It has since gained 22 more signatures and was released to the public on Saturday. In a press release, the organizers say they speak for “a large number” of clergy and lay Catholics who “lack freedom of speech.”
The letter does not accuse the Pope himself of being a heretic, but of supporting “heretical positions” on “marriage, the moral life and the Eucharist.” Francis has not responded to the letter publicly and the Vatican declined to comment.
The letter’s organisers call their challenge a “filial correction” of the Pope by his “spiritual sons and daughters.”
“Church law itself requires that competent persons not remain silent when the pastors of the Church are misleading the flock,” the conservative Catholic clergy and scholars said.
Specifically, the letter charges Francis with promoting seven “heresies,” most notably through his openness to allowing some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion.
“Scandal concerning faith and morals has been given to the Church and to the world,” the letter states. It accuses the Pope of imposing “strange doctrines on the faithful,” and asks him to publicly correct his teachings.
The lightning rod for complaints is the Pope’s 2016 document, Amoris Laetitia which has opened the possibility for some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion and the differing interpretations of the document, which conservatives say have sown confusion among Catholics.
A press release accompanying the letter calls it an “epoch-making act,” with no precedent since 1333. That may be true, Catholic historians say, but likely overstates the letter’s actual significance. A number of the signees are members of a traditionalist group that has already broken away from the Catholic Church.
Still, the heresy charge crystallizes some conservatives’ deep anxieties about Pope Francis, especially his teachings and impromptu statements about how to apply centuries-old Catholic doctrine to the complexities of modern life.
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