Oh dear, aCath News has done it again, this time with a blog piece by their Communications Director Christine Hogan defending Fr Hans Küng from charges of heresy, and saying that on Cath News it is not permissible to "...accuse others of heresy, apostasy, atheism, even creeping Protestantism."
Hmm. Even when they admit it themselves? Does this mean we aren't even allowed to call Dawkins and Hitchens atheists? Aren't allowed to describe someone who publicly renounces all faith as an apostate? Surely not.
Ms Hogan's particular hang-up with describing someone as a heretic is apparently because of the association with burning at the stake. Here's her argument:
"It’s a dreadful thing to accuse a fellow Christian of heresy and we have all seen where it can lead – the death of innocents. Consider Joan of Arc – burned at the stake for heresy in 1431, canonised in 1920. The Dominican friar Savonarola, charged with ‘heresy, uttering prophecies, sedition, and other crimes called religious errors’ by Alexander VI and also burned at the stake in 1498. The half-sister Queens Elizabeth and Mary – both ruled at a time when the wrong faith could earn you a charge of heresy and get you killed. The Inquisition in Spain? Same outcome for many of the unwary or unwise. Salem witch trials on 1692 – hundreds accused of heresy, 19 men and women hanged."
I won't even start on the historical inaccuracies and misinformation perpetuated in this little paragraph.
Or the wild leap in (il)logic.
Let's cut to the chase - I have news for you Ms Hogan. These days death is not a sentence heretics face (unless you happen to be muslim of course).
The reason however that many are concerned at correctly drawing attention to holders of erroneous views is that they CAN lead both themselves and other people to death - the only death that really counts, namely spiritual death.
Who is a heretic?
There are a lot of claims that no one can be called a heretic unless the Church has publicly declared them to be so. I don't think that is strictly true. The Catechism defines heresy as 'the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same...' (2088).
It is perfectly possible for a person to publicly admit that they reject a teaching of the faith that they know the Church holds to be part of the body of faith. It is perfectly possible for them to reject correction when it is given. That makes them a heretic. And if they do this, they place themselves outside communion with the Church, incurring the automatic excommunication set out in the Code of Canon Law (noting that whether or not someone really is or is not excommunicated latae sententiae can be a complex issue) for heresy, apostacy or schism (Pete Vere's excellent layperson's guide to the code, 'Surprised by Canon Law' covers this on pages 48-49).
The crucial point is that the heresy must be obstinate, rejecting attempts to correct the person concerned of their erroneous opinions or doubts.
But the heresy only needs to be formally declared if further action (such as dismissing someone from the clerical state) is contemplated (and would that it were in more cases! In forty years times, the scandal will be the inaction on this subject).
So yes, I think we can legitimately describe a certain retired bishop - and one or two not so retired ones - as heretics given their obstinately held views in the face of correction by their fellow bishops on subjects that have been clearly defined, such as the impossibility of ordaining women.
Similarly, Fr Küng has had his license to teach theology revoked, and the CDF has issued notifications on several of his works. If he persists in adhering to his views despite these corrections (which he clearly has), we are entitled to draw the reasonable conclusion!
And we should all be concerned about warning about the wolves in sheeps clothing who seek to undermine the faith.
Let's call things for what they really are.