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The latest effort to correct Pope Francis, for what it is worth

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 26, 2017

Readers were no doubt startled by Phil Lawler’s assertion yesterday that “the ‘filial appeal’ to Pope Francis was not the most important story that emerged from the Vatican this past weekend.” It may strike some as scandalous that should think the complaints of the Vatican’s former auditor general are more important than an effort by the faithful to convince the Pope to repudiate the heretical ideas which he too often appears to support.

But if my colleague has gone out on a rhetorical limb, it is a limb so thick and strong as to be almost impossible to sever from the Catholic tree. Why is this so?

There are at least three reasons:

  • First, it is necessary to remind everyone that there is nothing in any sense “official” or “canonical” about this filial appeal, entitled Correctio Filialis de Haeresibus Propagatis. I do not mean to suggest that the signatories claim otherwise; they make it absolutely clear that they do not. What they have chosen to call “filial correction” is presented as no more than it can be—fraternal correction of the same type that St. Paul offered to St. Peter. But some news outlets will refer to this effort as a procedure not used since the Middle Ages, as if it is a little-known canonical safety-valve which can be officially invoked in desperate times. To the contrary, you can be morally certain that fraternal correction has been offered to a great many popes over the centuries. Public fraternal correction, fraternal correction that enters the history books, is another matter.
  • Second, as Edward Pentin noted in covering the story for the National Catholic Register, this is the sixth public effort at fraternal correction of Pope Francis. The Pope has not responded directly to any of them. Instead, he prefers to continue to praise and approve those who agree with him while tarring all who disagree with his infamous rigidity brush. This latest “filial correction” is really quite late to the party.
  • Third, the signatories are neither numerous nor illustrious. A careful review reveals a high percentage of persons no more qualified than you or I, along with a significant number of chronic malcontents—those who have been also quick to condemn features of the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In at least one case, a signatory is in open rebellion against the Church’s canonical authority. Only one bishop in good standing (though retired) has signed (belatedly), and at this writing he does not yet appear on the official list of signatories. This raises another curious point: Although the document has already been delivered to Pope Francis, there is a website on which signatures are continuing to be collected. While this is not unusual in the worlds of political maneuvering and public relations, it is somewhat jarring here.

To some extent, then, this has the aroma of an effort to increase the stature of the network of original signatories. At the same time, a continued respectful effort to correct this Pope is clearly legitimate. In this instance, the document makes a sound case. It is particularly strong in outlining the evidence in the Pope’s statements and actions that the need for correction is urgent. In a final section, the authors also attempt to shed light on what they regard as Pope Francis’ confusion by examining its roots in both Modernism and Lutheranism. One can argue about whether these are the sources of the problem, but the analysis is reasonable.

A paradox: News because it isn’t

Nonetheless, while the dubia presented by cardinals last year really was important news, this latest effort does not share that distinction. Moreover, there are two questions which we ignore at our peril if we choose to continue down this path:

(1) What can any particular group hope to gain beyond personal gratification and publicity if the Pope has already chosen to ignore more weighty prior challenges? I refer to the petition signed by nearly a million souls in late 2015; the appeal to the College of Cardinals by a group of prelates, scholars and clergy in mid-2016; and the formal dubia submitted by four cardinals (and their allies in the College) in late 2016. The answer is nothing—unless, perhaps, we have an extraordinarily holy response to the final question.

(2) What can any of us hope to accomplish through repeated overtures to Pope Francis unless we can honestly affirm the following: First, that we have prayed assiduously for light in understanding the Holy Father; second that we have sacrificed and prayed with ever-increasing urgency that God will enable the Pope to both recognize and experience contrition for whatever in his words and actions undermines the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The faithful have been presenting their concerns now for four years. Only grace can enable Pope Francis to respond as he should.

Taking my own challenge, I have decided to provide a prayer that could be used for this purpose, though each person’s sacrifices will be his or her own: Prayer in time of papal infidelity.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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