What Should the Church do about False Teachers?

The Problem

The Roman Catholic Church in the world today has many problems. One major problem is the vast number of false teachers, who claim to be presenting the true Gospel and a correct understanding of Catholic doctrine, but in fact they are spreading heresy and other errors on faith, morals, and salvation.

Many fundamental truths are being distorted or denied. Persons who claim to be teachers of the Faith are instead teaching grave errors, along with the claim that these errors are merely a correct understanding of the teaching of Jesus Christ through His Church. It is no longer a matter of limited and occasional dissent. These false ideas are being taught even in Seminaries and in faculties of theology at Catholic institutions of higher learning. Priests, deacons, and theologians have been spreading grave errors, not only in theology classes and in written works of theology, but also through the mass media and the internet.

In addition, countless entirely unqualified lay Catholics have been spreading grave errors, usually under the cover of anonymity, by means of the internet, on blogs, discussion groups, and various types of social media. They teach without first having learned. They are not deacons or priests; they have no formal theological training. And they are also not well read. Without realizing it, they often make assertions that directly contradict teachings of the Magisterium. But when offered correction, in the form of quotes from Church teaching, they stand uncorrected. They give various absurd explanations as to why their position is correct, and they ignore or radically reinterpret what the magisterial document plainly states.

This situation occurs frequently. A person asks a legitimate theological question in a Catholic discussion group. Then 5 or 6 different anonymous Catholics each present their own answer, and all or most of those answers are wrong. The questioner has no idea whom to believe. And not a single one of them ever learns from another. They are each uncorrectable. Sometimes the errors are by way of oversimplification or ignorance. Other times an individual is directly contradicting Catholic teaching, without realizing it (I suppose). And as the discussion continues, more and more harm is done to souls, since each successive post adds to the total number of errors being stated publicly.

In some cases, grave sins are said to be moral and approved by the Church. In other cases abortifacient contraception or direct abortion are said to be moral, based on one rationalization or another. Souls are being led into grave sin and toward the fires of Hell. And unborn children are being killed, as a result of Catholics who promote and approve of abortifacients. And they claim that this approval is merely a proper understanding of Church teaching. It is not, by the way. The Church infallibly teaches that contraception, abortifacient contraception, and direct abortion, and direct sterilization are each intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. Buy they have their excuses, and they can cite some priests and theologians who support these grave errors as well.

What Can Be Done?

Possible Solutions:

1. The Magisterium could issue new documents clarifying and correcting the most common points of confusion or error.

Of course, the Church should continue to teach on faith, morals, and salvation. But I don’t think new documents will solve this problem. These false teachers already radically reinterpret existing teachings. New documents refuting their errors will be met with the same radical revision as already occurs today.

This approach will not solve the problem of radical reinterpretation. It also does not solve the problem of persons teaching without first having learned. These ignorance and incompetent teachers already ignore existing magisterial documents, so new documents will also not be read by them.

2. The Roman Pontiff could issue documents listing condemned errors, along the lines of some past papal documents, such as Lamentabili Sane.

Whenever the Magisterium teaches or corrects, the faithful benefit. So proposals 1 and 2 would be helpful. But I know what these false teachers are like. They do not accept correction from the Magisterium. Rather, they ignore or radically reinterpret whatever teachings may be contrary to their own thinking.

3. The CDF could speak out against priests, deacons, and theologians who are spreading these errors.

In the past, when the CDF has spoken against one author or another, the author does not change his or her teaching, and many persons rush to his or her defense. Then the books that are rebuked by the CDF end up selling many more copies.

Moreover, the CDF does not have the staffing and time to go through every book, booklet, article, and posting containing grave theological errors. And any authors who escape correction would then claim that their position must be right, since the CDF did not correct them. So that is not a workable plan. The CDF can and should speak out against grave errors, but it is not a solution to the current problem.

False teachers who do not listen to the Roman Pontiff, will not listen to the CDF. They will say that such teachings of the CDF are non-infallible. Then they will continue treating their own flawed ideas as if they were infallible.

4. The Church could issue new rules, under canon law, forbidding anyone from teaching the Faith, unless they are approved as teachers by the Holy See or a Bishops Conference or a local Bishop (or other ordinary).

It used to be the case in the Church that even a priest needed permission from the local Bishop to preach and teach the faith. I recall that, at one point in time, Padre Pio has his permission to preach revoked. So he could say Mass, but could not preach or teach.

I know exactly what would happen under this type of system. Most of the prominent false teachers would easily secure permission to teach, and then their errors would seem to be approved by the Church. Thus, more harm would be done, rather than less. Many good teachers would fail to obtain the required permission. And many anonymous online teacher would ignore the requirement and would continue to teach error.

5. The Holy See could charge the local Bishops with the task of correcting false teachers.

Many Bishops are poorly catechized, and many others take the position that a wide range of opinions and interpretations should be tolerated. The Bishops are, for the most part, unwilling to correct false teachers, and many of them are unable to do so, as they have a poor level of understanding themselves.

In addition, the multitude of false teachers far outnumbers the Bishops of the Church (four to five thousand, total, worldwide). And the Bishops are already overwhelmed with administrative tasks. So they couldn’t do the work of dealing with the many false teachers, if they wanted to and were able.

6. An Ecumenical Council could issue very many new declarations of dogma, correcting all the major error being spread today. A sentence of automatic excommunication would then be issued against anyone who rejects these teachings.

Yes, that is necessary and it will eventually happen. But at the present time, the Pope and the Bishops are not ready for such a task. That is for a future time (about ten years or so from now).

7. The faithful could rise up as a body and argue against these false teachers, spreading true doctrine and correct interpretation in place of their heresies and errors.

Currently, the false teachers have power and influence because the errors they propose have been embraced by the weak and sinful among the Catholic laity, who seek rationalizations for their sins. Most of the laity are not properly catechized, so they don’t even see the errors. And they do not want to learn the faith and teach the truth, as it would require them to admit their own sins and repent.

As long as there are Catholic sinners who wish to hear false teachings, there will be teachers with itching ears, telling the audience what they wish were true.

8. God’s actual plan to address this problem.

* A two-part schism in which the unfaithful among conservatives, and next the unfaithful among liberals, leave the Church.
* The Warning, Consolation, and Miracle, which renews the Catholic Faith among the poor and weak flock of Jesus Christ.
* An outcry among the repentant faithful against false teachings and false teachers.
* The unification of all Christians in one holy Catholic Church.
* A holy Pope, the Angelic Shepherd, who leads an Ecumenical Council to correct the many errors among false teachers.
* The sufferings of the first part of the tribulation, ending with the Three Days of Darkness, which purifies the Church and the world.

And all that leads to a time of peace and holiness on earth, when very many persons will convert to the true Catholic Faith.

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

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2 Responses to What Should the Church do about False Teachers?

  1. Tom Mazanec says:

    there will be teachers with itching ears,
    wouldn’t it be the hearers with the itching ears?

    • Ron Conte says:

      {4:3} For there shall be a time when they will not endure sound doctrine, but instead, according to their own desires, they will gather to themselves teachers, with itching ears,
      {4:4} and certainly, they will turn their hearing away from the truth, and they will be turned toward fables.

      Oops. You’re right. It’s the hearers whose ears itch, and they want teacher who will scratch their itch by telling them what they wish to hear, by soothing their guilty consciences.

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