In case you haven’t noticed, a vocal group of Catholics are more than disgruntled over their papal leadership. I have intended to write about this since last May when 19 Catholic leaders released a 20-page public letter to the college of bishops taking the extreme step of asking the bishops to declare Pope Francis a heretic.
Type the words Pope Francis and heretic into your search engine, and you’ll find pages of debate over this topic. The subject came to my attention with a lengthy May 1 Reuters article by Philip Pulella. The grievances of the letter writers are many: Pope Francis, they say, is too soft on homosexuals, too accepting of other faiths, too willing to allow remarried Catholics whose marriages have not been annulled to receive communion, etc. Conservative Catholics have long complained that Pope Francis is simply too tolerant, too flexible and too slippery when it comes to church teaching. They fear that he is not strong enough in his defense of Catholicism as the one true church, that he is too hard on capitalism and that he is filling the church with liberal leadership.
One writer notes the church hasn’t had a papal heresy crisis since 1333. I don’t know if this is true or overblown. As for the recently released letter, which the letter writers have said they hope others will sign, others have noted the original signatories are hardly household names in Catholicism and there is zero chance of their success. But the debate will continue over whether this pope is good for the church. (I think he is). The debate will even continue over whether the recent letter has helped or set back the cause of conservatives in the church.
I write as an outside observer. What I know is that most of what one reads on the Internet is false or distorted beyond recognition. The word “heresy” has a very specific meaning in the Catholic Church, and from what I can tell Pope Francis doesn’t begin to fit that very serious charge. In that sense, the letter’s signatories have damaged their cause by hyperbolic statements.
The Catholic Church faces the same cross-currents many denominations are enduring. I have been following events in Indianapolis, where last month two Catholic high schools, operated by two different Catholic orders, took opposite approaches when ordered by their archbishop to fire teachers married to a same-sex spouse. Brebeuf High School refused to obey the order and thus forfeited its association with the Catholic Church. Cathedral High School complied with the archbishop, firing its teacher for living in contradiction to church teaching.
Although this is just one of many issues besetting the church, the different reactions in the very same city in a state that is reliably conservative illustrates the dilemma facing Catholicism.
The issues facing the church are deserving of careful debate and reasoned thinking. Using the “H” word will not advance the argument, however. There is room in any church for heated debate over the efficacy of a leader, but the letter writers and their supporters have gone overboard.