Defending the Faith Against Present Heresies: Letters and statements addressed to Pope Francis, the Cardinals, and the Bishops with a collection of related articles and interviews
Edited by John R.T. Lamont and Claudio Pierantoni
Arouca Press, 2021, 433 pp.
After ascending to the papacy in 2013, Jorge “pope Francis” Bergoglio perceived that the Roman Catholic church was in a serious pickle. Official Catholic doctrine taught that remarried divorcees were adulterers and could not receive the eucharist Jesus wafer, the alleged “source and summit of Christian spirituality” as the Catholic catechism declares, or the other sacraments. That was not a big deal fifty years ago when few Catholics divorced, but these days close to 30% of adult Catholics are divorced and many obviously remarry. Then there are the many Catholic couples that cohabitate rather than marry. Rather than endure the church’s discipline, many remarried divorcees and cohabitators stop attending mass altogether. Progressive Catholics like Francis and his allies felt that scrupulous adherence to rules for rules’ sake was counterproductive when fewer and fewer were showing up for mass on Sunday mornings.
In 2016, Francis wrote Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”), an “apostolic exhortation,” which among other things, declared that “in some cases,” those living in “irregular unions” were committing only venial sin rather than mortal sin due to mitigating circumstances (e.g., children) and that it was up to the discretion of the local parish priest as to who could receive the Jesus wafer and the other sacraments. The language of Amoris Laetitia was purposely vague so as not to be seen as flagrantly overturning traditional doctrine.
Conservative and traditionalist Catholics were appalled. They interpreted the pope’s apparent rescindment of the ban on the sacraments to remarried divorcees as an act of grave heresy. Four cardinals officially submitted five dubia (“questions”) to the pope, requesting that he clarify Amoris Laetitia in light of traditional Catholic teaching, but Francis refused to respond. Conservative prelates advised their priests to ignore Francis’ “bending of the rules,” however, when the Argentinian bishops published a guideline endorsing Francis’ pragmatic, rule-bending intentions, the pope cited the document as “authentic magisterium,” i.e., the authorized interpretation. Several petitions signed by prelates, priests, and laypersons followed the dubia, all accusing Francis of heresy, but they were also ignored by the pope. Conservative Catholics were now the ones in a pickle. What to do when the pope is a heretic? They were in a Catch-22 because absolute fealty to the papacy is a prime tenet of conservative Catholicism.
In this book, the conservative Catholic editors present the dubia, the various petitions, and many relevant articles. As an interested evangelical Vatican observer, I was fascinated from start to finish of this book. This is unparalleled papal drama that every evangelical apologist should be taking note of. There was considerable “technical jargon” (references to Catholic papal theology and canon law) throughout, but I managed to wade through without my eyes glazing over too often.
I watched the Amoris Laetita “crisis” unfold beginning in 2016 and have posted many articles over the years citing the mammoth (for Catholicism) dilemma. Francis has undermined the age-old boast that it was impossible for the pope to lead the RC church into error (as per St. Robert Bellarmine, d. 1621). Five years after Amoris Laetitia, the furor among conservative Catholics has somewhat abated. The pope’s strategy to outwait his opponents has partially worked, but the pot is still simmering. All that conservative prelates can do is continue to wring their hands and counsel their priests and lay followers to ignore the heretical pope. There are no mechanisms within canon law to impeach the pope. Missing in this internecine Catholic feud is the genuine Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.
Postscript #1: I ordered this 2021 book from Amazon back in April, but five months later it is strangely no longer being offered. Does Amazon now regard this “Francis is a heretic” book as “hate literature.”
Postscript #2: It’s probably safe to assume that the vast majority of mass-going Roman Catholics are not aware of this Amoris Laetitia controversy. They clock-in and clock-out every Sunday and that’s about the extent of it. However, rest assured that some incensed Catholic Karen will be talking to “father” if she spots a remarried-divorcee standing in line to receive the Jesus wafer.
Papal infallibility: Some evangelicals mistakenly assume Catholics believe everything the pope teaches to be infallible. But according to the RCC, only when the pope speaks dogmatically on matters of faith and morals, ex cathedra, or “from the chair” of the Apostle Peter, is his teaching considered infallible. When have popes spoken ex cathedra? Catholic theologians can only agree on a handful of declarations, but no one, including pope Francis, considers Amoris Laetitia to be infallible.
Indefectability: The Roman Catholic church has boasted for 1500 years that it is “indefectacle,” i.e. that the church’s teaching magisterium (the pope in conjunction with the bishops) is incapable of leading the church into doctrinal error due to the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit. The five-year debate over Amoris Laetitia debunks that cherished claim.