Why the pro-life movement should support the filial correction

By John Smeaton

I am appealing to my fellow-workers in the pro-life movement to speak out in support of the filial correction of His Holiness Pope Francis, which was made public two weeks ago by 62 Catholic scholars, with the signatories currently standing at 233. I consider it to be of the utmost importance for the future of the pro-life movement and for the ultimate success of our efforts to secure full legal protection for all unborn children.

The pro-life movement, which defends the basic right to life of every innocent member of the human family, has drawn support over the last 50 years from men and women of all religious and cultural backgrounds, yet there are few who would deny that Catholics have provided, in great measure, the backbone of our movement. The Catholic faith has been, for many of our supporters, the source of their clarity about the value of each and every human life and of the consequent duty to protect all unborn children, without exception. I would like to pay tribute here to the many hundreds of Catholic priests, and the many thousands of Catholic lay people, who have been the bedrock of our pro-life resistance here in the United Kingdom. We have all been strengthened by the clarity of Catholic teaching on the moral law, which has been upheld by the papal teaching authority throughout these tumultuous times.

Our pro-life movement, comprising people of all faiths and none, has played a unique role in defending the natural law for the past 50 years. It continues to have a unique role to play. We have won many victories and saved many lives. Yet the reality is that in spite of our efforts the number of abortions alone exceeds by far all the deaths in all the wars in recorded human history, and this is before we consider the number of innocents killed by euthanasia, abortifacient contraceptives, and during artificial reproduction procedures.

In the face of such an onslaught, the pro-life movement simply cannot win the battle alone. We need the full support of Catholic Church officials throughout the world. For this reason the pro-life movement cannot bury its head in the sand and ignore what’s happening at the highest levels of the church today. Amoris Laetitia is not just about the one issue of Holy Communion for the “divorced and remarried” – which is in itself of the greatest importance because it involves sacrilege committed against the Most Holy Sacrament – but about the nullification of the entirety of the moral law. In paragraph 303 of Amoris Laetitia Pope Francis effectively denies the existence of moral absolutes:

“Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal.”

Professor Josef Seifert, the eminent Austrian philosopher, has eloquently set out the consequences of this position in his paper Does pure Logic threaten to destroy the entire moral Doctrine of the Catholic Church?  Referring to the “permission” granted in this document to the “divorced and remarried” to receive the sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion without amendment of life, the professor notes:

“If only one case of an intrinsically immoral act can be permitted and even willed by God, must this not apply to all acts considered ‘intrinsically wrong’? If it is true that God can want an adulterous couple to live in adultery, should then not also the commandment ‘Do not commit adultery!’ be reformulated: ‘If in your situation adultery is not the lesser evil, do not commit it! If it is, continue living it!’?”

His next remarks are of the greatest importance to the pro-life movement:

“Must then not also the other 9 commandments, Humanae VitaeEvangelium Vitae, and all past and present or future Church documents, dogmas, or councils that teach the existence of intrinsically wrong acts, fall? Is it then not any more intrinsically wrong to use contraceptives and is not Humanae Vitae in error that states unambiguously that it can never happen that contraception in any situation is morally justified, let alone commanded by God?

“Must then not, to begin with, the new commission on Humanae Vitae Pope Francis instituted, conclude that using contraception can in some situations be good or even obligatory and willed by God? Can then not also abortions, as Mons. Fisichella, then President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, claimed, be justified in some cases and ‘be what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal’?

“Must then not from pure logic euthanasia, suicide, or assistance to it, lies, thefts, perjuries, negations or betrayals of Christ, like that of St. Peter, or murder, under some circumstances and after proper ‘discernment,’ be good and praiseworthy because of the complexity of a concrete situation (or because of a lack of ethical knowledge or strength of will)? Can then not God also demand that a Sicilian, who feels obligated to extinguish the innocent family members of a family, whose head has murdered a member of his own family and whose brother would murder four families if he does not kill one, go ahead with his murder, because his act is, under his conditions ‘what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal’? Does not pure logic demand that we draw this consequence from this proposition of Pope Francis?”

The spread of this heretical denial of moral absolutes throughout the Church has the potential of undoing all that the pro-life movement has worked for over the past 50 years. The front-line has shifted from the domestic political battlegrounds, and international institutions such as the UN, to the heart of Catholic Church. Indeed, over the last couple of years Pope Francis and Vatican authorities have capitulated to the “culture of death” by supporting the pro-abortion United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and by promoting the agenda of the international sex education lobby through Amoris Laetitia and the Pontifical Council for the Family’s pornographic sex education programme.

Just as the pro-life movement has fought for many decades in national legislatures and international bodies, so we must now take the battle to those within the hierarchy who work to weaken or nullify the teachings of the Catholic Church. And Pope Francis cannot be excused just because he has, at various times, spoken out against evils such as abortion and gender ideology, because his casting doubt on the existence of moral absolutes makes such assertions almost worthless. In any case, his dissent from Catholic teaching on contraception – including, it would seem, abortifacient contraception – is clear and has been confirmed by the Vatican. 

The Catholic scholars’ filial correction is an essential step towards reversing the spread of heresy in the Church today. All of the seven heretical propositions identified by its authors endanger our pro-life work. It is essential that our movement educates our supporters about the gravity of the crisis in the Church, and that we redouble our efforts to educate people in the Church’s authentic teaching. We must ceaselessly demand that our priests and bishops teach the fullness of the Church’s doctrine and do not collaborate, even for a moment, in the dissemination of the heresies that are tragically being spread by His Holiness Pope Francis and by many other senior members of the hierarchy. If we fail to take this stand we will be failing in our duty to the weak and vulnerable children that we have pledged to protect.

The filial correction clearly outlines both the extent and the limits of the papal infallibility and teaching authority and identifies the disastrous consequences of heresies found in Pope Francis’s teaching going unanswered. The scholars are issuing the correction in order to:

“protect our fellow Catholics – and those outside the Church, from whom the key of knowledge must not be taken away (cf Lk. 11:52) – hoping to prevent the further spread of doctrines which tend of themselves to the profaning of all the sacraments and the subversion of the law of God.”

They proceed to specify the passages of Amoris Laetitia, and other words and actions of Pope Francis, which provide grounds for correction. They then identify seven heretical propositions that are propagated by the aforesaid words and actions. The signatories “do not venture to judge the degree of awareness with which Pope Francis has propagated these heresies” but they do “respectfully insist that he condemn these heresies, which he has directly or indirectly upheld.”

In raising our concerns regarding our pastors, of necessity sometimes publicly, we are fulfilling our duty as clearly laid out in the Code of Canon Law, which states:

“According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they [the Christian faithful] have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.” (Canon 212 §3)