Since the release of the open letter signed by Aidan Nichols and others, many of Pope Francis’s critics on social media are defending it with the same talking points they’ve used to defend their positions on the “dubia” and many other initiatives critical of the Holy Father. They are applying lines like, “we need clarity from the pope,” or “We love Francis but he needs to correct some things.”

Apparently, they haven’t read it closely or don’t seem to understand what the signatories are asserting and what they are asking for in this letter. This is not a petition to the Holy Father to clarify or correct teachings. Nor is it simply a statement of serious concerns that they have with the pope. This letter is much more serious than many of the documents that have been launched at the Holy Father in the last 3 years.

This letter makes specific claims about Pope Francis, and it requests the bishops of the world to take specific actions, with an explicit purpose. If you are going to defend the letter, do so with a clear understanding of what you defend. The authors are stating that Francis is no longer pope, and are asking the bishops of the world to confirm this in an official declaration.

In summary, the letter writers are saying:

  1. Francis is a heretic. (“We are accusing Pope Francis of the canonical delict of heresy.”)
  2. A pope automatically loses his office when he teaches heresy (“Neither the 1917 Code of Canon Law nor the 1983 Code of Canon Law abrogate the principle that a heretical pope loses the papal office. This is agreed by all commentators on these codes, who state that this principle is correct.” And later, “The incompatibility between heresy and membership of the Church is what leads to the loss of the papal office by a heretical pope.”)
  3. The official ratification of this must be made by the bishops (“It should instead be accepted that the pope cannot fall from office without action by the bishops of the Church.” And later, “The Church’s determining that a pope is a heretic, and the announcement of his heresy by the bishops of the Church, is what makes the pope’s heresy a juridical fact, a fact from which his loss of office ensues.”)
  4. The authors appeal to the bishops of the world to officially declare this. (“We request that you carry out your duty of office to declare that he has committed the canonical delict of heresy and that he must suffer the canonical consequences of this crime.”)

To put it in other words, so there is no confusion: the letter writers conclude that Francis is not the pope anymore because he is a heretic, and they are asking the world’s bishops to officially confirm this. The signatories are basically sedevacantist, but unlike more conventional sedevacantists, they think the papal vacancy must be declared in an official way by the bishops. They state this in the letter:

“Sedevacantist authors have argued that a pope automatically loses the papal office as the result of public heresy, with no intervention by the Church being required or permissible. … It would leave each individual Catholic to decide whether and when the pope could be said to be a heretic and to have lost his office. It should instead be accepted that the pope cannot fall from office without action by the bishops of the Church.”

This does not mean, however, that the signatories actually believe Francis is still pope. The signatories seem to have come to an agreement that episcopal intervention is necessary to officially declare it has happened. They agree with sedevacantists that Francis is not the pope. The episcopal role in this process is merely to confirm the “loss of papal office,” not to depose him. Like sedevacantists, they seem to believe that it is the heretical act of the pope that causes him to automatically lose the papacy, that there is no authority who can depose him:

“It is agreed that the Church does not have jurisdiction over the pope, and hence that the Church cannot remove a pope from office by an exercise of superior authority, even for the crime of heresy.”

In their opinion, the actions taken by the Church simply make his heresy and loss of the papacy official (a “juridical fact”). The pope’s heresy is what actually caused him to lose office. They write:

“The incompatibility between heresy and membership of the Church is what leads to the loss of the papal office by a heretical pope. The Church’s determining that a pope is a heretic, and the announcement of his heresy by the bishops of the Church, is what makes the pope’s heresy a juridical fact, a fact from which his loss of office ensues.”

This document can be interpreted as an act of schism, not simply a petition to the pope. The signatories implore the bishops of the world to come together and officially declare him a heretic who has already renounced his office.

Certainly, there are people who have such deeply negative opinions of Pope Francis that they support this attempted putsch. There are no indications that they represent anything other than a tiny minority in the Church, and it seems impossible that a majority of bishops will answer their call. In fact, it is unknown whether any active bishops at all will support them. Even the letter writers themselves seem to anticipate that they could be the catalyst for a small minority of Catholics to go into schism:

“These actions do not need to be taken by all the bishops of the Catholic Church, or even by a majority of them. A substantial and representative part of the faithful bishops of the Church would have the power to take these actions.”

Despite its outrageous and false claims, this letter could ultimately benefit the Church. It might serve as a catalyst for more serious critics of Francis to begin to denounce the extremists in their ranks. In fact, a number of people who are generally critical of Pope Francis spoke out strongly against this, including Nichols’ fellow Dominican Thomas Petri, who called the letter “frankly disappointing.” Ed Condon of CNA said,

“Despite the letter’s strident claims, the arguments advanced by its authors do not appear to make a legal, or consistent, argument against the Holy Father regarding the specific charge of canonical heresy.”

On Twitter, canonist Ed Peters (a constant critic of Pope Francis’s teachings) suggested that his rebuttal of the letter is forthcoming. Prominent anti-Francis author Phil Lawler commented that “the claim that the Pope has committed heresy is at best a leap of logic.” Fr. Thomas Weinandy, writing at First Things, describes the letter as “extreme in its appraisal and intemperate in its approach.”

While none of these critics have backed away from their usual critiques of the Holy Father and his teachings, they do seem to realize that this new letter is a bridge too far, and that it isn’t a constructive or responsible way to raise concerns about him.

The letter signed by Fr. Nichols and others is a new dividing line between those who have genuine concerns and critiques and those who are fanatical in their determination to overthrow the Vicar of Christ. It might also lead more serious papal critics to understand their responsibility in fostering this radicalization through their support of the dubia and other organized attempts to undermine and “correct” the pope.

Stephen Walford was prophetic when he wrote to the dubia cardinals,

“You may or may not be aware that there is a growing section of traditionalists and even some conservative Catholics who see you as the standard bearers for the rejection of this papacy. I know from experience that some of it is deeply troubling. The abuse from many, including those who run websites and Traditionalist blogs aimed at the Holy Father and those who are loyal to him, is nothing short of satanic. You are their role models and that is an intolerable situation. In reality, there is no confusion but only outright rejection and defiance towards the legitimate Pope and his magisterial teachings. If all the Cardinals had accepted and defended Pope Francis’ clear teaching, there would have been no fuel for the dissenting fire.”

This message also applies to the theologians and prominent Catholics who support the dubia and similar initiatives. The dubia were a spark that ignited a spirit of rebellion against the pope, and it was inevitable that it would lead some to embrace schismatic ideas.

But that’s another discussion for another day.

The main point of this post is to  is that if you are someone who criticizes Francis and his papacy, you should think twice before defending this letter. Understand what this letter is saying. Read it and comprehend it, don’t just endorse it because it criticizes the pope. If ecclesial community in the Church is important to you, you should not defend this letter. Also, please understand that giving in to this spirit of rebellion can ultimately lead to harmful and irreparable division in the Church.


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Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He's a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He's active in his parish and community. He is the founding managing editor for Where Peter Is.

Why the Nichols Letter is different

43 Responses

  1. carn says:

    “The letter signed by Fr. Nichols and others is a new dividing line between those who have genuine concerns and critiques and those who are fanatical in their determination to overthrow the Vicar of Christ.”

    I think there is also another dividing line.

    Between pseudo-“lovers of the law” and lovers of the law.

    Because “innocent till proven guilty” is such an ancient principle of law that any lover of the law will cringe inside when looking at the negligence the letter writers treat the issue, how their evidence supposedly proves the guilt of the accused. Especially considering whom is accused of what.

    In some comments and articles defending the letter, an argument is raised somewhat along the lines that anything else did not help to resolve the perceived problems and therefore somehow the problems of the letter are insignificant and its publication justified as a last resort to right the situation.

    Even if it would work, it would be rather close to the end justifying the means – accuse and potentially punish (removing him would be a punishment) someone of a crime he might not have committed so that other criminals are stopped.

    So its punishing the (potentially) innocent along with the guilty to get the guilty. Last time i checked, that is even older than “innocent till proven guilty” and in a sense is a law that even God avoids violating.

  2. Ashpenaz says:

    As a progressive, I don’t remember any prominent progressive theologians or clergy calling Pope St. JPII or Pope Benedict a heretic, as much as they disagreed with them. Kung, Curran, O’Brien, Fuchs, etc. all referred to themselves as the “loyal opposition.” They saw their disagreements as “faithful dissent.” This may have been wrong, but it didn’t create a scandal. Kung, Curran, etc. knew that they weren’t teaching official doctrine and they didn’t pretend otherwise–they hoped they would be able to bring greater discernment to official doctrine through better arguments and scholarship.

    It seems that the spirit of much conservative Catholicism leads to sedevacantism; the spirit of progressive theology leads to writing long books and complicated arguments and sullenly waiting for the next Pope. I think that’s a lot healthier.

    • Christopher Lake says:


      At the time that I first became a member in full communion with the Catholic Church in 1996, I had already been greatly scandalized and deeply disturbed by the RCIA program that I went through, wherein the arguments of certain “progressive dissident” theologians seemed to be taken more seriously than the authoritative, Magisterial teachings the Catholic Catechism (which had the explicit approval of then-Pope John Paul II).

      This experience of scandal did not change over the next year in that local parish but was only reinforced, to the point that I began to wonder if the Catholic Church which I had learned about through personally reading the Catechism *actually existed*, anywhere other than on paper. Partially due to this ongoing experience of being scandalized, I left the Catholic Church after a little more than a year, first falling deep into nihilism and depravity, and then coming back to Christ, but in a very, very anti-Catholic way, to the point that I even “evangelized” a Catholic friend out of the Church and into my newly anti-Catholic Protestant theology. Almost 20 years later, he still has not returned to the Catholic Church and has serious doubts about whether most practicing Catholics even know the Gospel of Jesus Christ at all– including himself, during his years as a Catholic.

      I finally did return to Catholicism, but it took many, many years. If my RCIA program had been more friendly to what the Church officially teaches in the Catechism, and less friendly to the speculations of certain “progressive dissident” theologians, I very likely would have never left the Church in the first place. My friend would also likely still be Catholic.

      I am no fan of so-called “conservative” Catholics who freely dissent from and vilify Pope Francis. I also could never say that I am unfamiliar with the real harm that the so-called “loyal opposition” on the “progressive” side can do. I was harmed by the “loyal opposition,” as were others, like my still-anti-Catholic friend that I unfortunately “evangelized” out of the Church.

      • Joaquin Mejia says:

        Christopher Lake

        You should write a book about your conversion story. I think that it can help many people from anti-Catholic Christians to Catholics who oppose Pope Francis. It is just that I see bits and pieces of autobiographical information in your comments.

      • Christopher Lake says:


        Thank you so much for your encouragement. I have thought about writing such a book. I was even challenged, by one of the leaders of my previous Protestant church, to write a book defending my return to Catholicism. However, this leader openly told me that he wanted me to do so, so that he and other Protestant leaders could do what he called “peer reviews” on the book. This basically meant tearing the book apart with harsh words, and using it as an example of how, in his view, Catholics truly are spiritually lost and, supposedly, don’t know the “true, Biblical Gospel.” (In other words, the Gospel, as he and his Protestant Calvinist friends *personally interpret* it, according to their “Sola Scriptura” thinking!)

        One day, I may write a book on my journey in, out of, and back in, the Catholic Church. However, at this point, for various reasons, I think that I can do more good, for others, and for myself (in terms of taking care of my own emotional health), simply sharing my story with people, and listening to and replying to their reactions, one-on-one, both in person and in comment sections like this one. Thanks, again, for your encouragement, my brother in Christ!

      • Ashpenaz says:

        I became a Catholic because of those “progressive dissident” theologians you describe–Kung, McBrien, Curran, Fuchs, etc. My Catholicism is still rooted in their progressive thought. Today, I find that thought in such theologians as Kaspar, Salzman, Lawler, etc. So I’m grateful for those dissidents for creating a space for me in the Church.

      • Christopher Lake says:


        Please don’t take this wrongly, because I’m simply trying to understand your reasoning here. I am honestly perplexed as to why you wanted to become Catholic, if you don’t believe in the same kind of teaching authority that the Church claims for herself. It seems, logically speaking, from what you are saying, that you actually became a Catholic *despite* the official, apostolic, teaching authority of the Catholic Church, and *not because* you believe that the Church truly has the authority that *she claims she has*– from Christ Himself, as given by Him, and passed down, as He intended, through apostolic succession.

        When a non-Catholic comes into full communion with the Church, as part of being baptized and/or confirmed, he or she is supposed to take a vow that he or she believes all that the Church officially teaches. Were you told about this vow? Did you take it? If you were *not* told about it, then you were cheated and misinformed. It was your right to know about it.

    • David says:

      You’ve got to be kidding. The reason the heterodox folks didn’t accuse JPII or BXVI of anything is because the former were the heretics, not that they simply “disagreed” with them! What would they have accused the popes of? But instead of admitting it they tried to dress it up and caused a lot of scandal and misled people, contrary to your claim! And they didn’t want to bring “discernment”- and there can be no “discernment” of doctrine- but wanted to change the teaching or at least muddy the waters. Curran corrupted many in his teaching position and was removed by the Holy See and Mc Brien wrote his own kind of catechism. At least the critics of Francis have legitimate complaints- that he is trying to undermine or tinker with doctrine, aligning himself with corruption- protecting people guilty of abuse or who ignored such or otherwise involved in financial or moral corruption. And they don’t try to create their own catechisms or cite their own opinions or urge people to adopt some alternative belief, but only cite what the Church has always taught and the official catechism. The heterodox folks practically live as though they were sedevacantists as you unwittingly demonstrate but they don’t have the honesty to admit they’re catholic in name only and/or go join some protestant group. This is why so many of the people strongly supporting Francis are really feigning papal obedience, because Francis is on their side and implementing their agenda. We saw this recently with these same types attacking BXVI for his letter on the sexual abuse issue. It’s revealing that the sympathetic folks this site attracts are heterodox/progressive types, which ironically is yet another piece of evidence that confirms where Francis and this site stands.

      • Mike Lewis says:

        David, does the fact that we let your comments through say anything about where “this site stands”?

        A number of commenters aren’t entirely orthodox, and that includes you.

      • Ashpenaz says:

        I think it’s important that when I post on this site, I identify myself as a progressive. I’m not speaking for this site, I’m expressing my opinions from my perspective. I think that Pope Francis is opening doors for a more progressive approach to Catholicism, and that’s why I think the progressive perspective is helpful for us who are trying to understand what Pope Francis is trying to say.

        I don’t see the Catechism as a finished work–as doctrine develops, so will the Catechism grow and change. Just the other day, Cardinal Tobin asked for an updating of the words “intrinsically disordered.” In Christus Vivit, the Pope says, “Even if she possesses the truth of the Gospel, this does not mean that she has completely understood it; rather, she is called to keep growing in her grasp of that inexhaustible treasure.”

      • David says:

        Thanks for your honesty. But as you note you demonstrate what people on this site try to deny- that Francis is of a “progressivist” and “dissident” stripe and is trying to promote exactly what the “critics” say he is. This is a great proof- the fact that it is not just some “right wing” people who say this, which is how some people try to brush it off. It’s very easy to miss because it does not come in the form of criticism, but the heterodox crowd and secular left applauds it, so it doesn’t make news that people are “complaining” about Francis. So, this would require further irrational denial by some folks- that it’s also people on the “left” who would be manufacturing or imagining that Francis is of their stripe and implementing their agenda. BTW- Tobin was also taken to task for his comments, as he mis-represented Church teaching. Language means something and either same sex attraction is disordered or not. Changing language is a tool used by ideologues to precisely try to water down or change a truth. Development also seems to be used now as a cloak for contradicting prior teaching. It’s also no accident Tobin is from Ted McCarrick’s circle and owes his cardinal’s hat to him.

      • Mike Lewis says:

        David, I have observed for quite some time (and long before Pope Francis) that the far-right and the far-left interpret stories the same, it’s only their reactions that are different. It is very much true that progressives and radical traditionalists interpret what Francis is doing in the same way, and their ideological inclinations determine whether they respond positively or negatively.

        Both, in my observation, lack a complete or nuanced view of the issues. You aren’t proving anything.

      • David says:

        And please tell me what teachings i do not adhere to? I guess you can read souls. And you say this after even admitting below there can be different opinions and interpretations on Francis’ teaching.

      • Mike Lewis says:

        You do not seem to assent to Catholic teaching on papal primacy. For example, you seem especially resistant to the teaching that religious assent of intellect and will is owed to even non-definitive magisterial teaching.

        It also seems that you reject the notion that the authority of the pope is supreme, universal, immediate, and can be exercised unhindered.

  3. Anne Lastman says:

    Thank you for daily updates on this very serious situation in our beautiful church snd fabulous Pope it is heartbreaking to see the progression.i remember several years ago sitting at dinner table with four of the ferocious Francis detractors. It was beginning to gain momentum and I remember the horror I felt at the words being used. This was time leading by to the release of Amoris Laetitia and the surety they had that the document was faulty. I felt such horror that i have refused further contact including conferences with them.
    You must forgive me Mike but I have from the very beginning thought that the church and the Pope would experience and undergo a massive persecution from within and this I felt would come because we have two Popes. There were never two Peters. There can’t be two Peters and one would always be considered a false Pope.
    Benedict XVI the Pope in waiting is the preferred Pope. He chose to quit his position. A pope never retires. There is no such thing as “as pope emeritus”
    St John Paul II was once asked because of ill health would he retire and his response was “to whom do I hand my resignation “. He understood his role , like that of Jesus was unto death.
    Benedict XVI not only quit but has stayed around make statements. He is visible. He should have disappeared and not remained to undermine Pope Francis.
    The Francis detractors have from the beginning had a standby Pope who could be called upon to fill the gap.
    Again at conference in Europe much was said about Benedict XVI and him being missed but not a positive word about HHPope Francis.
    Pope Francis chose his papal name Francis. A jesuit choosing a Franciscan name “go and rebuild my church “ that is what he is doing from stagnancy it had fallen into.
    The church like Francis said is a field hospital following the words of Jesus that He came for sick those who are well have no need of him.
    Thank God for such a blessed Pope for these wounded days.

    • Christopher Lake says:


      Benedict XVI is not the first Pope to have voluntarily chosen to step down from the office while still living. It was his right, as Pope, to make that choice. Michael Voris, and some who follow him, are angry with Benedict for stepping down, because they want him to still be the Pope, but he chose to step down, and he has been clear, many times, that Pope Francis is now to be understood as the *only current Pope* in the Church. Pope Francis has Benedict’s support, respect, and obedience. Catholic conspiracy theorists, of various kinds, have tried to build a case for a rivalry between the two men, but in objective reality, there is no such rivalry.

  4. jong says:

    Why this letter is desperate in nature and why the statement of Stephen Walford shines light into this kind of attack on the dignity of Pope Francis I will try to share my reflections.

    Sedevacantist is over 50 years old and going into another decade is crucial to their existence as they will no longer have Trads priest thats why their motto now is no longer attend a Holy Mass.Sedes sees SSPX priest and all non Sedes priest as heretics and so they now embraces “Stay Home” faith, no Mass but only rosary is enough and Old Magisterial Teaching carefully selected.Because remaining Sedes priest will all dies eventually.

    In the case of SSPX and other Trads who recognized but resist the Pope, the remaks of Stephen Walford is prophetic indeed as they relied on the “sparks of the Dubia Cardinals”..but slowly this sparks is fading away from 5 Dubia Cardinals they are now reduced to Dubia Brothers..and we know in God’s appointed time Dubia Brothers will become a Lone Dubia and by God design a Zero Dubia meaning “no more spark” to fuel the dissent.And so now, they are looking or perhaps recruiting some Bishops who will join their ranks to add some fuel to the fading spark…

    2012 is an important year for Pope Francis as he will set his foot on Portugal in the coming WYD2012.

    Will Pope Francis receive the graces and inspirations to Consecrate Russia right at the very ground the Fatima Apparition armed with few loyal Bishops fully united to him and totally Consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary?

    If this happens in 2012 expect the ugly proud head of satan to appear and the Counterfeit Church will be fully reveal.

    This is the more visible start of Final Confrontation with the Vatican II Church vs.the counterfeit church which in my own little understanding is the Clan of Rad Trads uniting to create their own visible Counterfeit Catholic Church and will politically appoint their own Pope that will become the Antipope that will force his way in to Rome to take over the Chair of Peter by force.

    But, sorry for them the Chair of Peter is perfect spot for Genesis3:15 to unfold.The ugly proud head of the Antipope will be crush right by the Woman at the very Chair of Peter for all the people to see.

    This scenario will pave the way for the proclamation of the 5th Dogma.

    My Jesus mercy.

  5. David A Howard says:

    Can a mullah be pope in your opinion, Mike Lewis?

  6. Ong says:

    I had no desire of wasting time in reading the letter, insofar as I cannot see any hint of heresy in Pope Francis teachings and actions.

    Still, we all that have been/are defending him from the start (not only based primarily on obedience to the Magisterium, communion, religious assent, etc.) would be better off also comprehending the necessity and reasons Pope Francis has had to amend and reform the general conception behind these apparently new teachings that the traditional followers of the old school find so innovative to even call them heretical. (That is, answering from the Pope’s perspective.)

    The blind followers of the anti-Francis team commenting on social networks often cannot even provide logical answers to questions posed to their own claims than vague circular reasoning and digressions.

    Therefore, in addition to be charitable, there should be a limit to what one is supposed to reply to them when all attempts to logic fail. Perhaps common sense?

    Inviting someone here, hoping they would reconsider their standpoint and be open to a new way of seeing things, would in my opinion require at first some shorter articles, where is made clear as white vs. black what to focus on. I doubt most of these commenters will read long articles, especially if they sense they go against their convictions!

    Perhaps they also have become abusive in their comments/answers for lack of critical reasoning skills and/or for being unable to evaluate among two or more choices presented.

    However, they have to be given at first the benefit of the doubt and freedom to express themselves; then, sorting all out to less issues to process and finally promoting “dialogue” (two-ways) insisting on what is experienced crucial for the communication.

    Yeah, it requires a lot of time… as also reading the letter and all the other related articles and comments. 😊

  7. Marie says:

    Ong- Some of the commenters just throw in a remark and say no more, so are not seeking any challenge. There are others that are here to address their concerns, and while it may frustrate us at times because it seems so clear to us, I admire their effort in seeking the truth and understanding. I have two sisters that I have argued with over Pope Francis. Both I asked to please read Where Peter Is. One replied, “They mean well but they just don’t understand…”, and the other said “I can’t believe I didn’t see it, I see it so clearly now, it is so obvious, our Pope is wonderful…..”

    Please pray for my other sister , her family and my two brothers. Thank you all at WherePeterIs !!!! Your articles are amazing and I continue to grow in my faith.

    • ONG says:

      Yes, that’s another good example of how people perceive and process information differently.
      Communication is complicated (Pope Francis even said it’s a gift), especially on social networks and when new persons steps in in the middle of a discussion.
      That’s why one should know where each recipient is coming from and one should try to find out where the “filter” causing the disagreement resides.

      Being your own sister one would think you have better opportunities to find out, but that neither is a guaranty for success, ’cause it will always depend on the subject’s predisposition.

      It would never be wasted though to continue planting the good seeds and plowing the soil accordingly. (I referred to 2Tim 2:24-26 in some earlier comment as a good rule of thumb to keep in mind.)

      What about the following 2017’s video appeal to everyone, could it be useful? ☺️

      (PS: Subtext [CC] in 34 languages.)

      TED 2017 – POPE FRANCIS: The Future Is You…

      • ONG says:


        I’ve been reviewing some older posts. When I came to this comment above I wondered if you had seen it or missed it.

        This about “communication” should be taken up more often. It all depends on it in every interaction we have with others!

        PS: I have had some problems to connect to WPI for a period via mobile. Possibly new apps updates, or work on the site?

        PPS: Also, before posting this comment I had to fill in again name and email. Strange, earlier it got autofilled by just typing the first letter.
        Anyone noticed anything strange?

  8. David says:

    Aside from the issue of whether the letter proves its case, the folks here don’t seem to realize the quandary they put themselves in and how it proves the validity of so many concerns about this troubled pontificate. There seems an admission here and in so many other pieces on this site, that Francis is teaching what is claimed, especially regarding A. Laetitia and communion for adulterers, or the statement on God willing different religions. They then claim that these “teachings” are legitimate and people are thus “dissenting” from them. Yet, most other attempts one finds to address the letter, including by those who are quoted in the piece, try to deny that Francis is teaching these things. Obviously this is because they recognize that if he were to, this would indeed be heresy or at least error. So, their defense is that it has not been clearly proven that Francis has explicitly or officially taught them and certainly to the level needed as proof of heresy.

    So, which is it? If Francis is teaching these things, then the signatories are correct, and it is only a miniscule number of people, like those on this site and heterodox folks- which tells us something in itself- who would maintain these “teachings” are not heretical or erroneous. This would also vindicate the concerns people have been voicing all along. Or, is Francis not teaching these things, in which case all the pieces on this site previously claiming he is, can be tossed aside? And are you willing to say that those you quote in this piece and many others, who may want to deny Francis has taught such things, at least explicitly or officially so, are “dissenters” or in denial? And keep in mind that many of them are hardly “rad-trads” or whatever nonsense label you may want to apply, e.g., Jimmy Akin, Dawn Eden, Robert Fastiggi, Fr. Joseph Fessio, Fr. Jonathan Schneider, outlets like Crux and La Stampa, etc.

    The very fact we have such a state is further proof of an objective problem- how could one person claim Francis is teaching something while another claim he is not, and perhaps even citing the same things as evidence! There is also the fact that all this is even happening and this is just the latest of many such expressions by all kinds of folks, from cardinals on down, including those again one can’t dismiss as being “right wing.” When is the last time, if ever, that something like this has happened- that people have thought that a Pope is trying to undermine or tinker with doctrine. There was nothing near this under BXVI or JPII. And the only reply some people have is the silly claim that it is all being manufactured or imagined, and by some small minority of “rad-trads.” But one can’t argue with facts as noted above- it is an irrefutable fact there are people all along the “spectrum” with contradictory claims that can’t be reconciled.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      I am not entirely sure what “quandary” you are referring to. There are many things wrong with the letter, and others have done a good job at addressing many of these.

      The purpose of this piece is to explain and clarify what the Nichols letter is actually proposing about Pope Francis and his papacy, and what they are asking the bishops to do. Most papal detractors don’t even seem to realize what they are defending, and how radical it really is. I am simply pointing out that this letter is schismatic, whereas the others were simply dissident. This is something I have not seen adequately addressed by other writers, so it is the aspect I chose to write about.

      The various critics of Francis have done a fine enough job explaining why the “charges” don’t meet the canonical requirements for heresy, so there’s no need to address that.

      Additionally, the substance of the charges contain nothing new. We’ve addressed the Amoris Laetitia questions many times, as well as the “diversity of religions” remark. So I chose not to respond from this angle either.

      Regarding the differences of opinion that various “pro-Francis” people have about the correct interpretation of AL; we are much more unified than you think. For one thing, we all agree on papal primacy, which is of much greater importance than the interpretation of a footnote in an exhortation about the correct approach to a pastoral problem. Secondly, some of us have actually begun to discuss it amongst ourselves. Since we are unified in the principle that what’s important is the manifest mind and will of the pope, we are all (as far as I can tell) open to papal correction and recognize among each other that we are all approaching the exhortation with reverence and good will.

      • David says:

        As expected you didn’t answer the issues at hand, even though they are directly relevant- you claim the letter is schismatic and such. But that becomes dubious if not wrong if Francis is teaching what is claimed. It only would be schismatic and dissident if what Francis is teaching is not erroneous. Hence you then must answer how it is that even other ardent Francis supporters claim that Francis is not teaching what is claimed, and precisely because they recognize it would be error for him to do so. You can’t cop out of answering this because such concrete application is where the rubber meets the road. You folks here specialize in firmly labeling others as “dissenters,” who question what you claim Francis is teaching and that this teaching is legitimate, and that anyone claiming there is confusion is pretending; yet the people I listed would fall under that category too, if you were being honest. You actually counter your own claims in noting there are different opinions about the interpretation of things. If that’s true, then there is doubt and uncertainty, and you can’t label someone as “dissenting” because they may have a legitimate, unclarified interpretation, and we do not know what Francis is teaching, hence there is an objective problem. Again one can ask, which is it?

      • Daniel Amiri says:

        I know Mike referred in a general way to our treatment of various issues previously, but I’m genuinely curious here because you may be wrongly lumping us in with groups who are trying to “push the envelope.” I think part of our work is explaining how Francis’ words and actions can be understood in a orthodox way. The way you describe it, it would seem like there’s no one way to understand the pope in a orthodox way.

        I don’t know about others, but I think we can admit that the Pope’s words have given rise to confusion. This is clearly true. To some extent, that’s because Francis has not explained the point from a variety of angles in order to dispel any and all confusion. To some extent, it’s also because people have willingly read his words in an heterodox way. Then again, people discuss what the Church’s teachings mean all the time, just as many are still discussing the full implications of JPII’s theology of the body, as an example. Discussion and debate is not necessarily indicative of some underlying heresy. It could be that the pope never intended his words to be the last and final words on the subject.

        We don’t mind people who have questions and doubts about the Pope’s teachings. At least I don’t. What’s important is to maintain a proper relationship towards the Magisterium. One’s confusion does not give one the right to foment dissent within the faithful, implying the Pope is heretical or any such thing, or encourage people in schismatic tendencies.

        Ultimately, if we can read the pope in an orthodox way, that would seem to be the preferred way to understand the Pope. Most of the reasonable critics seem to admit this. I simply don’t know why that isn’t their natural inclination.

      • Marie says:

        I and many others find no confusion in the Popes teaching whatsoever. It requires one to recognize first there there is no error, and embrace it, like all the teachings of the Church. Can you say what exactly are the conditions that are required to approve an annulment, or is it supposed to be applied on an individual basis, looking at the individual conditions that were present at the time. Does that cause you confusion? If we were to be genuinely objective, we would look at the world around us, and ask ourselves if we solved the problem with abortion, have we managed to enlighten the world regarding sexuality only within marriage, have we stopped world hunger? Seems to me that we need to open our hearts and recognize that talking about the rules hasn’t been very effective or Catholics alone could have solved most of these problems. It’s time we open our eyes and open our hearts and stop spending our times talking about the rules and participate, EVERYDAY by leading by example, just like we know that is the only way to teach our children. Follow whom Christ sent to this world for us to follow. That goes for all dissenters, including those you so readily point out.

    • carn says:

      “So, which is it?”

      I think you miss some potential further complications, which would lead to there being more than two options.

      1. Some have argued that the letter does not prove heresy; that is different from saying that there is no heresy.

      Think about the most corrupt and lying politician you know (if you are from the US, i guess either “Trump” or “Clinton” came to your mind); now presume that there was a law making it criminal for a politician to be corrupt and to lie; now some state attorney files charges against the politician you know to be a corrupt liar – and reading the statement of claim you see gaping legal holes in the argument, holes large enough for the politicians attorney to get a “not guilty” through in regard to every single charge.

      Would you greet that filing of charges as a great step forward? I guess not.

      So not everyone arguing that the letter is faulty/fails to prove heresy, argue that there isn’t heresy.

      Just that the letter is faulty.

      2. One could argue that regarding some things Pope Francis is not teaching anything at all.

      Think again about politics, this time about political speeches. Is therein every sentence always packed fully with detailed and concrete information about the political stance/plans of the politician?

      No. Usually, if one would just bring forth the “political” information comprised within a political speech, one could do it with a lot less words, probably some 10% or less.

      There might be even political speeches, which would shrink to the size 0, if boiled down to the actual political information contained therein.

      Teaching is in a sense nothing but sharing information; accordingly, some people view some things Pope Francis says as devoid of actual “theological” information.

      But who does not share “theological” information with some statements, naturally did with these statements not say anything heretic.

      3. A variation thereof, some things Pope Francis says are considered by some to at least comprise very little information. Giving rise to the problem, that the statement is only heretic, if one can unambigiously and correctly remove all the hot air and what remains is heretic.

      So it might be that besides “Francis is teaching these things” and “Francis is not teaching these things”, there are further options.

      You might now say that if Francis intentionally produced so much “hot air” that one can no longer see what he actually – if anything – and whether it is heretic or not, that this is would also be a serious problem in need of correction and a failure of Pope Francis as a Pope.

      Maybe. But it wouldn’t be the crime of heresy. It would go more in the direction of neglience, as blurring teaching with a lot of hot air could be neglience by someone required to teach.

      To show that some other people MIGHT (that is a real “might”; i cannot know for sure) have similar thoughts, check what canonist Ed Peters tweeted as first reaction:

      “If popes could be prosecuted for NEGLIGENCE in office (c. 1389), which they can’t be, the Easter Week Open Letter would serve as solid indictment. As a brief for HERESY (cc. 751, 1364)—which is, indirectly but seriously, sustainable against popes—it’s less compelling. More later.”

  9. Mark Hausam says:

    Mike, do you think that the authors of the letter mean to say that Pope Francis is, right now, no longer Pope? My reading of the letter suggests that Pope Francis has done things which have earned him the title of heretic, but that that title cannot be said to have been applied to him until the Church applies it, which would mean that right now he is not officially a heretic and is still Pope. Just as I might commit a crime worthy of imprisonment, but I am not actually imprisoned until the legitimate authorities imprison me. What do you think?

    I know they say that the Church cannot depose the Pope, but they do seem to think that the Church’s authority is required to officially confer on Pope Francis the title of “heretic”.

    Of course, even if I am right about this, the letter still crosses a very serious line in a number of ways. For one thing, the “Church” which they say can make all of this official can be simply a minority of bishops. (Where in the world did they get that idea? So far as I can tell, they just made it up out of their imaginations.)

    • Mike Lewis says:

      Hi Mark, my reading of the letter is that the action of the bishops would juridically confirm what they believe to be a fact (or at least extremely likely).

      The sedevacantist position is that the pope immediately loses his office (de facto) the moment he officially teaches heresy. The letter writers appear to agree with that premise, with a couple of modifiers (knowingly, persistently, etc).

      Their objection to the classical Sedevacantist position seems to be more procedural than anything:

      “Sedevacantist authors have argued that a pope automatically loses the papal office as the result of public heresy, with no intervention by the Church being required or permissible. This opinion is not compatible with Catholic tradition and theology, and is to be rejected. Its acceptance would throw the Church into chaos in the event of a pope embracing heresy, as many theologians have observed.”

      They believe that only the bishops can declare the “juridical fact” of the pope’s abdication, but it’s clear that the bishop’s declaration would certify that the abdication has already occured, because they concede that no one can depose a sitting pope:

      “The incompatibility between heresy and membership of the Church is what leads to the loss of the papal office by a heretical pope. The Church’s determining that a pope is a heretic, and the announcement of his heresy by the bishops of the Church, is what makes the pope’s heresy a juridical fact, a fact from which his loss of office ensues.”

      Granted, it’s a little fuzzy, but they would not be imploring the bishops to take these actions if they actually thought Francis was still pope. Until the “juridical fact” of his abdication is established, they apparently believe they still have to refer to him as “Pope Francis,” etc.

      It’s somewhat similar to an annulment of a marriage, I suppose — until a decree of nullity is issued, the marriage is still considered valid, the person is not free to marry in the Church, etc. But then as soon as the decree is issued, the marriage is considered to never have been valid in the first place. In the case of this letter, the signatories are like the person who petitions the tribunal for the annulment. And in this case, the tribunal is the bishops.

      • Mike Lewis says:

        My post is simply connecting the dots. If they’re positively asserting that (1) a heretic pope abdicates, and (2) Francis is a heretic, then they are at least of the OPINION that Francis is no longer pope. Yes, they’ve invented a juridical process that must be followed to make it an official proclamation of the Church, but it’s safe to say that in their opinion, on a spiritual or metaphysical level, the abdication has already happened.

      • Mark Hausam says:

        I see what you mean. I think the annulment comparison is very helpful. I would be interested to hear how the writers of the letter would respond to this. It obviously has hugely important practical ramifications. I could see them agreeing with you, or I could see them saying that the “juridical recognition” of the Pope’s heresy is what allows the juridical, canonical effects of the heresy to take effect, so that Pope Francis would only lose office from the point of the juridical declaration. The letter reads as if they had not considered this point–which seems a bit mind-blowing, really, considering how practically crucial it is.

      • Mike Lewis says:

        I think they know what they are doing. At home least the authors do. Perhaps not all the signatories realize what they signed – and that is why I wrote this piece.

        I have read enough sedevacantist propaganda in my day to understand the the mechanisms that they claim leads a pope to lose office. This letter, if one connects the dots, leads directly to the conclusion that the signatories privately believe Francis isn’t the pope. Unlike traditional sedevacantists, however, they aren’t content to leave, they want to bring the entire Church with them.

        For what it’s worth, Cardinal Burke has also spoken at least once in favor of the “heretical pope immediately loses his office” theory (in a post-dubia interview). He has also claimed in an interview in the Wanderer (it’s possible he misspoke, but I doubt it) that Honorius was deposed.

      • Hernán J. González says:

        No, Mike. I appreciate your site, and mostly agree with your positions. But here you are being dishonest.

        Suppose that some person X says “I affirm A” and “I affirm B” , and suppose that, in YOUR thought, “A” and “B” imply “C”. Then, still, you have NO right to state (especially in a blog) “X affirms C”.

        More so, when X has explicitly said “I do NOT affirm C”.

        Imagine an atheist writing in his blog: “Mike Lewis believes God wants people to suffer”.
        And when you object (“I don’t believe that, I’ve never said that!”) he says that he is merely “connecting the dots”, because that’s a conclusion that “evidently follows from your affirmations that “suffering is a part of holiness” and that God wants us to be holy. (You surely can imagine a tons of more examples).

        That’s not “connecting the dots”. You have no right to put your conclusions in the mouth of the oponent. That’s being unfair. That poisons the dialogue.

      • Mike Lewis says:

        If the letter writers would like to correct me, I would be happy to correct the record.

        You are suggesting that they think otherwise, but unlike in your hypothetical, they have not “objected” to my analysis. I actually did pose the question to one of the signatories on Facebook, but he has not replied.

        In addition, I have read and studied the positions of sedevacantists for years. I have also followed the discussions among Francis’s most outspoken detractors and many have stated publicly that they are of the opinion that Francis is not a valid pope, but it would need to be declared juridically (by a future pope or the bishops) for it to become official.

        So it’s not as if I am pulling this out of thin air.

        Finally, why would they devote an entire paragraph differentiating themselves from Sedevacantists, with the focus on the necessary process and prerequisites for declaring a pope to have abdicated, without asserting that they believe Francis is a valid pope?

        I don’t think my analysis is dishonest. Based on the high level of traffic this post has received, certainly some of them have seen it. If any of them would like to correct me, and positively state on the record that they are certain that Francis is the pope and has not abdicated for heresy, I will amend this post, as well as a new one highlighting their correction.

      • Hernán J. González says:

        To clarify (for some reason the system does not allow me to reply to your disappointing response) I was especifically alluding to this:

        You wrote : “the letter writers are saying: […] ‘A pope automatically loses his office when he teaches heresy’ …”

        The letter does NOT say this, on the contrary it explicitly denies that proposition.

        Now, reread what I wrote. Your deductions and your studies about sedevacantists, solid as they might be, are irrelevant in this regard.

        What I found especially dissapointing is your appeals to ” they have not “objected” to my analysis.” “I actually did pose the question to one of the signatories on Facebook, but he has not replied” and more so the appeal to the “success” of this post (which I mostly agree with, I repeat)… (“Based on the high level of traffic this post has received”). Frankly, all that stinks.

      • Mike Lewis says:

        OK, now you are being disrespectful.

        The piece itself provides evidence that they believe a pope loses office through heresy (“It is agreed that a pope who is guilty of heresy and remains obstinate in his heretical views cannot continue as pope.[6] Theologians and canonists discuss this question as part of the subject of the loss of papal office. The causes of the loss of papal office that they list always include death, resignation, and heresy. … The Fathers of the Church denied that a heretic could possess ecclesiastical jurisdiction of any kind.”)

        They admit that no one has the authority to depose the pope (“It is agreed that the Church does not have jurisdiction over the pope, and hence that the Church cannot remove a pope from office by an exercise of superior authority, even for the crime of heresy.”)

        So the role that they are asking the bishops to play is to announce is to make this a “juridical” fact, not a metaphysical fact. (“The Church’s determining that a pope is a heretic, and the announcement of his heresy by the bishops of the Church, is what makes the pope’s heresy a juridical fact, a fact from which his loss of office ensues.”)

        If you can offer an alternate interpretation, I’d be glad to hear it.

  10. Dave Griffey says:

    Growing up, the harshest attacks I heard against Pope John Paul II came, as often as not, from Catholics. Almost always progressive. Same with Pope Benedict XVI. When I began looking at the Catholic Church, and discovered the Catholic blogosphere (c. 2005), most Catholic sites that claimed to be loyal to the Church dealt with such Catholics with a ‘they’re wrong, but let’s move on’ attitude If the popes’ critics got ugly, they might be called out. But on the whole, most sites did not spend a whole lot of time trashing or attacking the critics of the popes. It was acknowledged, but that was it. And a good thing, too. Attack the critics too much and it might feed into the old stereotype that Catholics are seriously into pope-worship.

    So it’s been rather shocking to see the full blow barrages aimed at those who have gone after Pope Francis. I’ve heard nothing in tone about Pope Francis that I did’t hear about the other popes. I’ve heard mean and nasty against them all. But now, suddenly, the reaction has been total war commitment. From the start, those who came after Pope Francis were met with equal and vicious attacks by those defending him. Sometimes, by those who in their day (or still) were just as critical of the previous popes. Sometimes by those who once dealt with the popes’ critics by downplaying a need to respond too harshly.

    I find that development interesting. Many who just shrugged their shoulders when it came to those going after previous popes almost immediately dug the trenches and fired endless attacks (and even insults and accusations) against those going after Pope Francis. I wonder why the difference.

    • Marie says:

      Dave- You seem to want to lump all of us as progressive and therefore now great defenders of Pope Francis. Most of us fully supported the teachings of St JPII and Pope Benedict XVI, and continue to support the teachings of Pope Francis, and will continue to do so.

      As far as attacks from Pope Francis supporters, I wish you would give us just one example, as I have yet to see any attack that compares to the slander of the Pope or of any of his supporters. I was called a spawn of Lucifer on LifesiteNews for asking “What about Christ’s promise that there would be no error in faith and morals?” I was then permanently blocked.

      • Dave Griffey says:

        First, I didn’t say all progressives attacked the popes. I said most attacks aimed at the previous popes that I remember were from Catholics who were progressive. Sure, there were non-Catholic and non-Christians as well, but much of the harsh criticism if not outright attacks came from Catholics who were decidedly Left of center. I’m sure there were those who did no such thing.

        I’ve been blocked by various Catholic websites, including those who support Pope Francis, so it’s a common approach nowadays.

        As for the reaction. My point is that when I first began looking at the Catholic Church, the issue did sometimes come up about those Catholics who were brutally harsh regarding PPJII (and later PBXVI). As often as not, it was not harped upon. Critics would be called wrong, or if a specific attack was particularly brutal, it would be called out. But then most moved on. I’d say I seldom noticed much time at all spent on the subject compared to other topics of the day.

        But since Pope Francis, almost since the beginning, when individuals took Pope Francis to taks for his ‘who am I to judge?’ comment, the counter-punch came fast and furious. I remember some being accused of being gay hating homophobes, and right away being charged with being bad Catholics and hypocrites for daring to question the pope.

        As for an example of attacks by those supporting Pope Francis, here is but one quick example:

        “agitprop like this [the current issues surrounding the letter], while it may not move bishops, is more tinder on the real fire these reckless and power-hungry people are trying to light: among a base of readers whose real Magisterium is not the bishops or the Pope, but FOX, EWTN, Liesite, Church Militant, 1 Peter 5, Canon 212, and a host of other social media sites where they form their hearts and minds”

        Read that carefully. This is hardly unique, and not new. It’s been since the beginning of Pope Francis and his critics, and I’m just curious about why the difference.

      • Mike Lewis says:

        Dave, here’s the thing: the “Who am I to judge?” line, especially taken in context and understanding the question that he was responding to, was completely orthodox and justifiable.

        Do you really think that all of those who have attacked him over that one line understand the nuances or theological defense of that line? Don’t you think some of them have simply hopped onto the bandwagon to attack him without serious reflection? And don’t you think some people (who should know better) have exploited the ignorance or enthusiasm of others in order to maximize the level of noise against him?

        My post here is in response to another instance of that phenomenon playing out. I’ve seen people on Twitter and elsewhere (Fr. Fessio) draw attention away from what this letter is attempting to do, and assuring us that the authors are “raising serious concerns,” and are “asking for clarification from the pope.” They are glossing over what the letter is proposing, as well as what the authors seem to think about the pope. They clearly didn’t read or comprehend it. To them Francis=bad, anti-Francis=good, without any nuanced understanding of what they are supporting. This is dangerous.

      • Dave Griffey says:

        Whether they were correct in their criticism or not is beside the point. The point is, almost immediately I saw them labeled as homophobes, gay haters, Francis haters and all around bad Catholics. You’d think they had been attacking him for decades, to see the reaction of some Catholics to the criticisms.

        And yes, some critics wondered – context or no – if a ‘let’s be friends’ approach to a social movement that continues to lay waste to lives by the hundreds of thousands is the best approach. That’s a fair call. But it was the instant counter-punch, complete with accusations and personal attacks, that stunned me. Again, it was like nothing I had seen in dealing with those who had criticisms of previous popes.

        The same with this letter, BTW. My own personal opinion is that Christians should hash things out behind closed doors, not send public letters calling each other heretics when we darn well know the press will jump on it and make as much as they can out of it. Nonetheless, once more we see those hurling – let’s be honest – variations on Raca and Fool along with those trying to make valid criticisms of the letter. Far more than I saw fifteen years ago. That’s my point.

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