Stephen Walford repeats his error regarding a “sacramental discipline”

August 17, 2018 (Steven O’Reilly) – A Francis-defending blog (Where Peter Is) recently posted its interview (see here) of Stephen Walford, himself a defender of Pope Francis regarding all things Amoris Laetitia and perhaps regarding Humanae Vitae (see here).  Regarding the opposition to Amoris Laetitia chapter 8, one question posed by Where Peter Is (“WPI”) and answered by Mr. Walford (“SW”) was the following:

WPI: Why do you think so many Catholics are opposed to this? Do you see the opposition growing in intensity, or slowing down?

SW: I think because they were under the impression that the Pope did not have the authority to change sacramental discipline at all. But that of course is false.

I believe Mr. Walford misrepresents the opposing viewpoint. The issue it not really whether Pope Francis or any pope has “the authority to change sacramental discipline at all,” but whether Pope Francis or any pope can make any change he wants, particularly when there involves a “doctrine implicitly contained in a practice of the Church’s faith“[cf. Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Professio fidei. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, June 29 1998. (n. 17)]. I want to address Mr. Walford’s claim from the interview citing this blog’s Summa Contra Stephen Walford (see Chapter 2:  Answering Mr. Walford’s Questions on Amoris Laetitia – Really):

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]) [1]

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)[2], through that pope’s approval of the Catholic Catechism (1650)[3] in 1992, through his approval of guidance issued by the CDF in 1994 [4], and in Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (34). This was also taught by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 in Sacramentum Caritatis (29) [5]. 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 84confirms 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)…

With the above in mind, we read again Mr. Walford’s recent assertion:

“I think because they were under the impression that the Pope did not have the authority to change sacramental discipline at all. But that of course is false.”

The issue it not whether Pope Francis or any pope has “the authority to change sacramental discipline at all.” That is a red herring. Mr. Walford fails to confront, and continually seems to ignore the issue, as argued above, which is (emphasis added): “…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”[1].  The “sacramental discipline” of refusing communion to the divorced and remarried (who continue to live together as man and wife) is such a practice, i.e., one involving a doctrine implicitly contained within it. This is clearly evident from Pope John Paul II’s teaching in Familiaris Consortio 84 quoted earlier. John Paul II stated “the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried.” The same pope continued and explained why: “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.”

Thus, we see,  we are talking about “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”[1]; as I observed near the beginning of this article. Aside from the explicit teaching of John Paul II (cf. FC 84), we also know it is not a changeable discipline based on guidance from the CDF which stated, with the approval of Pope John Paul II, the following: “The structure of the Exhortation (NB: FC 84) 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”[2].

The sacramental discipline in question is not a changeable one as Mr. Walford wishes us to believe.  The practice – “based upon Sacred Scripture” – has been presented as “binding.” It “cannot be modified because of different situations.” Therefore, anyone who asserts it can be, who acts contrary to this teaching or who attempts to modify it “because of different situations” is in error.

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).

Footnotes:

  1. 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
  2. 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.

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