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Prominent English theologian says canon law should allow for correction of Pontiff

August 18, 2017

A noted English theologian has proposed amending the Code of Canon Law to include “a procedure for calling to order a Pope who teaches error.”

Father Aidan Nichols—a Dominican who has taught at Oxford, Cambridge, and the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome—made the suggestion in light of the “extremely grave” confusion caused by Pope Francis with his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

Father Nichols said that the papal document seemed to indicate that “actions condemned by the law of Christ can sometimes be morally right or even, indeed, requested by God.” He said that the document would allow for an unprecedented situation in which the Church “tolerated concubinage.”

The current Code of Canon Law does not provide for any situation in which the Roman Pontiff can be judged by anyone else. However, Father Nichols recalled, the First Vatican Council, in defining papal infallibility, did not take the position “that a Pope is incapable of leading people astray.”

The Dominican theologian reasoned that if a canonical procedure existed that would allow for the correction of a Pope, that might provide a deterrent against novelties in papal teaching. Moreover, he said, the procedure would offer some assurance to other Christians who have concerns about the sweeping nature of papal authority. He said: “Indeed, it may be that the present crisis of the Roman magisterium is providentially intended to call attention to the limits of primacy in this regard.”

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Aug. 20, 2017 7:29 PM ET USA

    Each of the mounting concerns about the probity of some of Pope Francis' oral and written statements lends increasing credence to the proposition that the Vatican denial of extreme confusion regarding AL is not accidental but deliberate. Fr. Nichols is one of the finest theologians in the Church today. Much as the U.S. is heading for a moral crisis perhaps on the order of the civil war, with the "judgmental" on one side and the rational on the other, the Church is heading for a titanic showdown.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Aug. 20, 2017 5:46 PM ET USA

    The danger lies not in overt heresy. The danger lies in the one-liners; it lies in ambiguity. We live in an ad hominem world, and this makes it difficult to sift through things. The reality is that the pope is a good pope inasmuch as he is a good pope. There is a type of martyrdom in this vocation. The pope once embraced the tiara as a symbol of this martyrdom. This symbolized the docility of the man and emergence of Christ's vicar. The tiara has been set aside, and something has been lost.

  • Posted by: Elan - Aug. 20, 2017 4:04 PM ET USA

    It's a trap. Don't fall in. Trust Our Lord and pray for the pope.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Aug. 19, 2017 10:32 PM ET USA

    Now, we hear phrases like "extremely grave" describing the condition of the Church directly caused by the Holy Father. Another phrase "...crisis of the Roman magisterium..." gives pause. Yet, the SSPX is starkly quiet as so many others, many self-identified as adversaries, speak for them. Bishops and cardinals speak of a "correction." It is ironic. How has it come to this? Perhaps, there's more to fidelity and to charity than meet the eye; perhaps Fr Nichols' conclusion is not so peculiar.

  • Posted by: claude-ccc2991 - Aug. 19, 2017 3:48 PM ET USA

    Development of doctrine WRT a pope who attempts to displace well-established Church teaching w/ morally flawed personal opinion would be a very good thing. Who ever thought? But then, popes r human &, as pointed out, the 1st Vatican Council implicitly recognized this when, in defining papal infallibility, it didn't take the position 'that a Pope is incapable of leading people astray'. Pope Francis exploited a loophole. He opened a door he had no right to open & it's time to canonically close it.

  • Posted by: brenda22890 - Aug. 19, 2017 6:50 AM ET USA

    If Cannon Law can be amended in this way, it is time we do so. I fear another schism, as faithful Catholics will not follow this Pope's teaching in this area, and have lost respect for the man, if not the office.

  • Posted by: vjenkins78814 - Aug. 19, 2017 12:45 AM ET USA

    There are just some things that can't be changed; moral law is one thing.