A question Mr. Walford will never answer about dissent

April 26, 2018 (Steven O’Reilly) – As Roma Locuta Est had been on a hiatus over the last several or more months, I am catching up on things upon which to comment. I see that on January 4, 2018, there was another article by Stephen Walford in La Stampa’s Vatican Insider, this one entitled “The Amoris Laetitia Dissenters” with the subtitle “The Murky World of Distorting Facts, Creating False Arguments and Sowing Confusion.” There is much that could be said about Mr. Walford’s screed about so-called “dissenters” from Amoris Laetitia – unfortunately, if you’ve been on a hiatus of sorts as I have, all the abundant low-hanging fruit in his article has already been picked over and ably rebutted by others by now, nearly four months on (NB: as a resource, past rebuttals of Mr. Walford by this blog may be found in the Summa Contra Stephen Walford).

Therefore, not wanting to be repetitive, I thought I’d comment on one statement in Mr. Walford’s article on “dissenters” that particularly caught my attention:

“Loyalty to the Holy Father and obedience to his magisterium has always been central to a spiritual life pleasing to God. To place oneself outside that requirement is not only defying the Successor of St Peter, but God himself. To also claim one need not submit “intellect and will” to this non-infallible teaching because one is still unsure as to what the Pope has taught or changed, is simply an untenable position to hold now.”

This statement caught my eye because it called to mind a question previously posed to Mr. Walford which he has never answered to my knowledge (see A simple question for Mr. Walford regarding the “adherence of the faithful”?). (NB: Granted, that question along with this humble blog may have easily and understandably escaped his attention, as it has the world’s). While it would be great if Mr. Walford answered that question, a variant of it is posed below – based on his own statement above about “loyalty to the Holy Father” and “obedience to his magisterium.”  The new question is as follows:

Question for Mr. Walford:  Is the example of Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio such an example of the sort of “loyalty to the Holy Father” and “obedience to his magisterium” of which Mr. Walford speaks, that is “central to a spiritual life pleasing to God,” one which does not defy, not only the Successor of St. Peter, but God himself? Did Archbishop Bergoglio submit his “intellect and will” to the clear teaching of Familiaris Consortio 84 on communion for the divorced and remarried?

Before Mr. Walford answers, he should consider the following indisputable facts indicated in my prior article (here) and repeated here in this article. Prescinding from whether Pope Francis’ teaching in Amoris Laetitia is clear (I believe it is not), 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).

If that is not clear enough to Mr. Walford, it is also noted that 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 the teaching of Familiaris Consortio 84 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 (see here) – 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 is able to 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.

In view of the above, and in light of his present concern regarding “dissent” on the question of communion for the divorced and remarried in “certain cases” (Amoris Laetitia 305[351]), I ask Mr. Walford to answer the following:

Question for Mr. Walford:  Is the example of Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio such an example of the sort of “loyalty to the Holy Father” and “obedience to his magisterium” of which Mr. Walford speaks, that is “central to a spiritual life pleasing to God,” one which does not defy, not only the Successor of St. Peter, but God himself? Did Archbishop Bergoglio submit his “intellect and will” to the clear teaching of Familiaris Consortio 84 on communion for the divorced and remarried?

I won’t hold my breath waiting on Mr. Walford’s answer to the question above or the one previously asked of him (see here). Now, clearly, one should not point to bad behavior to justify bad behavior.  That is not the point of my questions to Mr. Walford.  Rather, the issue is that the teaching of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, along with the Catholic Catechism and a response by the CDF in 1994 were abundantly clear.  Therefore, supporting this teaching against communion for the divorced and remarried, certainly prior to Amoris Laetitia, was an act of “loyalty to the Holy Father” and “obedience to his magisterium;” while acting in defiance of it was true dissent. But, even with Amoris Laetitia, this has not changed things despite Mr. Walford’s ineffectual protestations to the contrary.  Amoris Laetitia‘s “certain cases” in footnote 351 is ambiguous (see Honorius Redivivus – Addendum), and a leaked, private letter to the bishops of Argentina or an airplane news conference hardly rise to the level of the above references magisterial documents cited against there being any exceptions to the teaching of Familiaris Consortio 84 (see Answering Mr. Walford’s Questions on Amoris Laetitia – Really).  Yet, this has not stopped Mr. Walford and others from providing us exceptions that have been rejected by the magisterium (see Amoris Laetitia and the Confusion of those contradicting the Magisterium of John Paul II).  Thus, Mr. Walford and his ilk are the real dissenters.

It is curious to see Mr. Walford, one purporting to be a defender of the Successor of St. Peter and his magisterium, both defending the pope’s silence and excusing him for not speaking as Peter to provide answers to the Dubia which could clarify all.  Rather, the  so-called “dissenters” (in Mr. Walford’s eyes) are the ones which respect the teaching of John Paul II, etc., and who ask Pope Francis to speak with the voice of St. Peter and “confirm the brethren.” Why won’t Mr. Walford pray along with us that Pope Francis remembers the Lord’s words to Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou being once converted, confirm thy brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).

Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He lives near Atlanta with his 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)


2 thoughts on “A question Mr. Walford will never answer about dissent

  1. Walfordians (like Mark Shea and those he has not banned from his blog) have an answer to your question: “John Paul and Benedict are not Pope NOW.”


    1. Arthur, thanks for the note. The answer you suggest Walfordians might offer would not be a sufficient answer. While it is true, of course, JP II and BXVI are not popes now, the status of Archbishop Bergoglio as a “dissenter” (per Stephen Walford’s definition) at a time when they were is the issue. Now, the magisterial statements of the prior popes and CDF are absolutely clear. I have no doubt that Mr. Walford wishes aloud – when he is alone – that he had similar such clear, authoritative statements and documents to aid his inadequate defense of Pope Francis. Instead, he is stuck with an ambiguous footnote, a private letter from a pope to Argentine bishops and an impromptu news conference on a jet. Slim pickings.


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