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Archbishop Bruno ForteScreenshot/Twitter

CHIETI, Italy (LifeSiteNews) — A prominent Italian prelate has hit back at fellow bishops who “publicly criticize” Pope Francis, saying that they are “wrong” to do so, since they break the “unity of the Church.” 

In an interview published February 22 by Religion Digital, Archbishop Bruno Forte of the Archdiocese of Chieti-Vasto in eastern Italy issued a strong critique of what the interviewer described as “bishops and cardinals who publicly criticize the Pope.”

Forte attested that such prelates “are wrong” for three reasons, implicitly accusing them first of attempting to assume the authority of a pope. “First,” he began, “because the Pope is the Successor of Peter, to whom Christ entrusted the keys of the Kingdom to bind and untie.” 

The 74-year-old archbishop added that those who “criticize” the Pope are also wrong since “the Bishop of Rome has an overview of the Church and the world, which no individual bishop has in the same way.”

Finally, Forte attested that to “criticize” the Pope was “wrong” since it endangered or even broke ecclesial unity: “Thirdly, because breaking the unity of the Church hurts everyone and the leading role of individuals does not express the strength and beauty of communion, which comes from above, it is an icon of the Trinity and leads us to the beauty of the eternal homeland.”

While Forte did not name any prelate in particular, the most prominent prelates who have been accused of criticizing the Pope are the dubia cardinals, with the most recent public dubia submitted over the summer and released on the eve of the October 2023 Synod on Synodality. 

READ: Five cardinals write Dubia to Pope Francis on concerns about Synod, Catholic doctrine

That dubia was submitted by Cardinals Walter Brandmüller, former prefect of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences; Raymond Leo Burke, former prefect of the Apostolic Signatura; Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, former Archbishop of Guadalajara; Robert Sarah, the former prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; and Joseph Zen, the former bishop of Hong Kong. Both Brandmüller and Burke were signatories of a previous dubia submitted to the Pope in 2016 concerning Amoris Laetitia.

Criticism or exercise of duty?

Indeed, since 2016, the dubia cardinals have been accused of fostering “apostasy” and “scandal” due to their public calls for clarity on Church teaching in the face of vague or heterodox pronouncements from Rome. 

In releasing the October 2023 dubia, the cardinals noted how such an action was not “wrong” but was an exercise of their duty and of Canon Law. They cited Canon 212 §3 which notes how the faithful “have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.”

The cardinals also pointed to the particular duty they hold as members of the College of Cardinals, outlined in Canon 349, under which they must “assist the Roman Pontiff… individually… especially in the daily care of the universal Church.”

Such an understanding of a prelate’s duty was shared by a number of bishops who supported the original 2016 dubia cardinals, such as Auxiliary Bishop Józef Wróbel of Lublin, Poland, who stated that the cardinals were “right to ask for clarification.”

Wróbel stated that the four cardinals had “done well and they have exercised correctly the provisions of Canon Law. I think it is not only a right, but even a duty.”

The process of a “fraternal” or “filial” correction is also one soundly defended in the Church’s teaching and is a spiritual work of mercy. As St. Thomas Aquinas writes in the Summa Theologiae, “fraternal correction is an act of charity.”

READ: Who am I not to judge? Correcting the sinner is an essential work of charity

Writing on the topic of charitable correction, Monsignor Charles Pope presented the Church’s wealth of teaching on the matter, concluding that:

Fraternal correction, correcting the sinner, is prescribed and consistently commanded by Scripture. We must resist the shame that the world tries to inflict on us for “judging” people. Not all judgment is forbidden; in fact, some judgment is commanded. Correction of the sinner is both charitable and virtuous.

Who is Abp. Forte?

Forte is known for his ardent promotion of Holy Communion to the divorced and “re-married” in line with Pope Francis’ controversial Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. In one such intervention he argued that it would be loving “as God does” for priests to give Holy Communion to the divorced and “re-married” who are living in adultery.

READ: Communion for adulterers is a ‘sign of obedience to God’s mercy’: Francis’ former Special Secretary to family synod  

He also served as special secretary to the 2014 Synod on the Family and was credited with writing the synod’s controversial mid-term report, which suggested that the Church emphasize the “positive” aspects of actions it considers to be mortally sinful, such as adultery, premarital cohabitation, and homosexual relations.

With such influential roles, Forte appeared as a rising star and favored theologian in the early years of Francis’ pontificate.

However, he appeared to fall out of Pope Francis’ favor after he reportedly revealed in May 2016 the Pope’s tactics regarding the promotion of Holy Communion for the divorced and “re-married.” The archbishop claimed that Francis told him: “If we speak explicitly about communion for the divorced and remarried, you do not know what a terrible mess we will make. So we won’t speak plainly, do it in a way that the premises are there, then I will draw out the conclusions.”

Last year, Forte issued a surprising, public intervention after he reminded his archdiocese of the Catholic Church’s strict ban on participating in Masonic activities, following a flurry of public activity by the Freemasons in his area. The Masons stated they would appeal to Pope Francis for support.