Bishop René Henry Gracida, a friend of St John Paul II and Mother Angelica, expressed his 'gratitude' for the document

A retired bishop has added his signature to the “filial correction” of Pope Francis.

Bishop René Henry Gracida, now aged 94, was an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Miami, then Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee and finally Bishop of the Diocese of Corpus Christi, before retiring in 1997.

Before his priestly ordination, Bishop Gracida served as an airman in World War II, flying 32 missions over Nazi-occupied Europe – a story which, he has recalled, “fascinated” Pope St John Paul II when they met shortly before John Paul became Pope. The two became friends.

The bishop was also friends with Mother Angelica, and helped to keep her television network EWTN going after some US bishops tried to discipline the network. In Raymond Arroyo’s biography of Mother Angelica, Bishop Gracida is described as the “saviour” of EWTN.

At his blog, the bishop said that he had written to the organisers of the correction, offering then his “congratulations and gratitude”, adding: “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.”

He told the Catholic Herald that he hoped “other bishops will sign on to this lay initiative” in order to prompt the Pope to respond.

Bishop Gracida referred to Blessed John Henry Newman’s history of the Arian crisis, which describes how “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 St Athanasius and the Pope that eventually led to the condemnation of the heresy.”

He said: “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.

“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.”

The correction, issued yesterday and originally signed by 62 scholars, priests, and other Catholic figures, addresses the Pope directly, saying that he was helping heresy to spread.

It does not accuse the Pope of being himself a heretic, but argues that ambiguities in the Pope’s document Amoris Laetitia, combined with certain actions – for instance, his declining to answer the dubia cardinals – may lead Catholics into heresy.

One theologian, who did not wish to be named, told the Catholic Herald that he had been asked to sign the petition but had chosen not to. “The charges are unanswerable,” he said. “It is a tragedy that the Pope’s proper counsellors, to whom it belongs to make such a correction, have not already taken this step themselves.”

A petition to support the correction has garnered more than 3,500 signatures at the time of writing.

Earlier today the Vatican denied blocking the website of the correction. The Italian news agency ANSA had claimed that computers were unable to access the page allowing new signatories to add their names. But the Vatican press office said this was only a quirk of the security system in the press room, which blocks access to forms requesting personal data.