Well, that was a fun week in Catholicism. I’ve been very quietly sitting in my corner (or as quietly as I can) taking in all the commentary on the “heresy letter.” Dun…dun…dun!
First, let me say this. If you are a “Live Catholic or Die!” type of Catholic, you probably find Pope Francis, how should I say, problematic on most days. I’m sure “Ugh!” has gone through our minds on several occasions when hearing those lovely in-flight interviews, when a new document drops, or when we hear about “the Great Accuser.” It doesn’t mean that we are “alt-right” Catholics. (By the way, “alt-right” has now become synonymous with “Move along, people! Nothing to see here!”) In short, many have serious concerns. Generally, the people who are thinking “Oh, no!” on a regular basis are people of good will, whether or not you declare the pope a heretic.
So now this letter drops. Most of the people who just want to be Catholic without conflict at every turn are wondering what the heck they’re supposed to do with it. Do you ignore? Do you beg to sign it, too? Do you condemn the authors? Etc., etc., etc. Honestly, there are not simply two sides to this one, there are as many as the stars. It’s really complex and yet amazingly simple. For us, we need to educate ourselves as much as possible and follow our conscience. Form it and follow it.
To start, I would like to deal with some of the ridiculous opinions on this that I’ve seen. I suppose everyone wants to be on a team and have that team win and then they become super–fan-like. As a mom, it would just be nice to send them all to their rooms and tell them not to come out until they can get along.
“These are just a bunch of cranky Catholics who don’t like the Pope.” Really? Can it really be that simple? I’m pretty sure they are Catholics worried it might take years to undo the mess of ambiguity. Many are likely people with children and grandchildren and they worry about their suffering from the debacle the clergy, particularly the German bishops and many Jesuits, are making right now. Again, we might want to give people the benefit of the doubt that they are Catholics of good will. The things the authors point out may or may not amount to heresy, but they are super concerning at the least. I’ve had interactions with and like some of them. Sounds like everyone likes Fr. Aidan Nichols. The ones I’m familiar with aren’t those to simply be written off as fanatics who were bored.
“Those canon lawyers and theologians who say that the Pope’s actions don’t canonically constitute heresy are just being legalistic.” Uh, Canon Law is kind of important, people. You’d probably be the type that usually throws out a canon or two in defense of your position, anyway, so you’ve lost me with this argument. If it “technically” doesn’t amount to heresy, then it “technically” is not. Sigh. If you are championing a letter declaring heresy, defend it without whining, please. Also of note, most of the aforementioned canon lawyers and theologians are not cheerleading for Pope Francis. They still have great concerns. They’re just calling it as their Canon 212 duty tells them.
Following on that… ”The bishops who don’t back this letter are just worried about their jobs!” Again, really? Or could it be that they simply don’t believe it canonically meets the standards for heresy? Seems like just another hyperbolic argument. I’ve seen many bishops speak up for the dubia, the Vigano letters, the Weinandy letter, etc., yet they didn’t sign the “Easter Letter” and all of those previously held as heroes have been notably absent on backing the letter, too. Are we to assume they’re just worried about their jobs, as well? Or might they have the same take many others have?
“You’re going to hell if you’re wrong about this.” I’m so glad you know the mind of God here. Sigh. Would somebody care to tell St. Vincent that? He literally picked the wrong pope to follow. Yes, it’s a serious position to take and I’m glad I don’t feel compelled to take it but, geez! You might, at least, wait until somebody’s excommunicated for something before you go there.
“Those who argue against this letter are trying to hide behind ignorance.” That’s my favorite. Yeah, all those people who argue against it are soooooo undereducated. Just deserves one more “Really?!” I wish I could think of something more clever but that’s usually my go to when people are just debating poorly.
Now what is my position on the actual letter instead of the hype around it? Again, I think the authors of the letter had the best of intentions. They probably thought long and hard about it and they firmly believe it to be in accordance with the teachings of the Church. They did what their conscience dictated. Others have done the same and come to a different conclusion. Quite frankly, and this might run counter to others’ thoughts, but right or wrong, I think that the letter will only have a positive impact on the overall Church.
After reading and watching MANY commentaries on it, I feel that the canon lawyers who say it’s not heresy are probably right. This and this are probably the closest to my thoughts, although imperfect representations of them.
Why do I feel this way? Because I’ve read Pastor Aeternus (excerpt below, but please read it in its entirety) and Canon 212 many times.
“And since, by the Divine right of Apostolic primacy, the Roman Pontiff is placed over the Universal Church, We further teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful,  and that in all causes, the decision of which belongs to the Church, recourse may be had to his tribunal,  and that none may re-open the judgment of the Apostolic See, for none has greater authority, nor can anyone lawfully review its judgment.  Therefore, they stray from the right course who assert that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman Pontiffs to an Ecumenical Council, as if to an authority higher than that of the Roman Pontiff.
Can. 212 §1. Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church.
2. The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.
3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.
Nobody in this current debate ever seems to mention Pastor Aeternus. I feel Raymond Arroyo took the position of that document when he said the next pope is the one who will judge Pope Francis, which is exactly how it’s always been done in times of papal turmoil. That’s why I’m not going to get my knickers in a bunch over this or feel like I have to get entrenched on a “side.” Yes, we could get to a point of Fr. Fessio’s “What if…?” but let’s really hope it doesn’t come to that. It’s bad enough now.
Regardless of who is right or wrong (and even some saints have been wrong for parts of their lives), as Fr. Fessio pointed out, this letter is important because it shows the seriousness of the situation in our Church. It’s chaos. NOBODY can deny it. And as many have said, it should not be ignored, although I fear it will be, just as all the letters, corrections, dubias and testimonies so far. The old sticking fingers in ears and saying “lalalalalalalala!” seems to be their way.
So what am I going to do? I’m going to keep expressing my concerns in light of Canon 212 and my knowledge, competence and prestige (not that I have any of that). I’m also going to keep up my prayer of “May God open their eyes or close them.” I hope you will join me in this!