March 27, 2017 (Steven O’Reilly) – Mr. Stephen Walford has again published on La Stampa’s Vatican Insider website (Amoris Laetitia: The Questions that really need answering) an attempt to attack those who sincerely seek clarification on questions arising from the apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia. Mr. Walford is at it, again. And, like before – wrong, again. It amazes me that someone like Mr. Walford who is so right in his belief in Catholic doctrines has been so wrong in his application of every single one of them in this debate. I addressed his prior arguments in posts published on my blog (see Do the Predecessors of Pope Francis come to his defense? Well – Yes and No, Mr. Walford and in Honorius Redivivus – Addendum). His current presentation of his argument seems to present three substantive questions or objections, to which I will reply.
Objection 1: An argument from clarity, i.e, Mr. Walford claims Amoris Laetitia is not ambiguous in no. 305 (n. 351), and those who suggest it is are “disingenuous”
Objection 2: An argument from development of doctrine, i.e., Mr. Walford claims that a change in Church practice from one not allowing Communion for the Divorced and Remarried living more uxurio (i.e., as married couples do) in any circumstances whatsoever, to a practice in which it is allowed in certain cases may be considered a valid development of doctrine
Objection 3: An argument from an infallible intervention of the ordinary magisterium, i.e., Mr. Walford believies Pope Francis, in Amoris Laetitia and by other means, has taught infallibly that Communion for the Divorced and Remarried living more uxurio is licit in Amoris Laetitia
Reply to Objection 1 which states that Amoris Laetitia is not ambiguous in no. 305 (n. 351), and those who suggest it are “disingenuous”
This objection is taken first, though it is not numerically so in Mr. Walford’s article. It is taken first because if Amoris Laetitia (AL) can be shown to be ambiguous and indefinite on the question of communion for the divorced and remarried living more uxurio (henceforth referred to as “the divorced and remarried”), then Mr. Walford’s latter argument from infallibility collapses. That is to say, if it can be shown AL does not teach communion for the divorced and remarried, it is irrelevant to this argument whether or not AL is infallible or not. Futhermore, if AL does not expressly teach communion for the divorced and remarried, then Mr. Walford can then be shown to be defending an erroneous theological position in opposition to the magisterium from which he should withdraw.
Mr. Walford’s treatment of his opinion of the clarity of AL is brief within the body of his article, where he says: “There can be no question that the Pope has approved new possibilities for some divorced and remarried.” Mr. Walford presents this case in more detail in his own footnote #12 (emphasis added):
“…At no 305, Pope Francis carefully explains that those not in mortal sin can be living in God’s grace while receiving the Church’s help. At this point we are given footnote 351 which states this “can include the help of the Sacraments.” Now the only possible sacraments this can refer to in the circumstances described in the proper text are confession and Holy Communion. None of the other sacraments apply as an aid to spiritual growth (if we presume an adult has already been confirmed) in the context of someone in an irregular situation. Francis also immediately after refers to these two sacraments specifically. This explains why it is disingenuous to claim the text is ambiguous.” (Footnote #12 to Mr. Walford’s article)
Note, carefully how Mr. Walford says that in no. 305 that Pope Francis ‘carefully explains that those not in mortal sin can be living in God’s grace while receiving the Church’s help.’ That is not quite what the pope said. In no. 305, the pope said (emphasis added):
“Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.” (AL, 305)
While in one sense it is true to say – as Mr. Walford does – that the pope is speaking of those not in a state of mortal sin; it fails to give a full context. The pope is not simply talking about any person not in mortal sin. The pope is speaking of a specific category of such people – those in an objective situation of grave sin who are not subjectively culpable. The nuance to keep in mind is that there are various types of objective situations of sin, such as private and public situations of sin. This is important to keep in mind as we consider what help these individuals can receive from the Church, because here follows the relevant portion of the Pope’s answer to that question in footnote n. 351 of AL (emphasis added below):
“In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments.”
Though Mr. Walford accuses others of being disingenous, that charge – more deservedly – should be pointed at him in this instance. If you look back and note closely, Walford excluded the pope’s words “in certain cases” in his own footnote #12. It might be said to Mr. Walford’s account he meant only to paraphrase the pope. In charity, I will, of course, grant him the benefit of that doubt. Still, the fact remains that by excluding “in certain cases,”Mr. Walford has inadvertently changed the meaning of what the pope actually said. Mr. Walford’s version gives the impression that all those in an objective situation of sin who are not subjectively culpable can recieve the help of the sacraments, and thus communion. That is not what the pope’s words literally say.
Now, read no. 305 with footnote 351 with the pope’s full words, i.e., “in certain cases.” Does this help Mr. Walford’s argument that there is no ambiguity in AL 305 (n.351)? No. It destroys it. Obliterates it. How so? The meaning is clear enough: while “in certain cases” this help to such individuals can include communion, the inverse is also implied: “in certain cases” this help cannot include communion. In other words, not all those in a state of an objective situation of sin – and who are not subjectively culpable – necessarily fall into the “certain cases” in which one can receive the aid of the sacraments. We are now back where we started. Which are those “certain cases” which can or cannot receive the help of the sacraments? The pope does not say. That is where the ambiguity of AL footnote 351 remains, despite Mr. Walford’s attempt to dispute it – ironically enough – in a footnote.
Mr. Walford’s failure, whether he chooses to admit it or not, simply demonstrates, once again, the need for answers to the dubia – in this case, dubia #1.
Reply to Objection 2 which states that Amoris Laetitia’s position on Communion for the Divorced and Remarried may be considered a valid development of doctrine
The Reply to Objection #1 – that Pope Francis does not expressly teach communion for the divorced and remarried in AL, in itself, negates Mr. Walford’s contention it is a valid development of doctrine. However, I will leave aside my former argument above and address Mr. Walford’s objection here directly. Mr. Walford asserts:
“In terms of Tradition, there is a fatal flaw in the argument of those who oppose Pope Francis’ decision to alter the sacramental discipline for certain Catholics in irregular marital situations. For them, Tradition seems to be complete. In this particular aspect it stopped in 1981 with St John Paul’s Familiaris Consortio. The authentic teaching on Tradition, however, is that it grows and matures over time with the sure guidance of the Holy Spirit. As the centuries pass by, the Church is faced with ever new complexities which serve to enhance its own understanding of its doctrines, and through the charisms of the Pope, Bishops and all the faithful it navigates its way towards this end. It seems safe to say that until the Lord returns, the Holy Spirit will have something to teach the Church in its doctrinal mission to present the most perfect way of living the Gospel.”
Mr. Walford is wrong in suggesting the issue with allowing communion or not for the divorced and remarried is just a question of a “sacramental discipline.” Such a suggestion smacks of an attempt to diminish this constant and universal practice of the Church as if it were something potentially transitory in nature, as if it were some ‘discipline’ that might be practiced now, but discarded later. We need to keep in mind that a “practice” can be something more than a fleeting thing which might be discarded at an opportune moment. A doctrine might be implicitly contained in a practice:
“It should be noted that the infallible teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium is not only set forth with an explicit declaration of a doctrine to be believed or held definitively, but is also expressed by a doctrine implicitly contained in a practice of the Church’s faith, derived from revelation or, in any case, necessary for eternal salvation, and attested to by the uninterrupted Tradition: such an infallible teaching is thus objectively set forth by the whole episcopal body, understood in a diachronic and not necessarily merely synchronic sense. (Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Professio fidei. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, June 29 1998. (n. 17). Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [emphasis added]) 
Thus, we see illustrated above, there can be “doctrines implicitly contained in a practice of the Church, derived from revelation or, in any case, necessary for eternal salvation, and attested to by the uninterrupted Tradition.” What doctrine is implicitly contained in the practice of not giving communion to the divorced and remarried? The popes have an answer for Mr. Walford. Pope John Paul II in Familiaris Consortia (FC) forbade communion to the divorced and remarried and he explains why (emphasis added):
“However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.” (Familiaris Consortio, 84)
We see in Pope John Paul II’s teaching a clear statement that the practice in question is based on Revelation (Sacred Scripture) and is implicitly connected to the doctrines of the Eucharist and the indissolubility of marriage. This same teaching was re-affirmed by John Paul II in 1984 in Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (34), through that pope’s approval of the Catholic Catechism (1650) in 1992, through his approval of guidance issued by the CDF in 1994 , and in Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (34). This was also taught by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 in Sacramentum Caritatis (29) . Responding to queries whether there could be additional exceptions to allow communion for the divorced and remarried, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) under Cardinal Ratzinger, with the approval of the Pope John Paul II, issued a response (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful. September 14, 1994). In it, the Cardinal Prefect says in part (emphasis added):
“At the same time it (i.e., Familiaris Consortio 84) confirms and indicates the reasons for the constant and universal practice, “founded on Sacred Scripture, of not admitting the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion”. The structure of the Exhortation and the tenor of its words give clearly to understand that this practice, which is presented as binding, cannot be modified because of different situations.”[ Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful. September 14, 1994.]
The CDF’s letter above, confirmed by the pope, clearly says the teaching of FC 84 confirms a constant and universal practice founded on scripture. And note the CDF’s comment about the tenor of the words, which “give clearly to understand that this practice, which as presented cannot be modified because of different situations” (emphasis added). While Catholics should certainly accept the principle of development in doctrine, it is laughable to read Mr. Walford say “as centuries pass by, the Church is faced with ever new complexities which serve to enhance its own understanding of its doctrines”- as if this applies to our case at hand. Consider, in the examples I provided above, from John Paul II and Benedict XVI there are six interventions of the magisterium that clearly and forcefully indicate that the Church’s practice is based on Scripture and implicitly connected to both the doctrines of the Eucharist and Marriage. Seriously, I do not know how Mr. Walford kept a straight face writing that line about “centuries passing by,” for I could not keep one reading it. We have interventions reiterating this teaching from 1981 through 2007, and Pope Benedict XVI resigned only in 2013! Where then are Mr. Walford’s centuries? I count less than one year from the publication of Amoris Laetitia- if we grant Mr. Walford his interpretation of it – which was released April 8th of last year. However, I do not grant Mr. Walford’s interpretation.
It is difficult to see how a true doctrinal development can begin with a constant and universal practice founded on Sacred Scripture which absolutely denies communion to all adulterers living more uxurio, and then – by allowing even a single exception – negates it. Thus, it is passing strange that Mr. Walford cites St. Vincent Lerins on the question of development of doctrine.
“For it is right that those ancient doctrines of heavenly philosophy should, as time goes on, be cared for, smoothed, polished; but not that they should be changed, not that they should be maimed, not that they should be mutilated. They may receive proof, illustration, definiteness; but they must retain withal their completeness, their integrity, their characteristic properties” (St. Vincent of Lerins as quoted from Stephen Walford’s article) (Emphassis added by O’Reilly)
We see that St. Vincent Lerins rejects the notion that a change can mutilate or deny the original doctrine. Thus, the allowance of communion for the divorced and remarried cannot be a valid development of doctrine, whether under the doctrine of St. Vincent or St. John Newman, because it must “retain” the original doctrine complete. Therefore, Mr. Walford’s argument from doctrinal development is flawed. St. John Henry Newman and St. Vincent Lerins must be rolling in their graves.
Reply to Objection 3 which claims Pope Francis, in Amoris Laetitia and by other means, taught infallibly that Commuion for the Divorced and Remarried is licit
In my Reply to Objection #1, I have shown Pope Francis did not actually teach – in the words he chose – that the divorced and remarried are among “certain cases” that can receive communion and confession. However, I will prescind for this and address Mr. Walfords arguments regarding the infallibility of Amoris Laetitia. Mr. Walford says in part:
“There can be no question that the Pope has approved new possibilities for some divorced and remarried. Even if we were to somehow claim that the original text is ambiguous (12), the Pope has twice confirmed his intention since then: once, in the press conference on the return from Lesvos where he said “I could say yes [there has been a change] and leave it at that”, (but then advised a reading of Cardinal Schonborn’s presentation), and second, in the Letter to the Bishops of Argentina in which he wrote: “there are no other interpretations.” Now the question is: are these two interventions magisterial? I would say yes, because he speaks as Pope, not as a private theologian, and St John Paul II taught that the Magisterium is also exercised through “oral and written interventions” and specifically when they derive from an “explicit or implicit intention to make pronouncements on faith and morals (13).” On both these occasions the Pope was directly affirming the correct assumption that Holy Communion was now possible in certain cases-affecting both faith and morals.”
In addressing Mr. Walford above, let us first begin with his appeal to Pope John Paul II, as quoted above by him. Here, as in his prior article and the discussion above on doctrinal development, Mr. Walford has furnished ammunition to demolish his own case. Yes, I agree most heartily with Mr. Walford and John Paul II that the papal magisterium is exercised when they derive from an “explicit or implicit intention to make pronouncements on faith and morals.” What Mr. Walford does not quote is the CDF’s guidance on how to determine if there is such an explicit or implicit intention. Per the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:
“It should be noted that the infallible teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium is not only set forth with an explicit declaration of a doctrine to be believed or held definitively, but is also expressed by a doctrine implicitly contained in a practice of the Church’s faith, derived from revelation or, in any case, necessary for eternal salvation, and attested to by the uninterrupted Tradition: such an infallible teaching is thus objectively set forth by the whole episcopal body, understood in a diachronic and not necessarily merely synchronic sense. Furthermore, the intention of the ordinary and universal Magisterium to set forth a doctrine as definitive is not generally linked to technical formulations of particular solemnity; it is enough that this be clear from the tenor of the words used and from their context.” [See Note 1](emphasis added)
The question then regarding AL is: did Pope Francis have the implicit or explicit intention to exercise an intervention of the infallible, ordinary papal magisterium, and is this suggested by “the tenor of the words used and from their context?” Unfortunately, for Mr. Walford, Pope Francis is a witness against his argument. Pope Francis specifically and explicitly disclaimed any notion that his exhortation was such an intervention in Amoris Laetitia (3) when he said:
“Since “time is greater than space”, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13), until he leads us fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to see all things as he does. Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For “cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle… needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied”. (Amoris Laetitia, 3)
Regarding Amoris Laetitia, there does not seem to be much reason to go into the matter further. The Pope himself tells us within AL he did not intend an intervention of the magisterium in his exhortation. As I explained in my prior blog:
“In saying “I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium” it seems sufficiently clear the pope’s meaning amounts to this: ‘What follows may be a doctrinal, moral or pastoral issue, but I would make it clear I do not intend to settle them with interventions of the magisterium in this document.’ If this was not the pope’s meaning, it is utterly unclear what other purpose he had in mind given the tenor of the words used and their context. Francis’ lack of intent in exercising his ordinary papal magisterium to pronounce an infallible teaching which would bind the whole Church is also evidenced when he says “each country and region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs.” By leaving countries and regions on their own to seek solutions, the pope clearly did not propose a rule of faith.”
Leaving behind the pope’s admissions, let us again recall, briefly, the evidence adduced earlier against communion for the divorced and remarried. There is the teaching of Pope John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio (84), which itself reiterated a constant and universal practice. This same teaching was then re-affirmed by John Paul II in 1984 in Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (34), again in the Catholic Catechism (1650) in 1992, and again in 1994 in the form of a letter from the CDF. This all was reaffirmed again by Benedict XVI in 2007 in Sacramentum Caritatis (29). One cannot help but be struck by the clarity and force of the words used in these documents in all instances – without exception. I provide the quotes in the notes section at the bottom of this article for the reader to understand how clear the teaching has been. These documents teach that, based on Sacred Scripture, it is impossible for the divorced and remarried to receive communion. I have no doubt that Mr. Walford wished he had but one magisterial statement like these from Pope Francis indicating that the practice of allowing communion for the divorced and remarried is based on Sacred Scripture! No such evidence has ever been offered. Yet, in the final analysis, to what does Mr. Walford’s case amount against this constant and universal practice taught by Pope John II and Pope Benedict XVI? His case comes down to one ambiguous foonote (n.351), a private letter that was leaked, and a brief response to a question in an airplane press conference. His argument would be laughable if the matter were not so serious. Mr. Walford’s paltry evidence against the aforementioned interventions of the magisterium amount to little more than pelting the Great Wall of China with popcorn.
Then what of the leaked letter? The press conference? In neither case was the pope intending to address the whole Church or to bind it definitively. Not every papal utterance is infallible, whether via the papal extra ordinary or via the papal ordinary magisterium. Not all a pope says or writes, even pubically, is immune from reproach. Pope Honorius confirmed Sergius in his efforts to silence orthodox terms that would combat a nascent heresy, while John XXII gave public sermons which contained erroneous views on the Beatific Vision which were heretical (see here). Therefore, Mr. Walford does not aid his case by resorting to such meager and questionable evidence. Yet, that said, there are other problems with his argument. The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has spoken publically against communion for the divorced and remarried, and he has not been rebuked by the pope. While the Vatican has allowed the guidelines of the bishops of Malta and of Germany to be published in the L’Osservatore Romano, we have not heard the pope directly and explicitly endorsing them. In addition, the pope has not rebuked bishops or those episcopal conferences which have adopted guidelines that maintain both that communion for the divorced and remarried is a sacrilege – and that it is impermissible to grant such communion in any exception.
How is all this explained? Why did the pope in Amoris Laetitia (3) disclaim an intervention of the magisterium? Why doesn’t the pope make the arguments that Mr. Walford makes? Why aren’t supporters for communion for adulterers petitioning the pope to put everything to rest with a clear intervention of the ordinary magisterium? Why doesn’t the pope define that the practice affirmed by his predecessors is only changeable discipline? Why doesn’t the Pope explicitly rebuke bishops who call communion for the divorced and remarried a sacrilege? Such questions can be multiplied. Clearly, by any other measure, the pope appears to want communion for the divorced and remarried, but he does not appear to be able to bring himself to come out and clearly say so. I find that curious. By faith, I am confident he never will – for the reasons I have outlined in this article. Those who find themselves proposing or accepting communion for the divorced and remarried should consider the possibility this may be the work of the Holy Spirit protecting the Church from error.
Still, without a clear intervention of the magisterium, the confusion will continue to spread, just as it did in the time of Pope Honorius, who neglected to intervene with the voice of Peter. Let us pray for Pope Francis that he may definitively uphold, and illuminate the Apostolic See with the doctrine of the Apostolic Tradition.
Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He lives near Atlanta with family. He has written apologetic articles and is working on a historical-adventure trilogy, set during the time of the Arian crisis. He asks for your prayers for his intentions. He can be contacted at StevenOReilly@AOL.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA).
- Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Professio fidei. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, June 29 1998. (n. 17). Retrieved February 17, 2017 from Vatican: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_1998_professio-fidei_en.html
- “Numerous interventions during the synod, expressing the general thought of the fathers, emphasized the coexistence and mutual influence of two equally important principles in relation to these cases. The first principle is that of compassion and mercy, whereby the church, as the continuer in history of Christ’s presence and work, not wishing the death of the sinner but that the sinner should be converted and live,(197) and careful not to break the bruised reed or to quench the dimly burning wick,(198) ever seeks to offer, as far as possible, the path of return to God and of reconciliation with him. The other principle is that of truth and consistency, whereby the church does not agree to call good evil and evil good. Basing herself on these two complementary principles, the church can only invite her children who find themselves in these painful situations to approach the divine mercy by other ways, not however through the sacraments of penance and the eucharist until such time as they have attained the required dispositions. (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34) [Emphasis added]
- “Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ – “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery”160 the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.” (Catholic Catechism 1650)
- The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) under Cardinal Ratzinger, with the approval of the Pope John Paul II, issued a response (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful. September 14, 1994). In it, the Cardinal Prefect says in part: “At the same time it (i.e., Familiaris Consortio) confirms and indicates the reasons for theconstant and universal practice, “founded on Sacred Scripture, of not admitting the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion”. The structure of the Exhortation and the tenor of its words give clearly to understand that this practice, which is presented as binding, cannot be modified because of different situations.[ Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful. September 14, 1994.]
- “The Synod of Bishops confirmed the Church’s practice, based on Sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2- 12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments, since their state and their condition of life objectively contradict the loving union of Christ and the Church signified and made present in the Eucharist.” (Benedict XVI. Sacramentum Caritatis 29)