The distortion of Pope Francis’ teaching by liberal Catholics

Liberals are radically reinterpreting Pope Francis’ words, to approve of grave sin and to distort doctrines on faith and morals. As many conservative commentators have admitted, Amoris Laetitia does not actually state that the divorced and remarried are not objectively guilty of adultery. He does not deny that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral, regardless of intention or circumstances. He permits Communion to persons who commit objective mortal sin, but who also might be in a state of grace, due to mitigating factors. But he does not, in any way, reject any past teaching on faith or morals.

However, liberal Catholic leaders, including Bishops and Cardinals, have used his words and the general approach of Amoris Laetitia, with distortions and misapplications, to undermine the teachings of the Church on intrinsically evil acts. And the holy Pontiff has not done enough to counteract this problem.

But conservatives should not be upset at this situation, since it is literally no different than what the conservative Catholic subculture has been doing to the words of past conservative Popes: distorting the meaning of magisterial documents, in order to contradict true doctrine, teach error, and undermine good morals.

Hypocrites! How is it that you cry out with such anguish and outrage at this tactic by liberal teachers, when you have been doing the very same thing for a much longer period of time?


For many years now, a growing group of conservative Catholics have argued that the proper understanding of Humanae Vitae is that contraception is only condemned by the Church when used within a valid marriage. This false teaching harms good morals by convincing people that the Church has no objection to the use of contraception, except in marriages considered valid by the Catholic Church. But in truth, the teaching of the Church condemns the use of contraception regardless of marital state. And this is not a mere difference of opinion. There are plenty of magisterial teachings on this point. And the promoters of this error do not bother to present a theological argument supporting their position. They simply assert that it is doctrine, when really it is a grave error. And this is no different from the way that liberals behave, in contradicting Church teaching, along with the claim that the contradiction is actually the truth.

In another example, conservatives bitterly complain that the divorced and remarried should not be allowed to receive Communion (even if they are in a state of grace by mitigating factors), because they are committing acts which are objectively mortal sins (adultery, since they are validly married to their prior spouse). And yet conservatives themselves commit objective mortal sins and promote grave errors on faith and morals, while still receiving Communion. Yet they at no time propose that every Catholic guilty of objective mortal sin should refrain from Communion.

This focus solely on the divorced and remarried is inexplicable. It is rank Pharisaism. For the Pharisees presented Jesus with the woman caught in adultery. If she was caught in the act of adultery, then they knew who the man was, her co-perpetrator. And yet he was not brought before Jesus. And the Pharisees themselves were guilty of grave errors on faith and morals, as Jesus explains (Mt 23). Similarly, conservatives wish the divorced and remarried to be figuratively stoned, while ignoring many other grave sins.

Which sins are these? There are so many. They teach heresy on many different topics. See my previous posts pointing out these errors. Most Mass-going Communion-receiving Catholics are guilty of sexual sins, such as masturbation, pornography, sex outside marriage, unnatural sexual acts in marriage. Many Catholics approve, promote, and justify unnatural sexual acts in marriage, thereby sinning mortally by formal cooperation. If all Catholics who commit any kind of grave sexual sin did not receive Communion, the lines would be much shorter. Sexual sins are unfortunately very common among Catholics. Then, too, we know that a large percentage of married Catholics use contraception, including abortifacient contraception. Then there are the Catholics who sin gravely by approving the use of abortifacients in marriage for a medical purpose. In fact, the vast majority of Mass-going Communion-receiving Catholics go to Confession rarely or never. So we cannot say that they repent, confess, and then receive.

So it is utter hypocrisy for them to cry out in anguish and bitterness that the Pope permits the divorced and remarried to receive Communion, when so many conservatives Catholics commit other objective mortal sins, and are therefore not worthy for Communion themselves.

I should also point out that any type of calumny against any Roman Pontiff is an objective mortal sin. It is a much worse sin than calumny against a politician, or a coworker, or a family member. It is always mortal in gravity, because of the potential harm to souls, if they lose confidence in the Vicar of Christ. Accusing Pope Francis of propagating heresy, or of deliberately trying to undermine or contradict Church teaching on faith and morals, is an intrinsically vicious act, which ought to be included in Canon Law among those sins which are corrected by means of automatic excommunication.

And the fact that you are sure of your own judgment and your own understanding is not a valid reason. You are not infallible. You can misunderstand a teaching, or its application. You can misunderstand the Pope’s motives, his thinking, and the desires of his heart. To presume to judge the inner workings of any Roman Pontiff’s heart and mind is unmitigated arrogance.

No one has the role to judge the Pope, just as Unam Sanctam teaches. I doesn’t matter how sincere you think yourself to be, or how wonderful your credentials as a Catholic scholar may seem in your own eyes. You have no such role. The Pope has the role to teach and correct you, and you do not have the same role toward him.

And what do you all think is going to happen, when Pope Francis eventually resigns, and is replaced by the next valid Pope, a conservative? Do you think that Pope is going to thank you, for your public calumny against the previous Pope? Do you imagine that he will prohibit the divorced and remarried, but not also prohibit persons who commit all the other popular sins?

“Well, the sins of the divorced and remarried are public, and other sins are private.” Oh really? And which sins are so private that they are not seen by God? Yet teaching grave errors is even more public a sin, and it does even more harm than divorce and remarriage. But if you are not prohibited from Communion under Canon 915, because your sins are not “manifest”, then you are prohibited under Canon 916, which applies to even the most hidden of mortal sins.

The next conservative Pope will certainly prohibit everyone guilty of objective mortal sin from Communion, including anyone who sinned gravely by public calumny against the previous Vicar of Christ. And I think that this next Pope will also change Canon Law, so that anyone who presumes to judge the Roman Pontiff, no matter what the judgment may be, whether it includes calumny or not, as well as anyone who treats any Pope with contempt or derision or denigration, is excommunicated. He may very well excommunicate all of those conservatives who made public accusations against Pope Francis, including signatories to the Filial Correction and similar letters.

It is not your role, just because you are a conservative Catholic, to protect the Church from the Vicar of Christ — who can never actually harm the Church, due to the prevenient grace of God. Instead, conservatives should be defending Pope Francis, and proposing faithful interpretations of his words that accords with past teachings and assists souls in the path of salvation.

So how is it that you conservative papal critics lash out at liberals for misinterpreting a Pope’s words, when you do the same? You misinterpret Humanae Vitae, to limit its meaning to contraception in marriage. You misinterpret the theology of the body to permit “acts of grave depravity” within marriage. You allow abortifacient contraception to be used by Catholic married couples, despite the ensuing deaths of prenatals, all the while calling yourselves prolife. You commit calumny against the Roman Pontiff, which is worse than misinterpreting his words. Therefore, you papal critics have no excuse.

{2:21} As a result, you teach others, but you do not teach yourself. You preach that men should not steal, but you yourself steal.
{2:22} You speak against adultery, but you commit adultery. You abominate idols, but you commit sacrilege.

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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17 Responses to The distortion of Pope Francis’ teaching by liberal Catholics

  1. Paul M. says:

    Would you be so kind as to explain the criteria you use for staying in union with the Church when there appears to be contradictory teachings? Do you weigh the authority of the documents themselves (a Papal bull, an encyclical, and an apostolic letter are all different in their authority, for example)? Or do you take the approach that what is newer must be more relevant and to be followed, even if the teaching seems novel? Thanks.

    • Ron Conte says:

      To avoid schism, one must submit to the authority of each Roman Pontiff, his authority over discipline and doctrine, and also the authority of the body of Bishops, exercised with the Pope either gathered in a Council or dispersed in the world. A faithful Catholic can disagree with a Pope’s theological opinion, his decisions on discipline, and to a limited extent with particular non-infallible teachings. But we cannot oppose the Pope, undermine his decisions, resist his authority, call for the Bishops to join in contradicting him, accuse the Pope of propagating heresy or of willfully undermining Church teaching, etc. We have a wide range of possible faithful disagreements. And yet it is not enough for some persons. They have to oppose him in the entirety of his person and office.

      So it is not a question of which teaching you believe, the newer or the older. We should charitably interpret every magisterial teaching in the light of past teachings. We can disagree to some extent, but we should be seeking to agree, as much as possible. It is just arrogance to assume that one is always right whenever the Pope says something to the contrary of one’s own understanding.

  2. stefano says:

    Ron, you say that “Amoris Laetitia does not actually state that the divorced and remarried are not objectively guilty of adultery”. Right, but the point is that AL does not even actually state that divorced and remarried can access communion (not one line in over 350 pages).

    So, how comes that the divorced and rimarried can now be allowed to communion? Not by virtue of the Magisterium, but as an outcome of very authoritative interpretations of the document. Hence, we are not in the presence of a Magisterium that contradicts a previous Magisterium, but just interpretations. Authorised interpretations, albeit wrong, maybe.

    One might object, however, that AL seems to authorise such interpretations.
    But I could then argue that the author interpreted his own document right after enacting it. So, could he not have been more explicit in the first place? And my legitimate answer is: maybe not.

    It is as if the author was aware that he could not formally teach what he intended (so he did not err), but an unspoken message slipped through the cracks like a sort of repressed desire (“it would be God’s mercy, if it only were possible”). This is what the interpretations refer to. They interpret the unspoken message, not the Magisterium.

    Put in this way, this is not a criticism to the Magisterium, nor to the Pope, but rather to the papacy and to the poor way this all matter was handled by the Pope’s inner circle.

    • Ron Conte says:

      The divorced and remarried can receive Communion, objectively legitimately, if they are baptized and are in good conscience. You might say, how can they be in good conscience, since Church teaching is clear, but I could say the same thing about most teachers of Catholicism and the errors they spread. And then there are the Catholics who use contraception, or who commit sexual sins without repentance and Confession. If you are baptized and in the state of grace, you may receive — that is to say, the Church can permit this as a minimum standard.

      I’m fairly certain that several of the popular conservative Catholic teachers are not in a state of grace, and have not been for many years. Yet they receive Communion. And if I named them, you would all be outraged and confused. You don’t see it, but I do. Their words and behavior again and again indicates the inner state of their souls.

    • stefano says:

      the Catholics who commit sins and yet receive communion without repenting and confessing should know from the formal teaching of the Church that they are at risk of damnation. No longer so the divorced and remarried, I’m afraid.

      Now, this could be a secondary issue since, in the end, only God knows the hearts, but the problematic point is that now one can divorce according to his own conscence and still be in full communion with the Church. In practical terms this is admitting divorce. I challenge anyone to disprove.

      The problem with the interpretations of AL is an implicit theological misconception: marriage and and divorce are moral acts that can be judged according to moral standards, without any account to the docrine of sacraments. To me, this is a huge mishap for catholic doctrinal system.

      However, there is no such positive statement in AL like “The divorced and remarried can receive Communion, objectively legitimately, if they are baptized and are in good conscience”. On the one hand this comforts me, on the other hand it troubles me a bit, I must admit.

  3. Ron Conte says:

    Is it not worse that people who are public schismatics still receive Communion? Is it not worse that people who teach heresy and grave moral errors still receive Communion? If the divorced and remarried cannot receive, then neither can Catholics who use contraception, who commit sexual sins, etc. Why is it only the divorced and remarried?

    • stefano says:

      Ron, you either do not see the theological misconception underlying the moralistic standpoint in this matter, or you do not agree that there is a misconception.
      But, if there is no misconception, then we must be facing a quantum leap in doctrinal development. Even card Kasper referred to it as a “change of paradigm”.

      Only a change of paradigm can allow you to reach conclusions you would never have thought of, or that you could not reach without impairing your philosofical soundness.

      Having said that, yes, I agree with you: the Church should apply the same standards in allowing people to communion. We are all sinners, and all sinners have the same obligations before God.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I do not think that permitting Communion for the divorced and remarried implies a change of doctrine. When Jesus took away the Mosaic death penalty, on the occasion of the woman caught in adultery, He did not change the moral law. I see Pope Francis’ decision as an act of mercy. But I also think that, after a time, this must give way to a calling to complete conformity, objectively, to the moral law in their lives and in the lives of other sinners.

      Persons unrepentant from sins such as contraception and sexual sins have been receiving Communion for more than a generation, and few people complain about that. Does it imply an approval for those sins?

    • Marco says:

      “Having said that, yes, I agree with you: the Church should apply the same standards in allowing people to communion.”

      Then you agree that if the Church, according to you, shouldn’t admit the divorced and remarried to Communion, then neither the public schismatics should be admitted

      Therefore, you agree that if the Church had the authority the admit the public schismatics, She has the to admit the divorced and remarried as well.

      The issue here isn’t about our disagreement with said discipline (Ron, for example, disagrees and prefers a stricter discipline for ever catholic sinner), the issue here is that many conservatives are saying that the Church lacks the authority to admit the divorced and remarried to the Sacraments.

      But is that was the case, she would lack the authority to admit the public schismatics as well.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Yes. And the persons saying this, some of them, are schismatics. So they are saying “don’t admit that group of sinners over there. But admit our group of sinners, whose sins are worse.” Does the Church have the authority to admit sinners to Communion, if their sins are objectively grave? Yes. If the sin is not an actual mortal sin, according to the person’s judgment of conscience, or even if it is, as long as the person repents with an act of perfect contrition, and goes to Confession subsequently (if possible).

    • Marco says:


      1. “Therefore, you agree that if the Church had the authority the admit the public schismatics, She has the *authority* (i forgot to write it in the previous post) to admit the divorced and remarried as well.”

      2. “But *if* (that was a typo) that was the case, she would lack the authority to admit the public schismatics as well.”


      Yeah, that’s my point. I don’t think that a catholic should necessary believe that this discipline is the best that the Church could apply, but one thing is this kind of disagreement, another things entirely is saying that what the Pope is doing is going against the Divine Law. I mean, it’s really another kind of problem.

      This is what Stefano himself seems to imply, where he writes

      “It is as if the author was aware that he could not formally teach what he intended (so he did not err), but an unspoken message slipped through the cracks like a sort of repressed desire (“it would be God’s mercy, if it only were possible”). This is what the interpretations refer to. They interpret the unspoken message, not the Magisterium.”

      At least i hope that his admission of the fact that the Church should apply the same standards in allowing people to communion” will lead him, eventually, to recognize that the Church cannot have the authority of admitting the schismatics to the Sacraments while at the same time lacking the authority to admit the divorced and remarried.

      In other words, he should realize that either the Church has been wrong ever since 1983, or the Church, today, has the full authority to admit those sinners, when they are not guilty of actual mortal sin (the same goes for the schismatics).

  4. stefano says:

    Ron, you keep looking at the problem from a moral perspective and in terms of an equal crime and punishment treatment.

    But even then, I do not think it would be wise to take catholic sinners who do not repent and yet receive communion as a benchmark for moral standards, or as a reference in a pass-fail test to access communion.
    This would be a suicide. We might as well renounce to teaching morality.

    Yes, I know, Jesus forgave the woman accused of adultery and saved her from being stoned, but he also commanded to her not to sin anymore.
    I also recall that when Jesus met the healed blind in the Temple, he told him: “here you are, healed; do not sin anymore in order to avoid something worse”.

    We tend to forget, but the happy ending is always in the second part of the story.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I agree that the problem of divorce and remarriage is very serious. But I think the Pope is right not to turn them away, but to encourage them to go to Confession and Communion.

    • stefano says:

      Ron, I honestly think that this is a false excuse; the former discipline (formally still in force) does not turn away the divorced and remarried. It just requires an attitude of penance.
      The truth that before AL the divorced and remarried were sort of excommunicated is very hard to believe and very tough to swallow.

    • Ron Conte says:

      They weren’t excommunicated. Everyone is supposed to avoid Communion until they repent and confess. Also, I see the work of God in this controversy. The end result will be a strict rule for everyone to repent and confess all objective mortal sins before receiving Communion.

  5. Mark P. says:

    Those who seem to take the most liberal interpretation of Amoris Laetitia often use the phrase “concrete situation” to set certain couples and / or persons apart from those committing actual mortal sin. But, the way “concrete situation” is so often bandied about these days, to the point of becoming a buzzword or cliche, I would counter that many conservatives are in a “concrete situation” of being scandalized by certain clergy, the lack of correction, etc, and although seeming to disagree with the Holy Father, are not guilty of an actual mortal sin. It does seem that many people are genuinely concerned about and scandalized by current affairs in the Church and therefore their concrete situation would recuse them from any actual wrongdoing. Therefore, to apply AL in these expansive liberal interpretations, these conservatives are not actually in schism, since they are in a concrete situation which allows them to obey their conscience without being guilty of mortal sin.

    • Ron Conte says:

      The faithful can disagree with Pope Francis to a fairly wide extent without sin or schism. But when Catholics reject the authority of the Pope itself, then they have crossed the line into schism. Phil Lawler calling the Pope a “Lost Shepherd”, Brugger telling the Bishops to turn to him for guidance and to oppose the Pope; the Filial Correction accusing the Pope of propagating heresy; Henry Sire calling him a “dictator Pope”; and many other examples speak not of criticism or disagreement, but utter rejection of his role as Supreme Shepherd and Teacher of all Christians.

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