What if there is a “formal correction” of Pope Francis?

The terms most often used for this correction include “public correction”, “fraternal correction,” and “formal correction.” What form would such a correction take? Who would make the correction? What might it say?

First, let me inform the reader that I do not support these efforts to offer a “public correction” of Pope Francis. I personally do not favor a discipline for Communion that permits the divorced and remarried to receive. My preference is for a discipline that prohibits ALL persons guilty of objective mortal sin, until they repent and confess — with some exceptions for reasons of grave moral weight. However, I don’t believe that Pope Francis erred in any serious way in Amoris Laetitia. My criticisms of the document are mild and limited in scope.

In general, any Catholic may licitly disagree, to a limited extent, with a non-infallible teaching of any Pope, if the disagreement is based firmly on the teachings of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium. And the decisions of any Pope on discipline are not teachings, and are neither infallible (no possibility of error), nor non-infallible (limited possibility of error). Decisions on discipline are fallible, though no discipline approved by the Roman Pontiff can ever be so disordered as to lead us away from the path of salvation.

1. But the most common error I’m seeing in articles, posts, and comments on a “public correction” is the pride-filled assumption that these papal critics cannot be mistaken. In my view, these critics have oversimplified the moral and doctrinal issues of Communion for the divorced and remarried. They have failed to take into account the difference between an actual mortal sin and an objective mortal sin committed without full culpability. Some divorced and remarried Catholics are in the state of grace, because their objective mortal sins are not also actual mortal sins. Therefore, the Church can permit them to receive Communion.

So the underlying assumption of every proposed “correction,” is that the Pope is certainly wrong, and the papal critics are certainly right. I’ve read the so-called Filial Petition. It is filled with errors.
* Errors in the Filial Petition, part one
* Errors in the Filial Petition, part two
And yet, it has many signatories. The same thing will happen with the “correction” of Pope Francis. Undoubtedly, someone will set up a website for people to express their support for the correction, by signing it in some way. They sin by pride because they assume that they cannot be mistaken in their understanding of Tradition, Scripture, and past magisterial teachings. They speak as if they are infallible.

So my first point is that any public correction of Pope Francis is based on the false assumption that the authors of that correction cannot be the ones who are in error. But in my view, these papal critics are the ones who need correction from the Roman Pontiff.

2. Who has the authority to formally correct the Vicar of Christ?

No one other than God — Father, Son, Holy Spirit — has the authority to formally correct the Pope. This doctrine is taught by the Magisterium, by Pope Boniface VIII in Unam Sanctam:

7. Therefore, if the earthly power goes astray, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a lesser spiritual power goes astray, [it will be judged] by its superior; and truly, if the highest [power] goes astray, it will not be able to be judged by man, but by God alone. And so the Apostle testifies, “The spiritual man judges all things, but he himself is judged by no one.” [1 Corinthians 2:15]

8. But this authority, even though it may be given to a man, and may be exercised by a man, is not human, but rather divine [power], having been given by the divine mouth [of Christ] to Peter, and to him as well as to his successors, by [Christ] Himself, [that is, to him] whom He had disclosed to be the firm rock, just as the Lord said to Peter himself: “Whatever you shall bind,” [Matthew 16:19] etc. Therefore, whoever resists this authority, such as it has been ordain by God, resists the ordination of God. [Romans 13:2] Otherwise, he would be proposing two principles to exist, as did Manichaeus, and this we judge to be false and heretical. For Moses testified that God created heaven and earth, not in the beginnings, but “in the beginning.” [Genesis 1:1]

9. Moreover, that every human creature is to be subject to the Roman pontiff, we declare, we state, we define, and we pronounce to be entirely from the necessity of salvation.

The Church teaches, in the above document, that the highest spiritual power on earth, the Roman Pontiff, cannot “be judged by man, but by God alone.” The Church also teaches that “whoever resists this authority, such as it has been ordain by God, resists the ordination of God.” And this document, Unam Sanctam, was subsequently given full approval by the Fifth Lateran Council.

Therefore, no one on earth has the authority to issue a formal correction to the Roman Pontiff, even if it is offered in a spirit of fraternal correction. Instead, any such correction is (at best) a servant pleading with a ruler, to persuade him to change his mind. But, in my view, the current proposed correction is much worse, for it is like a student, who, on the basis of his own oversimplified and distorted understanding, proposes to correct his teacher.

So in addition to sinning by assuming that they themselves cannot be in error, they also sin by pretending as if they have the authority or the role to teach and correct the Roman Pontiff.

3. What form would such an ill-advised and non-authoritative correction take?

At best, it would suggest to the Roman Pontiff that the divorced and remarried, along with everyone else who has committed any objective mortal sin, generally be required by the Church to repent and confess before receiving Communion. And of course, a valid confession includes the resolve to avoid all grave sins in the future, especially the sins being confessed.

But I have read nothing from any of the papal critics that would fit the above suggested best form. Instead, they speak as if the Pope has taught material heresy and/or as if he has committed formal heresy. But the First Vatican Council teaches us that the “gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors”. And Christ taught that the Church is indefectible and that She is founded on the Rock that is Peter and his successors. Therefore, I believe, as an article of faith, that each and every valid successor of Peter is indefectible: he can never teach material heresy, and he can never commit the sins of apostasy, heresy, or schism. The prevenient grace of God absolutely prevents these sins and errors.

So the form of such a correction is very likely to contain errors, just as the Filial Petition contains errors. And that is a strange hypocrisy, that a group of Catholics would issue a formal correction of the highest teaching authority in the Church, a “correction” which is filled with errors and which is more in need of correction itself than anything the Pope has ever said or written.

If the public correction contains substantial errors on doctrine, then there is a third sin, teaching grave doctrinal error.

4. What will happen after such a public correction is issued? Here are my thoughts on what might possibly happen:

a. Many Catholics will publicly state their agreement with the correction, by signing it and by discussing it favorably.

b. Pope Francis will not stand corrected and will not change his decisions on doctrine and discipline.

c. The number of signatories will increase, until the papal critics (the sand) become convinced, by the sheer number of persons (the number of the grains of sand) supporting their position, that the Pope (the Rock on which the Church is founded) has fallen away from the faith.

d. Pope Francis will issue more controversial decisions on doctrine and discipline, causing a large number of Catholics to accuse him of heresy, falsely, and to formally commit schism and break away from the Roman Catholic Church.

e. Eventually, a new Pope will be elected, a faithful conservative, who will NEVER condemn Pope Francis, nor revoke his teachings. So the schismatics will remain separated.


This proposed “public correction” will do a great deal of harm, and no good at all. The only proper response, for those who disagree with Communion for the divorced and remarried, is to suggest to the Roman Pontiff that anyone guilty of any objective mortal sin be generally prohibited from Communion, until the repent and confess.

But then most Mass-going Communion-receiving Catholics would not be able to receive any longer. For the vast majority of Catholics are JUST AS GUILTY as the divorced and remarried of objective mortal sin. They use contraception. They support legalized abortion and legalized same-sex marriage. They commit various grave sexual sins. They go online and spread heresy. They sin by pride against the teaching authority of the Church. They hold many heretical views, including the claim that the Bible contains some kinds of error.

As far as I can tell, most papal critics are themselves guilty of objective mortal sins worse than the divorced and remarried, for sins against religion are worse than other types of sins. These papal critics are guilty of spreading heresy and other types of doctrinal error, guilty of promoting schism, and guilty of scandal by the way they speak about the Pope. If they were consistent in their views on Communion, they themselves would not be able to receive.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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15 Responses to What if there is a “formal correction” of Pope Francis?

  1. Dmitry Khomenko says:

    Hello Ron,

    How would you reconcile the following paragraph from the Catechism with the interpretation of Amoris Laetitia that allows reception of Communion by those who objectively commit adultery:

    “1756 It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.”

    Also could you please list the reasons to do so that seem valid to you and non-contradicting to the Church’s teaching from the list provided in the link below (the reason I use that article is because it mentions a few of them all together). I just have difficulty understanding the reasoning of defenders of Communion to the “remarried” in “certain cases” because those cases are usually too abstract and the cases that are indeed mentioned don’t really help me understand why those people need to receive communion and not be informed and asked for repentance, so I would appreciate the help. Here is the article

    • Ron Conte says:

      I don’t think the divorced and remarried should receive Communion. But Peter holds the keys. So he can decide the question. The quote from the Catechism is on the three fonts of morality, which determine the acts that are objective sins. What I’m pointing out is the distinction between objective sin and actual sin, due to factors that decrease culpability (also mentioned in the CCC).

  2. Dmitry Khomenko says:

    I think opponents of Communion to the “remarried” see adultery as also one of the violations of the truths that are “written on our hearts”, that one cannot be ignorant of, because they are written in the conscience of every man. Like in the Catechism quoted above it says in 1860: “Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man.”. I think the second part of the quoted teaching is the one that makes one doubt if one cannot know that adultery is a grave matter and therefore can be excused. I think it’s why it’s hard to find convincing examples of when adultery would be excusable, because it’s hard to make something that is written on our hearts to be needed to be convinced in. It would be interesting to hear your opinion about it, Ron.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Everyone realizes that adultery is wrong. But not so with divorce and remarriage (as a type of adultery). Divorce and remarriage was permitted under the Old Testament law (without there being any adultery), because the marriages were not the Sacrament. So that sin is not so clear to everyone. God is the judge of consciences. We must be careful not to oversimplify the situation of fallen sinners and moral judgments.

    • Theophanes the recluse says:

      I totally agree, Ron.

      The malice of “classic adultery” (the betrayal of one’s spouse) is clear to everybody but the malice of second marriages, when the first marriage is “dead”, is absolutely NOT clear to everyone, and if Jesus hadn’t told us that remarriage is adultery i think that nobody would consider remarriage as such.


      “I think the second part of the quoted teaching is the one that makes one doubt if one cannot know that adultery is a grave matter and therefore can be excused. I think it’s why it’s hard to find convincing examples of when adultery would be excusable”.

      Adultery is never “excusable” in itself, being an objective mortal sin and an intrinsic evil act.

      Is the adulterer, on the other hand, that CAN be excused, if he has mitigating factors (unculpable erroneous conscience or the lack of freedom needed to act otherwise) that reduce his culpability.

      We should not think that Amoris Laetitia contradicts Veritatis Splendor, as the “Dubia” wrongly suggest, for that’s a big difference between the morality of an act in itself (the “topic” of Veritatis Splendor) and the culpability of the sinner.

      When a sinner is in a state of actual mortal sin, he has always committed a grave violation of the commandments (grave matter + full awareness AND deliberate consent), but not every grave violation of the commandments (objective mortal sin) leads to actual mortal sin.

      All unrighteousness is sin, but there is a sin not unto death.

      That’s why i agree with Pope Francis concerning Amoris Laetitia: the exclusion “no matter what” of divorced and remarried people from the Sacraments has made people believe, expecially certain pharisees, that the divorced and remarried were a kind of “damned men walking”, a kind of “spiritual lepers”.

      That was the message that arrived to catholics flocks, and if you consider that they usually have, as Ron said, the inclination for oversimplification……

    • Dmitry Khomenko says:

      @Theophanes I hear “objective mortal sin” and “actual mortal sin” mentioned several times. Catechism doesn’t use “actual mortal sin” terminology (if I’m not mistaken). Instead when the grave sin is not mortal it becomes venial, it does not become “objective mortal sin”. Here is the quote from the Catechism: “1862 One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent.” So when, for example, Cardinal Muller says “There are no cases when adultery is not a mortal sin” he clearly means “actual mortal sins” because otherwise they are not mortal at all, they would be venial.

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