PopeWatch: John Rist

Professor John Rist, a convert from agnosticism to Catholicism, and one of the foremost Classicists of our time, is a signatory of the letter accusing the Pope of heresy.  Edward Pentin interviews him about the letter:

How far has the letter achieved its goal?

I do not think the letter has achieved its goal — nor did I think there was much chance that it would, at least in the short run. That is because the Pope can always shelter behind silence, and there is a servile mentality among the episcopate (and many others, even conservative commentators), which is squeamish about criticizing a pope. Such commentators approximate too closely to reducing the sacred and unchallengeable dogmatic teachings of the Church to the utterances of a pope: the Father [Thomas] Rosica theory of the present papacy!


Why release the letter now, what prompted its publication, and how many people were asked to sign it?

I did not organize the letter so I cannot answer your questions. But I do know that there was considerable debate about the content. I was only involved relatively late on and agreed to sign because I thought the general approach was essential at this time. I doubt whether a document could be written in which everyone would agree with all the wording: that is, unless it were so bland as to be pointless.


What do you say to the various criticisms of the letter: that it represents an “extreme” and “intemperate” approach which “overstates” the case — as some see it — and this makes further criticism of this pontificate harder?

Criticisms of intemperance, etc., whatever their intent, can only have the effect of diverting attention from the main concerns: that the Pope is deliberately using ambiguity to change doctrine and that the attitude he adopts over appointments indicates that he is out of sympathy (to put it mildly) with traditional Catholic teachings on a whole range of subjects. Fussing about “extremism,” etc. seems like fiddling while Rome burns; what it shows is that even many conservatives do not want to grasp the gravity of a situation where the Pope seems bent on turning the Church into a vaguely spiritually flavored NGO.


Another criticism is that the signatories are not in a position to accuse the Pope of heresy, that only bishops can hold him to account for such a charge, and that the letter would have been better just calling on bishops to investigate the alleged heresies rather than accusing the Pope of them. What is your response to this view? 

But calling on the bishops is precisely what the letter does! The signatories are not in a position to convict a pope of heresy; they are in a position to “prosecute” the charge, and we judged it was our duty to do so. The letter is primarily and immediately a challenge to the bishops to act rather than ignore or wring hands only.

Go here to read the rest.  What an odd time in which we live.  An open letter is written by notable Catholic scholars accusing the Pope of heresy.  Most Cardinals and Bishops do not comment, but merely remaining silent.  Their silence condemns both the Pope and themselves.  The Lord hates cowards and the lukewarm, and we have endless amounts of both taking up space at the  higher levels of the Hierarchy.


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  1. There hasn’t exactly been a dearth of conservative Catholic criticism when it comes to the present pontiff. So I don’t know what rock Professor Rist has been sleeping under. While the letter proves Pope Francis is a serious problem, we already knew that, it comes no where close to making a canonical case for heresy.

    I would say what the pope has been doing pretty much since he’s been elected is more dangerous than if he did come out as a full out heretic. He is ambiguous enough to where he doesn’t cross the line while creating massive confusion. This letter only plays into the pope’s hands by marginalizing the signatories and creating division amongst his critics. Pope Francis is much smarter than his critics give him credit for. We ignore that at our own peril.

    No less than Bishop Athanasius Schneider throws cold water on the letter.

  2. Thank you for the excellent article, Mr. McClarey.
    I’m thankful that they brought out this letter and are challenging the bishops and cardinals to do their duty.
    It’s pathetic to see so many so-called conservative Catholics attacking the messengers who are just pointing out the truth. Sadly, they can’t handle the truth and seem to be in denial. They attack and nitpick the writers of the letter and also the letter, as if all has to be perfect in order to ask the bishops and cardinals to act. The bishops and cardinals are the official ones who have to make the canonical case for heresy/heresies. Yet, even a child can see right from wrong. It reminds me of the story in which a child points out that the emperor has no clothes, because the child is being completely honest. The child isn’t rationalizing or making excuses or in denial or fooling himself. He sees the truth and he boldly proclaims it.
    Unfortunately, thanks to the mostly unhindered evil emanating from the Vatican, more and more souls may be burning while they fiddle. It’s time to get serious for the sake of the saving of souls.

  3. Another criticism is that the signatories are not in a position to accuse the Pope of heresy, that only bishops can hold him to account for such a charge,

    As Rist points out, the critics confuse accusations with accountability. Much like a complaining witness, the signatories are well within their capacities to accuse the Pope of heresy. And like a prosecutor/court, it is the squishops’ duty to hold the Pope to account. Not holding my breath on the latter.

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