Fr. Gleize, seminary professor in the SSPX, recently completed a 9-part series on Papal Heresy (see links to right). We sat with him recently to "debrief" him, and to take a step back from the great thelogical detail presented in his extraordinary work.
SSPX USA: For those who have not read your articles, could you summarize them in a few lines?
Fr. Gleize: I tried to give several elements of a response to the serious problem posed for Catholic conscience by Amoris Laetitia and also, more generally, by the whole attitude of Pope Francis. It is clear that the Pope is not absolutely infallible, outside of the precise conditions indicated for us by divine revelation. He can therefore be guilty of errors. Is it possible that he might go as far as heresy? And if he goes that far, does he lose the pontificate? The answer to these two questions is not simple, because it involves several findings of theology. We say that the Pope can fall into heresy, but that only Christ would have authority over him to relieve him of his office.
Under those conditions, can we say that Pope Francis ventures into heresy in Amoris Laetitia? Heresy is taking a theoretical position contrary to dogma; Francis does not deny dogma in theory, but authorizes a discipline and a practice contrary to those that should normally result from the Church’s doctrine. Amoris Laetitia reaffirms the indissolubility of marriage but says that it is possible to behave toward divorced-and-remarried persons as though their attitude did not constitute a denial of indissolubility. Yes, believe in the dogma, but in practice you can behave as though the dogma were not true. That is Pope Francis’s “heresy,” if there is one. It is not the classical type of heresy analyzed by theologians to date; it is a new form of heresy, the practical heresy of subversion in the Church, in which one turns people into modernists by making them live in accordance with modernist presuppositions.
SSPX USA: Do you think that the pontificate of Pope Francis is the reason why such questions are becoming more frequent?
Fr. Gleize: Let us say instead that the pontificate of Pope Francis makes these questions more urgent and more obvious. Previously, under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, we were already dealing with very bad theology that had serious consequences for the Church. The origin of all this is Vatican II, with its trilogy of errors opposed to Catholic Tradition: ecumenism, collegiality, and religious liberty. The false principle of religious liberty contains in a nutshell the whole new relativistic morality, the situation ethics that begin to become explicit in Amoris Laetitia. Until now, these moral consequences were only in embryonic form and, from Paul VI to Benedict XVI, the popes who were conservative in morality did not want to go too far. The theology of the body of John Paul II, for example, still keeps the main conclusions of traditional morality (against divorce and cohabitation), even he bases them on false principles. Now, Francis proves to be more logical than his predecessors, and he draws the true consequences from these false principles: the primacy of the human person results in the relativization of morality, in all areas.
SSPX USA: Some think that AL objectively permits adultery (303) and that that is enough to make the document heretical. What do you say?
Fr. Gleize: You can allow food poisoning by saying that it is good and legitimate to poison people. You can also allow it by saying that there is a serious duty to preserve health and to avoid distributing poisoned foods, while adding that those who put poison in the soup that they sell have a right to respect and must not be the object of any discrimination. Amoris Laetitia proceeds in the second way. Francis says that the indissolubility of marriage is a serious duty, but he adds that adulterers must not be the object of any discrimination. That amounts to forbidding adultery in theory and allowing it in practice. The document would be heretical if it allowed adultery in theory. If it forbids it in theory, it is not heretical. But since it allows it in practice, we must say that, without being heretical, it favors heresy. This is quite subtle, but modernism is subtle.
SSPX USA: Does the Church have the duty to determine the culpability of those who are living in sin?
Fr. Gleize: We would have to make a very important distinction here. For the pastors of the Church, in order to tell the faithful about sin, they must first of all determine what is a sin and what is not. And from there they must determine which ones among those sins are serious by reason of their moral object. And some sins can take the form not only of a transient act (such as the sin of fornication or adultery) but also of a regular objective situation (such as a free union of adultery or cohabitation), which is a scandal. From this perspective, pastors have the duty to describe the good or bad moral value of public acts. For by the very fact that they are public, these acts take on the value of an example and an incitement to good or else to evil. It is the duty of a good pastor to point out to the sheep the wrong paths that lead to the precipice and to lead them away from them. In this sense, the Church always has the duty to say that it is a sin to cohabit or to live in an adulterous union, even though she does not thereby declare the formal culpability of all who are living in that state.
The Church is represented also by her confessors, who administer the Sacrament of Penance. The minister of the Sacrament of Penance is first of all a judge, and the confessional is designated as a “tribunal.” To judge is not to condemn; it is to determine whether the person who accuses himself of his sins presents the dispositions required in order to obtain forgiveness of them. After that the confessor can act no longer as a judge but as a physician and a father, by pardoning and by showing mercy. But this mercy supposes discernment and judgment in the first place. This incidentally is the reason why the confessor has the duty to question the penitent, so as to be able to discern whether he fulfills the requisite conditions. This discernment does not necessarily consist of determining the past or present guilt of the penitent, but nevertheless the priest has the duty to verify whether the person has declared all the mortal sins that he has committed, whether he is sincerely sorry for them, and whether he has resolved not to commit them again in the future. The priest is therefore led to judge here, at least indirectly, as to a possible culpability, in the case where the person lacked contrition or a firm purpose of amendment.
SSPX USA: It says in AL 301: “Hence it can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.”
Doesn’t the Council of Trent teach that God give sufficient grace to everyone? And therefore, in light of this teaching, is it not right to refrain from that judgment, as AL does? For otherwise, wouldn’t there be a contradiction between saying that souls in an irregular situation are deprived of grace and saying that God gives His grace to everyone?
Fr. Gleize: The Council of Trent (in canon 17 of the Decree on Justification) censures precisely the error that God gives His grace only to the predestined. But it also declares in chapter 11 that God may abandon those who abandon Him, in other words, that His refusal to give grace still remains a possibility. Therefore we have to say the opposite of what Amoris Laetitia states, in order to remain consistent with what the Council of Trent declares: God gives His grace to everyone, but not everyone receives it and therefore some are deprived of it, because they reject it. In effect, yes, those who live in sin are deprived of grace, but it is their own fault, because the state of sin is already a rejection of grace. One cannot cohabit or live in adultery, one cannot live in contempt of God’s law on marriage and at the same time continue to live in God’s friendship by receiving grace. It is true that because of a certain degree of ignorance, some of those who are living in irregular situations will not be deprived of grace right away. But we must say nevertheless that among them are also those who are deprived of grace, because they are not in ignorance. And one must also say that the irregular situation, as such, remains a situation in which one is normally deprived of grace, unless invincible ignorance is proved. The passage from AL therefore remains very ambiguous and reductive. It certainly promotes an incorrect reading.
SSPX USA: You state that, as has frequently been the case since the Council, Pope Francis follows a method in which he does not want to define or be precise, thereby refusing to affirm and to deny. But Ludwig Ott says: “In deciding on the meaning of a text, the Church does not pass judgment on the author’s subjective intention, but on the objective sense of the text.” Could you explain?
Fr. Gleize: What Fr. Ott says is correct, and the conclusion to draw from it is that when we are dealing precisely with the objective meaning of a text, especially when this meaning is sufficiently clear, the author’s subjective intention can never change anything about it. For example, if Vatican II teaches the right to the freedom not to be prevented from propagating error publicly, this is clearly equivalent to granting the liberty to propagate error publicly, because this negative right is necessarily based on a positive right. All the bishops and all the theologians in the world can say that, in promulgating and applying this document, the Pope did not have the intention of authorizing the liberty to propagate error, but the fact remains that the document objectively authorizes this liberty and the intention of John Paul II or of Benedict XVI changes nothing about it. But here, with Francis’ proposal, it is not a question of the objective meaning of Amoris Laetitia; it is a question of the value or the degree of authority of the document. Whatever the duly noted objective meaning of a text may be, the same text with the same objective meaning can be presented with very different values: either as a dogma, or as a theological opinion, or as a provisional, debatable conclusion. For example, we can say that “Jesus Christ is God”; the objective meaning of this statement is perfectly clear. But for a Catholic this is a dogma, whereas for a strictly observant Protestant it is an opinion, for a liberal Protestant it is a hypothesis that is debatable today, for the Modernist it is a formula with practical usefulness, and for the historian it is the state of consciousness of a given era. Therefore here, in Amoris, Francis does say what he says and the objective meaning of it is clear; but we do not know whether what he says is a Magisterial act, a teaching act of the hierarchy of the Church, which would oblige all the faithful in conscience and would override all earlier teachings that say the contrary. These are avenues for investigation, no doubt for a reflection that would seek to overcome the contradictions. Because as a matter of fact, Amoris says at the same time that marriage is indissoluble and that adulterers are no longer problematic.
SSPX USA: You also say that “it is still possible to avoid having anything to do with a notoriously heretical pope, without therefore considering him as being dethroned from the papacy.” Could you explain what that would look like in practice?
Fr. Gleize: It does not look like anything, because this refers to an exceptional situation, an abnormal situation, which a Catholic can neither foresee in advance nor choose of his own free will. This corresponds to a situation that Divine Providence puts us in, and it is still almost the only one in which we are indeed obliged to put ourselves in if we want to remain faithful. Today, this is the situation of Catholics who, while acknowledging (until there is sufficient proof to the contrary) that the Pope is Pope, legitimately refuse to obey him when he himself disobeys Our Lord and all his predecessors since Saint Peter. We acknowledge the Pope as such because we pray for him publicly, during the Visit to the Blessed Sacrament or by mentioning his name in the Canon of the Mass. And so we are still attentive to all the initiatives concerning us that come from the Holy See in Rome, instead of ignoring them as though this See had no importance for us and was in our view not an authority.
SSPX USA: You conclude by saying that AL is not heretical but “rather” favors or promotes heresy. Can you explain the distinction?
Fr. Gleize: It is the distinction between a statement of principle (“Marriage is not indissoluble”) and a way of acting in practice (“Marriage is indissoluble but one most not discriminate against adulterers in the Church”). Someone who favors heresy admits in practice the heresy that he seems not to admit in theory. This manner of doing things is characteristic of liberal Catholics, who are no longer Catholics to the same extent in which they are liberal in their way of acting.
SSPX USA: What reading do you recommend to study the subject in greater depth?
Fr. Gleize: About marriage, the encyclical Casti Connubii by Pius XI; about the subversion of marriage, this is the whole problem of Catholic liberalism and modernism. Archbishop Lefebvre, in the Preface of his book They Have Uncrowned Him, said: “If you do not read, sooner or later you will be traitors, because you will not have understood the root of the evil.” Therefore it is necessary to read good works that explain how liberalism carries out this subversion and manipulation: Le Libéralisme est un péché [Liberalism is a Sin] by Dom Salva y Sardany; Liberalism and Catholicism by Canon Alfred Roussel. And the works of Archbishop Lefebvre. And the Courrier de Rome!