Catholics have long extended the benefit of the doubt to Pope Francis when he frequently veers off the path of orthodoxy. With his latest statement regarding same-sex civil unions, there are no benefits in entertaining doubts. Many Catholics sense something is terribly wrong.
“What we have to create is a civil union law,” says the pope in the documentary, “Francesco,” just released at a premiere in Rome. “That way, they are legally covered.”
Francis’s declaration that homosexual couples need the legal protection of civil unions to protect their “right to a family” leaves no doubt that he is breaking from the Roman Catholic Church’s official teaching. A legal union centered on an intrinsically evil sexual act validates that gravely sinful act. The acceptance of such unions and their constitutive acts brings down the whole edifice of Catholic moral and social teaching. It is self-evident. It does not take a doctorate in theology to understand. Left-wing media worldwide are gleefully proclaiming this rupture with the faith, making it public and notorious.
The disastrous effects of the 'Francesco' statement
As usual, the Holy See is not denying or “clarifying” the statement in any substantial way. Some seek to restore the benefit of the doubt. The faithful are reminded that his off-the-cuff statements are only “personal opinion” and do not reflect official Church teaching or magisterium. Others point out that often there are errors of contexts and translation that could give this statement other meanings. However, others note that support for civil unions is not new for the pope. He has expressed this position in the past. What makes this statement different is its timing, clearer formulation, and universal diffusion.
The statement and the fact that Pope Francis is unlikely to retract it and affirm his unqualified adhesion to official Church teaching on the matter makes these sugarcoating interpretations pointless.
The statement spread uncertainty at a time when clarity is most needed. This new episode does what prior statements did: It confuses the faithful.
Two things are certain. There can be no doubt the statement will leave the most faithful pew-sitting Catholics scrambling in the dark to defend themselves as best they can in their discussion of Pope Francis’s position with others. There can also be no doubt that the most heretical Catholic leftists will applaud this scandalous statement to support their leftist agendas. Pro-LGBTQ+ activist Jesuit Father James Martin, for example, called it “a major step forward.”
Meanwhile, God is offended, the crisis inside the Church accelerates, and countless souls are lost for all eternity.
Not an isolated incident
The debate over the latest statement cannot be seen as an isolated fact. It should be inserted into an unbroken series of statements that embrace many aspects of Catholic morals and teaching. These are not random affirmations. They form a coherent whole.
What has surfaced over the years of Pope Francis’ pontificate is a body of consistent statements challenging Church teachings. How can such “personal opinions” be reconciled with the holding of the papal office? Experts will study the canonical and theological implications of this delicate question, but what is clear to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics is that a paradigm shift inside the Church has occurred in Pope Francis’ pontificate. It is reflected throughout his official policy and governance. These attitudes have tragic consequences for the faithful in their daily lives and sanctification.
In matters of faith and morals, the pope cannot entertain “personal” heterodox opinions. It endangers souls. No pope, bishop, or priest can do this. No pastor can express approval for an intrinsically evil sexual relationship that will drag its participants to Hell unless they repent. No pastor can pursue a “personal” parallel magisterium in the form of “unofficial” acts, interviews, gestures, and conversations that endorse doctrine and morals contrary to the Catholic faith.
A paradigm shift
This rupture with traditional Catholic magisterium is well documented in the 2018 book, Pope Francis’ “'Paradigm Shift': Continuity or Rupture in the Mission of the Church? An Assessment of His Pontificate’s First Five Years." Author José António Ureta — a senior French TFP member — takes a critical look at the overwhelming evidence of cases where the pope has challenged and denied traditional Church teaching, including that which condemns same-sex civil unions.
This paradigm shift manifests itself in acts, statements, and attitudes, in which he calls for a radical ecological and mystical agenda, unbridled immigration, and opening up to Islam. He has promoted religious indifferentism, moral and sexual relativism, and neo-Marxist popular movements. A more recent scandal of this break was the deplorable blessing of the Andean idol goddess, Pachamama, at the Amazon Synod in Rome in October 2019.
The break is clear. There can be no doubt. The “Francesco” statement on civil unions is one more in a long list of grave denials. The painful conclusion is that Francis’ personal opinions do not reflect Church teaching.
To resist the pope’s errors is a right and duty
What is unclear to hundreds of millions of the faithful is what aghast Catholics should do in the face of this crisis that is uniquely monumental in Church history.
In his book, Mr. Ureta shows that the Church teaches that the pope is infallible only under certain circumstances. Outside of them, he can err. However, when the pope errs, Catholics must not err with him. Once it is seen that Francis contradicts the traditional teachings of the Church Magisterium, the faithful have the right and duty to resist his errors. This legitimate yet most respectful resistance to error in Church shepherds and even the Supreme Pontiff is defended by St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Robert Bellarmine, Suarez, Vitoria, and other theological giants.
Nor is such resistance uncommon in the history of the Church. Public resistance is a duty when attitudes endanger the faith. The author cites the model of resistance employed by Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira in 1974 in the face of the Vatican’s policy of détente toward communist governments. His reverent yet firm attitude was expressed in moving words: “In this filial act, we say to the Pastor of Pastors: Our soul is yours, our life is yours. Order us to do whatever you wish. Only do not order us to do nothing in the face of the assailing red wolf. To this, our conscience is opposed.”
Faithful resistance amid the blows
Thus, in response to the pope’s “Francesco” statement on civil unions, Catholics must reject and resist it. They should employ every means possible to oppose this grievous error.
This includes resisting all shepherds who follow Pope Francis in this error, especially those like Father Martin, who promote it. Mr. Ureta likens the situation of faithful Catholics to that of a wife and children of a psychologically abusive husband and father. Without abandoning the family home, mother and children may legitimately isolate themselves from the father and avoid regular contact to defend themselves against his evil ways. In this manner, the indissoluble marriage bond is not broken, and the father is encouraged to repent.
Instead of revolting and leaving the Church, Catholics with this calm attitude of firm but reverent resistance can help save the Church. In the words of TFP founder Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira: “God calls us to be the sheep who resist the urge to bolt and flee when the shepherd abuses them repeatedly with his staff. Instead, we are called to stay and fight even when suffering this abuse. God wants this so that when He decides in His Mercy to send good shepherds again to His flock, there will be a flock for them to govern."
Thus, Catholics should defend themselves and serenely resist the actions of pastors at all levels who endanger the faith. They can react with clarity and charity, distancing themselves from the actions of these errant pastors. They can help dispel the doubts in the souls of fellow Catholics, explaining to them how to remain faithful to Christ every time Pope Francis makes unorthodox declarations.
John Horvat II is a scholar, researcher, educator, international speaker, and author of the book Return to Order, as well as the author of hundreds of published articles. He lives in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, where he is the vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.
Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared on LifeSiteNews.