Vatican I infallibly taught that every Pope has the gift of truth and a never-failing faith. This teaching on the gifts of immunity from (grave) error and a never-failing faith is also found in past magisterial teachings of Popes, in this article at Catholicism.io So it is not possible for any Pope to teach material heresy, as that is contrary to the gift of truth (immunity from grave error), and it is not possible for any Pope to commit apostasy, formal heresy, or formal schism, as that is contrary to a never-failing faith. The prevenient grace of God absolutely preserves the Pope in this way.
Therefore, Pope Francis has never taught material heresy, nor any other grave error, and Pope Francis has never committed apostasy, heresy, or schism of any kind. Those who accuse Pope Francis of teaching or committing heresy are themselves guilty of heresy, since the above preservation of the Pope by grace is a formal dogma. They are also guilty of public formal schism, since in accusing Pope Francis of teaching or committing heresy, they necessarily imply that they will not submit their minds and hearts to him as their Teacher and Shepherd. The grave sin of schism is not avoided merely by acknowledging that a man is the Roman Pontiff; even an atheist will admit that Pope Francis is the Pope. To avoid schism, a Catholic must accept the Pope as his very own Teacher and Shepherd.
Anyone who accuses the Church Herself of having been infiltrated by Satan is guilty of a type of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. For the Church is the body of Christ, with Christ as Her head, and with the Holy Spirit as Her soul. Such an accusation is equivalent to saying that Jesus himself is possessed by a demon (Mt 12).
The Open Letter: formal heresy
The Open Letter accuses Pope Francis of formal heresy, that is, of teaching material heresy deliberately and knowingly. The problem with this accusation is that under Canon law and under the eternal moral law, anyone who commits apostasy, formal heresy, or formal schism is automatically excommunicated (latae sententiae).
Since the sentence is automatic, there is no need for a judgment by the Bishops. The Pope is above Canon law, except in so far as Canon law directly expresses a teaching of the Magisterium or a provision of the moral law (divine law or natural law). So does not remain for the Bishops to judge and condemn the Pope as being guilty, supposedly, of violating Canon law. Popes are above Canon law. The only question is whether Popes, like anyone else, are subject to automatic excommunication for the sins of apostasy, heresy, or schism.
First Question for the papal accusers: Is Pope Francis automatically excommunicated?
1. No, because he has not been found guilty by any authority in the Church.
That answer is incorrect. There is no higher authority in the Church than the Pope, other than God. Even an Ecumenical Council is not above the Roman Pontiff, as the First Vatican Council infallibly taught. So no one could try or convict the Pope of heresy. In addition, the penalty for formal heresy is automatic excommunication, which occurs by the very nature of the act, without need of any judgment by a person or group in authority.
2. No, because Popes are above Canon law.
That answer is incorrect. Canon law contains teachings of the Church, including infallible teachings. A Pope is not above magisterial teachings. Canon law also contains direct expressions of the eternal moral law. A Pope is not above the moral law. The Pope is only above those provision of Canon law which are per se of the law, and not also teachings on faith or morals. And the penalty of automatic excommunication for apostasy or heresy or schism is part of the moral law, as is clear from the nature of the sin. By apostasy, heresy, or schism, the sinner cuts himself off from the Church by rejecting the Faith itself, or particular teachings of the faith, or the authority of the Church.
3. No, because Popes cannot be excommunicated, even if they commit apostasy, heresy, or schism.
That answer is incorrect. If a Pope committed apostasy, he would no longer be Christian, so he could not possibly still be in communion with the Church. The same would also have to be true of heresy and schism.
4. The only other possible answer is: Yes, a Pope would be automatically excommunicated if he ever committed apostasy, formal heresy, or formal schism.
The papal accusers wish to have their cake and eat it too. They wish to have things both ways. You cannot assert to the whole world that the Roman Pontiff has committed formal heresy, and then claim that you still submit to him (as if you were not schismatics), and claim that he is still the Roman Pontiff. The Church is indefectible. If the Roman Pontiff were a heretic, if that were possible, he could not remain Pope, as the Church would have defected if She had a head who was an apostate, a heretic, or a schismatic.
The Open Letter — and all other accusations against Pope Francis of formal heresy — necessarily implies that all its signatories, even those beyond the original 19, have broken communion with the Roman Pontiff. It also implies that the Pope would be automatically excommunicated, if he in fact had committed formal heresy (which he hasn’t). So the Open Letter necessarily implies that Pope Francis is no longer a valid Roman Pontiff.
If the signatories deny this, they are hypocrites. They cannot claim that the Pope is guilty of formal heresy and still remains as a valid Roman Pontiff, as that would imply that the dogma of the indefectibility of the Church is false. And they cannot claim to be in communion with him, while accusing him of having departed from the faith, as that would make them accessories to his alleged heresy.
If Pope Francis committed formal heresy, then he is automatically excommunicated and is no longer a valid Roman Pontiff. Certainly, I believe that, by the grace of God, no Pope can commit heresy. But since the signatories and supporters of the Open Letter accuse the Pope of formal heresy, they must admit that formal heresy results in automatic excommunication.
So, papal accusers, why are you speaking as if Francis were still the Roman Pontiff? Having accused him of formal heresy, you clearly are not willing to submit to him as Teacher and Shepherd. Repent of your false accusations, heresy, schism, and other grave sins, or walk away. Stop pretending that you are submissive to the authority of the current Roman Pontiff over doctrine and discipline.
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