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ROME, Italy, May 2, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – International news service Reuters has dismissed the “Open Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church” in which prominent clergymen and scholars accuse Pope Francis of committing heresy as the work of “extremists.”  

On May 1, Reuters produced a news article about the “Open Letter” which appeared, among other places, in The New York Times. Reuters and its clients titled the piece “Conservatives Want Catholic Bishops to Denounce Pope as Heretic.” Labeling the signers of the open letter as “conservatives” instead of faithful Catholics was the first in a number of labels used to undermine the signers' initiative, thus suggesting Reuters' bias. 

In their article, author Philip Pullella and his editor William Maclean mischaracterize the original signers of the “Open Letter” accusing Pope Francis of heresy as “ultra-conservatives.” They called the document “the latest ultra-conservative broadside against the pontiff over a range of topics from communion for the divorced to religious diversity.”

The Reuters article does not address the central issue – whether or not Pope Francis has broken with at least seven teachings of the Church – instead painting the letter as an “attack” on the pontiff for “allegedly softening the Church’s stance on a range of subjects.”

Speaking of the Open Letter’s authors, the article erroneously claimed that “they say he has not been outspoken enough against abortion and has been too welcoming to homosexuals and too accommodating to Protestants and Muslims.”  

In fact, the Open Letter accused Pope Francis of having, through his words and actions, advanced the following seven heretical positions:

  1. A justified person has not the strength with God’s grace to carry out the objective demands of the divine law, as though any of the commandments of God are impossible for the justified; or as meaning that God’s grace, when it produces justification in an individual, does not invariably and of its nature produce conversion from all serious sin, or is not sufficient for conversion from all serious sin. 
  2. A Christian believer can have full knowledge of a divine law and voluntarily choose to break it in a serious matter, but not be in a state of mortal sin as a result of this action.
  3. A person is able, while he obeys a divine prohibition, to sin against God by that very act of obedience. 
  4. Conscience can truly and rightly judge that sexual acts between persons who have contracted a civil marriage with each other, although one or both of them is sacramentally married to another person, can sometimes be morally right, or requested or even commanded by God. 
  5. It is false that the only sexual acts that are good of their kind and morally licit are acts between husband and wife.
  6. Moral principles and moral truths contained in divine revelation and in the natural law do not include negative prohibitions that absolutely forbid particular kinds of action, inasmuch as these are always gravely unlawful on account of their object.  
  7. God not only permits, but positively wills, the pluralism and diversity of religions, both Christian and non-Christian.

Reuters also did a little armchair theology by describing Amoris Laetitia, perhaps Pope Francis’ most divisive work, as “a cornerstone of Francis' attempt to make the 1.3 billion-member Church more inclusive and less condemning.”

In reality, Amoris Laetitia plunged the Church into a doctrinal crisis of which the “Open Letter” is only the most recent attempt at a resolution. 

The news bureau also gave an exclusive platform to Villanova University’s Massimo Faggioli. Faggioli, one of Pope Francis’ staunchest defenders, suggested that the “Open Letter” was the work of “extremists.” 

“There is overwhelming support for Francis in the global Church on one side, and a tiny fringe of extremists trying to paint Francis as a pope who is heretic. The problem is that there is very little legitimate, constructive critique of Francis' pontificate and his theology,” he told Reuters in an email.

Faggioli’s claim was in stark contrast to the opinions of Ignatius Press founder Fr. Joseph Fessio and CEO Mark Brumley that the “Open Letter” was clearly not the work of “extremists.” They agreed that the document should be taken seriously, both because of its reputable authors and because of its carefully laid out arguments.

“… As a matter of fact, these authors ― some of them, anyway ― are quite reputable,” Fessio said. “And even if they were, perhaps, extremists, even extremists can sometimes make good points.” 

The founder of the USA’s most important Catholic publishing house said that each of the heresies attributed to Francis was “clearly stated” and “backed up by previous Church teaching, either councils or popes.” Fessio also noted that the authors had illustrated where the pontiff has made statements “that seem to contradict these Church teaching” and how his actions had underscored what look like his novel doctrines. 

Responding to the “Open Letter” and Massimo Faggioli’s statement to Reuters, Robert Moynihan published an editorial saying that there seems to be a communications problem in the Catholic Church. 

“It does seem clear that there has been certain breakdown in communication,” he wrote.

Like Fessio and Brumley, he credited those who have questioned Francis’ novelties as deserving of a serious response. 

“Serious, well-meaning Catholics — including cardinals — have expressed perplexity about some of Francis’s words and actions, yet Francis has not sought to address these ‘perplexities’ in a wide-ranging, serious, effective way,” he continued. 

“Consequently, ‘perplexities’ which might have been dispelled have instead festered. And now a certain spiritual disease has not only incubated, but has begun to metastasize. That is worrisome.”

Moynihan, the editor of Inside the Vatican, believes that there would be less “polarization” in the Church if Pope Francis “and his inner circle” taught more clearly but also if the pontiff’s “critics” discerned “still more profoundly their understanding of Francis, and of his mind and teaching, and of the needs of the Church at the present moment.” 

A platform for attacks on the pope?

The Reuters article also referred to LifeSiteNews as “a conservative Catholic website that often is a platform for attacks on the pope.” 

Steve Jalsevac, the co-founder of LifeSiteNews, rejected Reuters’ description of LifeSiteNews, saying it  “appears to be one made to fit a desired narrative.”

“To mainstream media people we seem to be 'extreme' or 'far right' simply because they are hardly ever exposed to objective, well-informed reporting on the issues we cover,” he said. 

“Rather than being a 'conservative Catholic website', LifeSite is an international news service focusing on issues of life, family and related cultural issues. It came out of the pro-life movement and now reports on a wide variety of interconnected issues that have generally been poorly covered, if covered at all, by the mainstream media,” he said. 

He added that most of the LifeSiteNews staff are “exceptionally well-informed and faithful, rather than ‘conservative,’ Catholics. Several have Catholicism-related Masters degrees and at least one has a PhD and another is working on his PhD.” 

“We have never seen ourselves as ‘attacking’ Pope Francis,” Jalsevac continued.  

“Professionally reporting uncomfortable truths is not an ‘attack’. LifeSite simply and very accurately reports what the Pope says and does that is newsworthy and provides the necessary historical, theological or other context for each of those reports. We constantly ask critics to point out any inaccuracies in our allegedly ‘fake’ news reports on Francis, but very rarely ever receive a credible response to that request.”

In a recent podcast, LifeSiteNews’ editor-in-chief John-Henry Westen explained why reporting on Rome has become so difficult in the Francis pontificate. 

“For the past six years LifeSite has been experiencing many difficulties in our reporting on what's going on in Rome. For 22 years now we've reported on the Vatican and especially the statements of the Popes focusing most on life and family,” he said. 

“With John Paul II and Pope Benedict it was relatively easy. Since they would say so many pro-life and pro-family things, it was a joy to report. It was a real encouragement to pro-life and pro-family leaders all around the world – to hear the words of Popes who it seemed really had your back even when sometimes your local Bishops did not,” Westen continued.

“But things changed with the election of Pope Francis. After a year of trying to explain away his confusing statements, and sometimes statements that went directly against his two predecessors, we knew at LifeSite we had to just report straight what was happening and let people know what was going on.”

Reuters ended its hit piece on the Open Letter signers with another statement revealing its bias: “Conservatives say the Roman Catholic Church is the only true one and that members are called to convert others to it.” It is not “conservative” Catholics who hold that the Roman Catholic Church is the one true Church founded by Jesus, but the Catholic Church herself holds this along with all those who are faithful to her teachings. 


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