SANTIAGO, Chile, September 29, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — The recent “filial correction” charging Pope Francis with permitting the spread of seven heresies, at least by omission, has provoked admiration and consternation among Catholics and drawn considerable attention in the secular media. But what led those who authored or contributed to the Correction to take such a rare and serious step?
We travelled to Santiago, Chile, where we had the opportunity for an in-depth interview with Professor Claudio Pierantoni, who is one of the lay scholars who helped shape the “filial correction.” Prof. Pierantoni, who was born in Rome, is currently a professor of Medieval Philosophy in the Philosophy Faculty of the University of Chile (Santiago). He has two PhDs: in the History of Christianity and in Philosophy.
In this extensive interview, we discuss the immediate trigger for the correction, namely the chaos following the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the philosophical roots of the crisis, and why Professor Pierantoni describes the present situation as “apocalyptic.”
Professor Pierantoni, what personally led you to be part of the Filial Correction initiative?
I started thinking about this [matter] as soon as the document Amoris Laetitia came out. Immediately it attracted my attention, when I read the article of Professor de Mattei (“Prime impressioni su un document catastrofico,” Corrispondenza Romana), and the first open letter to the Pope by Bishop Schneider, which were among the first and strongest reactions that appeared. I continued to investigate and read the many articles that continued to be published, so I have thought about it in an uninterrupted way ever since. Of course, up to that point, I was accustomed to thinking that this is not a matter for lay people to be involved with, because there are bishops and cardinals. But then I started to see that bishops and cardinals were not doing much, apart from Bishop Schneider, or afterwards, Cardinals Burke, Caffarra, Brandmüller and Meisner. So I felt something had to be done.
In September I wrote my first article on the subject, drawing a parallel between the present situation and the Arian controversy, a parallel that had been suggested by Bishop Schneider. Since then, the thought has never left me. In April 2017, I was invited to participate in the international conference in Rome that featured lay speakers from five continents and called for clarity about Amoris Laetitia. There I spoke about the necessary link between Magisterium and Tradition, and about the case of the heresy of Popes Liberius and Honorius. This was important in order that people might properly understand the doctrine of papal infallibility in the light of the history of the Church.
I felt very strongly that this contribution was a very important thing to do, because one of the main problems in this controversy has been the tendency of many Catholics to interpret the Pope’s personal ideas or accidental declarations as if they were necessarily a part of the Magisterium of the Church.
Some people said: what can you achieve with the “filial correction”? But I always thought that, by telling the truth, by stating it in a scholarly and well-founded way, you can achieve many things — just because you are telling the truth. It’s not a question of human power, really. Of course, the truth must be spoken in a respectful way, the Pope must be respected as the Pope. And I think it should be clear that we consider him to be the Pope, because some people might confuse this, suspecting that it is a sede vacantist position. That must be very clear, that we consider Francis to be the Pope. That is precisely why we are insisting that he condemn these errors.
Why has this step been taken if the cardinals, who are the Pope’s counsellors, are going to issue a formal correction?
The formal correction, as you remember, was already promised for January. But in April, when we had the Rome conference, there still was no hint that Cardinal Burke was going to issue a correction. So, in a little group, we started to think about a lay correction. Then, in July, when our correction was taking its final shape and had gained a certain number of signatures, we heard with great pleasure that Cardinal Burke was again thinking of a correction on his part. I also thought that although the impact of a formal correction made by the cardinals would of course have a much greater impact, because to counsel the Pope is their specific mission, there is not necessarily a juridical difference. We are inferior to the Pope, but the cardinals are inferior as well. Some opponents of the ‘filial correction’ argue that this is not a juridical act, that it has no juridical value. And I think they are right: properly speaking, it has no juridical value. The Pope is above any juridical form of correction from a superior (as we state in our letter), because he has no superior on earth. But both in the case of the cardinals and of the scholars, a correction has great moral value. So the moral value is common to both.
You are right to say that that the job of the cardinals is to counsel the pope, but the duty of a correction belongs to anyone who has the knowledge to do it.
And I think, in this case, the cardinals need the support of scholars, because, in the first place they are so few. If there were 60 cardinals that were also scholars, of course it would be useless. But given that they are now only two, I think they need lay and scholarly support.
Perhaps people outside the Church think this is a political matter. But it is a theological, philosophical, historical matter that entails much scholarly work and needs much expertise. The kind of problems this entails is wide-ranging. You need to have philosophers, historians, theologians.
It would be very easy for Pope Francis to answer your concerns and clarify matters, wouldn’t it?
Yes, of course in terms of practical action. But it would mean contradicting his main line of action and thought over many years — I believe not only during his years as pope but also previous years as well. It would be contradictory to a whole way of thinking, rather than just an error in part of the journey of life. I think that is why the reference to Modernism in our letter was especially important, for this current of thought has a long tradition in the 20th century and has produced a very influential school and a way of thinking.
Do you think that Modernism is the root of the seven heretical propositions you have addressed in the Correctio?
Yes, I think that Modernism is the basic root, even more than Lutheranism. Because Modernism is a more philosophically coherent system with definite presuppositions, whereas Lutheranism has different elements that are not always coherent with one another. For example, the basic presupposition of Modernism, which in the end is a derivation of German idealism, is that all being is history, so truth cannot be immutable, but must evolve. The basic presupposition is that there is not a really immutable God (an error condemned by the First Vatican Council), and therefore an immutable substance of truth, but somehow God identifies himself with creation (another error condemned by Vatican I) and so evolves with history. In that sense, something can be true in the fourth century and false in the twenty-first. According to this view, today’s magisterium doesn’t need to be logically coherent with previous magisterium: it is enough to state that the same universal “Substance” — God, Reality, or Life — is speaking today as it speaks through the present magisterium, and there’s no point in contrasting it with previous magisterium. That is the philosophical foundation of maxims such as “Reality is superior to ideas” (cf. Evangelii gaudium, 233). But, in the end, it is clear that this leads to abandoning the principle of non-contradiction: that’s why you hear nowadays in Rome statements like Fr. Spadaro’s already (in)famous one: “two and two are five.” Now I think this contradiction leads not only to heresy, but still more, to mental illness. It is no exaggeration what Cardinal Sarah stated during one of the Vatican synods of 2014 – 2015 that “the divorce between doctrine and practice is a dangerous schizophrenic pathology.”
Could you tell our readers more about what Modernism is?
I think that in Modernism there is a deep philosophical problem about the idea of God himself. In Modernism, God is conceived as changeable. Somehow the substance of God is immanent in the world in such a way that you cannot metaphysically distinguish being from becoming, being from change. If God is changing with reality, then you have a problem with the very notion of God, and nowadays this is a very strong school of thought. It is Hegelian in origin. I think it’s much more ancient as a doctrine (you can trace it back to ancient Gnosticism) but Hegel is its most famous modern representative. And it’s very strong in modern faculties of theology. So it’s a very deep problem.
I think the immediate intention of the Pope and his counsellors was to give an answer to the question of Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. But then, in order to give a theological and philosophical justification, they had to make explicit their own presuppositions, which are mistaken in a much more profound way. So the general view you get is very frightening and apocalyptic. Modernism, as Pope Pius X famously stated, is not just “one heresy,” but the root and consummation of all heresies.
If the Correction were not issued, what did you fear might happen?
I think that if an error is not somehow corrected, then humanly speaking, the obvious prediction is that error will continue to spread. At least, with a correction, many people may come to realize that there is a problem. I think to state clearly that what we have here is material heresy, and that it is directly contrary to the Faith, challenges anyone and obliges people to think.
You are also a Church historian. In what respect is the 1333 example (the correction of Pope John XXII) different from the present case?
I think the main difference is the sheer “volume” of heresy. One can make a mistake on one point, but I think one important characteristic of the statement we signed is that it provides a historical background, explaining how this kind of thought relates to Modernism and to Lutheranism. So you can see that it’s not just one point on which a mistake has been made, but it’s a whole school of thought that then comes out in heretical propositions. The situation today is much more complex and much more grave.
At the conference held in Rome last April, you described the current situation as “apocalyptic”…
Yes, and I still think it’s apocalyptic, because you don’t get the impression that the Pope is making only one mistake. For example, during Pope John Paul II’s pontificate there was a question about a ‘just war.’ He said, during the first war in Iraq, that all war was unjust. A friend of mine, Father Robert Dodaro OSA, who later was director of the Augustinianum, published an article saying that tradition says there can be a just war. St. Augustine teaches this; St. Thomas Aquinas teaches this, based of course on Scripture. So, this doesn’t seem orthodox. But no one thought John Paul II was a heretic. He made one mistake and one could correct him. But it’s a very different situation when you have a completely different world vision that, theologically and philosophically, risks being opposed to the Catholic view, that has a modernist view and says that doctrine is basically changeable, so that something which is Scripture means one thing in the first century, but another thing in the eleventh century, and another thing in the twenty-first century. One could ask, then, what’s the use of having a Bible, or of having Tradition (the two sources of Divine Revelation)?
The Correction has been presented in the media and elsewhere in terms of what Amoris Laetitia said about Communion for the divorced and remarried, but from what I understand you to be saying, other broader and deeper issues have emerged …
And I think this is providential. Although it’s frightening, I think it’s providential that mistakes come out with their theological and philosophical presuppositions. Because otherwise, one could just say, ‘Do it. Give communion with no justification,’ as many priests have done before. But if you start trying to justify — rationally, theologically — the problem grows, because you show what the presuppositions are. So this exposure creates bigger problems in one sense, but it’s also providential because one can see where the mistake really lies, what the basic mistake is that leads you to a certain conclusion. Conservative popes like Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II tried to stop it, but this somehow obliged “progressive” theologians to hide their presuppositions and wait in secret. But now they have freedom to express themselves and so their train of thought is much clearer. You can know what they think, so it’s much easier to understand how grave the situation is.
Is there a concern among the signatories — either priests or lay scholars — that they might suffer reprisals?
Yes, there is a concern about that. I have heard from many people in Catholic institutions (here in Santiago and elsewhere) who have been directly threatened with this, and therefore they didn’t sign. For example, I have heard from some people who signed the document of the 45 and they were told not to sign anything else or they would lose their position. Of course, one is more at risk depending on the kind of institution. I have heard of people being threatened, not directly from Rome but by the local institution, sometimes striving to be “more Roman than the Pope.”
Are you personally concerned?
In my case, I work for a state university, so they are not so concerned. I also work for a Catholic institution, but there they mainly share the orthodox position, so they don’t persecute people who hold an orthodox position. Of course, one always needs a certain degree of prudence in this, trying not to scandalize persons who are not prepared.
Is the group of signatories you have gathered representative of a much larger group then?
Oh yes, definitely. I sent it to 10 people, for example, and 7 out of 10 told me they didn’t want to sign it out of fear of reprisals. A few did not think they were prepared to make a direct correction of the pope, although they agreed on the content. I can tell you that many, many people basically agreed on the content, many more than those who signed. So I think it is an error to claim, as some have in the media, that this is a “marginal” or a “traditionalist” initiative. “Traditionalist” in the strict sense means someone who only goes to the Mass in the extraordinary form, (i.e. the traditional Latin Mass), or who has a strong objection to Vatican II. But the positions contained in the document are very widely shared positions. In fact, some commentators said: “they have been very good about mentioning only seven heresies, because there are many more,” and these commentators were not traditionalists.
Of course one reason why they are calling it “ultra-traditionalist” is because of the presence of Bishop Fellay’s signature.
Yes well, it is true that there are a number of people among the signatories who come from a traditionalist way of thinking, but that does not mean that the position in itself is traditionalist. It’s not a traditionalist position to mention these errors. I think many normal Catholics, when they start thinking, understand that there are grave errors.
One could define the correction as “conservative,” provided that one understands that ‘conservative,’ in the Church, is not the same as ‘conservative’ in the British parliament. Conserving in politics can be discussed because one is dealing with human law, not absolute truth. But in the Church, conservative means to conserve what has been handed down from Christ himself, through the Apostolic tradition. In this sense, it is essential to a Catholic to be conservative.
It has been suggested that the correction might tear down the papacy, that the devil could be using this as a trick.
On the contrary, I think that in this enterprise that the Pope and his counsellors have undertaken with Amoris Laetitia really lies the trick to tear down the papacy. The papacy came out immensely discredited after Amoris Laetitia. I have no doubts in saying that it is by far the worst document that has ever come out with a papal signature in the whole history of the Church. This explains why many people have now seriously started to doubt if Francis really is the Pope. Many people, who rightly think the Pope must be the defender of the tradition, thought: well, this can’t be the Pope. It has also led some people to doubt papal infallibility or the meaning of the papacy. My friend Prof. Josef Seifert was also accused by his archbishop in Granada of discrediting the papacy by pointing to one of the biggest problems in AL. But who is really discrediting the papacy? First we should decide if the problem he pointed out was real and serious. (see my defense of Seifert in: https://aemaet.de/index.php/aemaet/article/view/46/pdf).
Finally, I think it’s very evident that the Pope is putting a lot of confidence in just one group of people, who are all of one school, theologically and politically; and that is not good for a Pope. He should really try to listen to different people. In Italy, for example, but also in America and in many other places, he looks more and more every day like someone who is standing for a party (see the book “The Political Pope”). That is what discredits the papacy.
What do you think Leo XIII meant when he wrote, in the exorcism prayer he composed after his alleged vision of St. Michael: “In the Holy Place itself, where has been set up the See of the most holy Peter and the Chair of Truth for the light of the world, they have raised the throne of their abominable impiety, with the iniquitous design that when the Pastor has been struck, the sheep may be scattered”? Are you familiar with this passage?
Yes, I discovered it right after Amoris Laetitia came out, and it surprised me very much because, frightening as it was, it seemed to be a perfect picture of the situation. I think no fictional writer could have imagined this and it’s a true prophecy which is unfolding now. No one could have imagined that this prophecy would really come true (at some moment that paragraph was thought so incredible that it was even deleted from the St. Michael Prayer in official texts), but I think what Leo XIII was describing is coming true.
It is important to add that this is not a moral judgment about the Pope. I think the Pope and his counsellors — for example Fr. Spadaro, whom I got to know when I was a young student in Rome — are in fact good people. I believe they are well intentioned. Pope Francis is charismatic and has many human and Christian virtues, so of course many people tend to believe him. But this is precisely what creates more confusion and so behind all of this there is a truly diabolical trick.
What do you think will happen now that the Correction has been made public?
I think that now Cardinal Burke must proceed to issue his long promised correction. If I were him, I would call it a “fraternal correction” (better than “formal”). He has in fact given us hints that he approves of our “filial” initiative and feels supported by it, and so I’m sure he now knows that very soon is his time to act. Perhaps two or three more cardinals, or half a dozen bishops, will join. Maybe more, maybe less. But even if he were the only one, I think he must soon issue a correction.
Are we therefore in a time similar to the Arian heresy and St. Athanasius?
Yes, very similar, because we have two schools of thought that are difficult to reconcile, and there is a sufficiently wide consensus among learned theologians in very influential academic institutions (above all in Germany) that what we consider the heretical school is in fact orthodox. So I think there is also in this case, just like in ancient learned bishops of the Origenian school, a superiority complex among heretical (or semi-heretical) thinkers: they tend to look on others as inferior, or stuck in the past, as happened during the Arian controversy with the attitude towards Occidental bishops. Sometimes a more modest academic training can be a better ally to orthodoxy, because usually clever people, who are raised in a famous or prestigious school can be more easily misled, as they frequently judge theology on human academic standards, and tend to follow the trend of their time and their school (for example Karl Rahner’s school, that had in recent times a huge influence) more than Tradition and the Bible.
If a fraternal correction were made, what do you think the next step might be?
It’s very difficult to say, but I believe they haven’t issued it yet because they fear a schism. But I think the opposite is true: that if they don’t do it, there will be a schism. To not speak of the true doctrine, to not correct errors, for fear of schism is a contradiction. Only truth can unite. If error spreads it will cause a split, from parish church to parish church, from bishop to bishop, from country to country. It would be a practical schism, which in fact already exists, but if the correction doesn’t take place, it will get much worse.
Although the defenders of the Pope may mock the initiative, and say the signatories are very few in number and ultra-conservative, or traditionalists, in the end what’s important is not who is saying it, but if what is being said is true, no matter whether it is said by famous or obscure people, whether it’s Bishop Fellay or the president of the IOR. The news of the day passes, but the truth remains.
I don’t think it’s the number that’s important. St. Athanasius in his time was only one. There were some people supporting him, but they were very few. But what was maintained as orthodoxy remained.
What can the lay faithful do?
I think the lay people have a very important role, because they are freer. I think this document may help some people to reflect in a more comprehensive way. But I think there is much work still to be done. The laity need more formation. Many people can’t react to this because they don’t have basic formation. Scholars should try to take the occasion to teach what perhaps we suppose people know, but they don’t know: about the nature of the Church, about the role of the pope, about infallibility, about moral doctrine.
Cardinal Müller has suggested holding a theological disputation. What do you think of his proposal?
I consider Cardinal Müller’s proposal to be an excellent idea, and a wonderful occasion for dialogue and for the genuine pursuit of truth within the Church. It is vital for us, both as Catholics and as rational beings, that we concentrate on the intrinsic truth of the fundamental doctrines that are at stake in this controversy, and that we don’t fall into the temptation of focusing on external arguments, based on the rank, prestige or number of the counterpart. Rank, fame, or numbers are contingent realities that pass away: but the truth is that which IS (cf. Ex 3:14). The truth is God himself.
NOTE: For those readers who want to understand the meaning and dangers of Modernism in more detail, LifeSiteNews recommends Pope Pius X’s encyclical on the modernists, Pascendi Dominici Gregis, which is available here on the Vatican website.