Our Lord commanded His Apostles and their successors to go unto all nations, spreading the truth He had taught them (see Mark 16:15).
Unfortunately, this is not what we see happen in Pope Francis’s multiple journeys. Rather than striving with apostolic zeal to attract the pagans, heretics, and schismatics he encounters to the one true Church of Christ—the Catholic Church—he leaves them to their errors and superstitions.
Similarly, on Pope Francis’s recent trip to Cyprus and Greece (December 2–6, 2021), he did not seek to bring these self-described orthodox back to the true faith. On the contrary, he treated their schismatic-heretic bishops as brothers in the faith. In addition, he acceded to the request from the orthodox archbishop of Athens and asked forgiveness for the supposed guilt of the Catholic Church in the orthodox rupture with the Holy See.2 Pope Francis said “I feel the need to ask anew for the forgiveness of God and of our brothers and sisters for the mistakes committed by many Catholics.”3
The Eastern Schism Has No “Apostolic Roots”
During his speech in the “Throne Room” of the Orthodox Archbishopric of Greece in Athens, Pope Francis repeatedly stated that the Holy Catholic Church and the schismatic orthodox churches share the same apostolic roots: “The roots we share.” “They [our common roots] are the apostolic roots.” “Our roots are apostolic.”4
Now, this does not correspond to the historical truth. The roots of the Greek Orthodox Church are not in the Apostles but in Michael Cerularius, who, in 1054, severed his ties of loyal obedience to Pope Leo IX. How could he do this when Our Lord appointed Saint Peter as head of His Church and entrusted him with confirming his brothers in the Faith (see Luke 22:32). That papal responsibility is passed on to each of Saint Peter’s successors.
It was inevitable that the leaven of revolt that led to the Byzantines’ break with the pope’s legitimate authority would go on to generate new schisms within the greater Eastern Orthodox Schism. Today, the orthodox are fragmented into numerous autocephalous churches. Countries in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Russia, and worldwide each have their local, national orthodox church whose leaders accept no higher authority. Also, inevitably, the lack of unity in church government led to a lack of doctrinal unity. Except for a minimal common substratum, there are untold differences in doctrine and discipline among these Eastern churches, especially between the Greek Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church.5
The difference between any of them and the Catholic Church is even more significant: “They deny papal infallibility and the Immaculate Conception, they quarrel over purgatory, consecration by the words of institution, the procession of the Holy Ghost, in each case misrepresenting the dogma to which they object.”6 They also reject the dogma on the Assumption of Our Lady, as proclaimed by Pope Pius XII in 1950.7
“What did [Archbishop Michel Aupetit] he do”?
As has become usual, Pope Francis gave an interview on the return trip. A French journalist asked him why he had fired the archbishop of Paris, Most Rev. Michel Aupetit, and why so quickly.
To everyone’s surprise, instead of answering, Pope Francis asked those present: “I wonder: what did Aupetit do that was so serious that he had to resign? What did he do? Let someone answer me…”
It made no sense for Pope Francis to ask the journalists that question, for he is who dismissed the archbishop. Therefore, he must have had all the facts to adjudicate as he did.
Taken by surprise, the reporter stammered, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
The pope insisted: “If we do not know the accusation, we cannot condemn. What was the accusation? Who knows? [No one answers.] It’s ugly!”
If “we cannot condemn,” though, why did Pope Francis dismiss the archbishop?
Sins of the Flesh Are Not the Gravest, but They Send Most Souls to Hell
Then Pope Francis, contrary to discretion and charity, provided the journalists details about the private life of the Archbishop: “[I]t was a fault of his, a fault against the Sixth Commandment, not a total one, but one of small caresses and massages he gave. This is the accusation.”
It is important to note that the archbishop categorically denies having had an intimate and sexual relationship.8 Without commenting on the alleged fault, it is worth noting that the archbishop had a very firm position against homosexuality.9
After making the archbishop’s alleged sin public, the pope added: “This is a sin, but not one of the gravest sins; because sins of the flesh are not the gravest. The most serious sins are those that have more ‘angelicity’ [“angelicità”]: pride, hatred … these are more serious.”10
The statement is imprudent, especially in today’s superficial and hyper-eroticized world. For many, the assertion that sins against chastity are not the most serious suggests they are unimportant, which can lead some people to let their guard down in this matter.
In addition, the statement goes against what Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church and Patron of Catholic moralists, explains in his work for confessors, Homo Apostolicus:
1. The sin against this precept [the Sixth Commandment] is the most ordinary matter in confessions, and is the vice that fills hell with souls….
2. First of all, it should be noted that in the matter of lust … there is no light matter; so that all carnal pleasure, when taken with full awareness and consent, is a mortal sin.11
True, even mortal sins have degrees, some being more serious than others. However, any mortal sin is enough to destroy the life of grace in a soul, and, if not forgiven before death, through sacramental confession or an act of perfect contrition, it will take the sinner to hell.12
The Catholic Church Is Holy Not Sinful
Pope Francis went on to say that we are all sinners. However, he did not distinguish between mortal and venial sins.
Having stated that “Peter, the bishop on whom Christ founded the Church,” was a sinner, Pope Francis asks, “How come the community of that time accepted a sinful bishop?” He answered his question by saying that at Saint Peter’s time, the Church “was a normal Church, always used to feeling sinful, everyone: it was a humble Church.”
To say that the Church “always used to feeling sinful” runs counter to what we pray in the Creed: “I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” (Nicene Creed).
Swiss theologian Charles Cardinal Journet explains that the Church is holy even though there are sinners inside it. The sinner is united to the Church only by what is holy in him, that is, his faith (if he has not fallen into heresy), baptism, and the other sacraments. As Saint John says, insofar as he partakes of sin, he does not belong to the Church but the devil (see 1 John 3:8).13
An Archbishop Dismissed “On the Altar of Hypocrisy”
Pope Francis ends his confused response with a statement that is hard to understand. After saying that there was much gossip about Archbishop Aupetit, he adds, “a man whose fame has been taken away publicly like this is unable to govern. And this is an injustice. For this reason, I accepted [Archbishop] Aupetit’s resignation, not on the altar of truth but on the altar of hypocrisy.”
So why was the archbishop fired? Was it for having sinned or because of the gossip that ruined his reputation? True, it was unjust to destroy his reputation publicly. The fundamental question that the archbishop and the world expected Pope Francis to resolve was, “Is the archbishop innocent or guilty?” If innocent, why accept his resignation, seemingly under mob pressure because of the gossip surrounding the matter? Would justice not be served by staring down the mob and proclaiming the archbishop’s innocence? Do two wrongs now make one right? Why add a second injustice to the first?
Did the archbishop not deserve—like any human being—to be judged “on the altar of truth”?
Does Pope Francis’s “Synodal Church” Equate Laity and Clergy?
During the interview, Pope Francis stated that the division between clergy and laity “is a functional division.” The first impression one has reading this is that he denies the fundamental difference arising from the sacrament of Holy Orders. He adds, “Yes, [it is a division] of qualification, but there is a unity, a single flock.”
This affirmation seems to echo the words of Martin Luther in his Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Respecting the Reformation of the Christian Estate. The heresiarch denied the fundamental difference between clergy and laity created by the sacrament of Holy Orders: “It has been devised that the pope, bishops, priests, and monks are called the spiritual estate.… This is an artful lie and hypocritical device, but let no one be made afraid by it, and that for this reason: that all Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no difference among them, save of office alone.”14
Compounding the confusion, Pope Francis said, “And synodality is the dynamics among differences within the Church, that is, listening to one another, and going together.”15
Did he mean that laypeople and clergy are indeed different but that synodality makes them equal?
A pope’s mission is to teach, confirming clergy and laity alike in the Faith. Preventing misunderstandings and chaos in souls is crucial for this. Thus, a pope must always speak prudently, keeping in mind the biblical counsel: “In the multitude of words there shall not want sin: but he that refrained his lips is most wise” (Prov. 10:19).
Photo Credit: © JG Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
1. “A Document On Human Fraternity For World Peace And Living Together,” Apostolic Journey of His Holiness Pope Francis To The United Arab Emirates (February 3-5, 2019) https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/travels/2019/outside/documents/papa-francesco_20190204_documento-fratellanza-umana.html; see Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, “Theological and Canonical Implications of the Declaration Signed by Pope Francis in Abu Dhabi,” TFP.org, Feb. 27, 2019, https://www.tfp.org/theological-and-canonical-implications-of-the-declaration-signed-by-pope-francis-in-abu-dhabi/.
2. See “Strong Intervention of Archbishop of Athens in Meeting with Pope Francis,” Orthodox Times, Dec. 4, 2021, https://orthodoxtimes.com/strong-intervention-of-archbishop-of-athens-in-meeting-with-pope-francis-upd-photos/.
3. Pope Francis, “Address of His Holiness Pope Francis”—Meeting Of His Beatitude Hieronymos II and His Holiness Francis With the Respective Entourages, Vatican.va, Dec. 4, 2021, https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2021/december/documents/20211204-grecia-ieronimus-ii.html.
4. Id. Ibid.
5. See M. Jugie, s.v. “Schisme Byzantin,” in Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, 14–1e.:1312–468, accessed Dec. 13, 2021, https://archive.org/details/dictionnairedet14vacauoft/page/n667/mode/2up.
6. Adrian Fortescue, s.v. “The Eastern Schism,” in The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912), accessed Dec. 8, 2021, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13535a.htm.
7. See Pope Pius XII, Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus (defining the dogma of the Assumption—Nov. 1, 1950), https://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_p-xii_apc_19501101_munificentissimus-deus.html.
8. “I admit that my behavior towards her may have been ambiguous, suggesting the existence of an intimate and sexual relationships between us, which I forcefully deny.” “‘Comportement ambigu’ avec une femme: l’archevêque de Paris s’en remet au pape,” Liberation, Nov. 26, 2021, https://archive.wikiwix.com/cache/index2.php?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.liberation.fr%2Fsociete%2Freligions%2Fcomportement-ambigu-avec-une-femme-larcheveque-de-paris-a-presente-sa-demission-au-pape-20211126_WDXSOHLVNJFRNN66OOHRJI2CXI%2F#. (Our translation.)
9. See Nicolas Scheffer, “L’archevêque de Paris Michel Aupetit: Démission d’un adversaire acharné des droits LGBTQI+,” Têtu, Dec. 3, 2021, https://tetu.com/2021/12/03/religion-eglise-pape-accepte-demission-mgr-michel-aupetit-acheveque-paris-adversaire-droits-lgbt/.
10. “Conferenza Stampa del Santo Padre durante il volo di ritorno” (Viaggio Apostolico del Santo Padre a Cipro e in Grecia), Vatican.va, Dec. 6, 2021, https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/it/events/event.dir.html/content/vaticanevents/it/2021/12/6/atene-volodiritorno.html. (Our translation.)
11. Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Homo Apostolicus, tr. 9, pnt. 1, nos. 1–2, accessed Dec. 13, 2021, http://www.intratext.com/IXT/LATSA0042B/_P1G.HTM. (Our emphasis.)
12. See Giuseppe Graneris, s.v. “Mortal Sin,” in Dictionary of Moral Theology, ed. Roberti-Palazzini (Westminster, Md.: The Newman Press, 1962), 1134–5, accessed Dec. 13, 2021, https://archive.org/details/dictionaryofmora00robe/page/1134/mode/2up.
13. Charles Cardinal Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate (London and New York, Sheed and Ward, 1955), 1:xxvii. See TFP Committee on American Issues, I Have Weathered Other Storms, 2002 (Reprint, Spring Grove, Penn.: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property—TFP, 2018), 76–78, https://www.tfp.org/i-have-weathered-other-storms/.
14. Martin Luther, Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Respecting the Reformation of the Christian Estate, in The Harvard Classics, trans. C.A. Bucheim (New York: P.F. Collier & Son Company, 1910), 36:278–9, accessed Dec. 13, 2021, https://archive.org/details/MachiavelliMoreAndLuther/mode/2up.
15. “Conferenza Stampa del Santo Padre Durante il Volo di Ritorno.”