As people’s attention is turned to the Amazon Synod underway in Rome, an unbelievable statement attributed to Pope Francis has made the news: the Supreme Pontiff is alleged not to believe in the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ!
The news came from his longtime friend and confidant, the atheist news editor Eugenio Scalfari, founder of Rome’s leftist daily La Repubblica, the only newspaper the pope reads.1 Francis has agreed to be interviewed multiple times by Scalfari. The latter said they also have phone conversations.2
Not the First Time
This is not the first time Scalfari attributes shocking and even heretical statements to the pope.
From the nine interviews Pope Francis has given him to date, the nonagenarian Scalfari has published scandalous statements, which he attributes to the pope, such as: “There is no Catholic God”;3 “Proselytism is solemn nonsense,”4 and, “There is no hell. There is the disappearance of sinful souls.”5
Pope Francis did not deny having spoken these words, nor did he protest their attribution to him. Nor did he break off his friendship with Scalfari. He allowed the Holy See’s Press Office to issue confusing and laconic explanations to the effect that the words attributed to the pope, and shown in between quotation marks, were not textual, but the journalist’s interpretation.
The above statements were grave enough, especially the one denying the existence of hell and speaking of the annihilation of souls, which is consistent with some Gnostic heresies. But when it comes to errors of Faith, denying the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ goes beyond all limits.
“Jesus of Nazareth Was Not Entirely God”
Indeed, on October 8, Scalfari wrote in La Repubblica that talking to the pope about the words of Our Lord on the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46) Francis supposedly commented: “They are the ultimate proof that once he became man and albeit one of exceptional virtue, Jesus of Nazareth was not entirely God.”6
This is blasphemy. To attribute it to the Vicar of Christ is of the utmost gravity. As Prof. Roberto de Mattei has written, “[i]f this was true, Pope Francis would be a formal heretic, like the Arians, the Ebionites, and the Socinians.”7
In his turn, Dr. Joseph Shaw observed that the statement attributed to Pope Francis, that Our Lord ceased to be God during his earthly life, is an old error condemned by Pope Pius XII in his 1951 encyclical Sempiternus Rex Christus.8 The pope declares,
There is another enemy of the faith of Chalcedon, widely diffused outside the fold of the Catholic religion. This is an opinion for which a rashly and falsely understood sentence of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (ii, 7), supplies a basis and a shape. This is called the kenotic doctrine, and according to it, they imagine that the divinity was taken away from the Word in Christ. It is a wicked invention, equally to be condemned with the Docetism opposed to it.9
This heresy was spread in some Protestant milieus and influenced Catholic authors as, for example, the former Jesuit, Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar.10
Weak “Denials” of a Serious Statement
However, as usual, Pope Francis remained silent. The Vatican’s Press Office published not just one but two vapid denials. In the first, on October 9, Matteo Bruni, Director of the Holy See Press Office merely pointed out that “the words that Dr. Eugenio Scalfari attributes in quotation marks to the Holy Father during talks with him cannot be considered a faithful account of what was actually said but represent a personal and free interpretation of what he heard.”11
Given the scandal caused by this dubious statement, Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications, made a slightly more forceful comment the following day: “The Holy Father never said what Scalfari wrote.” It was a “free reconstruction and interpretation by Dr. Scalfari of the conversations, which go back to more than two years ago, [and] cannot be considered a faithful account of what was said by the pope.”12
Ruffini referred the faithful to the pope’s teaching on Jesus Christ.
A Clear Answer From the Pope Himself Is Expected
Given the seriousness of the claim that the pope does not believe in Christ’s divinity and the context of pantheism13 and paganism surrounding the Amazon Synod and the pope,14 many find these anodyne denials insufficient since all they say is that the pope’s friend and confidant was not entirely faithful in conveying what he heard from the Supreme Pontiff.
According to Diane Montagna, “LifeSite asked Archbishop Viganò: ‘In what sense was Ruffini’s further clarification insufficient, given that he explicitly referred to Jesus as ‘true God and true Man?’’”
The archbishop’s answer was peremptory: “In the sense that Christians expect a clear answer from the Pope himself. The thing is too important; it is essential: Yes, I believe that Christ is the Son of God made Man, the only Savior and Lord.” And he added, “All Christians await this clarification from him, not from others, and by virtue of their baptism have the right to have this response.”15
Is Denying the Divinity of the Son of God According to the Divine Will?
The document states that “[t]he pluralism and the diversity of religions … are willed by God in His wisdom.” Now only Christianity accepts the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. If the religions that deny His divinity are indeed desired by God, then denying the divinity of the Son of God is according to His divine will.17
Can a Pope Be Schismatic?
Classical theologians admit the possibility, at least in theory, of a pope falling into schism. According to Cajetan (1468–1534), the pope may fall into schism when he fails to behave as the spiritual head of the Church and to perform the duties of his office.18
Fr. Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M. Cap., sees the Church in a situation of “‘internal papal schism,’ for the pope, even as pope, will effectively be the leader of a segment of the Church that through its doctrine, moral teaching, and ecclesial structure, is for all practical purposes schismatic. This is the real schism that is in our midst and must be faced, but I do not believe Pope Francis is in any way afraid of this schism. As long as he is in control, he will, I fear, welcome it, for he sees the schismatic element as the new ‘paradigm’ for the future Church.”19
Does the “Church with an Amazonian Face” being developed in the current Amazon Synod, and with apparent approval from Pope Francis, characterize a Church in the state of “internal papal schism”?
The issue is serious and cannot be ignored.
- See Sergio Rame, “Papa Francesco: ‘Leggo solo Repubblica,’” Il Giornale, May 25, 2015, http://www.ilgiornale.it/news/politica/papa-francesco-leggo-solo-repubblica-1132836.html.
- “The pope and I often call each other to exchange news, but sometimes we get together again and talk for a long time about religion and politics.” https://rep.repubblica.it/pwa/intervista/2018/03/28/news/il_papa_e_un_onore_essere_chiamato_rivoluzionario_-192473492/?ref=twhr.
- Eugenio Scalfari, “The Pope: how the Church will change,” La Repubblica, Oct. 1, 2013, https://www.repubblica.it/cultura/2013/10/01/news/pope_s_conversation_with_scalfari_english-67643118/.
- Eugenio Scalfari, “Il Papa: ‘È un onore essere chiamato rivoluzionario,’” La Repubblica, Mar. 28, 2018,https://rep.repubblica.it/pwa/intervista/2018/03/28/news/il_papa_e_un_onore_essere_chiamato_rivoluzionario_-192473492/?ref=twhr.
- “Sono la prova provata que Gesù di Nazareth una volta diventato uomo, sia pure un uomo di eccesionale virtù, non era affato un dio.”
- Roberto de Mattei, “But does the pope believe in Jesus Christ the Man-God?” Rorate-Caeli, Oct. 13, 2019, https://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2019/10/de-mattei-but-does-pope-believe-in.html.
- Joseph Shaw, “Did Pope Francis really say that about the divinity of Christ?” LifeSiteNews.com, Oct. 17, 2019, https://www.lifesitenews.com/opinion/did-pope-francis-really-say-that-about-the-divinity-of-christ.
- Pius XII, Encyclical Sempiternus Rex Christus, Sept. 8, 1951, no. 29, http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_08091951_sempiternus-rex-christus.html.
- See Alyssa Lyra Pitstick, Light in Darkness: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Catholic Doctrine of Christ’s Descent into Hell (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Erdmans Publishing Company, 2007).
- J. D. Flynn, “Did Pope Francis say that Jesus isn’t God? Don’t believe the report, Vatican says,” Catholic News Agency, Oct. 9, 2019, https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-dont-believe-scalfari-report-that-pope-francis-denied-christs-divinity-52026.
- “Vatican: Pope Francis ‘never said’ what Scalfari reported about divinity of Jesus Christ,” Catholic News Agency, Oct. 10, 2019, https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-pope-francis-never-said-what-scalfari-reported-about-divinity-of-jesus-christ-49912.
- Cardinal Raymond L. Burke and Bishop Athanasius Schneider, “A Crusade of Prayer and Fasting,” National Catholic Register, Sept. 12, 2019, http://www.ncregister.com/images/uploads/BurkeSchneider.pdf.
- Mernie M. Doyle, “Pope Partying With Pagans in Vatican Gardens Oct 4th 2019,” YouTube.com, accessed Oct. 18, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBSBOm41VLs.
- Diane Montagna, “Abp Viganò urges Pope to personally answer claims he doesn’t believe in divinity of Christ,” LifeSiteNews, Oct. 10, 2019, https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/vigano-scalfari.
- “A Document On Human Fraternity For World Peace And Living Together,” Vatican.va, Feb. 4, 2019, http://w2.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/.
- See Arnaldo Xavier da Silveira, Can a Pope be… a heretic? (Lisbon: Caminhos Romanos, 2018), 133.
- Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M. Cap., “Pope Francis and Schism,” The Catholic Thing, Oct. 8, 2019, https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2019/10/08/pope-francis-and-schism/.