Professor John Rist signed the Open Letter, accusing Pope Francis of formal heresy. Then a Pontifical University expelled him (and his car). Perhaps it would be best for the Church to take formal ecclesiastical action against all the papal accusers.
Excommunication is considered a medicinal measure, not a merely retributive justice. The action taken by the Church is intended to bring the person to repentance. Other penalties are issued by the Church for a wide range of different offenses for the same purpose, correction. Would it not be salutary for the Church to penalize Catholics who publicly accuse the Roman Pontiff of apostasy, heresy, schism, or grave errors on faith or morals?
Accusing the Roman Pontiff of heresy harms the faithful and the ability of the Church to save souls. These accusations undermine the trust that souls might place in the Magisterium. They undermine the faith of those who are weak or wavering. They make it less likely that a sinner will repent and convert to Catholicism. They make it more likely that Catholics will fall away from the one true Church, the sole Ark of Salvation, because they have rejected the Roman Pontiff who leads the Church.
And since this accusation against any Pope is necessarily always false, as proven here, there is no good done to outweigh the harm. It is a severe violation of the commandment not to bear false witness. The accusation also implies that the dogma of the First Vatican Council on the never failing faith of the Church is false, thereby undermining faith in an Ecumenical Council. And it implies that the promises of Jesus (Mt 16:18; Lk 22:32) are also false, thereby undermining the whole Christian faith.
So the harm is very grave. The Church issues penalties, usually through Canon law, to lessen the harm done by various types of offenses committed by Catholics, especially those against the Church Herself. This harm is particularly severe. Many souls have been led astray by being convinced that a Pope can teach or commit heresy, when Catholic dogma states the opposite.
A set of penalties against clerics, theologians, scholars, religious, and the laity would make it clear that the Church still asserts the ancient teaching that each successor of Peter has a never failing faith and immunity from grave error. Moreover, the Church would thereby make it clear that no Pope can intend or be a part of any plan to gravely harm the Church. The prevenient grace of God keeps the Church indefectible, therefore all that is contrary to indefectibility is absolutely prevented by providence and grace.
These penalties would also make the laity think twice before leaping into public or private support for grave accusations against the Roman Pontiff. In the age of the internet, it is too easy for a small group of persons to cause harm throughout the world by their false accusations and specious arguments. And the laity are too readily influenced by such material. Penalties would make it clear to everyone that such claims, e.g. that Popes can teach grave error or commit heresy, are both false and harmful.
According to Saint Frances de Sales:
“The declared enemies of God and His Church, heretics and schismatics, must be criticized as much as possible, as long as truth is not denied. It is a work of charity to shout: ‘Here is the wolf!’ when it enters the flock or anywhere else.”
The Church warns the faithful against schismatics and heretics by means of salutary penalties. And everyone who accuses the Roman Pontiff of heresy is necessarily committing formal schism and asserting at least material heresy. For it is dogma that Popes cannot be guilty of heresy. It’s ironic that some of these papal accusers long for the days when the Church used to burn heretics at the stake. They are the heretics of today.
Who Should Be Penalized?
Every cleric, from Cardinal down to the least deacon, should be penalized for any public accusation against the Roman Pontiff of teaching grave error (including but not limited to heresy), of committing apostasy, heresy, or schism, or of anything contrary to the indefectibility of the Church by intention, word, or action. Conspiracy theories proposed by clerics, those that accuse the Roman Pontiff, or the college of Cardinals, or the body of Bishops, are particularly harmful. So those clerics who propose or support conspiracy theories, or who promote (or write forewords for) books of this type should also be subjected to penalties. Removing clerics from the ranks of those who accuse the Roman Pontiff would be very helpful, as it would show the faithful that the ordained of the Church accept no such claims against the Vicar of Christ.
Catholic scholars of every rank are another group which must be penalized, for the sake of the poor and weak flock of Jesus Christ. Any scholar who accuses the Roman Pontiff of the aforementioned offenses should be penalized in such a way that the faithful no longer see that person as a faithful or renowned or praiseworthy Catholic scholar.
Catholic media outlets have been complicit, to the extent of formal cooperation and even at times co-perpetration, in promoting or approving these accusations against Pope Francis. They must be penalized so that the faithful know that they have fallen away from the orthodox Catholic faith. No one may proclaim himself or his organization to be orthodox, apart from the Roman Pontiff and the one holy apostolic and catholic Church.
Catholic speakers and authors, especially those with a large or cohesive following, must be penalized, so that their supporters, followers, listeners, and readers are not led by them into grave sin.
Types of Penalties
An accusation of heresy against the Roman Pontiff is a very grave sin which does much harm to the Church throughout the world. So the penalties must be strong enough to act as a deterrent, and also to cause the accuser to consider repenting from his sin. In addition, the penalties must prevent the Catholic accuser from being able to pretend that he has done nothing wrong. The penalties must disrupt his spiritual life and his relationship with the Church. In this way, these false accusers will be compelled by just and salutary penalties from their Teacher and Shepherd — who speaks and acts with the authority of Christ — to repent of these grave sins and to repair some of the damage done to souls.
Do not be deceived. Since the First Vatican Council issued its dogma, everyone who accuses the Roman Pontiff of teaching or committing heresy is automatically excommunicated for the sin of schism. Some of these persons are guilty of actual mortal sin and have lost the state of grace. This is likelihood is based on their public expressions of extreme pride, of faithlessness, and of malice toward the Vicar of Christ.
Clerics are automatically excommunicated, and therefore, the penalties against them should include a public statement, naming them as someone who has received a latae sententiae excommunication. They should also be given a ferendae sententiae excommunication without a trial. No trial is needed when the sin is not only exceedingly grace, but public and manifest. The Church can issue penalties without a trial for certain types of offenses, to protect innocent souls.
Clerics must also be suspended a divinis, i.e. prevented from celebrating the divine service (the Mass). The faithful must understand that such clerics are not faithful shepherds as they are no longer in communion with the Roman Pontiff. Clerics must also be suspended from all sacred duties, including all Sacraments (with the usual exceptions). And they must not be permitted to teach or to hold any position in the Church at any level, nor in any Catholic organization.
In some cases, the Holy See should order their Catholic employer (such as a Catholic university or Catholic charitable organization) to fire them. They must no longer be paid any money, nor given any support. Clerics who remain unrepentant must be deprived of their pensions and all other financial supports. Whoever accuses the Pope of heresy separates himself from the Church, and is therefore not morally due any further support. Catholics who financially support the papal accusers should also be given some type of automatic penalty.
Catholic scholars who accuse the Roman Pontiff should be publicly named as subject to automatic excommunication, and also be excommunicated ferendae sententiae. The Holy See should require the Catholic university which employs them to fire them. If they are employed by an institution beyond the reach of the Holy See, they should be persona non grata at all Catholic schools and organizations.
Catholic media outlets, which accuse the Roman Pontiff or provide a platform for accusations or support the accusers or their words, should be given a type of excommunication: a declaration of the Holy See that they are unfaithful to the Church and do not deserve the name Catholic. Furthermore, their principle leaders and writers should be threatened with excommunication if they do not leave their positions at the unfaithful organization.
Catholic speakers and authors should also be penalized with excommunication. They should be banned from speaking at all Catholic dioceses, parishes, and organizations. They should be denied the Sacraments and be banned from all diocesan and parish properties. Any clerics who support them or give them Communion should be suspended and excommunicated. They should be banned from the use of all Catholic media outlets and publishers. And anyone who funds them, supports them, or approves of their accusations should likewise be subjected to penalties.
In addition, penalties should be incurred by any of the faithful who support or defend the guilty party. It should not be permissible, when the Roman Pontiff or the Holy See issues a judgment and penalty, for it to become a subject of discussion and disagreement, with many persons supporting the guilty party and approving of his offense. The members of the Catholic Church, as a matter of faith, must accept the teachings and judgments of the Roman Pontiff. If they accuse him of heresy or other grave offenses, they are guilty of schism and other delicts.
Accusing the Roman Pontiff of heresy is a very grave sin which does real harm to souls throughout the world. Even non-Catholics are harmed, as this type of accusation lessens the likelihood that they might convert and become Catholic. Accusing the Church of having been infiltrated by Satan, in the form of Popes and an Ecumenical Council which all supposedly went astray from truth and the will of God is an even more harmful and grave sin. The Church must take action against these accusers, so that the faithful and the world will understand that such claims are contrary to multiple dogmas of the Faith, and such accusers have separated themselves from Christ.
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