Mr. Walford Pelts the Great Wall of China with Popcorn, Again

June 28, 2017 (Steven O’Reilly) – Stephen Walford recently published an “open letter” to the four “Dubia Cardinals” on the Vatican Insider site, wherein he “humbly” requests that the four cardinals withdraw their Five Dubia. Mr. Walford says to the dubia cardinals in his final paragraph of his open letter:

“I will end by humbly asking you to reconsider your position on this issue. You may or may not be aware that there is a growing section of traditionalists and even some conservative Catholics who see you as the standard bearers for the rejection of this papacy. I know from experience that some of it is deeply troubling. The abuse from many, including those who run websites and Traditionalist blogs aimed at the Holy Father and those who are loyal to him, is nothing short of satanic. You are their role models and that is an intolerable situation. In reality, there is no confusion but only outright rejection and defiance towards the legitimate Pope and his magisterial teachings. “

I certainly cannot speak for other Catholics, whether they blog or not.  Speaking only for myself, I do not “reject this papacy” and have said so, including within an article (one of three – see here, here and here) rebutting Mr. Walford (see here).  In it, answering Mr. Walford’s apparent question directly, I wrote:

Mr. Walford seems to ask of all those with hesitations about AL: Does not Peter “live in Pope Francis?”

My answer is: “Yes, of course–’Peter lives in Pope Francis’.”  

Also, in a blog post commenting on the Cardinal Caffara’s recent letter to Pope Francis, I stated my agreement with the cardinal that:

“As an aside, there are number of points of minor interest in this letter, such as its proper rejection, in my view, of certain theories, current among some trying to make sense of these truly confusing times, that the See of Peter is currently unoccupied. Cardinal Caffara, on behalf of the four, also rejects the theory that the ministry of Peter could be divisible between Francis and another – obviously a reference to Benedict XVI. Thus, the cardinals reject the theory that Benedict XVI’s resignation could have been invalid on the supposed grounds he intended such a division in his resignation. I will not go into that theory in detail here, but it has always seemed weak and untenable to me on its face. It is improbable, to say the least, that a theologian such as Benedict XVI could ever have believed such a novel theory that would hold the unity represented in the Petrine office, intended by Christ, could be divisible.” (Emphasis added)

Furthermore, I have also defended Pope Francis with regard to Amoris Laetitia where it is has been suggested he may have denied eternal punishment in that exhortation (Does Amoris Laetitia 297 Deny Hell?”). I have written apologetic articles in the past; all of which defend the See of Peter, and specifically the doctrines of the papal primacy and papal infallibility (examples here, here and here). I still hold all the positions regarding Petrine authority that I held when I wrote them. I am married – 25 years – with four children. Thus, just as Mr. Walford claims of himself, “I have no vested interest” on this question, other than to try to follow Our Lord, who is “the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). My position regarding Amoris Laetitia formed around a rather straightforward argument: If manifest adulterers can remain within their adulterous relationships, confess without a purpose of amendment to end sexual relations with their partners, and be admitted to communion – then received Catholic doctrines on marriage, communion and confession would be publicly undermined and contradicted.

Mr. Walford plaintively laments that: “In reality, there is no confusion but only outright rejection and defiance towards the legitimate Pope and his magisterial teachings.” My view is, as I have outlined in my previous articles responding to him, and again further below, is that I do not think Mr. Walford has made the slightest case to claim the Pope has made a single magisterial statement that obviates the need for any of the dubia.

Here, then, is where the dubia cardinals step in with their very first dubia in which they ask of Pope Francis, the Successor of St. Peter:

It is asked whether, following the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (300-305), it has now become possible to grant absolution in the sacrament of penance and thus to admit to holy Communion a person who, while bound by a valid marital bond, lives together with a different person more uxorio without fulfilling the conditions provided for byFamiliaris Consortio, 84, and subsequently reaffirmed by Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34, and Sacramentum Caritatis, 29. Can the expression “in certain cases” found in Note 351 (305) of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxorio? (as provided in Edward Pentin’s article the National Catholic Register website)

With regard to the dubia above, Mr. Walford writes to the four cardinals in his open letter the following:

It seems that in relation to the first dubia, you have trouble accepting the two authentic interventions of Pope Francis in which he has already affirmed that in certain cases, sacramental discipline has been changed: firstly, in answer to Francis Rocca’s question on the flight from Lesvos to Rome on April 16, 2016, and secondly, on September 5, 2016, when he praised the Argentine Bishops’ draft guidelines stating there is: “no other interpretation” of Amoris Laetitia Ch. 8.

Walford’s objection here, is essentially that the sacramental discipline has been changed and that this has been confirmed with two “authentic interventions;” therefore, a papal response to dubia 1 is not required. I have five responses to this objection.

Reply #1 to Mr. Walford:

Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia disclaims the notion that his exhortation is an intervention of the magisterium. Pope Francis wrote:

“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) (Emphasis added)

The Pope even goes on to add in the next section:

“…I thought it appropriate to prepare a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation to gather the contributions of the two recent Synods on the family, while adding other considerations as an aid to reflection, dialogue and pastoral practice, and as a help and encouragement to families in their daily commitments and challenges.” (Amoris Laetitia, 4) (emphasis added)

Pope Francis, himself, tells us at the outset of his exhortation it is an “aid to reflection, dialogue and pastoral practice” and that he does not have intent to settle an issue with an “intervention of the magisterium.” Thus, Mr. Walford’s argument is with the Pope – not the dubia cardinals.

Reply #2 to Mr. Walford:

Walford says the discipline was changed in Amoris Laetitia.  But, is this really so? I answered his previous arguments here and here.  The crux of the matter is: did Pope Francis actually change the discipline of the Church with regard to communion for certain adulterers? As I read Amoris Laetitia, I do not at all see the basis for Mr. Walford’s certainty that he is correct. Where did Pope Francis explicitly and expressly make such a change – in a manner that might be akin, for example, to Familiaris Consortio 84? It cannot be found. Even the case for an implicit change boils down to how one interprets the words “certain cases” in a footnote! Yet, the footnote itself is not attached to a sentence in the body of the text that specifically addresses communion for the divorced and remarried. Walford’s assumption is already on shaky ground. The Pope wrote in part in Amoris Laetitia, 305:

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.”351

Pope Francis speaks here of situations of objective sin – “which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such…” etc. He is not speaking specifically about manifest adultery.  He is speaking of a general category. Continuing on, the Pope points out that such individuals, in the situation which he has just specified, can grow in grace “while receiving the Church’s help to this end.” In order to support and clarify his argument about the nature of the “Church’s help” in these cases (i.e., those in an “objective situation of sin–which may or may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such”), he elaborates on the help for them in footnote 351 (emphasis added):

“In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 [2013], 1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (ibid., 47: 1039).”

Note, the footnote begins by saying “in certain cases.” The sense here of “certain” is that of “some,” which is also seen in the Italian text of AL (“in certi casi”).  Therefore, to the question: does the pope say that all cases where there is an objective situation of sin – “which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such” – that individuals may receive the “help of the sacraments?” Answer: No.  The pope only said “in some cases.” Therefore, if “some cases” are allowed, then it follows that “some” cases are presumably excluded from the possibility of the help of the sacraments envisaged by footnote 351.  Which cases are the excluded ones? Might they also, for example, still include manifest adulterers? The dubia cardinals seek an answer to that question. It is difficult to see how Mr. Walford can claim their is no ambiguity at all or any possible grounds for confusion within this papal footnote as written.  As I see it, we have definitive teaching from prior popes rejecting communion for manifest adulterers, and – at best – an ambiguous statement by Pope Francis.  Therefore, one must maintain the existing discipline and practice. Lacking a magisterial clarification by Pope Francis, it appears to me, Mr. Walford is the one who is in serious error when he continues to publicly advocate his position which is opposed by the historical, papal magisterium on this question (NB: The argument, specifically rebutting Mr. Walford, is provided in greater detail in “Honorius Redivivus – Addendum“, and in “Anwering Mr Walford’s Questions on Amoris Laetitia – Really“)

Reply #3 to Mr. Walford

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has spoken publicly against communion for the divorced and remarried, and he has not been rebuked by Pope Francis. Instead, he has maintained his post since the publication of Amoris Laetitia.  The cardinal has not shrunk from responding on the question. What then does Mr. Walford say about this? Is Cardinal Mueller – the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – an instrument of Satan? Presumably, the Pope knows Cardinal Mueller’s position on the matter. Cardinal Mueller has spoken more often and more clearly than the Pope on the question. If Mr. Walford is so certain he is right and the Prefect wrong, it seems to me it would it be better for Mr. Walford to side with the dubia cardinals in requesting an ironclad, official clarification from the Pope.

Reply #4 to Mr. Walford

Mr. Walford’s objection has been overtaken by reality.  Individual bishops and different bishops’ conferences have taken different sides of the debate. The most recent example being the bishops of Poland who have taken a position contrary to the bishops of Germany. Even as Mr. Walford “humbly” requests the dubia cardinals essentially deny there is any confusion or ambiguity in Amoris Laetitia, the aforementioned facts have already proven the dubia cardinals’ case – and demolished Mr. Walford’s.  Whether the Dubia Cardinals retracted the dubia or not, the necessity would still remain for Pope Francis to clear up the confusion and ambiguity.  Frankly, while I can see that Mr. Walford might think he has a case – as I understand him – that communion for the divorced and remarried in certain cases is okay, I fail to see why he is adamant in opposing a definitive papal clarification of that point. Mr. Walford may not believe himself to be confused, but there are other Catholics who are confused by bishops, cardinals and bishop conferences taking opposite views. Why not ease their minds? As a faithful Catholic, I want Pope Francis to issue a definitive statement. I want to hear the voice of Peter.

Reply #5 to Mr. Walford

I have left, till now, Mr. Walford’s appeal to the Pope’s statements in a news conference and in a private letter (which was leaked) to the bishops of Buenos Aires. In these statements, the Pope certainly seems to approve of Mr. Walford’s interpretation of Amoris Laetitia. These two statements for Mr. Walford are “authentic magisterium.” However, it is not clear to me why Mr. Walford asserts this, except that he has an erroneous and exaggerated view of papal infallibility. It should be needless to say, but not every papal utterance is an act of “authentic magisterium.” In another article, specifically rebutting Mr. Walford on this point, I wrote:

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 publicly, 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.

I, for one, have never seen any pope’s spontaneous response to a reporter’s question cited as a magisterial intervention intended for the whole Church. As an aside, the Pope once said he did not remember footnote 351 in one of these press conferences – the very footnote that supposedly allows communion for “certain” adulterers (See my Reply #2 above).  The replies above have already argued the pope did not change the discipline, thus his “interpretation” in a private letter (to the bishops of Buenos Aires) that AL is to be read to have done so is that of a private theologian.  I continued in that former article:

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 footnote (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. (NB: This is from my article “Answering Mr. Walford’s Questions on Amoris Laetitia – Really“.  Above, I referenced quotes from John Paul II and Benedict XVI. These are not reproduced in this article, but may be found in the linked article.  Emphasis added above).

(Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas, and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He lives near Atlanta with his wife Margaret. He has four children. He has written apologetic articles and is working on a historical adventure trilogy, set during the time of the Arian crisis. Book one of the trilogy will be completed in 2017. Due out this fall. He can be contacted at

Updated: 6/29/2017


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