The Vigano letter (PDF English Version) notoriously called for the resignation of Pope Francis, based on his failures in addressing the sexual abuse crisis in the Church. The response letter from Cardinal Ouellet defended the Roman Pontiff, and pointed out the failings of his accuser.
Many conservative Catholics are hoping for the resignation of Pope Francis, not so much because of his handling of the McCarrick case, but simply because they regard his papacy as a disaster. They reject many of his decisions on doctrine and discipline. They wish for a conservative Pope, who will teach them from their own hearts and minds, rather than from Tradition and Scripture. They want a Shepherd who is a follower of theirs, not one who will lead them to Christ and correct their faults.
Based on my study of eschatology, I believe that Pope Francis will eventually resign. But first he will issue decisions on doctrine and discipline which enrage the conservative Catholic subculture. He might teach that women can be ordained as deacons. He might teach that non-Christians and non-believers can be saved without converting. And then the great conservative schism will occur. Only after millions of Catholics leave the Church because of the true — yes, absolutely true — teachings of Pope Francis, only then will he resign.
And when a conservative Pope is elected as his successor, the conservative schismatics will rejoice. But their joy will be short-lived. For the new Pope will not reverse the teachings of Pope Francis. He will confirm those teachings, much to the dismay of the schismatics. And then the new Pope will condemn the schismatics for their failures of faith and for their betrayal of the previous Roman Pontiff. So most of them will remain separated from the Church.
No Pope can teach heresy, or commit apostasy, heresy, or schism, nor can any Pope commit so grave an error or sin in any regard as to justify refusal of submission to his authority over doctrine and discipline. No Pope can have an evil intention toward the Church. No Pope can commit a certain type of mortal sin, one that harms the Church gravely. For the Church is the indefectible body of Christ, with the Holy Spirit as Her soul and Christ reigning ever as Her head.
Thus, the grace of God is what papal critics are rejecting, not Pope Francis. They are showing their lack of faith in Christ, that He can be trusted to keep each Pope from harming the Church. So there is no need, at any time, to call for any Pope’s resignation. The Church is not a political body. But the papal critics are behaving just as if they were the political opponents of the Vicar of Christ.
If Pope Francis resigns, the sins of his critics will remain grave sins. They will not be exonerated by his resignation. Everyone who has spoken a harsh word against Pope Francis must repent and confess. Everyone who has accused Pope Francis of heresy or of evil intentions must repent and confess. You have not won, if the Pope resigns. Rather, you have lost by being the cause of the loss of a saintly leader, who resigns out of grief at your sins.
What does the resignation of Pope Francis have to do with eschatology? God is correcting the errors of His people. He is correcting conservative errors by giving them a liberal Pope. The conflict forces the sinful conservatives out of the Church. Then God corrects liberal errors by giving them a conservative Pope. And the subsequent conflict, in which liberal Catholics behave much the way that conservative papal critics act today, forces sinful liberals out of the Church. In this way, the true Church becomes smaller and holier.
The smaller holier Church leads the way forward, clarifying doctrine, defining new dogmas, correcting both liberal and conservative errors. These two schisms, the conservative schism and then the liberal schism, occur during the first part of the tribulation, in the midst of great sufferings. And then, after all these things, most of the faithful return to the one true Church, repentant from their past sins.
It’s the only way. For it has reached the point now where neither liberal nor conservative Catholics actually accept correction from the Roman Pontiff. If he disagrees with them, they assume he must be in error. They accept teaching and correction from no one. Therefore, they must be expelled from the Church until they repent.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.
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