An FAQ for All Christians on Divorce, Pope Francis and the Bishops Questioning Him

The pope's new teaching on divorce has bishops bitterly split.

By John Zmirak Published on November 25, 2016

Q: What is this controversy among Catholics and Pope Francis about?

A: It concerns the appearance that Pope Francis is trying to change a perennial Catholic doctrine.

Q: Why would he do that?

A: You’d have to ask him. I was the English language editor of his first book, but I couldn’t make head or tails of what he was saying. Francis makes no pretense of being a systematic thinker. So it’s sometimes hard to tell if he’s simply speaking (and writing) imprecisely, or is using imprecision as a cover for doctrinal change.

Q: You’ve got cardinals asking the pope to clarify his teaching, with other bishops condemning them as schismatics and heretics simply because they have asked for clarification. Fundamental teachings on things like marriage are being treated completely differently from one city to another. (For instance, your Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia is doing one thing, while the German bishops are doing the opposite.) It sounds like you are on the brink of a civil war.

A: Yes, we might be. The Roman Catholic Church is facing its greatest crisis of authority since the Protestant Reformation, which started exactly 500 years ago. The faithful are deeply divided, profoundly confused and looking for guidance.

Catholic Bishops are Fighting Over the Future of Marriage

Q: So what’s it about? What’s really at stake?

A: Those questions need two different answers.

The current fight between Pope Francis and the conservative bishops is about whether people who entered a sacramental Catholic marriage, then got divorced and started sleeping with somebody else — for instance, someone who stood up with them in front of a justice of the peace for a civil “marriage” — are committing the serious sin of adultery. If so, can they receive Holy Communion anyway — though the Church has always forbidden that as what St. Paul called “eating and drinking death” (1 Cor., 11:29)?

But this battle is part of a larger war over something even deeper and graver: the abandonment of traditional Christian morality up and down the line in the name of “compassion.” Will the Catholic Church stay on the same straight and narrow that Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI were following? Or will it traipse along behind the Episcopal and other mainline Protestant churches, remaking the Gospel to suit the editors of the New York Times?

This battle is really a pretext for something even deeper and graver: the abandonment of traditional Christian morality up and down the line in the name of “compassion.” Will the Catholic Church stay on the same straight and narrow that Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI were following? Or will it traipse along behind the Episcopal and other mainline Protestant churches?

Q: I don’t see how that follows. There are plenty of conservative evangelical churches that don’t take your stance on marriage and Communion, but they’re solid on homosexuality, abortion, and other issues where the culture is pushing apostasy.

A: Unlike most Protestant churches, we Catholics see marriage as a sacrament that can’t be dissolved, every bit as much as baptism. That’s how we read what Jesus said on the subject. And it’s how we’ve always read it, since the early Church. Anyone who divorces for any reason and marries again commits adultery, and hence should not receive Holy Communion unless he repents and commits himself to celibacy in the new relationship — a teaching reaffirmed by Pope John Paul II. But he was only explaining and applying what the Council of Trent had already taught in an infallible, dogmatic statement.

For us, that holds the same weight as the teachings about the divinity of Christ at the Council of Nicaea. For a pope to overturn a teaching of a council like that attacks the core principle of Catholic teaching — continuity and faithfulness to what was passed down from the apostles. That principle is as important to us as the inerrancy of Scripture is to serious Protestants. Imagine if the leadership of your church were thinking of rejecting inerrancy.

Q: I’d just find a new church.

A: We don’t really have the option to vote with our feet and still be Catholic. But continue the comparison. Churches that give up on inerrancy, don’t they pretty quickly cave in on all the other issues where the culture is putting Christians under pressure? As I wrote in 2014:

If the pope permits divorced couples who now live in extramarital relationships to receive Holy Communion without repenting and promising celibacy, he will be sanctioning one of two things: adultery or polygamy. … Liberals will smell this “reform” as blood in the water and hunger for more: homosexual marriage, women bishops, and the rest of the progressive death-wish-list.

Q: What about annulments? Haven’t you been handing those out like business cards at a sales convention?

A: The Church has always allowed for “annulments” of unions that turned out not to be valid marriages — for instance, where one of the spouses was either insane or coerced. Now, those annulments were widely abused in recent decades, especially in America and especially by the Kennedys. Popes John Paul and Benedict tried to crack down on that. (Pope Francis reversed their reforms.) In our official teaching, the Church has always held firm to the apostolic principle that marriage is for life. In effect, though he denies it, that’s what Pope Francis is challenging.

Erasing the Legacies of John Paul II & Benedict XVI

Q: How’d you get to this pretty pass? I thought that John Paul and Benedict had cleaned house.

A: The Church has blown up ugly in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI’s mysterious decision to resign in 2013, and his replacement by Pope Francis — whose election was sought by a cabal of elderly left-wing bishops who had never really approved of John Paul II or Benedict. A leader of that group was Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium, one of the worst culprits in the cover-up of clerical sex abuse. Danneels had also congratulated the Belgian government for legalizing same-sex “marriage,” and urged that country’s king to sign a bill legalizing abortion.

Q: Wow, Danneels sounds like some marginal figure …

A: He was, until his favorite candidate became the pope. In 2015, despite his squalid track record, Danneels was invited by Pope Francis to emerge from retirement and take part in a worldwide synod of bishops discussing moral teaching. At the first Synod in 2014, his fellow progressives from wealthy, empty churches in Western Europe had pushed for radical changes in Church teaching, including de facto acceptance of divorce and remarriage, and an embrace of homosexual identity as a gift from God.

Q: Did the bishops accept that?

A: No, they voted all of it down. Bishops from Africa, Poland, and other faithful regions stood firm. But Pope Francis insisted that these radical proposals be published as part of the Synod’s final statement. In the 2015 synod — where Danneels was an honored speaker — the bishops again rejected any change in Church teaching. So Pope Francis overruled them, and published Amoris Laetitia, which unilaterally imposed (via one ambiguous footnote) what appears to be a fundamental change in the Church’s practice concerning the sacraments of marriage and the eucharist.

Jesus Said to You One Thing, But I Say unto You…

Q: What did that document say?

Amoris Laetitia, according to a letter which Pope Francis sent to the bishops of Argentina and to statements by papal allies and spokesmen, appears to make room for people who are sexually active in an adulterous second “marriage” to receive Holy Communion. That change, if implemented throughout the Church, by strict necessity implies a change of doctrine — as surely as if a pope started ordaining women.

Q: So this is what conservative bishops are upset about? The threat to marriage?

A: Yes, and the attack on something much more fundamental: the promise we believe that Jesus made to St. Peter, that the Holy Spirit would stop any pope or any council from bastardizing dogmas of the faith. Not that God inspires popes and councils with new revelations, or even keeps them from being corrupt or simply stupid. Just that He would veto any new, heretical teaching. That is all infallibility means. (See my 2011 explanatory video below.) 

 

Q: Did you get that promise wrong?

A: Excellent question. Four prominent, doctrinally conservative cardinals felt that it was their duty to, in effect, publicly question the orthodoxy of Amoris Laetitia. The cardinals respectfully invited Pope Francis to clarify the document — essentially begging him to correct it and render its teaching compatible with the New Testament, as Catholics have always read it.

Q: Did he do that?

A: No. In fact, he skipped a private meeting with those and other cardinals, then addressed them all in public, slamming Christians who engage in “polarization and animosity.” The leader of Catholic bishops in Greece went further, denouncing these four cardinals as schismatics and heretics, themselves ineligible to receive Communion. Francis’ defenders, including recently appointed progressive Cardinal Blaise Cupich of Chicago, have insisted that Pope Francis’ document invoked his full authority, and is protected by God from error.

Q: Is anyone sticking up for the four cardinals?

A: Three bishops as of today, including Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia. [NOTE: Abp. Chaput’s office has contacted us, and says that he takes no stand on the cardinals’ statement.]  Many surely sympathize with them. Defending the four cardinals, the aptly named Bishop Athanasius Schneider compared the situation in the Catholic Church today to the Arian crisis, when Pope Liberius came down on the side of heretics who diluted authentic Christian doctrine on the full, co-equal divinity of Jesus — even excommunicating St. Athanasius of Alexandria, who was later vindicated and named a Father of the Church.

Q: So you all are back to the fourth century now?

A: We’re worse off, actually. Back then, under political pressure, Liberius accepted an ambiguous doctrinal statement and unjustly punished a faithful bishop. Today we face a pope who might invoke his supreme authority to overturn a Church teaching that was already taught infallibly, and practiced for almost 2,000 years — to suit the sensibilities of secular, modern post-Christians. This divorce and remarriage question is just the thin end of the wedge, as you can tell from the rest of the radical demands that liberal bishops made in 2014, which Pope Francis published. If the Church caves on this, the floodgates open.

Q: So what does this mean for the authority of your church?

A: If Pope Francis does not reverse course and reconcile his teaching on divorce and remarriage with perennial church teaching, but instead makes a new teaching binding on all Catholics, then he will be teaching heresy — full stop, and imposing it on the whole Church. If infallibility doesn’t stop that, I don’t see what use it is.

Q: Can’t you just declare him a heretic and depose him?

A: No, we cannot. Vatican I in 1870 taught that popes can teach infallibly, and that they cannot be judged by anyone or ever removed from office.

Q: But God can’t contradict Himself either. He can’t let you teach one thing at the Council of Trent, then the opposite today.

A: No, He can’t.

Q: How can the doctrine of papal infallibility survive this?

A: Fans of logic will note that it can’t. If Pope Francis continues on the course he has chosen, he will prove, empirically, that this teaching was never true in the first place.

Q: What will that mean for the First Vatican Council?

A: That council, and every other council the Catholic Church has held since the great Schism with the Orthodox in 1054, will be called into question. The Orthodox theory, that it was Rome which went off the rails back then, will start looking pretty persuasive. Last time I checked, making the case for that was not the Roman pontiff’s job.

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  • JWebelo

    Wow! As a Protestant, I appreciate the primer on the current papal situation. A pope trying to change this doctrine would be a sign of the times, and not of good ones. I have long appreciated the Catholic defense of marriage, though am not in complete accord with it. We Protestants, including Evangelicals, have really dropped the ball on marriage, I believe, and treated it as a much smaller thing than the conjugal union our Lord created. John, your article was to the point and delightfully honest in these ambiguous, obfuscating times. Thank you!

  • ArthurMcGowan

    Francis is on course to proving he is not Pope. This would have two happy effects: 1) saving Papal Infallibility; 2) sending Cardinal Bergoglio to retirement in Buenos Aires.

  • Deacon Keith Fournier

    Dear John

    You are one of my favorite writers. But, this article troubles me somewhat – in what it fails to emphasize. Especially within this context. It is an article which will be widely read by Christians across the confessional spectrum.

    This question and answer approach to this vital subject, marriage and the domestic church of the Christian family, is helpful in some respects. In a simple and well written manner it sets forth one of several challenges we face within the communion of the Catholic Church in 2016.

    However, Amoris Laetitia, the Joy of Love,
    is simply an apostolic letter. The response of the good Bishops who raised their concerns (and, for our other Christian friends, “Cardinal” is simply an honorary term and not an order), they are doing what has been done for 2000 years. They are fulfilling their role! This is not dissent. In fact, it is how the Holy Spirit protects the deposit of faith.

    It is precisely in this kind of rough and tumble that disputes in the family have often gotten worked out. Sometimes, they even lead us to a Church Council. Who knows, might be time.

    What this good article does not do is give a full historical context. I know it is not possible to do in one article. But, I thought I should respond, since your piece has already prompted my email box filling up with questions. Yes, your writings are widely read.

    We, meaning those in full communion with the Catholic Church, have been through much, much worse in our long history. You and I both know that. As we came through those challenges – and they were much more difficult challenges – strengthened at the end of them, we will come through this one as well. The gates of hell will not prevail…

    Because, after all, Jesus Christ is the Lord of His Church. Jesus Christ is the Head of His Church. Stay tuned John and keep praying. And, while you use this powerful gift of yours for writing, please keep praying for your brother Fr Jorge Bergoglio, Pope Francis.

    There are other fronts on which this interesting Bishop of Rome, this Pope named after the poor man of Assisi is poised to move us forward and toward on. Some of this efforts are very good and are fostering genuinely needed change. Such as, promoting the healing of divisions with other Christians.

    God bless your good work John.

    Your brother in the Lord,

    Deacon Keith Fournier

    • Zmirak

      Dear Keith,
      Thanks for your kind note. I would like to ask you, for the purpose of understanding your concept of papal authority: Is there ANYTHING a pope could do or say, apart from a literal “ex cathedra” statement overturning a previous “ex cathedra” statement or conciliar dogmatic decree, that would (should it happen) empirically disprove papal infallibility? If a pope started ordaining women, and ordered every bishop in the Church to do so? What if he issued an apostolic letter endorsing abortion and ordered Catholic hospitals worldwide to perform them? What if invented an eighth sacrament of “Empathetic Listening” and (via apostolic letter and papal arm-twisting) got it introduced worldwide?
      I find it fundamentally dishonest the way papal maximalists let presumptive infallibility “leak” onto every papal statement, and pretend that papal elections are divinely guided, then back away whenever you cite events that disprove their claim–oh, that wasn’t ex cathedra. We need to make up our minds: If ONLY ex cathedra statements, and virtual repetitions of past Magisterial statements are infallible–the narrow case which you’re making–FINE. Then let us robustly and fearlessly challenge outrageous statements such as those made by this pope, and laugh off those who treat papal statements like Delphic Oracles. But arguments like mine are needed to FORCE liars like Cardinal Cupich to face the consequences of invoking the Magisterium to force heresy on the faithful. At some point, if you use a tool improperly, you break it–as papal excommunications lost all impact once Renaissance popes abused them for personal gain.

      • Piers Forrester

        Dear John

        I agree with much of your article and your response to Keith above. But perhaps we do need to rethink the dogma of infallibility. As Keith rightfully affirms, papal infallibility has very narrow parameters, i.e. the teaching of a pope is only infallible when it is an ex cathedra statement about faith or morals that explicitly binds all the faithful. AL clearly falls outside of this. So AL doesn’t challenge the point of the dogma of papal infallibility, but the point of the papacy itself.

        So if non-infallible papal teaching can potentially undermine the faith and the function of the papacy itself (the examples you cite are helpful here: an apostolic letter endorsing abortion, or an apostolic letter endorsing adultery in some cases), how does infallibility even help us?

        The answer seems obvious. The church’s teaching on infallibility (both of the extraordinary and ordinary magisterium) gives the faithful a sure guide to avoid being led astray by even the highest authorities of the Church. You seem to be suggesting that the papacy is pointless unless one can trust the reigning pope to steer one clear or error. But if avoiding error and holding onto the true faith involved nothing more than following the ordinary magisterium of the current pope, then what, in the lives of the faithful, would be the point of the dogma of infallibility? (What would be the point of Christ’s warning against false prophets?)

        Surely the dogma of infallibility was given to the Church by the Holy Ghost precisely for times like these, so that we can avoid being led astray by those who teach things contrary to what is already settled. It’s no coincidence that it was given to the Church at the last council before the confusion of Vatican II.

        In Christ
        Piers

    • ArthurMcGowan

      “It is precisely in this kind of rough and tumble that disputes in the family have often gotten worked out.”

      Just because there has been “rough and tumble” in the past doesn’t mean that some people are not being damnably dishonest, and are not damnably corrupt, morally and intellectually.

      “Sometimes, they even lead us to a Church Council. Who knows, might be time.”

      GOD FORBID!!!!!!!!!!

  • Mel Scharf

    Typical Catholic legalism..
    Jesus did not say for any reason at all..
    He gave one exemption.. if your spouse commits adultery then you can divorce..

    The apostle Pual gives another reason if your unbelieving spouse leaves you.. “then you are free”..
    That is why Protestants follow the Word of God instead of the “infallible Popes”.. what a joke.

    • Richard Malcolm

      The same Protestants who permit divorce for pretty much any reason, and make remarriage no bar to membership or communion? What does that reduce the decree of Christ on marriage in the Synoptic Gospels? A loose guideline?

      • Mel Scharf

        The Catholic Hippocrates are astonishing.. you make the word of God Null and Void.. You burned to death men who dared to translated the word of God into a language that the common people could read..

        Sold the Papacy, sold Bishop offices, sold salvation itself and STILL DO.. sold indulgences to build Saint Peters Basilica.. murdered its own people.. Burned to death saints of GOD..

        Used the fear of hell to build most of your beautiful empty buildings… filled with dead men’s bones.

        Truly Catholicism is a Great evil on this earth with it vast wealth let lets nations of people starve while it fills its coffers with lands and Gold with NO resemblance to the Apostles….

        It even elects a Pope who does not even know that Islam has a different God then Christians, a Marxist leftist unbeliever, preaching the Gospel of global warming..

        You Catholics with your “infallibility” it is a sin.. it is written “he who says he has no sin in a LIAR and the truth is NOT in him.. ..

        Catholics teach doctrines of Demons.. Your priest hood of unmarried males is an abomination.. again making the word of God null and void..

        You have sodomites and pedophiles up and down the hierarchy ladder..

        You clean up your own log jam in your own eye..

        We will take all the sinners into our churches and you can have the righteous in yours,

  • Michael Gore

    Man… and Catholics say that Sola Scriptura is the blueprint for anarchy… I think this is what comes of placing the Roman Catholic Church’s magisterium in the position of ultimate authority. What mechanism is there then to correct course when the ones in error are the ones who determine what error is?

  • Seeking

    This is disconcerting. As one who is having unilateral divorce forced upon them, I have found no churches that support my decision to continue to honor the covenant into which I entered, by remaining celibate and standing for my marriage, regardless of court actions or those of my spouse. I have yet to find a pastor who isn’t quick to dismiss the sin of adultery in this fashion, or in my spouses’ decision to begin a new live-in relationship while we are still married with a flippant “we deserve to be happy.” Since when is “I deserve to be happy” a suitable substitution for repentance?

    The Catholic church, was my last hope in believing that there was a church that still honors God’s word and hasn’t given in to the world’s system and happiness centered doctrines of demons.

    My heart is heavy after receiving this news. God have mercy on us all.

    I guess I’ll go steal a pair of boots. It’ll be ok, because, they’ll make me happy. 🙁

    • Sharon

      Hang in there!

      I am divorced, and I have frequently had priests suggest that I apply for an annulment, with the assumption on their part that I will obviously be granted one. Since I have, from my teen years, found the annulment situation in the US to be a scandal, I cannot see taking part in it so that I can have a second marriage. I don’t have to do that, and neither do you.

      The Church has not officially “given in” to anything. Pope Francis is bent on changing practice, but he has not been bold enough to come right out and change doctrine, and he isn’t going to. That’s the Holy Spirit at work. That Pope Francis is allowing some bishops – actually, any bishop who wants – to change Church practice in this regard, he will have some serious answering to do at the end of his life. I find it interesting that while he talks as if he is opposed to gender theory in all its variations, surely he knows that the bishops he is coddling do not oppose it. I am hopeful that it is that aspect of this mess that will wake him up. When he sees what he is *really* accomplishing, I pray that he is horrified, seeks the Lord, and corrects the course he has (unofficially and not doctrinally) set the Church on. If, instead, he really is in favor of the gay agenda, then…. well, I just don’t think he is, and I won’t allow myself to go there in his regard.

      I am praying that Pope Francis, he of such celebrated humility, is inspired to see the error of his ways, and is humble enough to publicly admit it.

      Don’t ever feel alone, Seeking. I have an acquaintance who publicly wondered why TV shows show people praying in Church all alone, as if there was any advantage to being alone in a church compared to being along at home. I thought, well that’s what church buildings are like for Protestants. They are holy in their use, but they don’t have what we have, because when you walk into a Catholic church you are never alone! You can find that red burning candle in front of the Tabernacle, and you can have the best company you could ever hope for. You can only get that in a Catholic Church, Seeking. Stick with the Church. We were spoiled, really, to have two saints as our previous popes (Benedict yet unnamed, of course, but I have no doubt he will be). Now we are seeing what it is like, as it has been in previous times, to have a church that is facing truly hard times. Do you know what is going to happen? The Church will stand, and our doctrine will survive. We may get to see the miracle of Francis changing course. If we don’t, we might instead live to see another Holy Father installed, one who will correct the direction of the Church and strongly clarify unchanging Church doctrine. The Catholic Church is the place to be, Seeking. Stick around!

  • ” Anyone who divorces for any reason and marries again commits adultery.”

    Help me understand RC teaching. Q: Is this ‘divorces’ in the active sense only? Or does it include the passive? e.g. the wife of a husband who divorced her?

    If you have a wife who fights for the marriage, yet in our no-fault culture is divorced by her husband who goes on to commit adultery with another, and if she re-marries, is SHE banned from communion?

    “…any reason…” What happened to Jesus’ words about “except for adultery”?

    Certainly, in the OT, the surviving spouse of an adulterer/ess was free to remarry, why not in the Roman Catholic Church?

    • Aliquantillus

      According to Catholic doctrine if one of the partners destroys the marriage, either by adultery or simply by leaving the partner, the left behind faithful partner is not permitted to remarry, because the marriage stays legally intact as long as both partners are alive.

      Christ’s exception for adultery (Mt. 5:32) according to Catholic interpretation only permits a separation from bed and board (“putting away”) if one of the partners commits fornication, not, however, a legally binding divorce dissolving the marriage. For the Lord continues that “whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (ibid).

      If legal divorce were permissible because of Christ’s exception for adultery, would this not result in a complete destruction of marriage? For it seems that in this case partners who face serious difficulties because of a disharmonious marriage, actually have the opportunity of a way out by organizing an infidelity with mutual consent! For example, the wife commits adultery with a lover and, consequently, the marriage can be dissolved, and after that she can marry her lover and the husband is free to seek a new partner. It is obvious that this cannot be true.

      • Seeking

        I’m not Catholic and this is the conclusion that I came to by my own understanding of scripture. I have found several groups of like-minded people outside of Catholicism, but not anyone affiliated with a local church or in a pastoral position.

        It makes it very difficult for me to consider membership with any church if they don’t adhere to the most basic foundational and far-reaching teachings of Gods Holy Word.

        • Aliquantillus

          The Catholic Church upholds this teaching in theory, but, alas, not much in practice. Sacramental discipline is at an all time low level since Vatican II and most bishops prefer to close their eyes and ignore rather than uphold the law. And now, under Pope Francis, it is getting worse, and possibly we are heading towards a total collapse of sexual morality in the Church.

          Within the Catholic world I think only the Traditionalists in their diverse organizations — from the Society of St. Peter through the SSPX to the Sedevacantists — still cling to the traditional doctrine in practice as well as in theory.

          In the larger Christian world there are still some evangelical groups which teach and practice the indissolubility of marriage, for instance the Plymouth Brethren.

          • Seeking

            I think people are loathe to accept the idea of church discipline such as excommunication or withholding of sacraments although those are all scripturally sound practices.

            On one hand I don’t get it, how a person who considers themselves a follower of Christ, could desire anything less.

            On the other hand: 2 Timothy 4:3. I’m sure it’s difficult for the church hierarchy to face the knowledge that sticking to sound doctrine will lose parishioners, but at the same time, many of those who consider themselves to be atheists these days, point to the lack of adherence to scripture as part of why they don’t believe.

            What a conundrum! God have mercy on us all!

      • Catholic_Mom_of_6

        “…the marriage stays *legally* intact…” Actually, the marriage stays *sacramentally* intact. Legality is a civil issue.

        • Aliquantillus

          I’m speaking of Church Law (or Canonical Law) here. You are right that the marriage stays sacramentally intact but this implies that it stays legally intact according to Canonical Law.

        • ArthurMcGowan

          Don’t bring “sacramentality” into it. It is irrelevant.

          All valid marriages are indissoluble, and it is indissolubility that is at issue.

          All valid marriages between two baptized persons are the Sacrament of Matrimony.

          The Church has laws. Thus, things can be “legal” and “illegal” according to those laws, not just civil laws.

  • Andrea England

    How can the promises of Our Lord be made void? Is it perhaps more probable that the man in Pope’s clothing is only dressing the part?

  • BXVI

    Pope Francis is trying to completely re-make Catholic morality. No more black and white; it’s all grey. No more “rules” or “commandments”, just discernment. Their dream: a Church with no rules, only “propositions” that people can accept or reject in their own conscience and the results will be between them and God but the Church will never impose any consequences on them or exclude them – even from the Eucharist.

    Anyone who denies this at this point is either being fundamentally dishonest or is incredibly obtuse, because it is obvious. They are re-fighting a battle that was already waged and decided under St. John Paul II and Benedict. Their side lost (see, e.g., Veritatis Splendor), but they never gave up, and now that they are in power they are not going to let their chance slip away. The problem is, they can’t get there without expressly rejecting and overturning the teaching of the last two popes.

  • Lorenz

    The reality that most people in adulterous relationships don’t even care. The ones who do go to church simply just go and receive communion and there is no issue in that most priests do not even personally know their parishioners and if they do they don’t care. The pastoral care of a person who was in a terrible abusive marriage for a number of years is not their concern in if they are devout they would have sought annulments. With cultural Catholics the same applies if they simply abandon a marriage (not to mention that after one or two generations of cultural Catholicism they simply abandon the faith altogether). As the article implies, this move is a stalking horse to see if they can change settled doctrine under the guise of “mercy”. If they succeed with this, then they are all open to implement their death-wish list (married priests, women’s ordination, birth control, gender identity, abortion, and whatever cultural experiments the elites in humanities departments and media boardrooms decide). Statistics show church life and influence withering away and they are doing all they can to hasten the process. They are acting on behalf of the diabolical.

    There is so much strangeness with the Bergoglio pacapy. I have read articles that after he has continually insulted faithful priests and lay people for adherence to doctrine that parish life, enthusiasm, and vocations are down all over – The Francis Effect. I had my criticisms of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI but at the same time I had no doubts they were devout holy believing Christians. I do not feel the same way about Bergoglio. I feel the deposit of faith is not in safe hands. I continue to believe in the Catholic faith and will practice it and do my best to raise my kids in it. However, I have come to believe that as we have had bad popes in the past we could again and have had to come to terms with living under this papacy.

  • AnObserver

    “Q: Can’t you just declare him a heretic and depose him?
    A: No, we cannot. Vatican I in 1870 taught that popes can teach infallibly, and that they cannot be judged by anyone or ever removed from office.”

    Why do you say that Vatican I taught that popes cannot “ever [be] removed from office”? I’m not trying to pick a fight, I am sincere when I ask, Where in the documents of Vatican I does it say that? Or, how are you concluding that from what is in the documents of Vatican I?

    Surely the body that has the authority to decide who will become the pope also has the authority to decide that someone is no longer the pope.

    If the pope should have a mentally debilitating stroke, or suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s, then certainly (these days) the College of Cardinals would have the authority to decide that man would no longer be pope.

    Logically, isn’t the authority to decide that someone is no longer pope the same authority used to decide that someone will be the new pope?

    And I do not think such authority means that those exercising that authority must therefore be “superior” to the pope or are “judging” the pope. All it means is that there is a body within the Church which is to exercise the specific ministerial function of deciding who the Church will recognize as Christ’s shepherd on earth and join herself to him, to follow him as Christ’s vicar. And if the pope is guilty of heresy in the strict sense, then according to Scripture the Church is bound to avoid contact with him. Cardinal Cajetan wrote in “Conciliarism and Papalism”, “In short, nowhere do I find superiority and inferiority from divine law in the case of [papal] heresy, but only separation [‘Withdraw yourselves’ – 2 Thess. 3:6, ‘Receive him not’ – 2 John 1:10, ‘Avoid’ – Tit. 3:10]. Now it is obvious that the Church can separate itself from the pope only by the ministerial power whereby it can elect him. Therefore, the fact that it is laid down by divine law that a heretic should be avoided and banished from the Church, does not create a need for a power which is greater than a ministerial one. Such power is sufficient; and it is known to reside in the Church.”

    I do understand that Vatican I reaffirmed that a pope is not dependent on a church council for his authority. But certainly Vatican I did not mean to say that a pope is therefore free to ignore or contradict teachings from earlier councils.

  • Piers Forrester

    Dear John

    I agree with much of your article and your response to Keith below. But perhaps we do need to rethink the dogma of infallibility. As Keith rightfully affirms, papal infallibility has very narrow parameters, i.e. the teaching of a pope is only infallible when it is an ex cathedra statement about faith or morals that explicitly binds all the faithful. AL clearly falls outside of this. So AL doesn’t challenge the point of the dogma of papal infallibility, but the point of the papacy itself.

    So if non-infallible papal teaching can potentially undermine the faith and the function of the papacy itself (the examples you cite are helpful here: an apostolic letter endorsing abortion, or an apostolic letter endorsing adultery in some cases), how does infallibility even help us?

    The answer seems obvious. The church’s teaching on infallibility (both of the extraordinary and ordinary magisterium) gives the faithful a sure guide to avoid being led astray by even the highest authorities of the Church. You seem to be suggesting that the papacy is pointless unless one can trust the reigning pope to steer one clear or error. But if avoiding error and holding onto the true faith involved nothing more than following the ordinary magisterium of the current pope, then what, in the lives of the faithful, would be the point of the dogma of infallibility? (What would be the point of Christ’s warning against false prophets?)

    Surely the dogma of infallibility was given to the Church by the Holy Ghost precisely for times like these, so that we can avoid being led astray by those who teach things contrary to what is already settled. It’s no coincidence that it was given to the Church at the last council before the confusion of Vatican II.

    In Christ
    Piers

  • Susannah Lee Myers

    “That council, and every other council the Catholic Church has held since the great Schism with the Orthodox in 1054, will be called into question.”

    That would be a good thing. The Church has not been whole since 1054, and won’t be till the Schism is healed.

  • Maggie Sullivan

    Very well done…this article is excellent. God bless the author and all involved with this web-site for posting it.

    You said, “The faithful are deeply divided, profoundly confused and looking for guidance.”…..do you think this is exactly what the Pope wants so he can gradually over time get his changes accepted without having to officially (with an infallible statement or in the Catechism) change church teaching?

    As the New York Times said….are we facing the end of Catholic marriage?

    The root of the word Sacrament from Latin is sacrāmentum vow, from Latin sacrāre to consecrate.

    It is clear that the “sacrament of marriage under Francis no longer is a vow or consecration to God or spouse in any meaningful sense….

    • ArthurMcGowan

      It is correct to say “the New York Times said” only when the Times’s editors say something in an editorial. One can say “the New York Times reported” when something is reported in a new story. What a columnist says should be attributed to the columnist, perhaps “writing in the New York Times.”

      In this case, it was Ross Douthat.

  • Thomas Sharpe

    A little hurried with the absence of some logic towards the end. Logically, if a Pope were to:
    1. Try to Teach against something contradictory of what the Church had taught for 2000 years, or..
    2. Did not state purposefully in letter that he was addressing All the faithful, or…
    3. Was ambiguous and not clear…

    Then, he is not acting infallibly as part of his Charism.

  • Jim the Scott

    BenYachov in the House!

    >How can the doctrine of papal infallibility survive this?

    >A: Fans of logic will note that it can’t. If Pope Francis continues on the course he has chosen, he will prove, empirically, that this teaching was never true in the first place.

    No, allowing error to be taught or being passive in the face of the spread error(thought a very bad thing) is not the same as formally and unambiguously teaching error and then formally binding all Catholics to confess said error as the truth.

    When Pope Francis formally and explicitly abrogates the Canon Laws that prohibit communion to those in invalid unions plausibly married to others & when he states clearly mortal sin or potential mortal sin is no longer an impediment to receiving Communion then we can pack our bags and move to the Orthodox Church.

    Till then if anything the current events of the Church PROVE Papal Infallibility with glaring precision and Faithful Catholics should point that out rather the float obviously erroneous claims Papal Infallibility is failing.

    Really John this is the wrong conclusion on the level of all the liberal Bishops running around giving communion to the divorced and invalidly remarried.

    But…..I still like you. Peace guy!

    BenYachov Out!

  • Jim the Scott

    PS To complete my drive by let me preemptively answer a few point your brought up below.

    > If a pope started ordaining women, and ordered every bishop in the Church to do so?

    Well to date when asked twice so far Pope Francis said St John Paul II closed the door on the issue. But the current problem in the Church does not correspond to that example and thus it is an absurd hypothetical. If a bunch of liberal Bishops started to “ordain” women and the Pope did nothing to rebuke them or stop them and indirectly appeared to support them THAT would be analogous to what is going on today.

    > What if he issued an apostolic letter endorsing abortion and ordered Catholic hospitals worldwide to perform them? What if invented an eighth sacrament of “Empathetic Listening” and (via apostolic letter and papal arm-twisting) got it introduced worldwide?

    Rather Amoris is ambiguous in such a way as it can be interpreted to support giving invalidly married persons communion BUT it can also be interpreted in line with Tradition to NOT give said persons communion as Cardinal Muller supports.

    So that is the crisis these days.

  • “The Orthodox theory, that it was Rome which went off the rails back then, will start looking pretty persuasive”

    Well, a wrong conclusion. The Orthodox applied their “fix” to Jesus’ teaching on marriage, a thousand years ago. Catholic cardinals are only debating whether what Jesus taught, needs a “fix” from their side.

    Trust in Jesus, brother. Pope Francis hasn’t taught an error from the “chair of Peter”. He could only promote his erroneous views from behind the doors, not publicly. Wouldn’t that be making a case for papal infallibility – i.e., even Popes with erroneous views in matters of faith, cannot teach that error !

  • It may be that this is just Jesus’ way of heightening the contradictions within the Church so they can be cleared up. After all, Bergoglio, Kasper, Daneels and the others were promoted to cardinal by St. John Paul II, who should have known better. The schism is upon us and now must be resolved, as it always is, with Catholic orthodoxy.

    • It also seems that by “advancing” his quasi-doctrines through footnotes, tweets and off-the-cuff remarks during airplane press conferences, Francis isn’t coming anywhere near making an ex cathedra statement allowing divorce. He must know that, if he did do so, his authority would completely collapse, something like the 30 years war would commence and Rome literally soon would look like Mosul.

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