Edward Pentin interviewed Professor John Rist as to why he signed the controversial letter along with 85 other prominent theologians and scholars. Frankly, I admire these men who stood up and spoke out. They may not have proven formal heresy (which is something I leave to experts and canon lawyers) but the silence in the face of the papal confusion and seemingly intentional ambiguity and silence from the Pope and the Vatican is frustrating and divisive and to hear voices decrying such is refreshing. Where are the bishops?

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One of many questions in Pentin’s interview with Risk is this: “What other concerns do you have that prompted you to sign the letter?”

Rist replied: I am concerned above all else to expose double-talk, which is how the present Pope has been evading charges of heresy. Uttering ambiguous and/or contradictory remarks on important issues must ultimately be viewed as a planned attempt to change doctrine by stealth. Had such ambiguities/contradictions been occasional, they could be attributed — in accord with the canonical principle of benignity — to “mere” muddle. Prolonged ambiguity on this scale requires that a sadder conclusion be drawn: that there is a design to achieve by stealth what could not be achieved by openly and unambiguously un-Catholic decrees.

What do you say to the various criticisms of the letter: that it represents an “extreme” and “intemperate” approach which “overstates” the case — as some see it — and this makes further criticism of this pontificate harder?

Criticisms of intemperance, etc., whatever their intent, can only have the effect of diverting attention from the main concerns: that the Pope is deliberately using ambiguity to change doctrine and that the attitude he adopts over appointments indicates that he is out of sympathy (to put it mildly) with traditional Catholic teachings on a whole range of subjects. Fussing about “extremism,” etc. seems like fiddling while Rome burns; what it shows is that even many conservatives do not want to grasp the gravity of a situation where the Pope seems bent on turning the Church into a vaguely spiritually flavored NGO.

Another criticism is that the signatories are not in a position to accuse the Pope of heresy, that only bishops can hold him to account for such a charge, and that the letter would have been better just calling on bishops to investigate the alleged heresies rather than accusing the Pope of them. What is your response to this view? 

But calling on the bishops is precisely what the letter does! The signatories are not in a position to convict a pope of heresy; they are in a position to “prosecute” the charge, and we judged it was our duty to do so. The letter is primarily and immediately a challenge to the bishops to act rather than ignore or wring hands only.

What is your view of the critique that it’s not yet possible to accuse Pope Francis of specific formal heresy, but he can be accused of deliberate ambiguity and confusion, or “drift” toward heresy, and that that might have made a better critique?

See my answer above. I am not a canonist, nor (see above) a judge. What I am is someone who believes he can recognize intended heresy in word [and] also how the words are confirmed by the actions.

For the whole interview in National Catholic Register here.


This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. sandi

    I think it was heroic of the people who signed this letter to do so. At least it will go down in history that not all the people agreed with Pope Francis and his policies and said nothing. I agree with so many of Professor Rist’s comments. The deliberate ambiguity, refusal to clarify, appointments of those with past questionable behavior, the refusal to come out and say that homosexuality is wrong/disordered and not reigning in the homo/heretic James Martin, communion for the divorced and remarried, trying to change the teaching of the church on the death penalty, etc., all give credence to this letter. Mercy may be the Pope’s agenda, but Christ said we must REPENT first! The church must teach the TRUTH. Thank God for Cardinal Burke, and a few others brave men who speak the truth in the face of all that is going on. Where are the bishop’s voices in all this?

  2. Michael Quigley

    STEVE RAY HERE: I agree with your comment below. Thx

    Hi Steve, I read the article, I was just so put off when the letter partially blames St. JPII for some of the current problems with Pope Francis (who is going to take that seriously?). JPII was always lambasted by the media and liberals in the Church, for being 'too conservative'. I find It disturbing that they are criticizing him. I'm beginning to wonder if some of the authors unfortunately are 'ultra traditionalists' who dislike and criticize post-Vatican II Popes (Pope Francis of course is a different story…..you know what I'm talking about). Even Bishop Athanasius Schnieder (if I am spelling it correctly) said the letter went "too far."
    One of the thing I loved so much about St. JPII (and Benedict) was that being faithful to orthodox Catholic teachings doesn't mean you live a joyless life bound to obeying a list of rules and regulations, (which many people today think it to be) but that being an authentic Catholic is about Love, Mercy, and Joy as well as obeying the commandments and the Church's precepts. I think many people forget the real reason why we must keep Christ's commandments; to love in return, Him who has loved us to the fullest. “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” John 14:15. I hope we all pray for Pope Francis to heeds these words of Jesus!

  3. William Sharrett Sr.

    Surprised so many do not believe that every “Christians” for fifteen hundred years after Christ established His church were Catholics who also considered the Pope as the successor of Peter.

  4. Tim Hallett

    One commenter really summed it up best
    “Is this the official unveiling of the Seinfeld church?
    “I got an idea, Jerry – a church about nothing, Jerry – a church about nothing!”
    Can a church about nothing be as successful as a show about nothing?
    Probably not. But then that’s the whole point.”

  5. Jim S. Lim

    I think we (the lay) do not need to concern ourselves-with alleged heresy from the pope because to do so is to be the heretic! Which basically is a lack of trust in Jesus' "and the gates of hell shall not overcome Peter".

    This is Jesus' job. Not for us. We are not in any position to even hint any doubt. He who receives you receives me. We need to embrace whatever the pope teaches ex-cathedra without question. If it is not ex-cathedra, we leave it to our own conscience to believe or not, but we do not instigate rebellion.To question the pope's authority is a rebellious act.

    STEVE RAY HERE: This is a very touchy issue. Ex Cathedra is different than the ordinary. No pope is beyond criticism. Just See in Galatians where Paul confronted Peter. We need respect and deference but not blind obedience. Heresy is not a result of questioning a pope.

  6. Jim Lik

    Understand your points Steve. I still think as lays, we can ask questions but not make allegations. Because to do so is to think of ourselves to have a teaching authority. We should know our own place in the church heirarchy. When I say we do not have teaching authority, it doesn't mean we cannot teach others. I personally learned many things from you and consider you my teacher in many things. But the authority received from the hands of the apostles is a different and a true authority which we do not have and they are above our authority.

    By the way, Paul was a Bishop who was given that teaching authority that lays do not posses. So while Paul can rebuke Peter (to a certain extent), he still needs to defer to him in the final analysis.

    STEVE RAY HERE: Thanks for your reply and irenic and kindly tone. We have a bit of a disagreement on a few things but my guess is if we sat down over a glass of wine or a cuppa coffee we would be on the same page as we discussed the nuances of the situation. I wrote the book Upon This Rock and no one respects the office of the papacy more than I do. However, I do know we’ve had good pubs and bad pubs and some are better at one thing or another thing and just like I can say that 2+2 = 4 We can also know the truth when we hear it in the opposite also when we hear it.

    But I appreciate your kindly response and I think we’re far closer than our conversation here might infer. God bless you!

  7. Jim Lim

    Thanks too Steve for all the apologetics which i learned a lot from you. It will be great to have a cuppa. perhaps someday when i saved up enough to join your tours to holy places!!!

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