“Heretical pope” thesis (re)emerges, with dilemmas for conservative Catholics

While the theory that the pope could fall into heresy had been confined to extreme fringe groups during the pontificates of John Paul II and (even more so) Benedict XVI, it is currently gaining new life in conservative Catholic circles, writes Pierre Charles (Brest University) in the traditionalist Catholic quarterly Catholica (Summer). Conservative Catholics attempted to claim at first that Pope Francis was actually in line with his predecessors and that comments attributed to him had been taken out of context or misunderstood. As concerns grew among conservative Catholics, several cardinals and bishops made critical statements while remaining cautious and merely expressing doubts or addressing questions to the pope. Then in March, Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, published an analysis on the website Rorate Cæli entitled “On the question of a heretical pope,” explaining how the Roman Catholic Church might be dealing with such a situation on the basis of canons and history (and rejecting in principle the idea of deposing a heretical pope, but not ruling out some future ecumenical council defining rules for dealing with such a case).

On April 29, some 20 (mostly English-speaking) Catholic academics and theologians published a statement solemnly accusing Pope Francis of heresy. However, Charles remarks, those now openly promoting the thesis of a heretical pope fail to speak in one voice and disagree among themselves on various arguments. Moreover, they face the challenge that none of the seven theses supposedly reflecting heretical views by the pope that they have summarized have been formally taught as such by Francis. It thus proved easy for him to answer that those theses did not accurately express his thinking. According to Charles, the challenge for the pope’s critics is to develop new types of apologetics for dealing with a papacy that is introducing deep changes, with formal statements being ambiguous enough to allow for different interpretations.

(Catholica, 18 rue Anatole France, 37540 Saint Cyr sur Loire, France – https://www.catholica.presse.fr/; article by Bishop Athanasius Schneider in Rorate Cæli: https://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2019/03/important-guest-op-ed-bishop-schneider.html)