Critics of Filial Correction of Pope Francis Weigh In

Italian philosophy professor Rocco Buttiglione criticizes the signatories for standing as judges over the Pope, while a theologian and an author argue that those behind the ‘Correctio filialis’ have contravened a Vatican instruction for theologians. The Register also publishes the full text of a speech by Cardinal Marc Ouellet warning against both ‘alarmist’ and ‘permissive’ interpretations of Amoris Laetitita.

Rocco Buttiglione.
Rocco Buttiglione. (photo: YouTube)

The Correctio filialis, or filial correction, sent to Pope Francis in August and made public last month has been attracting more signatories — but now also some criticism.

So far the number of Correctors has risen to 216 professors and clergy, up from 62 at the time of publication on Sept. 24, while Cardinal Gerhard Müller and Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin have called for dialogue with the signatories whom, they say, have a right to be heard.

The Pope has not, and probably won't, respond to the Correctio which charges him with unintentionally spreading seven heresies about marriage, the moral life, and reception of the sacraments.

But since its publication, others have criticized the initiative and, in particular, have taken issue with the approach and methods the initiative’s authors have used.

In an Oct. 3 interview with La Stampa, philosophy professor and friend of Pope St. John Paul II Rocco Buttiglione criticized the signatories for standing as “judges over the Pope” and questioned their authority to do so.

Speaking to Andrea Tornielli, one of Francis’ closest media advisers, Buttiglione rejected the signatories’ assertion they are not accusing the Pope of heresy, arguing that alleging Francis has been propagating seven heresies amounts to the same thing.

Buttiglione said the Correctors also failed to use the correct method for correcting the heretical positions, in that their accusations lacked precision and they did not establish the intention of the one spreading those positions.

Tornielli then asked Buttiglione to critique the seven heresies the Correctors accuse Pope Francis of propagating. The philosopher politician argued that in each of them, the Correctio’s authors had not correctly understood what the Pope was trying to say.

As in his previous defenses of Amoris Laetitia, Buttiglione argued that although an action is always wrong, a person does not bear the entire responsibility for committing it, just as in criminal law, a person can have varying levels of culpability. “If there is no full knowledge and full consent, a mortal sin can become a venial sin,” he argued.

On whether the Pope wants to admit to Holy Communion remarried divorcees without a firm purpose of amendment of life — the seventh alleged heresy mentioned in the Correctio — Buttiglione said there may be cases where a person can be in God’s grace because of “extenuating factors” even if they continue to engage in sexual relations with their partner.

Again, he argued that although it is absolutely impossible to give the Eucharist to those who are in mortal sin, “if, due to the lack of full knowledge and full consent, there is no mortal sin, communion can be given, from the point of view of moral theology, also to a remarried-and-divorced.”

Asked by Tornielli if he thought the signatories took into account mitigating circumstances, Buttiglione said he clearly detected some “embarrassment,” as in previous appeals they had “completely ignored” attenuating circumstances.

“Now they are trying to take that into account,” he said. “To do this, they must pretend not to understand what the Pope truly said. More importantly, if the logical consequences of their assertions are drawn, even critics now admit that in some cases remarried-and-divorced may be free from grave fault due to subjective extenuating factors and may therefore receive Communion. Which from the very beginning, has been the real object of the dispute.”  

Buttiglione said he believed the signatories are trying to “isolate Pope Francis,” and that the Correctio was a “well orchestrated” campaign aimed at giving the impression of an “uprising” of experts.   

He ended by criticizing those who exalt Tradition to such an extent that only they who are the custodians of this Tradition believe they have the ability to judge the Church should she fail to adequately combat modernity. Such thinking, he said, was condemned by Pius XI, and he recalled, as a caution, René Guenon, the early 20th century French Catholic intellectual, who converted to Islam because according to Buttiglione he felt it offered a “more effective defense of Tradition against modernity.”


Contravening Donum Veritatis?

Also in La Stampa, which has gained a reputation for staunchly defending Pope Francis' pontificate, theologian Robert Fastiggi and author Dawn Eden Goldstein argue that the authors of the Correctio have not followed a 1990 instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for theologians.

Donum Veritatis was issued to explain the need for Catholic theologians to maintain communion with the Magisterium of the Church. But when problems arise, the document says, they have a duty to make their reservations known “in an evangelical spirit and a profound desire to resolve the difficulties.”

Fastiggi and Goldstein contend in their Oct. 4 article that the authors of the Correctio have failed to do this, and list a number of ways in which they believe they have fallen short of the instruction. For example, they argue that the signatories have not taken into account the differing levels of “authoritativeness” of papal statements, omit evidence that would show the Pope has not been operating out of a heretical mindset, interpreted papal statements in the “worst possible” light, and present their points as “non-arguable facts rather than person opinions.”

They also say the authors went against Donum Veritatis’ warning not to turn to the mass media, as well as its warning against creating a “parallel magisterium” of theologians. The document says such methods can “seriously trouble the People of God and lead to contempt for true authority,” and Fastiggi and Goldstein argue that the Correctio “pits itself against an orthodox reading of Pope Francis’ words.”

On the issue that the signatories have a right to speak out as the Pope has been unclear, Fastiggi and Goldstein believe Donum Veritatis forbids this, too, as disagreement with the Magisterium “cannot be justified” on the basis of whether a given teaching is evidently valid or not, or whether the opposite position would be more probable.  

And on the problem of reconciling statements in the exhortation with previous Church teaching that contradicts it, Fastiggi and Goldstein refer to Donum Veritatis’ call for “an intense and patient reflection” on the part of a critical theological.

They also highlight its calls on such a theologian to “revise his own opinions” if necessary, and “examine the objections which his colleagues might offer him.

Fastiggi and Goldstein assert that sending petitions to the Holy Father accusing him of directly or indirectly promoting heresies does not seem to be an “intense and patient reflection.” They also judge that Amoris Laetitia’s critics “don’t often seem to welcome constructive criticisms of their assertions” but appear resolved to “discredit any effort to challenge their position.”

In closing, Fastiggi and Goldstein insist they don’t wish to impugn the sincerity of those behind the Correctio, but argue that if they are to voice their concerns, they should do so in conformity with Donum Veritatis which forms part of the “tradition they claim to value.”   


Cardinal Ouellet's Speech

Meanwhile, the Register has obtained the full text of a speech given by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, who last month warned against “alarmist” and “unfaithful” interpretations of Amoris Laetitita.

The cardinal told Canadian bishops Sept. 25 the document does not signal “changes to doctrine or to sacramental discipline,” but represents a pastoral approach that takes into consideration “the good of the person,” according to their circumstances.

He said “any alarmist interpretation” that says the document is either “a break with tradition” or a “permissive interpretation that celebrates access to the sacraments” for the divorced and remarried is “unfaithful to the text and to the intentions of the supreme pontiff.”

Cardinal Marc Ouellet's Speech on Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love