Fr Aidan Nichols: ‘Amoris Laetitia’ has led to an “extremely grave” situation

17_06_27_AAS_AmorisWhen Fr. Aidan Nichols, OP, has an opinion, it’s a good idea to pay attention.

Fr. Nichols is concerned about what is happening because of Amoris laetitia.

From the Catholic Herald:

Leading theologian: change canon law to correct papal errors

Fr Aidan Nichols, a prolific author who has lectured at Oxford and Cambridge as well as the Angelicum in Rome, said that Pope Francis’s exhortation Amoris Laetitia had led to an “extremely grave” situation.

Fr Nichols proposed that, given the Pope’s statements on issues including marriage and the moral law, the Church may need “a procedure for calling to order a pope who teaches error”.

The Dominican theologian said that this procedure might be less “conflictual” if it took place during a future pontificate, rather as Pope Honorius was only condemned for error after he had ceased to occupy the chair of Peter. [Honoris (+638), desiring to avoid the notion that Christ had two wills in conflict with each other, strayed towards the heresy of Monothelitism, the error that Christ has but one will. Constantinople III condemned him in 680. That said, later it has been concluded that the Pope didn’t formally teach error.]

Fr Nichols was speaking at the annual conference in Cuddesdon of an ecumenical society, the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, to a largely non-Catholic audience.  [Oh dear.]

He said the judicial process would “dissuade popes from any tendency to doctrinal waywardness or simple negligence”, and would answer some “ecumenical anxieties” of Anglicans, Orthodox and others who fear that the pope has carte blanche to impose any teaching. “Indeed, it may be that the present crisis of the Roman magisterium is providentially intended to call attention to the limits of primacy in this regard.”


He has not publicly commented on Amoris Laetitia until now, but was a signatory to a leaked letter from 45 priests and theologians to the College of Cardinals. The letter asked the cardinals to request a clarification from the Pope to rule out heretical and erroneous interpretations of the exhortation.

In his paper Fr Nichols mentioned some of the same concerns as the letter: he noted, for instance, that Amoris Laetitia could seem to imply that the monastic life was not a higher state than marriage – a view condemned as heretical by the Council of Trent.

The exhortation has also been interpreted as arguing that the divorced and remarried can receive Communion without endeavouring to live “as brother and sister”. This contradicts the perennial teaching of the Church, reaffirmed by Popes St John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  [Yes, it does.  AL is objectively ambiguous on this point, open to bad interpretation.]

Fr Nichols said that this interpretation, which Pope Francis has reportedly approved, would introduce into the Church “a previously unheard-of state of life. Put bluntly, this state of life is one of tolerated concubinage.” [Did you get that?  “TOLERATED CONCUBINAGE”.   Card. Kasper referred to “tolerated, but not accepted”.]

But Fr Nichols said the way in which Amoris Laetitia argued for “tolerated concubinage” (without using the phrase) was potentially even more harmful. He quoted the exhortation’s description of a conscience which “recognizes that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the demands of the Gospel” but sees “with a certain moral security…what for now is the most generous response.” Fr Nichols said this seemed to say “that actions condemned by the law of Christ can sometimes be morally right or even, indeed, requested by God.”  [Which undermines everything we believe about Christ.]

This would contradict the Church’s teaching that some acts are always morally wrong, Fr Nichols said.

He also drew attention to the statement – presumably referring to attempts to live continently – that someone “may know full well the rule yet…be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin”. Fr Nichols noted that the Council of Trent had solemnly condemned the idea that “the commandments of God are impossible to observe even for a man who is justified and established in grace.” Amoris Laetitia seemed to say that it is not always possible or even advisable to follow the moral law.  [AL is open to bad interpretations.  And those who wanted their heterodoxy and heteropraxis confirmed have indeed chosen the bad interpretation.]

If such general statements about moral acts were correct, Fr Nichols said, “then no area of Christian morality can remain unscathed.”

He said that it would be preferable to think that the Pope had been merely “negligent” in his language, rather than actively teaching error. But this seemed doubtful, given the reports that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had suggested corrections to Amoris Laetitia, and was ignored.  [Nichols seems to have built a case.]

Cardinal Raymond Burke has publicly discussed making a formal correction of the Pope. However, Fr Nichols said that neither the Western nor Eastern Codes of Canon Law contain a procedure “for enquiry into the case of a pope believed to have taught doctrinal error, much less is there provision for a trial.”

Fr Nichols observed that the tradition of canon law is that “the first see is judged by no-one.” But he said that the First Vatican Council had restricted the doctrine of papal infallibility, so that “it is not the position of the Roman Catholic Church that a pope is incapable of leading people astray by false teaching as a public doctor.  [Yes, Pope’s can teach error.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t guarantee the veracity of everything they teach.]

“He may be the supreme appeal judge of Christendom…but that does not make him immune to perpetrating doctrinal howlers. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly given the piety that has surrounded the figures of the popes since the pontificate of Pius IX, this fact appears to be unknown to many who ought to know better.” [Like certain gnostic papalatrous writers at CRUX, whom I shall not name.] Given the limits on papal infallibility, canon law might be able to accommodate a formal procedure for inquiring into whether a pope had taught error.

Fr Nichols said that bishops’ conferences had been slow to support Pope Francis, probably because they were divided among themselves; but he said that the Pope’s “programme would not have got as far as it has were it not the case that theological liberals, generally of the closet variety, have in the fairly recent past been appointed to high positions both in the world episcopate and in the ranks of the Roman Curia.[To our horror.]

Fr Nichols said that there was “a danger of possible schism”, but that it was unlikely and not as immediate a danger as “the spread of a moral heresy”. The view which Amoris Laetitia apparently contains would, if it passed without correction, “increasingly be regarded as at the very least an acceptable theological opinion. And that will do more damage than can easily be repaired.

He concluded that the law of the Church will live on, because of those who “give the law life by faithfulness in love”.

Yes, friends, there is now a danger of the spread of moral heresy.  You hear it and read it more and more often now.

We need saints to rise up in our day.  We also need lay people, the rank and file, to put their noses collectively into books like the Catechism of the Catholic Church and get informed.

Friends, get together with your friends and form “Base Communities of Resistance” against the “danger of moral heresy”.

There are many editions.  Here is but one.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Benedict Joseph says:

    Clear analysis and comforting to read. There are more men than we are led to believe who stand in opposition to the debasement of the Faith. All the more reason for the public correction to be made respectfully, without rancor but bluntly and without apologies.
    Offices and protocols are being defended at the expense of souls, and even if the definitive corrective were applied today it will be generations before this debacle finds its terminus.
    Souls are being lost because of episcopal malfeasance.
    Is there a greater scandal?
    From Pastor aeternus Chapter 4, section 6: “For the holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by His revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by His assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the Apostles.”
    Is it not fear for one’s security that is preventing a resounding objection from the episcopate? Despite the legion of heterodox bishops, there are at least an equal number of faithful men comprising the order of bishops.

  2. Ave Crux says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this excellent article, Father.

    As to the statement that there is a “danger” of moral heresy spreading, the term “danger of” implies a future possibility.

    However, if we are to be truthful and realistic, the moral heresy is now… presently…already…flooding the Church unabated because of:
    * intentional ambiguities in teaching and lax praxis,
    * appearances of the acceptance of sexual immorality (guests in irregular relationships formally and warmly welcomed at the Vatican, comments dismissive of sexual immorality made to the press) and
    * the clear facilitation and even expressed approbation (e.g. letters of warm approval to Bishops Conferences, suppression of requested clarifications and precision of language
    ….by Pope Francis.

    The ship is taking on water at an alarming rate NOW….this is not a future danger but a very real and present crisis of faith, with many in material apostasy from the teachings of Christ.

  3. Windswept House says:

    And where does the buck stop on this?

  4. Henry Edwards says:

    I clicked your US HERE Amazon link for the CCC–noting beneath the link the cover shot saying “Revised in Accordance with the Official Latin Text Promulgated by Pope John Paul II”.

    Seeing that its Kindle version is only $0.99, I immediately 1-click downloaded it to my Kindle. Lo and behold . . . What arrived says

    Catechism Of The Catholic Church
    Traditional Catechism
    Council of Trent Edition

    on its cover, and on the inside is indeed the venerable Catechism of the Council of Trent which, perhaps supplemented by the Baltimore catechism, provides all the authoritative catechetical source material anyone might ever need.

    So PLEASE, don’t anyone tell Amazon to correct this providential mistake! (Truly a case of “Let well enough alone.”)

  5. acardnal says:

    I couldnt agree more Henry. That is indeed providential

  6. Roy Hobbes says:

    Despite being a ‘cradle Catholic’ and having attended a Catholic elementary school in the late 70’s/early 80’s (that even had some nuns!), I realized a little over a year ago that I had been taught –ZERO– catechism (it was more like Socialism-lite with a lot of songs by Don Schutte). I therefore have been making an effort to learn all I can, and began purchasing books. The first was the Baltimore Catechism (you know, the one for kids–don’t laugh, I learned a lot from it). I then purchased The Catechism of the Council of Trent, Catechism of Saint Pius X (“CSPX”) and finally the most recent Catechism of the Catholic Church (“CCC”). I am trying to read a little bit from each whenever I can.

    Regarding the CCC, earlier this year I signed up for a ‘Catechism in a Year’ course by Flocknote, which sends out an email each weekday highlighting certain passages out of the CCC by presenting questions, much in the same manner as CSPX, and provides the paragraphs from the CCC to answer the question.

    Slowly but surely, I’ll get this down pat.

  7. Ave Crux says:

    @Henry Edwards: Thank you for bringing this to our attention! I just took full advantage to purchase the Kindle version and it is definitely the Trent Catechism.

    The description reads as follows:

    Centuries before the Catechism of the Catholic Church was published in 1992, encouraged by the Council of Trent, a catechism was prepared called the Roman Catechism or the Catechism of the Council of Trent. It was prepared for use by Pastors to instruct their flocks in the Catholic Faith. Educated lay people should know their faith at this level, therefore this catechism is recommended for study by all Catholics. It is laid out in a far different manner than the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is laid out in a similar manner to Henry Denzinger’s Enchiridion Symbolorum, which is in translation at the Sources of Catholic Dogma.

    Here is the direct Kindle link:

  8. Mike says:

    Vatican II’s unmooring of the teaching Church from the magisterial Truth incited the “extremely grave” situation in which Catholics have dwelt for two generations. “Amoris” just took it to the next level.

  9. Charles E Flynn says:

    Should any of you who purchase the eBook of the catechism from Trent need cover art for a database such as Delicious Library, or Booxter:

    From The Catechism of the Council of Trent – Hardbound:

    Publisher’s Description

    Compiled under the direction of St. Charles Borromeo and recognized as the most authoritative Catholic catechism. Leo XIII recommended two books– the Summa and this Catechism–for all seminarians! Pope Benedict 16th, as a Cardinal, called it the most important Catholic Catechism. Originally designed to supply parish priest with an official book of instruction, it has been used extensively by the laity as a steadying guide in our confused age. New typesetting and beautiful hardbound cover.

  10. Mojoron says:

    OK, for two days I have seen the word “papalatrous” in articles on this page. It is not in the Apple dictionary nor is it on Google but only in context. What does the word mean?!

  11. @Mojoron it’s a play on idolatrous with the pope being the idol overly revered.

  12. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Papa = Pope
    Latria = worship/adoration

    Papalatry = providing the person of the pope with the adoration due to God alone.

  13. Grumpy Beggar says:

    He has not publicly commented on Amoris Laetitia until now, but was a signatory to a leaked letter from 45 priests and theologians to the College of Cardinals. The letter asked the cardinals to request a clarification from the Pope to rule out heretical and erroneous interpretations of the exhortation.

    So now we see that the non-public approach by the 45 priests and theologians is basically yielding the same outcome as the public approach by the Four Cardinals’ Dubia ; namely – no clarification whatsoever.

    A part which I personally find most unsavory is that it isn’t only that no clarification has been offered, but that moreover a comportment of non-reply appears to have been maintained by the very sources which issued and promulgated AL.

    What on earth can possibly be gained by refusing to even communicate ?

    Back in Christmas 2016 when that hierarchial Christmas Card was making its rounds among the Curia, the Christmas well -wishing went something like this:

    Such sinister opposition, the pontiff said, “sprouts from twisted minds and presents itself when the devil inspires bad intentions.”

    And such sinister opposition to the indisollubility of marriage? Where should we suppose that, sprouts from ?

    I pray for Pope Francis . . . a lot !

    But there is still much room within the hierarchy for certain individuals apart from the Holy Father to man-up.

    Let’s do the math : 2+2 = 4 , and Dumb + Dumb = Dumber.

  14. iamlucky13 says:

    “The Dominican theologian said that this procedure might be less “conflictual” if it took place during a future pontificate,”

    Very interesting point. He is looking at this from the perspective of a parenthesis.

    There is a valid concern that those confused about the state of their marriage and their obligations in irregular situations need clarification sooner, rather than later, but given how clearly contentious this topic is, driving a wedge among Catholics by forcing the issue during this pontificate might worsen matters, rather than make it better.


  16. majuscule says:

    I clicked on Ave Crux’s link to purchase the Trent edition of the Catechism and got the message that I saved 99 cents. It was free!

    I now own e-versions of the newest CCC, the Baltimore Catechism and this one. And during several years group study of the CCC I wore out one paperback edition and purchased another. So, having read through that I’m going to look into the Flocknote Catechism in a Year mentioned by Roy Hobbes…it might be good for review!

    In these trying times one can never know too much about the faith.

  17. Mike says:

    Just went to a Saturday 500 NO Mass, with lots of old folks, horrible, sentimental music, an utterly bland homily: AL was nowhere in sight though this liturgy laid the groundwork for it to happen, sadly!

  18. I appreciate Father Nichols as a theoligian. But I also appreciate Catholic philosopher, Robert Spaemann. Spaemann said, something like 30 days after the document was signed, that it would cause a “split” in the Church. Surprisingly–since Spaemann is primarily a philisopher–he defended his position using sacred scripture: A welcome means of conveying truth.

  19. Jared B says:

    That Herald article didn’t mention a citation from the First Vatican Council vis-a-vis Fr. Nichols’ statement, “it is not the position of the Roman Catholic Church that a pope is incapable of leading people astray by false teaching as a public doctor.”

    Does anyone know where Vatican I says that?

  20. Semper Gumby says:

    Lucas Whittaker wrote: “…he defended his position using sacred scripture: A welcome means of conveying truth.”

    Indeed it is. I read somewhere that the Catechism has 4,000 Scripture references. Make Scripture Welcome Again!

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