The document of the 61 theologians and one (schismatic) bishop which challenges the doctrinal correctness of Pope Francis, is labeled by them a “filial correction.”  What does this mean?  First, a bit of history—we turn to the 3rd and 4th centuries.

          Twice in less than 50 years men opposed the practices of the bishop of Rome and had themselves elected as “anti-popes.”  The first time Hippolytus set himself up against Callixtus I, and the second time Novatian opposed Cornelius.  In both cases, a common thread was a hyper-rigorist view of sins that insisted the pope could never pardon.  Callixtus was accused of reconciling bishops who committed serious sin; Cornelius was condemned for reconciling those who had lapsed from the Faith during persecution.  It is important to note that in both these cases the more “reconciling” position was what won out in the Church’s history—the hard line view was rejected in favor of mercy.  Hippolytus was eventually reconciled to the Church and died a martyr (and was canonized); Novatian remained in his own world of rigor.  Later, in the North Africa of the late 4th century, St Augustine was faced with similar problems in confronting the Donatists, a group who broke away from the Church on the ground that too many Catholics were too sinful; they, the Donatists, were the only true Church because they were “pure.”  They refused Communion to any not as “pure” as they.  Again, the policy of mercy (and humility) ultimately won out.

          It is this last principle that I would like to reflect on.  In justifying their challenge to Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia and in other actions, the 61 theologians and 1 (schismatic) bishop quote the Code of Canon Law (#212:2-3) that because of their competence they have the right to “manifest to the sacred pastors their view…”  I make only a couple of observations.  First of all, to manifest my view is more properly to be considered as an invitation to dialogue; a “correction” goes far beyond that.  Secondly, it is one thing to manifest one’s opinions to “the sacred pastors”; it is another to publish it in a public way.  They justify themselves by citing the “rebuke in public” of St Peter by St Paul (Galatians 2:11ff).  This is ironic.  A close reading of I Corinthians 8:7-13 finds St Paul advocating exactly the position described by Galatians as St Peter’s position!  In other words, St Paul came to understand that he was wrong in his public rebuke.  Did St Paul ever apologize to St Peter?  We don’t know, but chapter 1 of I Corinthians suggests they both had a fruitful ministry in Corinth. 

          There is an additional irony involved in this “filial correction.”  The authors claim they are turning  “…to the cathedra veritatis, the Roman Church…of which we are and intend always to remain loyal children…”  Yet the one bishop who signed this letter is himself the head of a schismatic sect, the Society of St Pius X.  Pope Benedict XVI tried with all his might to reconcile this group, to no avail.  I highlighted their issues in my previous essay; they will accept no compromises to their own position that they are correct and orthodox, and that Vatican Council II is heretical…

          My final essay on this topic will try to understand the letter in some detail, and also to offer some small critique of its points.