FIRST OPEN LETTER TO POPE FRANCIS
on the dismissal of Bishop Joseph Edward Strickland
Cotonou (Benin); 18 November 2023;
Memorial of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul
May Jesus Christ, God and Founder of the Church, bless you and give you abundantly His Holy Spirit so that you may be well enlightened about this important period in your life and in our Church! I pray that you will receive the words contained in this open letter as a sign of affection from a son to his father. It is the love of the Pope and of justice that drives me to write to you, with humility and respect. On 11 November 2023, the whole world learned with surprise that you had dismissed Joseph Edward Strickland as Bishop of the Diocese of Tyler (Texas, USA).
According to Cardinal Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, this dismissal is due to a lack of fraternity with the other bishops, a lack of interest in the Synod on Synodality, and a failure to apply Traditionis custodes. But using Cardinal Joseph Zen’s beautiful expression, we have to say that the nuncio’s statement “is truly an offense to our intelligence.” All intelligent Christians know that Bishop Strickland was sanctioned for publicly criticizing Francis’ destructive programme: “it is time for me to say that I reject his program of undermining the Deposit of Faith” (12 May 2023); “the evil and false message that has invaded the Church, Christ’s Bride” (22 August 2023). In reality, “lack of fraternity” means refusing to keep quiet about Francis’ errors as other bishops do; “lack of interest in the Synod on Synodality” means refusing the democracy that wants to change the traditional teaching of the Church; “failure to apply Traditionis custodes” means refusing to do away with the traditional Mass, the source of piety of the new Mass.
O my Father, are you sure that you have not committed a grave injustice? In order to better explain the problem, I will write you three letters to justify why Bishop Strickland was right to publicly criticize the moral and doctrinal errors of your magisterium. The first letter (18 November 2023) will be a theological justification proving the need for filial correction to Francis. The second letter (25 November 2023) will be a philosophical justification showing that Francis’ “authentic magisterium” is an illusion. The last letter (30 November 2023) will be a canonical justification presenting Francis’ moral and doctrinal errors and the heresies they contain.
A. Fraternal and filial correction according to Jesus
“If your brother sins, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church. If he refuses to listen even to the Church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17). These are the words of Jesus that all Christians are called to live.
“Today too, the Lord’s voice summons all of us to be concerned for one another. Even today God asks us to be ‘guardians’ of our brothers and sisters (Gen 4:9) … Christ himself commands us to admonish a brother who is committing a sin (cf. Mt 18:15). The verb used to express fraternal correction – elenchein – is the same used to indicate the prophetic mission of Christians to speak out against a generation indulging in evil (cf. Eph 5:11) … It is important to recover this dimension of Christian charity. We must not remain silent before evil” (Pope Benedict XVI, Message for Lent 2012, 3 November 2011).
O my Father, everyone knows that Bishop Strickland has publicly criticized your moral and doctrinal errors. But does he not have the right to do so, because he wants to remain faithful to the words of Jesus Christ? Since 2016, when the first grave errors in your magisterium appeared, several Christians and groups of Christians have privately drawn your attention (cf. my private letters, 4 October 2018 and 25 January 2020). Unfortunately, you have ignored them. Subsequently, many lay people (university professors and experts in theology and morals), priests, bishops, and cardinals, moved by a great love for you and your eternal salvation, publicly drew your attention to these same errors (cf. Open Letter to the College of Cardinals, July 2016, 45 signatories; Filial Correction to Pope Francis, July 2017, 62 signatories; Open Letter to Bishops, April 2019, 20 signatories; my filial correction, 29 June 2023, etc.). What was then your reaction? You remained silent and ignored them.
O my Father, you have also refused to receive four cardinals (Walter Brandmüller, Raymond Leo Burke, Carlo Caffarra, Joachim Meisner) who are your brothers and who have sent you their dubia. Yet you happily welcome non-Christians. But the worst thing is that you have continued to bring out new moral and doctrinal errors in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2023. And today you have decided to sanction Bishop Strickland. What is his crime? He loved your eternal salvation so much that he felt obliged to publicly criticize the errors of your magisterium in the hope that you would rectify them. In fact, he wanted to live the Gospel: “tell the Church.” He wanted all the Christians in the world (2.5 billion) to know that the Church today is in great danger because the man at the top is not playing the role of a pastor of the Church but rather that of an enemy of the Church who promotes relativism and situational ethics. Finally, because the latter “refuses to listen even to the community,” he runs the risk of being treated like a Gentile and a tax collector, i.e. Christians will make him “perceive that he has cut himself off by separating himself from the communion of the Church” (Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, 4 September 2011).
B. St. Paul’s filial correction to St. Peter
St. Paul himself tells us about the incident at Antioch: “when Kephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised. And the rest of the Jews also acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Kephas in front of all, ‘If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” (Galatians 2:11-14). The error of the first pope was grave because his behavior flagrantly contradicted the decisions of the Council of Jerusalem, which had emphasized the universal value of the salvation obtained by Christ on the Cross. But we can excuse Peter by saying that his error was caused by fear and that he humbly accepted Paul’s correction and rectified it immediately.
O my Father, what can we say about today’s Pope? His situation is objectively more grave than Peter’s because he has made several grave errors, not just one. What is more, his errors were not motivated by fear, but were premeditated, thought through, planned and executed, sometimes cunningly to get around opposition. These are not careless errors, but conscious, written changes, implemented without taking into account suggestions based on the truth of the Church’s traditional teaching. But there’s something sadder: since 2016, you have refused to rectify your errors despite all the evidence that shows that they are indeed errors, you bestow praise and posts on all the “Barnabases” who publicize your errors, and you punish the “Pauls” who give you filial correction. Now it is Bishop Strickland’s turn to be punished.
O my Father, is your attitude just when it comes to divine justice and the laws of the Catholic Church? Are you not in danger of being considered a dictator? You have been presented to the whole world as the Pope of mercy. Yet “the Church’s tradition has included ‘admonishing sinners’ among the spiritual works of mercy” (Pope Benedict XVI, Message for Lent 2012, 3 November 2011). Is it consistent, then, for the Pope of mercy to punish those who perform the act of mercy of filial correction towards him? Did St. Peter punish St. Paul who publicly corrected him? No, he praised him publicly (cf. 2 Peter 3:15-16). As the Bible says, “reprove a wise man, and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8).
O my Father, were you sanctioned when, on 21 October 2020, you used the international documentary “Francesco” (available on Discovery+ Channel since 28 March 2021) by your friend Evgeny Afineevsky (a militant homosexual and director in 2009 of the homosexual film “Oy Vey! My son is gay!”) to promote homosexual cohabitation laws around the world? No! However, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were clear: every Christian must express his “absolute personal opposition” to these laws, otherwise he commits a “gravely immoral” act (Document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 3 June 2003, 10). The Code of Canon Law is also clear: “A person who in a public show or speech, in published writing, or in other uses of the instruments of social communication utters blasphemy, gravely injures good morals, expresses insults, or excites hatred or contempt against religion or the Church is to be punished with a just penalty” (1369).
O my Father, did you sanction your friend, the Argentinian nun Lucía Caram, when, on 29 January 2017, she publicly blasphemed on Spanish television against the Virginity of Mary? Did you apply Canon 1369 of the Code of Canon Law to her? No! Of course, on 18 September 2023, she appeared on Spanish television again, saying: “I would be in favour of them [homosexuals] being able to marry in the Church, because God always blesses love.” Did you sanction her for this new statement, which gravely contradicts divine law and Church teaching? No! Did you sanction your Jesuit brother Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich when, on 2 February 2022, he publicly stated that “the Church’s teaching that homosexuality is a sin is false?” No! You retained him as a cardinal and general relator of the Synod on Synodality and then appointed him as a member of the Council of Cardinals, the select group of cardinals who are your special advisers (7 March 2023). Did you sanction your friend Cardinal Reinhard Marx when, on 31 March 2022, he said publicly that “homosexuality is not a sin”? No! You kept him on as a cardinal and member of the Council until 7 March 2023. Did you sanction German Bishop Karl-Heinz Wiesemann when, on 2 November 2023, he wrote a pastoral letter inviting priests to “bless” homosexual couples? No! Yet he carried out a public act of rebellion against a papal decision based on divine truth. In fact, you have officially forbidden such “blessings” by declaring, along with Cardinal Luis Ladaria and Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, that “it is not licit to impart a blessing” in “the case of the unions between persons of the same sex” because God “does not and cannot bless sin” (Document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 22 February 2021).
C. Filial correction according to St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas
St. Thomas Aquinas summed up his thought and that of St. Augustine in the following words: “Are inferiors bound, by virtue of this precept (charity), to correct their superiors? … Correction, which is an act of justice involving punishment, does not belong to inferiors in relation to their superiors. But that which is an act of charity belongs to each one with regard to all those whom he ought to love, and in whom he sees something to correct … But as an act of virtue must be regulated by taking into account the required circumstances, the act by which an inferior rebukes his superior must also respect certain proprieties, so that the correction is neither insolent nor harsh, but gentle and respectful … Let us note, however, that, if there were a danger to the faith, superiors would have to be rebuked by inferiors, even in public. So Paul, who was subject to Peter, rebuked him for this reason. And on this subject Augustine’s Glosis explains: ‘Peter himself shows by his example to those who have the pre-eminence, if they happen to deviate from the right path, not to refuse to be corrected, even by their inferiors.’” (Summa Theologica II-II, q.33, a.4).
O my Father, it is clear that charity gives Bishop Strickland the right and the duty to correct you publicly because you have created a real danger for the Christian faith with your various errors that you have refused to correct since 2016.
D. Why do all the cardinals and bishops have to make filial correction to Pope Francis?
O my Father, the reason is simple: it is a true synodal act. In fact, synodality, as the Christian Tradition has taught us, does not mean promoting democratic assemblies to change the traditional teaching of the Church, but rather helping each other so that the holiness of the members of the Church is greater. St. Paul said: “Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24); “If one of you is caught doing something wrong, those of you who are spiritual should set that person right in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). For Pope Benedict XVI, “in a world pervaded by individualism, it is essential to rediscover the importance of fraternal correction, so that together we may journey towards holiness”; “‘being concerned’ for each other also entails being concerned for their spiritual well-being … fraternal correction in view of eternal salvation … in those communities that are truly mature in faith, those which are concerned not only for the physical health of their brothers and sisters, but also for their spiritual health and ultimate destiny” (Message for Lent 2012, 3 November 2011); “brotherly love also involves a sense of mutual responsibility … we are responsible for each other in the journey of Christian life” (Angelus, 4 September 2011). Speaking of the temptation to silence, the Bavarian Pope added: “I am thinking of all those Christians who, out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to the prevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do not follow the path of goodness” (Message for Lent 2012, 3 November 2011).
O my Father, is it not sad that until now you have not received any public filial correction from a broad coalition of cardinals and bishops? I pray to God that you will have no doubts on this point: since filial correction is a duty of charity, it is those who truly love you according to God’s Holy Spirit and love your eternal salvation who give it to you. What can we say about those who do not correct you, who keep silent and watch you run down the path of your errors? Many love you but are afraid that you will punish them if they correct you. Others do not love you. Obviously, those who encourage you in your errors love you according to the spirit of the world but not according to the Holy Spirit of God.
O my Father, in concluding this letter, let us remember the wise recommendations of Pope Benedict XVI: “Scripture tells us that even ‘the upright falls seven times’ (Prov 24:16) … There will always be a need for a gaze which loves and admonishes” (Message for Lent 2012, 3 November 2011); “We should practise both fraternal correction – which demands deep humility and simplicity of heart – and prayer so that it may rise to God from a community truly united in Christ. Let us ask all this through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, Mother of the Church” (Angelus, 4 September 2011). Let us also pray to St. Peter and St. Paul that they may help you to accept this and the following letters sent to you by a son of the Church who loves you dearly and prays every day to the Sacred and Merciful Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary for your total conversion to the truth. I ask for your blessing. Your son,
Fr. Janvier Gbénou (pen name: Fr. Jesusmary Missigbètò)
[email protected] / Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Truth, Threads, Instagram, TikTok: @fatherjesusmary