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Pope Francis during his general audience, February 2, 2022.Vatican News/ screenshot

VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis on Wednesday claimed the “communion of saints” includes those who have “denied the faith” and “denied their baptism,” in comments which have been described as possibly being “outright heresy.”

Addressing the general audience on February 2 — the traditional feast of Candlemas — Pope Francis spoke about the communion of the saints and the Catholic Church, quoting selectively from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 946).

“The communion of saints is precisely the Church,” he said before adding “What does this mean? That the Church is reserved for the perfect? No.” 

“It means that it is the community of saved sinners,” claimed the Pontiff, while also seeming to remove man’s free will regarding belonging to the Church. “The Church is the community of saved sinners. That’s a beautiful definition. No one can exclude himself from the Church, we are all saved sinners.”

Communion of saints made up of ‘apostates’ and ‘persecutors’

Continuing his theme, Pope Francis posed himself a question about membership of the communion of saints. “‘Father, let us think of those who have denied the faith, who are apostates, who are the persecutors of the Church, who have denied their baptism: are these also at home?’,” he asked.

“Yes, even these, even the blasphemers, all of them. We are brothers: this is the communion of saints. The communion of saints holds together the community of believers on earth and in heaven.”

Screenshot of the live-stream of Pope Francis’ audience.

“Let us think, dear brothers and sisters: in Christ no one can ever truly separate us from those we love because the bond is an existential bond, a strong bond that is in our very nature; only the way of being together with each one changes, but nothing and no one can break this bond,” Pope Francis said.

A number of Catholics have accused Francis of “heresy,” while others wrote that his address essentially “denies the existence of hell.”

Traditional Catholic teaching on the Communion of Saints

What Francis left out when quoting from the CCC was a subsequent paragraph stating that this communion must be shown first by a “communion in the faith” and “of the sacraments.” 

“The term ‘communion of saints’ therefore has two closely linked meanings: ‘communion in holy things (sancta)’ and ‘among holy persons (sancti)’.” 

This text automatically contradicts his suggestion that one can be a member of the Church and the communion of saints, while also being an unrepentant heretic or apostate.

In his 1943 encyclical, Mystici corporis Christi, Pope Pius XII teaches that “only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed.”

The trustworthy and highly praised Baltimore Catechism (No.3 q. 170) defines the communion of saints by noting that this union must be centered on Christ, thus also ruling out those “who have denied the faith…their baptism” from such a union. 

“By ‘the communion of saints’ is meant the union of the faithful on earth, the blessed in heaven, and the souls in purgatory, with Christ as their Head,” the Catechism reads. 

With the traditional teaching that the communion of saints is comprised of the Church Militant, Suffering and Triumphant, the Catechism further confounds Pope Francis’ teaching, by describing what the Church is. “The Church is the congregation of all those who profess the faith of Christ, partake of the same Sacraments, and are governed by their lawful pastors under one visible head,” states Baltimore Catechism No. 4.

This further rules out those “who have denied the faith…their baptism” from being part of the Church and the communion of saints. 

The pages of the Baltimore Catechism also explicitly states that the souls in hell are those “who die in mortal sin,” and “do not belong to the Mystical Body of Christ or to the Communion of Saints.” Furthermore, “anyone who know the Catholic religion to be the true religion and will not embrace it cannot enter into Heaven,” reads the text.

Consternation over Pope Francis’ address

Father Ron Vierling highlighted Francis’ apparent rejection of the role of free will in salvation, saying that the error of “Pan-salvationism holds forth the notion that all will be saved—even against their will.”

“What more proof do we need that Bergoglio does not believe in sanctifying grace, that he does not believe in divine filiation!!,” questioned catechist and author, Deacon Nick Donnelly. “This is why he’s not bothered about people committing mortal sins.”

Donnelly doubled down on his rebuttal of the Pope’s comments, suggesting that Francis saw the Catholic Church as simply a “sociological construct, nothing to do with redemption or grace.”

You can be a member of this sociological group even if you’re an apostate and a blasphemer. Apostasy and blasphemy are just different ways of participating in the ‘group’.

Meanwhile the Lepanto Institute also levied the possible charge of heresy against the Pope, saying: “Someone care to explain how this isn’t outright heresy?”

Shortly before the Pope Francis’ comments, a man attending the audience shouted up at the Pontiff in English and then Italian, protesting the Pope’s teaching, and saying “God rejects you.” 

The man was led away by gendarmerie with a Swiss Guard in attendance.