DALLAS, Texas – A 94-year-old World War II veteran is the first bishop in good standing to add his name to a “filial correction” sent to Pope Francis in August, and made public on Saturday.
Bishop René Henry Gracida, the Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, joins Bernard Fellay, the head of the canonically irregular traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X, as the only bishops to associate themselves with the document.
The organizers of the petition said the “correction” was delivered to Pope Francis on August 11, and the pontiff never responded.
The 25-page letter accused the pope of advocating seven heretical positions in the 2016 Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia [“The Joy of Love”], which was issued after two bishops’ synods held on marriage and the family, which took place in 2014 and 2015.
The exhortation has been controversial since it was published, with debate surrounding whether or not the document allows persons who are divorced-and-remarried to receive communion without abstaining from sexual relations.
In September 2016, five months after Amoris Laetitia was published, four cardinals – Italian Carlo Caffarra, American Raymond Burke and Germans Walter Brandmüller and Joachim Meisner – asked Francis for a clarification on the issue. When no response was given, the cardinals made their five questions (called dubia) public.
So far, this “fraternal correction” has failed to materialize, and the editors of Rorate Caeli, the traditionalist website which published the English text of the “filial correction,” stated the lay-led initiative is the first step in “an initiative of a theological nature that will likely lead, God willing, to an initiative of a canonical nature from those who have the mandate to act.”
The seven propositions in Amoris Laetitia the “filial correction” claims are heretical, also surround the issue of giving communion to the divorced-and-remarried.
The document said the “two general sources of error which appear to us to be fostering the heresies” were a “false understanding of divine revelation which generally receives the name of Modernism” and “the teachings of Martin Luther.”
At the time the “correction” was delivered to the pope, there were 40 signatories, although 22 more had added their name to the document before it was made public on Saturday, including Fellay.
The signatories come from conservative and traditionalist circles, and are mostly priests and academics.
A few notable names were included on the list, including Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, the former president of the Institute for the Works of Religion, more popularly known as the “Vatican bank,” and Italian Monsignor Antonio Livi, former dean of the philosophy faculty at Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University.
Gracida was not one of the original signatories, but on Sunday publicly announced his “gratitude” for the initiative and his request to be added to the list on his blog, Abyssus Abyssum Invocat/Deep Calls To Deep.
“I extend my congratulations and gratitude to the originators of the Correction and I wish to have my name added to the list of those individuals who agree with the content of the Correction and want to be identified with it,” Gracida wrote in an email to the organizers, that was reproduced on his blog.
Gracida has also published several articles related to the “filial correction” on his website, including one encouraging the laity to sign a petition in support of the document.
“It is my hope that other bishops will sign on to this lay initiative and thereby reinforce the importance of this lay initiative in the mind of Francis and prompt him to speak and act in response to the initiative,” Gracida wrote in an email to Crux.
“As Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote in his Historical Tract on the Arian Controversy, it was the overwhelming resistance of the laity to the Arian heresy which eventually persuaded the majority of bishops ‘who were either Arian or semi-Arian’ to support the efforts of Saint Athanasius and the Pope that eventually led to the condemnation of the heresy at the Council of Nicaea,” the bishop said.
Gracida, a native of New Orleans, served in the 303rd Bombardment Group in the European theater of World War II, and participated in over 30 combat missions as a tail gunner and later a flight engineer.
After the war, he earned a degree in architecture, and then joined a Benedictine monastery for a short time, before being ordained a diocesan priest.
He was the founding bishop of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, from 1975–1983, and then served as the Bishop of Corpus Christi, Texas, until his retirement in 1997.
Gracida was known as an outspoken conservative while in office, and was a vocal proponent of pro-life causes.
He made national news in 1990 when he formally excommunicated a director of an abortion clinic and an obstetrician working as an abortion provider who were both living in Corpus Christi. In 1994, he put a state legislator under interdict – meaning he was forbidden to receive Communion and other sacraments – for the legislator’s public advocacy of abortion.
He often clashed with his fellow bishops, both over his actions, and the management of a multi-million-dollar fund based in his diocese. (The other bishops of Texas supported legal action to force the fund to give more money to dioceses outside Corpus Christi. An agreement was made settling the issue shortly before Gracida’s retirement.)
Since his retirement, Gracida has continued to comment on Church affairs, and has maintained his current blog for nearly a decade. He has frequently criticized Francis.
“At this critical moment in the life of the institutional Church I do not see how it is possible for anyone who is well informed regarding the issues that are involved in the controversies surrounding the present pontificate to remain silent,” Gracida told Crux. “While I have every confidence that the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ will survive the present crisis as Our Lord promised Peter, I am not so sanguine about the number of souls that will be lost as a result of it.”
Gracida said he believed the Church must “more effectively and with greater compassion” teach, preach and apply “the magisterial doctrine that has been handed down through it for over 2,000 years,” but this did not mean “today’s faux mercy.”
Gracida told Crux he did not believe Francis would respond to the petition, adding he would like to see the pope resign.
“I do not believe that absent Francis’s resignation, there can be a ‘next step’ for humans to take, the next step is for Jesus Christ to take,” he said.