A simple question for Mr. Walford regarding the “adherence of the faithful”?

October 13, 2017 (Steven O’Reilly) – A few weeks back Stephen Walford attacked the “filial correction” and its 62 signatories in a National Catholic Reporter article (See ‘Filial correction’ of pope marked by glaring hypocrisy, risible accusations).  At the time, I replied to certain arguments made by Mr. Walford in his article (see my response: Of infallible popes and the (chronically) fallible Mr. Walford). However, here – in this article – I wish only to pose a simple question to him. One of Mr. Walford’s arguments against the signatories of the “filial correction” was stated as follows (emphasis added):

The last of the accusations presented is similar to several earlier ones in the claim that Holy Communion can be given to those who don’t express contrition for their situation and a firm purpose of amendment.

I would just again refer to the pope’s words about those who flaunt their state: “he or she can in no way presume to teach or preach to others; this is a case of something which separates from the community (cf. Matt 18:17). Such a person needs to listen once more to the Gospel message and its call to conversion.”

Sadly, it seems the signatories didn’t read that section of the text. What can be said without hesitation is that, as Donum Veritatis teaches, “magisterial decisions in matters of discipline, even if they are not guaranteed by the charism of infallibility, are not without divine assistance and call for the adherence of the faithful.

So the question the signatories must answer is: do you believe and adhere to that and if not why not?”

As I said, this article is focused on asking a question of Mr. Walford, which I will proceed to shortly. However, as a brief aside for the readers of this wee, humble  blog; I would point out that Amoris Laetitia offered no “magisterial decision” of the kind suggested by Mr. Walford. As has been pointed out several times on this blog, Amoris Laetitia disclaims the notion it is an “intervention of the magisterium” (cf. Amoris Laetitia 3, and see here); and even if we were to grant, arguendo, that it did claim to be a magisterial intervention, Amoris Laetitia does not unambiguously establish a new communion discipline (see Honorius Redivivus – Addendum). Dr. Joseph Shaw, one of the signatories of the Filial Correction and the spokesman for it, also replied to some of Mr. Walford’s comments (see here). However, as I said, we can set that all aside for this article. I grant that Mr. Walford will likely disagree with me regarding Amoris Laetitia on the points above. So, I prefer to choose an uncontested example of a discipline and or a teaching that both of us would agree either is or – by Mr. Walford’s reckoning – at least at one time was a “magisterial decision” deserving of “the adherence of the faithful.”

The Indisputable Facts 

It is clear that Pope John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio (84), published in 1981, taught divorced persons who have remarried could not be admitted to communion because 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.” This “magisterial decision” was reiterated by John Paul II in 1984 (cf. Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 34). Just a few months after this, the Catholic Catechism was promulgated by Pope John II and in it this “magisterial decision” was once more set forth for the faithful (cf. CCC 1650). In 1994, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) under Cardinal Ratzinger – with the approval of the Pope John Paul II – issued a response to a question Rome had received as to whether exceptions to this teaching were possible (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 replied that no exceptions were possible to the teaching of Familiaris Consortio 84. This document called the discipline of withholding communion in such cases a “constant and universal practice” of the Church, “founded on Sacred Scripture,” and said that the teaching of Familiaris Consortio “presented as binding, cannot be modified because of different situations.Given Mr. Walford’s affinity for Donum Veritatis, I call to his attention that that document states: “the documents issued by this Congregation expressly approved by the Pope participate in the ordinary magisterium of the successor of Peter” (DV 18).

Thus, it is abundantly clear the CDF’s letter cited above –  which “participates in the ordinary magisterium of the successor of Peter” – declared the teaching of  Familiaris Consortio 84, if it had not been obvious already, is a binding “magisterial decision.” While I hold this “magisterial decision” can never be revoked, Mr. Walford – according to his own argument – must admit this “magisterial decision” at least at one time called “for the adherence of the faithful” (cf. DV 17). With this in mind, let us now examine the following facts, which are not in dispute:

  1. Before Jorge Bergoglio was made Archbishop of Buenos Aires in February 1998, there had already been four interventions of the papal ordinary magisterium (inclusive of the Catechism) between 1981 and 1994 on the question of communion for the divorced and remarried who do not commit to living together as brother and sister – all prohibiting admittance to communion without exception.
  2. Six years after Archbishop Bergoglio had been created a cardinal in February 2001, the Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis in 2007 reiterated the prohibition of Familiaris Consortio 84.
  3. Cardinal Bergoglio was Chairman of the drafting committee of the document produced by the General Conference of Latin American bishops in Aparecida, in 2007 (See Sandro Magister’s article: “The Man who had to be elected pope“). The document produced by the committee under Cardinal Bergoglio’s chairmanship stated in part (emphasis added): “Accompany with care, prudence and compassionate love, following the guidelines of the magisterium, couples who live together out of wedlock, bearing in mind that those who are divorced and remarried may not receive communion.” (Aparecida Document, 437 j).

Given the above facts, it is improbable Cardinal Bergoglio – a highly educated Jesuit, an Archbishop, and a Prince of the Church – was ignorant of the teaching of Familiaris Consortio 84, Reconciliato et Paenitentia 34, the Catholic Catechism 1650, the guidelines of the CDF approved by John Paul II, and Sacramentum Caritatis 29; and, not to forget, the reiteration of this teaching in the Aparecida document which Cardinal Bergoglio helped draft. Therefore, it seems reasonable to say one might conclude with moral certitude that Cardinal Bergoglio understood the Church’s discipline and teaching regarding communion for the divorced and remarried while he was Archbishop and Cardinal. Yet, according to various reports, this same Archbishop and Prince of the Church allowed the priests of his archdiocese to give communion to those whom these same “magisterial decisions” expressly prohibited it without exception (e.g., see Sandro Magister’s article: “The Man who had to be elected pope“; and the National Catholic Reporter’s book review of Paul Vallely’s Pope Francis: Untying the Knots; and Paul Vallely’s Newsweek article “The Crisis that changed Pope Francis“). That Cardinal Bergoglio did allow this appears to be undisputed – at least to my knowledge.

The Question for Mr. Walford

Given Mr. Walford’s familiarity with Donum Veritatis (which he quoted against the signatories of the filial correction) and its teaching regarding the “call for the adherence of the faithful” to “magisterial decisions” (cf. DV 17) even of a disciplinary nature, my question for Mr. Walford is: if we assume the uncontested reports of Cardinal Bergoglio allowing communion for the divorced and remarried in Buenos Aires are accurate, do you believe Cardinal Bergoglio faithfully “adhered” to the aforementioned “magisterial decisions” and, if so, on what grounds do you justify this belief? However, if you do not believe his was an example of ‘faithful adherence’ – – of what is it an example?


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.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s