Is an insult only a venial sin? Often it would be. But if the insult is said to anyone with malice, it is an actual mortal sin, no matter how slightly worded. Malice is always objectively grave, as it is incompatible with the state of grace, which is the state of loving God and neighbor. When chosen with full knowledge and full consent of the will, it is an actual mortal sin.
Many persons who claim to be criticizing Pope Francis are actually just expressing malice toward him openly and publicly. They state no specific criticism. They offer no theological argument. They just insult him, often viciously, and accuse him of very grave sins, contrary to dogma.
Supposing that some of these papal accusers have no malice, they still sin gravely when they publicly insult the Roman Pontiff. Especially today, where public expressions are spread very widely via modern media, many souls are harmed by these insults. The harm done is grave, even when the insult is not particularly severe, because it encourages others to insult the pope many times over, often with greater severity. The end result is that persons no longer trust the current Roman Pontiff.
And we have seen the dominos that fall when that happens. They lose faith in past Popes, for if the current Pope can err, than any Pope can err. If the current Pope can teach or commit heresy, then they all can. And next they lose faith in Ecumenical Councils, which have no validity apart from the Roman Pontiff. Finally, they lose faith in the Church herself, accusing her of having been infiltrated by Satan.
Here is what Pope Francis teaches on calumny. And he knows that many are uttering calumny against himself as well as others.
NCRonline: Christians who engage in calumny are like those responsible for the martyrdom of St. Stephen; they chose “the pettiest solution to annihilate a human being: slander and false witness,” the pope said Sept. 25 during his weekly general audience.
“We know that calumny always kills,” he said. “This ‘diabolical cancer’ of calumny – born from a desire to destroy a person’s reputation – also assaults the rest of the ecclesial body and seriously damages it when, for petty interests or to cover their own faults, (people) unite to sully someone.” [Calumny, slander is a ‘diabolical cancer,’ pope says; Sep 25, 2019]
If you think that the Pope has erred in some limited way, why not write a theological argument? Present your case. Treat the Roman Pontiff with respect and love, as he is your Teacher and Shepherd chosen by Christ. Yes, every single Roman Pontiff is chosen by God, for whatever ineffable reasons the Divine Wisdom might have. And every Roman Pontiff has the gifts of immunity from all error when speaking infallibly (Papal Infallibility, Conciliar Infallibility, Ordinary and universal Magisterium, dogmatic facts), and immunity from grave error at all other times, and a never failing faith. A Pope can sin mortally, in his personal life, but in all that concerns the Church he is protected from grave error. Additionally, even in his personal life, he cannot commit apostasy, heresy, or schism, as his faith is never failing. And all this is accomplished by the prevenient grace of God, which no man can resist.
As an example, I’ve written several posts on the death penalty here. I don’t accuse Pope Francis of any grave error. I mildly disagree with him that the death penalty is presently always inadmissible. I would say that the death penalty is still needed in some exceptional cases, but that we should generally set it aside for most cases where it has been used in the past.
Is it necessary to treat the Pope like a political enemy, and conclude that he has committed heresy or apostasy, merely because you have a different view on an open question? By the promise and grace of Christ, each Roman Pontiff is free from grave error, even when teaching non-infallibly, and is absolutely incapable of apostasy, heresy, or schism. But each of the Pope’s critics, even the Cardinals and Bishops individually and in small groups, have no such gifts. They can err to any extent, even to committing schism, heresy, or apostasy.
We cannot fail or go astray by taking the side of the Pope, accepting him as our Teacher and Shepherd, and rebuffing all his accusers.
Those who insult the Pope, sin gravely. Those who accuse the Pope of grave error, err gravely. Those who accuse the Pope of heresy, commit heresy. Those who accuse the Pope of apostasy, commit apostasy. Those who treat the Pope with contempt, risk the fires of Hell.
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