Image: A panel on Un Café con Galat, the television program hosted by Professor José Galat (center).
Some troubling news has, once more, just come to us from Colombia. As we reported a while ago, there was the case of Don Uribe Medina, a parish priest punished for criticizing Pope Francis and his novel teaching concerning marriage. Fortunately, that case was resolved on good terms, with Fr. Uribe’s own bishop now even fully defending the Church’s traditional teaching on marriage.
In the new case, however, Professor José Galat, former rector of the La Gran Colombia University and founder and owner of the television station Teleamiga, has been declared excommunicated for his purported schismatic attitude. More specifically, he and his own weekly TV program, Un Café con Galat (Coffee with Galat), have been accused of not being sufficiently obedient toward Pope Francis.
Significantly, it was Galat himself who, at the time of the Don Uribe case, hosted the priest and gave him the scope to defend his positions.
Galat himself recently made statements on his own television show, where, citing the “Sankt Gallen Mafia,” of whom Belgian cardinal Godfried Danneels is among the most famous members, he claimed that Pope Francis was unlawfully elected. He also claimed that Pope Francis is distorting many aspects of the Catholic Church’s fundamental teaching.
For these statements – and especially in light of the imminent mid-September 2017 visit of Pope Francis to Colombia – the bishops of Colombia have taken canonical steps against Prof. Galat.
One of the more unusual steps is that, on 26 July, Monsignor Pedro Mercado, president of the Ecclesiastical Tribunal of Bogotá, has published the following statement on Twitter (sic): “For obstinate disobedience toward the pope, José Galat has placed himself outside of the Communion with the Church. He cannot receive the Sacraments.” On the same day, the same prelate posted, again on his Twitter feed, a picture with himself and Pope Francis along with the caption: “I am Catholic and I am in communion!”
ACI Prensa, the Spanish branch of Catholic News Agency (CNA), has already published two articles on this Galat case. On 25 July, ACI Prensa reported that the Episcopal Conference of Colombia (CEC) “lamented the content of the Colombian television channel Teleamiga, which claims to be of Catholic inspiration but which attacks Pope Francis.” The bishops now “urged priests, religious, and lay people to cease any support they give” to this program. In their 25 July statement, the bishops also state that “Teleamiga does not represent, nor reflect, the teaching of the Catholic Church; therefore it cannot call itself a ‘Catholic channel.’” Here ACI Prensa also directly quotes the bishops: “Based on Canon Law, we point out that, by rejecting submission to the Pope and seriously injuring the communion of the Church, a schism is thereby incurred and other people are [thus also] induced to fall into it.”
The Colombian bishops – three of whom have signed the statement, among them the president of the Episcopal Conference – especially criticized the messages coming from Un Café con Galat as carried out by the founder and director of Teleamiga. The bishops accuse him of sowing among the Catholic faithful, with the help of “superficial and harmful arguments,” “attitudes of detachment and doubt regarding the validity of the pontificate of Pope Francis.”
The Colombian bishops also stressed that they have sought “the way of dialogue” with Galat “over the years.” “However, a calm and fruitful approach has not been possible, nor has there been a change of attitude [on his part],” they added. Next to telling Catholics not to support the channel anymore, the bishops also declare that “it is an absolute contradiction that the Teleamiga channel should continue to transmit the celebration [and Sacrifice] of the Eucharist and that, in its facilities, there is to be found the Blessed Sacrament [reserved].”
Teleamiga has been airing traditional Masses. The Colombian bishops advise the faithful to look for other ways and means to find “sound doctrine.” For example, the bishops have explicitly invited the faithful to prepare themselves well for a welcome of Pope Francis on his upcoming visit to Colombia (Bogotá, Villavicencio, Medellín, and Cartagena) and to listen to him “with docility.”
It might be of worth to note that the Archdiocese of Bogotá, Colombia is also about to host a conference given by Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto, dean of the Roman Rota, concerning the papal document Amoris Laetitia, with 600 participants in registered attendance already.
Teleamiga is a television station licensed, among others, by the La Gran Colombia University, Bogotá, whose rector was Professor Galat himself from 1981 to 2017. Galat has studied political sciences and philosophy at different universities in Paris, France; Barcelona, Spain; and Colombia. He is now 88 years of age…and just excommunicated.
On 26 July, ACI Prensa published a follow-up report on the Galat case, quoting Bishop Mercado: “[W]ith his angry response to the episcopate and his obstinate rejection of Pope Francis, Dr. José Galat has placed himself outside the communion of the Catholic Church[.] … He should not be admitted to the sacraments until he shows clear signs of repentance.” According to Bishop Mercado, “heresy and schism are typified as canonical offenses punished with (automatic) excommunication latae sententiae.” The bishop added, “Those who have committed this crime may not receive the sacraments of the Church until manifesting a visible and sincere repentance.”
At this point, Galat is disallowed from receiving even a Catholic burial. According to the bishop, “by disobeying Pope Francis in a visible, public, and reiterated way, Dr. Galat has placed himself outside the communion of the Church.”
According to ACI Prensa, Bishop Mercado said, “[I]t is painful for me to realize that Dr. Galat, who for so many years served the Church faithfully, has ended his days in this pitiful spiritual situation.”
These tones do not sound very merciful, at least to some observers.
Prof. Galat himself has now responded on two occasions. First, on 25 July, he declared that “it is true that a Catholic must have love and adherence to the legitimate successor of the Apostle Peter.” But, according to Galat, one wonders about a pope “not chosen by God, but by men and even worse by a ‘mafia of cardinals,’” as it had been called by “Cardinal Godfried Danneels himself, who, with savvy, publicly declared that this mob determined the resignation of Benedict XVI and put Francis in the papacy.” Galat goes so far to say that the present pontiff’s election “was the work of a political and corrupt mafia of cardinals.” The Colombian professor insisted that this is said not by him, but by Cardinal Danneels himself, as can be shown with the help of different sources, among them an article written by Edward Pentin. Galat also spoke about Francis’s “undoubted illegitimacy of origin,” complemented by an “illegitimate exercise of teaching doctrines contrary to the Catholic Faith.” As examples, he mentioned Francis’s claim that everyone is saved, that proselytism is foolish, and that adulterers may receive Communion.
Galat claimed that he has presented even more facts on his television program. He also spoke about the “nonsense of him who figures [presents himself] as pontiff.” He accused the Bishops’ Conference of branding as formal “schismatics those who try to defend the Faith, when it is exactly the opposite.” Galat explained that those who attack the Catholic truths are, in fact, the ones who put themselves outside the Church. He concluded that “‘false and harmful’ is the silence of those who are called to defend the Faith”; those who now practice “complicity or cowardice” also want to destroy Teleamiga, which does actually defend the Faith.
Galat “very respectfully” challenged the “Colombian episcopate itself to respond and to counter-argue – with the help of biblical evidence and the traditional teaching of the Church” in order to show “what are our alleged mistakes that have caused their ‘superficial and noxious’ anger.” And: “Why do they persecute those who defend the Faith of the Church?”
On 26 July, the day after his first response to the episcopal steps taken against him, Professor Galat also responded on his Facebook page to the claim that he is using “harmful and superficial” arguments. Galat rejected these reproaches, applying the same words to some of the confusing teachings coming these days from the Catholic hierarchy itself. “False and harmful are the heresies taught by theologians, bishops, cardinals, and even by Pope Francis – and not the defense of the truths of the Faith as we have undertaken it on our channel.” “False and harmful” are, in Galat’s eyes, those who, instead, endanger the salvation of souls by teaching “false doctrines against the Faith of the Church, taught and sustained by Pope Francis.” Amoris Laetitia was also mentioned here for calling “sin” [i.e., adultery] an “irregular situation.” “And harmful it is to destroy the family with the virtual legalization of adultery which is now to be easily achieved, according to the principles enshrined in that document,” explained Galat. After naming more examples, he concluded: “False and harmful are a multitude of other wrong teachings of the current pope.” Galat posted this same statement on the website of Teleamiga.
The Galat case has, so far, not been widely covered. But the well respected Catholic website Infovaticana published on 29 July a comment that asserts Professor Galat’s inclination to make himself the center of his TV program, in spite of his alleged defective theological expertise. The article uses even harsher language that I prefer not to repeat. To an outsider like me, this article and tone seem inappropriate amid a grave situation where an 88-year-old Catholic man who seems to have contributed so much to the common good of his country – also economically, by fostering community-based enterprises that help the poor – is now threatened to be indefinitely excluded from the Sacraments. Is this to be a fitting manifestation of the newly (and more expansively) merciful Church? Is this how Pope Francis’s welcome is to be prepared in Colombia – at the expense of an elderly Catholic veteran?
We might not agree with all of Galat’s own forceful statements and sweeping assertions, which certainly are hard to prove. They might also lack prudence.
But we might also remember in this context that the well respected Italian journalist and papal critic Antonio Socci – who not many years ago also argued that the election of Pope Francis was invalid – received last year a personal letter from the pope, thanking him for his work and welcoming his criticism. How is it that one critic receives a papal thank-you note, while another – and much older – gentleman receives an excommunication?
Update: Infovaticana now published, today, another post on Prof. Galat, more differentiated, showing his many achievements and, while saying they don’t share Galat’s theses, calling Pope Francis to prudence.
They also add the information that we should add, too – namely, “His Teleamiga Television Channel, of which he is co-founder and director, reaches 35 countries and more than 50 million homes.”
Yesterday’s article on the excommunication of papal critic Professor José Galat, formerly the rector of La Gran Colombia University and founder of Spanish language TV station Teleamiga, has stirred up quite a firestorm in the comment box. And not without reason.
Galat is not, however, just a papal critic. As reported by Maike Hickson, he takes his criticisms to the point of unfounded conclusions:
Galat himself recently made statements on his own television show, where, citing the “Sankt Gallen Mafia,” of whom Belgian cardinal Godfried Danneels is among the most famous members, he claimed that Pope Francis was unlawfully elected. He also claimed that Pope Francis is distorting many aspects of the Catholic Church’s fundamental teaching. [emphasis added]
Of the existence of the so-called “Sankt Gallen Mafia,” which is said to have colluded to elect Jorge Bergoglio pope, there is no real question. By the admission of some of their own members, the group existed. Quite a good deal is known about their operations. Other details have come to light about international pressure against Pope Benedict XVI to resign. Questions have also come up about possible canonicalirregularities in the election of Pope Francis.
Of the assertion that Francis is distorting the teaching of the Church, there can also be no question. From significant segments of Amoris Laetitia to certain assertions in Evangelii Gaudium to his many, many less-well-known statementsthat appear to run contrary to what the Church has perennially taught, this pope has done great damage to the faithful in their ability to comprehend and accept authentic Catholic teaching.
Whatever one thinks of all these things, it seems to me that within reasonable parameters, there is room for a measure of skepticism. Skepticism about the abdication, skepticism about the election, skepticism about whether material heresy may have crossed the line into formal heresy, and so on. It seems that no honest Catholic today feels sure about very much except that we’re dealing with a crisis in the papacy of unprecedented proportions.
But skepticism, difficulties, doubts, and questions are just that. They do not rise to the level of certitude. They do not give to any of us the right to make formal declarations of fact when we don’t even have all of the information needed to make a determination, let alone the authority to do so. These things, by their nature, give rise to uncertanties, not the other way around. And we should give these uncertanties to God in prayer, asking Him to guide us and to aid and restore His Church.
In other words: it’s a big mess, but fixing it is above our pay grade. We each have our tasks. Let’s leave the big problems to the big players.
By way of analogy, one of the things we (rightly) push back against in the midst of the ecclesiastical assault on Holy Matrimony is the idea that via the “internal forum” a couple can determine that their marriage was never valid, even if a tribunal has not been involved, or has reached a decision upholding the union. But how is this any different than those of us who run around telling ourselves and anyone who will listen that Francis isn’t just a lousy pope, he’s an antipope? Do we really think we can defend the Church’s juridical authority in the former case and totally ignore it in the latter?
Further — and I think this is what really lies at the heart of the matter — do we have so little trust that God is guiding His Church that we think we have to jump in and do it for Him? Are we, finding ourselves int he midst of this storm, reacting like the apostles before us? Do we wish to prod Him from His (apparent) sleep, crying out, “Master, does it not concern thee that we perish?” Have we forgotten Our Lord’s reaction to such squeamishness?
And rising up, he rebuked the wind, and said to the sea: Peace, be still. And the wind ceased: and there was made a great calm. And he said to them: Why are you fearful? have you not faith yet? And they feared exceedingly: and they said one to another: Who is this (thinkest thou) that both wind and sea obey him? (Mark 4:39-40)
We have a Church that is both human and divine. It has been guaranteed the guidance of the Holy Spirit to keep the faithful from being bound to error, but we were never promised the impeccability of the men who would lead it. St. Paul warned the bishops of precisely the problem we face at this very moment:
Take heed to yourselves, and to the whole flock, wherein the Holy Ghost hath placed you bishops, to rule the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. I know that, after my departure, ravening wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock. And of your own selves shall arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. (Acts 20:28-31)
And in the Scriptures, we were even given, under divine inspiration, an example of an errant pope:
But when Cephas was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. – Galatians 2:11
In his commentary on Galatians 2, St. Thomas Aquinas explained the nature of Peter’s error, and thus, Paul’s rebuke:
Apropos of what is said in a certain Gloss, namely, that I withstood him as an adversary, the answer is that the Apostle opposed Peter in the exercise of authority, not in his authority of ruling.
St. Thomas goes on:
The occasion of the rebuke was not slight, but just and useful, namely, the danger to the Gospel teaching. Hence he says: Thus was Peter reprehensible, but I alone, when I saw that they, who were doing these things, walked not uprightly unto the truth of the gospel, because its truth was being undone, if the Gentiles were compelled to observe the legal justifications, as will be plain below. That, they were not walking uprightly is so, because in cases where danger is imminent, the truth must be preached openly and the opposite never condoned through fear of scandalizing others: “That which I tell you in the dark, speak ye in the light” (Mt 10:27); “The way of the just is right: the path of the just is right to walk in” (Is 26:7). The manner of the rebuke was fitting, i.e., public and plain. Hence he says, I said to Cephas, i.e., to Peter, before them all, because that dissimulation posed a danger to all: “Them that sin, reprove before all” (1 Tim 5:20). This is to be understood of public sins and not of private ones, in which the procedures of fraternal charity ought to be observed.
Note well the distinction made here: a differentiation between Peter’s exercise of authority and his authority of ruling. The former is subject to rebuke, even on a matter that was “a danger to the Gospel teaching”; the latter, however, is not. Peter was still the pope, even though he was leading the faithful astray, and his authority from Christ was unquestioned by Paul.
It would be much easier for us to deal with the multiple “dangers to Gospel teaching” presented by Francis if he were not a legitimate pope. But we ourselves have no authority of ruling, and no one may judge a pope. Whatever suspicions we may have, we have been told by the Church that Benedict XVI resigned and we have been told that Francis was elected by the conclave. There is no rival claimant to the Petrine Throne. The Universal Church has accepted Francis as pope.
He is, whether we like it or not, the man we must accept as the Roman Pontiff. He holds the keys of St. Peter. If, like the marriage tribunal I used in the example above, he is determined at some point to have in some way nullified his office, then we may rest assured that we will come to know it after the fact. But we do not know it today.
This is a cross. There is no question. It is a heavy one, and for some, it has scandalized them to the point of losing their faith. This is certainly a tragedy, and it is one that Pope Francis will have to answer for. No matter how much he causes us to grind our teeth, we should be praying for him, because to stand accountable before the Lord for using the highest office in the Church to confuse and scatter the flock is…well, about the most terrifying thing you can imagine.
Speculation on these matters might feel cathartic, but it helps nothing. It does not remove him from office. It does not change what is being done. And for some who are already struggling with their faith, or why they’ve converted, running into endless debates on who is pope and who isn’t and why and why not just compounds the confusion they already feel about the chaos in the Church. It has the potential to lead people astray, or to cause them to give up completely.
This is why we have the comment policy we do, and why we enforce it even when it sometimes seems a bit heavy handed. I’m not looking forward to standing before God and having to answer for why I let reckless and idle speculation run wild here. We’re careful in the stories we report to give you the information we have about the problems that exist, but not to draw conclusions that we have no right to come to. We ask for that same prudence to be extended to your discussion of these articles.
The selective application of ecclesiastical penalties against Professor Galat when so many dissenters are empowered or promoted to positions of influence in the Church is surely an injustice. On the other hand, if Galat could have just refrained from arrogating to himself the authority to say with certainty what we cannot know with certainty, he might never have wound up in trouble in the first place.
Whatever happens with Galat — and we should hope and pray that he receives justice, not the jackboot — it’s a lesson for all of us. One we’d do well not to forget.