A deeper look at the 'filial correction' of Pope Francis

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in St Peters Basilica on September 2 2015 Credit   LOsservatore Romano CNA 9 15 15 Pope Francis celebrates Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on September 2, 2015. | L'Osservatore Romano.

After Catholic scholars issued what they termed a "filial correction" of Pope Francis, what exactly were their charges and how should a Catholic receive the letter?

The filial correction "represents the concerns of some among the Catholic faithful at what are being perceived more broadly speaking as the Pope's intended teachings, but which may not accurately represent the Pope's actual teachings," Dr. Jacob Wood, a theology professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, told CNA.

The letter "is the manifestation of the opinion and concerns of those theologians who have signed it," Wood explained. It is "not an authoritative statement of the meaning of the documents that it discusses," he added.

More than 60 Catholic clergy and scholars originally sent a letter to Pope Francis on August 11 as a "filial correction" for "heretical positions" that the Pope has "effectively upheld."

The 25-page "Correctio filialis de haeresibus propagates" by the clergy and scholars, who now number over 100, says that through "Amoris Laetitia" and in "other words, deeds and omissions of Your Holiness," there has been a "propagation of heresies" that must be addressed concerning "marriage, the moral life, and the reception of the sacraments."

They noted that Pope Francis has not answered the "dubia," or questions regarding ambiguous or unclear sections of Amoris Laetitia, which were expressed privately to him in a letter from four cardinals in September 2016, and made public in November 2016.

The four cardinals were Cardinal Raymond Burke; Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences; and the recently-deceased Cardinals Carlo Caffarra, Archbishop Emeritus of Bologna and Joachim Meisner, Archbishop Emeritus of Cologne.

The "correction," released to the public this week, charges that bishops are teaching that divorced and remarried couples can sacrilegiously receive Holy Communion, because of the Pope's actions, and his apparent decision not to publicly respond to the "dubia."

"They are accusing Pope Francis of being responsible for people denying basic Catholic doctrine about what constitutes a mortal sin," Wood said.

Many of the authors have worked "a lifetime in theological study," he said, and while the scholars' charge that Pope Francis is at least leading to the propagation of heresy "is significant," it also "causes a great deal of controversy in the Church, and not a little bit of scandal."

"The fact that people would feel the need to say this," he added, "does not mean that they are perfectly justified in doing so, or that they've gone about it in all the right ways."

The filial correction differs from the "dubia" in two key aspects, Wood said.

First, the "dubia" were authored by cardinals who, "in canon law," do "enjoy a special relationship to the Pope. They're closer to the Pope, as regards the structure of the Church," Wood said.

Cardinals "have a greater responsibility to address their concerns directly to the Pope," he said.

Also, the "dubia" pose "respectful questions for the Holy Father," Wood said, giving him "the chance to answer them as he sees fit." Meanwhile, the letter of filial correction "assumes that we have heretical propositions," he said, which is a matter subject to dispute.

The letter clearly accuses Pope Francis of aiding the spread of heresy, Wood said, but the authors make no specific charges of heresy against the Pope himself.

"The sin of heresy," he said, "is committed when a member of the Catholic faithful knowingly and willingly denies a doctrine of the Christian faith."

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However, he said, the authors admit that "they are not in a position to judge" whether Pope Francis "is a formal heretic."

Furthermore, the authors add that they cannot charge the Pope "with the canonical crime of heresy" because they lack "the ecclesiastical jurisdiction" to do so.

Rather, they claim to correct the Pope "on inaction in condemning seven propositions [of heresy]," Wood said, and thus "the title of the filial correction is in some ways misleading."

In the letter, explained Wood, "the Pope is merely being accused by these theologians of inaction in condemning heresy that they don't have the authority to claim that he actually committed."

The letter poses "the danger of scandal," he said, because the authors are "attributing heretical propositions to the Pope, when those heretical propositions are not demonstrated as coming directly from the Pope's writings."

Catholics should remember that the scholars are not members of the Church Magisterium, he said, and Catholics need not agree with their "correctio."

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