Pope is a Heretic Because of Views on Homosexuality and Abortion, Catholic Group Says

A conservative group of Catholic priests and theologians called for Pope Francis to be declared a heretic because they believed he has softened the Catholic Church's stance on major moral issues.

There were 19 signatories to a letter urging the College of Bishops to denounce the pontiff and even consider stripping him of the papacy if he does not show "true repentance."

The letter, backed by a Change.org petition, alleged the Pope had "denied truths of the faith" and had not been outspoken enough on key aspects of dogma such as abortion and homosexuality and seems too accepting of other faiths. He was even accused of once using a satanic symbol.

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Pope Francis prays in front of the statue of the Immaculate Conception at the Spanish Steps, in Rome, on December 8, 2013. Conservatives within the church disagree with his softer stance on LGBT and abortion issues. Franco Origlia/Getty Images

The focal point of the 20-page missive is the Pope's 2016 document about family life, titled Amoris Laetitia, which has been interpreted by some as suggesting the Pope has softened the church's views on key issues, including whether divorced people can receive communion.

The letter stated: "Pope Francis has protected and promoted homosexually active clerics and clerical apologists for homosexual activity. This indicates that he believes that homosexual activity is not gravely sinful."

It also took issue that the Pope had "failed to speak a word in support of popular campaigns to preserve Catholic countries from abortion and homosexuality, for example, before the referendum to introduce abortion into Ireland in May 2018."

It questioned his apparent agreement with Ahmad Al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar mosque, in their joint statement entitled "Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together."

"In it, they made the following assertions: Freedom is a right of every person: each individual enjoys the freedom of belief, thought, expression and action.... Understood in their most obvious sense, the statements listed above are heretical," it said, suggesting that the Pope was backing other beliefs.

The pontiff was even accused of using a satanic symbol at the opening mass of the Synod on Youth in 2018, when he "carried a staff in the form of a 'stang,' an object used in satanic rituals," the letter stated.

It also said he wore "a distorted rainbow-colored cross," describing the rainbow as "a popularly promoted symbol of the homosexual movement," although Catholic magazine America reported that the cross in fact celebrated World Youth Day and included colors representing the different regions of Latin America.

The letter said that if the Pope "does not bear the fruit of true repentance" the bishops should declare that "he has committed the canonical delict of heresy and that he must suffer the canonical consequences of this crime."

"We take this measure as a last resort to respond to the accumulating harm caused by Pope Francis's words and actions over several years, which have given rise to one of the worst crises in the history of the Catholic Church."

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Pope Francis delivers his "Urbi et Orbi" speech in advance of his annual Easter mass at The Vatican on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, only hours after a series of attacks in Sri Lanka left approximately 150 people dead and hundreds more injured. YouTube/Vatican News

The letter comes amid an increasing split in the church between conservative and liberal factions.

Catholic commentator and writer Peter Williams told Newsweek that the letter signified an "astonishing and unprecedented" attack on the Pope, especially as one of the signatories, English priest Father Aidan Nichols, is a well-regarded Dominican theologian.

"It certainly signifies a substantial current of opposition to Pope Francis among Catholics across the world, but whether it has any chance of being effective depends on who amongst the Bishops and Cardinals take it up," Williams told Newsweek.

"It is meant to have a canonical and juridical consequence—leading to some kind of episcopal investigation of Pope Francis for heresy, potentially leading to his deposition as Pope.

"If this does not happen, it's just the latest letter of deep concern and objection, which won't in-and-of-itself change anything. Still, even then, it signifies deep divisions in the Church concerning many of the actions of Pope Francis," Williams said.

The Vatican has not commented on the letter. The Holy See's doctrinal watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, decides whether an adherent is a heretic, Reuters reported.

The letter was published by LifeSiteNews, a conservative Catholic website that is often critical of the Pope. Last year the site published a document by the Vatican's former ambassador to Washington, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, calling on the pope to resign.

Massimo Faggioli, a professor of historical theology at Villanova University told Reuters, "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 said.

Pope is a Heretic Because of Views on Homosexuality and Abortion, Catholic Group Says | World