Amoris laetitia are contributing to the propagation of heresies within the Church. Among the words, deeds, and omissions of the pope are the following:
Your Holiness intervened in the composition of the Relatio post disceptationem for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. The Relatio proposed allowing Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics on a “case-by-case basis”, and said pastors should emphasize the “positive aspects” of lifestyles the Church considers gravely sinful, including civil remarriage after divorce and premarital cohabitation. These proposals were included in the Relatio at your personal insistence, despite the fact that they did not receive the two-thirds majority required by the Synod rules for a proposal to be included in the Relatio.
On January 17th, 2017, the Osservatore Romano, the official journal of the Holy See, published the guidelines issued by the archbishop of Malta and the bishop of Gozo for the reception of the Eucharist by persons living in an adulterous relationship. These guidelines permitted the sacrilegious reception of the Eucharist by some persons in this situation, and stated that in some cases it is impossible for such persons to practise chastity and harmful for them to attempt to practise chastity.
The Seven Propositions
The seven propositions, which the signatories believe promote heresies in the church are given in Latin with an English translation in the endnotes. The document says that “These propositions all contradict truths that are divinely revealed, and that Catholics must believe with the assent of divine faith. They were identified as heresies in the petition concerning Amoris laetitia that was addressed by 45 Catholic scholars to the cardinals and Eastern patriarchs of the Church.”
The Two Sources of Errors
The signatories believe that the source of the errors behind these seven heretical propositions is “a heretical system” that has influenced the pope. They wrote that “in order that our protest against the seven heretical propositions listed in this document may be complete; we wish to show, albeit in summary form, that these are not unrelated errors, but rather form part of a heretical system. Catholics need to be warned not only against these seven errors, but also against this heretical system as such, not least by reason of Your Holiness’s praise of the man who originated it.” Concerning these sources of error, they said that there are “two general sources of error which appear to us to be fostering the heresies that we have listed. We speak, firstly, of that false understanding of divine revelation which generally receives the name of Modernism, and secondly, of the teachings of Martin Luther.”
The Problem of Modernism
The signatories of the Filial Correction believe that one source that has influenced the pope of propagating heresy by “words, deeds and omissions” is modernism. On this issue, the signatories wrote: “The Catholic understanding of divine revelation is frequently denied by contemporary theologians, and this denial has led to widespread confusion among Catholics on the nature of divine revelation and faith.”
Because modernism says that God has not revealed truths to the church, a view that contributes to the “propagation of heresies within the Church,” the signatories felt compelled to explain the “Catholic teaching on faith, divine revelation, infallible magisterial teaching, and heresy.”
The Influence of Martin Luther
The Filial Correction then addresses the influence of Martin Luther, the man who originated the heretical system which the pope praises with his words. The signatories wrote: “we feel compelled by conscience to advert to Your Holiness’s unprecedented sympathy for Martin Luther, and to the affinity between Luther’s ideas on law, justification, and marriage, and those taught or favoured by Your Holiness in Amoris laetitia and elsewhere.”
Then, the signatories provide an example of the pope’s praise of Luther’s teaching:
Thus, in a press conference on June 26th, 2016, Your Holiness stated: I think that the intentions of Martin Luther were not mistaken. He was a reformer. Perhaps some methods were not correct. But in that time, if we read the story of the Pastor, a German Lutheran who then converted when he saw reality – he became Catholic – in that time, the Church was not exactly a model to imitate. There was corruption in the Church, there was worldliness, attachment to money, to power… and this he protested. Then he was intelligent and took some steps forward justifying, and because he did this [sic]. And today Lutherans and Catholics, Protestants, all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err.
In addition to stating that Martin Luther was correct on the doctrine of justification, the signatories also affirm that the pope has accepted Luther’s view that marriage is not a sacrament. They wrote:
Luther denies that marriage has any reference to sacramentality, on the grounds that we nowhere read in the Bible that the man who marries a woman receives a grace of God, and that neither do we read anywhere that marriage was instituted by God to be a sign of anything. He claimed that marriage is a mere symbol, adding that although it can represent the union of Christ with the Church, such figures and allegories are not sacraments in the sense we use the term. For this reason, marriage – whose fundamental aim is to conceive children and to raise them up in the ways of God – according to Luther belongs to the order of creation and not to that of salvation; it is given only in order to quench the fire of concupiscence, and as a bulwark against sin.
One of the signatories of the Correction was Rene Henry Gracida, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Corpus Christi. Gracida has expressed on his blog his deep concern “about the content of Amoris Laetitia, as well as the apparently illegal acts committed by cardinal electors in the election of Pope Francis.”
The “words, deeds and omissions” of Pope Francis has generated much tension within the Catholic Church. These 62 members of the clergy and theologians felt that they had the right and duty to issue this Filial Correction to the pope. They insist that his “words, deeds and omissions” related to Amoris laetitia have encouraged many to propagate heretical positions within the Church.
It is ironic that today, when many Protestants are going back to Rome to find sacramental religion, the pope is going back to Luther to find a non-sacramental view of marriage. On the issue of sola gratia and concerning the doctrine of justification, two distinguishing characteristics of Luther’s reform and two issues that have divided Catholics and Protestants for centuries, the pope said that, on these issues, Luther “did not err.”
These two issues and the “words, deeds and omissions” of the pope are the reason these 62 members of the clergy and theologians felt the need to submit the Correctio filialis de haeresibus propagates to Pope Francis.
Claude F. Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary