September 14, 2017 (Steven O’Reilly) – This evening I have read, perhaps, the finest example of “papalolotry” that I have ever read. It was an article written by Stephen Walford for the Vatican Insider (see Pope Francis: Mercy and the Pelagian Problem). The name of Mr. Walford should be well known to regular readers of this humble blog. My inaugural blog post was prompted by one of Mr. Walfords screeds (see Pope Francis’ Predecessors come to the Defense of his Magisterium? Well–Yes and No, Mr. Walford).
Whereas Mr. Walford’s prior efforts in Vatican Insider have attempted something of a traditional apologetics approach to defend Amoris Laetitia, this latest effort, in the apt words of Steve Skojec (in his recent article on One Peter Five), is a “premature hagiography” of the pope. Indeed, it almost reads as if Mr. Walford stopped just short of conferring divine honors upon Francis, as was done in the case of many emperors of ancient Rome. Mr. Walford’s current article makes no dent in the arguments previously made against his position on this blog (see here, here, here, here and here) or by others. That Mr. Walford’s current effort is more of a “paeon to Pope Francis” than an intellectual defense of him appears to be a tacit admission of the failure of the case he and others have tried to make on behalf of Francis. There is no need for me here to make a point-by-point refutation of Mr. Walford’s current article because it breaks no new ground, plus I have addressed his arguments before. For the record, here is my Summa Contra Walford:
“SUMMA CONTRA STEPHEN WALFORD”
- Pope Francis’ Predecessors come to the Defense of his Magisterium? Well–Yes and No, Mr. Walford (February 19, 2017)
- Honorius Redivivus – Addendum (February 23, 2017)
- Answering Mr. Walford’s Questions on Amoris Laetitia – Really (March 28, 2017)
- Responding to Mr. Walford: Been there, done that (several times, Mr. Ivereigh) (June 23, 2017)
- Mr. Walford Pelts the Great Wall of China with Popcorn, Again (June 29, 2017)
It is my understanding that Mr. Walford is a pianist, teacher and an author of some books on prophecy, but the last couple mentions of him online that I have seen now say he is a “theologian” as well. I don’t know if Mr. Walford has the credentials or not to be called a “theologian” in a proper and technical sense; or if he is now only a “theologian” in the sense Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame can be said to be a real “colonel” (NB: he wasn’t). But, from what I have seen thus far from him, if Mr. Walford is a “theologian”, I am a “piano player” – and I can’t read or play a note of music on that instrument. But, if you, dear reader, are one who can fight the gag reflex and urge to vomit, I do recommend you read Mr. Walford’s latest.
For me, the key takeaway from Mr. Walford’s nauseous “ode to Francis” is that Francis is a “prophet in the truest sense of the word.” Mr. Walford calls him a “prophet of Divine Mercy” (Note to self: NEVER read any of Mr. Walford’s books on prophecy!). Mr. Walford would have us believe Pope Francis is a “prophet” and an “unprecedented one.” He says of Francis: “As Prophet of this Kairos of mercy, Pope Francis is challenging us in the way the Holy Spirit has prompted him to” (emphasis added). What Mr. Walford neglects as a “theologian” is that being a “prophet in the truest sense of the word” is not the calling of a successor of Peter. In fact, the first Vatican council in Pastor Aeturnus, wherein it defined papal infallibility, said the following of the Holy Spirit with respect to the successors of Peter (emphasis added)”
For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles. (Pastor Aeturnus, 6)
Thus, joining with the Dubia cardinals, the question a growing number of Catholics have is: is Francis ‘religiously guarding and faithfully expounding the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles‘? Mr. Walford’s defenses have failed to adequately address this point time after time. Instead he cherry-picks doctrinal phrases here and there to shift attention away from his weak arguments. For example, he says:
Due to the unprecedented nature of the Pontiff’s charism of mercy, he has found himself in a battle with a new form of Pelagianism; one that has set itself up to create a counter magisterium which redefines the authority of the Pope in matters of faith and morals, and which rejects papal primacy where “the First See is judged by no one” (Can.1404).
Mr. Walford statement is a fallacious red herring. No one is setting up a “counter magisterium” or rejecting the papal primacy. Catholics, such as the Dubia cardinals, have been attempting to get the pope to exercise his teaching office in the face of the great confusion that is spreading throughout the Church – for anyone with the eyes to see it. Thus far, Francis has preferred silence. In terms of Mr. Walford’s reference to “magisterium,” as I have pointed out before: Pope Francis disclaimed the notion he is making an “intervention of the magisterium” (Amoris Laetitia 3). This has been pointed out to Mr. Walford several times by me (e.g., here and here). Mr. Walford has never addressed this argument, whether made by me or anyone else. Yet, this does not stop him from making laughable accusations, for example: “to accuse Pope Francis of teaching error or heresy is like knocking over the first domino; the other papal dominos will have to fall as a result.” I do not see how Mr. Walford could make this statement about papal dominoes with a straight face! Consider, it is Mr. Walford’s interpretation of Amoris Laetitia which would apparently allow communion for manifest adulterers in certain cases, even if they do not have a purpose of amendment. This is something that is in direct contradiction to prior papal magisterium (e.g., Familiaris Consortio 84), inclusive of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as guidance from the CDF approved by Pope John Paul II:
“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.]
Needless to say, Mr. Walford does not take on such prior statements of the magisterium head on. He does not explain where or how his “prophet” Francis has the authority to overturn a “constant and universal practice, founded on Sacred Scripture” which is “presented as binding” and “cannot be modified because of different situations.” Mr. Walford cannot address these prior teachings because they blow up his argument. So much for Mr. Walford’s supposed concerns for papal dominoes, which appear like nothing more than so many crocodile tears. However, it appears now, by simply anointing Francis a “Prophet” as Mr. Walford does, we are to forget all prior teachings and follow along as if Francis were the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Mr. Walford writes (emphasis added):
For Francis the prophet of divine mercy, Jesus doesn’t look to the past or just the present moment. No, his real interest is in future possibilities and his grace and patience work on that basis. But, some argue, how can there be true repentance if sexual relations continue? Of course, what these people should really be considering is how does Jesus weigh on the scales of justice these sins with the considerable amount of virtue and love possibly displayed in other areas of their lives? “Charity covers a multitude of sins”–as St. Peter, the first Pope, infallibly taught– and unless a soul is in a state of mortal sin, it is entirely possible that a path of sanctification is under way despite the irregular situation.
It seems clear enough to me, Mr. Walford’s implication is that manifest public adulterers can be truly repentant without a firm purpose of amendment, if Jesus sees “considerable amount of virtue and love possibly displayed in other areas of their lives.” This proposition is debatable in itself, as the Lord said “if you love me, obey my commandments” (cf. John 14:15). But, even if we could set that aside, how – precisely – does Mr. Walford or Pope Francis or any parish priest know how Jesus is weighing the entire life of any sinner?! While God is infinitely merciful, who are they to say what is enough “virtue and love displayed in other areas” of our lives to allow one to not need to amend another area of one’s life? Where, pray tell, do they get that bit of Divine insight to dispense a sinner (me or anyone else) from the need to feel sorrow for his sin, to confess it, and to have a firm purpose of amendment to do it no more? It puzzles me: what is enough “virtue and love displayed in other areas” that the adulterer – or any sinner – can essentially trade off to keep on sinning a particular way they want in some other area of their life? It sounds like, hey, you can keep on living in a state of manifest public adultery if you, perhaps, donate a few extra cans of cranberry sauce during the next Thanksgiving Day food drive! Is that enough virtue? Perhaps a donation to the pastor? What then? Walford and his prophet Francis seem to know the Divine mind enough to know what can be traded off to allow manifest adultery (or any objectively grave sin) to continue without a purpose of amendment. This seems to be the definition of presumption.
The truth is, while we know God is infinitely merciful, we only know His mind in so far as He has revealed it to us, either directly in Sacred Scripture or through the Apostolic Tradition and teachings of the Church. The Lord said: “if you love me, obey my commandments.” The Lord said if you divorce and remarry, you commit adultery. The Church has always taught sorrow, contrition, confession and a firm purpose of amendment is necessary for sacramental confession. This is the teaching of the Lord and His Church. As Pastor Aeturnus teaches, the Holy Spirit is not given to the successors of Peter – even Francis – for the purpose of making known some new doctrine. But, to read Mr. Walford, it appears inescapable this is what he is saying in effect, i.e., Francis is giving us something new. But, contrary to Mr. Walford’s “Ode to Francis,” Pope Francis is not a “prophet” in the “truest sense” of the word. The last prophet before the Lord’s public ministry was John the Baptist, one who rebuked Herod Antipas for manifest public adultery – and was beheaded for it. It is unfortunate Mr. Walford’s “Prophet” Francis was not around at that time to rebuke John the Baptist for being a “rigid Pelagian” and thus save his head! Too bad for St. Thomas More, too!
John the Baptist – the Precursor to Our Savior – demanded true repentance from a manifest public adulterer inclusive of the ending of a sexual relations, while Mr. Walford’s Prophet Francis would apparently dispense the manifest public adulterer from this requirement. Clearly, this is a “new doctrine” (cf. Pastor Aeturnus 6). Given that Mr. Walford writes on prophecy and scripture, I am surprised that Mr. Walford – knowing John the Baptist, the precursor of the Lord, condemned manifest public adultery – has not been struck by the odd coincidence that in our seemingly apocalyptic age there are those who would excuse it, and that Mr. Walford has not asked the question of himself: to what or whom are they the precursor?
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. He can be contacted at StevenOReilly@AOL.com.