Part III: Mr. Walford and the Magisterium

November 13, 2018 (Steven O’Reilly) – This article is the third and final installment of my three part rebuttal of Stephen Walford’s book–The Pope, The Family and Divorce. This series was originally intended as a brief reply to some of the key problems found within Mr. Walford’s work. However, the further I delved into his book, the more detailed became my response. Whatever the merits of this effort, I doubt anyone, including Mr. Walford, could seriously say I avoided addressing Mr. Walford’s central arguments.

The outline of this rebuttal has been as follows.

  1. Good intentions and the Firm Purpose of Amendment
  2. Doctrinal Development?
  3. Questions regarding the Magisterium of the Church

I argued in the last installment (Part II) of my rebuttal why I believe the teaching of Familiaris Consortio reaffirms an infallible teaching, founded on Sacred Scripture, which prohibits communion to the divorced and remarried unless they confess their sins and have a firm commitment to end their sexual relationship in order to receive sacramental absolution. This article (Part III) will now respond to the last component of Mr. Walford’s argument in defense of his interpretation of Amoris Laetitia–the infallibity of the popes.

I. Mr. Walford and Papal Inspiration?

Those familiar with our author’s polemical style in his articles will feel quite at home with Mr. Walford’s appeal to papal infallibility in his book’s seventh chapter, entitled: The Magisterium of Pope Francis: Freedom of the Holy Spirit. In this chapter, Mr. Walford surveys the scriptural and historical evidence for papal infallibility, informing his readers that “Any discussion of papal authority must first return to Sacred Scripture, to ascertain the truth that Peter and his successors inherited mandate to govern the Church from Pentecost until the Lord’s return at the end of time” (p. 137).

Our author then proceeds to provide many quotes and citations from verses in both the Old and New Testament relevant to papal infallibility, all presumably for the purpose of convincing his reader of the truth of papal infallibility. All of this, of course, is fine by me. After all, I believe in papal infallibility. The reader may come away with the same feeling I did; that Mr. Walford fails to grasp the heart of the matter. That is, it is not a lack of belief in papal infallibility that makes it hard to accept a “Walfordian” interpretation of Amoris Laetitia; rather, it is a strong belief in papal infallibility that makes it impossible to accept a Walfordian interpretation of Amoris Laetitia.

To prove papal infallibility to us–as if that was needed–our author spares no effort mustering scriptural and other references for this purpose. Within the first 2-3 pages of his chapter on the papal magisterium, we are treated to thirteen citations of Sacred Scripture and a citation of the dogmatic definition of the First Vatican Council regarding papal infallibility. We are presented with the words of a number of popes, inclusive of Hormisdas, Piux IX, Leo XIII, Piux XII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI–all in order to demonstrate papal infallibility. The chapter is twenty pages long, but it is not until page 153–the sixteenth page of the chapter–that Mr. Walford begins to explain how this presentation relates to Pope Francis and his Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.

The reader may also come away with the same impression as mine, which was that our author “doth protest too much.” That is to say, Mr. Walford’s recourse to so many scriptural, conciliar and papal citations to demonstrate papal infallibility only draws attention to the fact such proofs were lacking in his earlier arguments based on moral theology and doctrinal development. Indeed, if we thumb back through the pages to the chapter on doctrinal development–“Doctrinal Development: Time is Greater than Space“– we will find there are 43 footnotes. However, among these, the combined, grand total of citations of Church fathers, verses from Sacred Scripture, papal or conciliar magisterial statements prior to Pope Francis specifically on the question of communion for the divorced and remarried is–drum roll please–zero. With regard to Mr. Walford’s chapter on moral theology–“Caritas in Veritate: The Moral Theology of Chapter 8“– I have already weighed in on his misuse of the sources he does provide in Part I (see, for example, my comments regarding Mr. Walford’s misuse of St. Thomas Aquinas).

I do not question the doctrine of papal infallibility. I do at times question Mr. Walford’s understanding of the doctrine since at times his Francis sounds less of a “Pope” and more  like an Old Testament prophet delivering a new revelation to mankind (see Part II for more on this). Our author in one of his articles had described Pope Francis as a “prophet in the truest sense of the word” (see source here and my reply), while in his book Mr. Walford–speaking of the Lord’s appearances to St. Faustina Kowalska in the 1930s and the topic of divine mercy in relation to Amoris Laetitia–writes: “Over the following decades, the Holy Spirit has inspired the popes to embrace this doctrine in a more profound way through their magisterial teachings: in the first instance through the actions of St. John Paul II,  and more recently by those of Pope Francis” (p. 154). One may find in our author’s articles–and now his book, that the concept of “inspiration” seems to bleed into his discussion of papal infallibility. But, as the Catholic Encyclopedia explains (emphasis added):

“Infallibility must be carefully distinguished both from Inspiration and from Revelation.

Inspiration signifies a special positive Divine influence and assistance by reason of which the human agent is not merely preserved from liability to error but is so guided and controlled that what he says or writes is truly the word of God, that God Himself is the principal author of the inspired utterance; but infallibility merely implies exemption from liability to error. God is not the author of a merely infallible, as He is of an inspired, utterance; the former remains a merely human document.

Revelation, on the other hand, means the making known by God, supernaturally of some truth hitherto unknown, or at least not vouched for by Divine authority; whereas infallibility is concerned with the interpretation and effective safeguarding of truths already revealed. Hence when we say, for example, that some doctrine defined by the pope or by an ecumenical council is infallible, we mean merely that its inerrancy is Divinely guaranteed according to the terms of Christ’s promise to His Church, not that either the pope or the Fathers of the Council are inspired as were the writers of the Bible or that any new revelation is embodied in their teaching.” (Catholic Encyclopedia. “Infallibility“.  See New Advent website)

As the Catholic Encyclopedia states, infallibility guarantees the teaching is inerrant, but does not involve the pope being “inspired.” And this is precisely what Vatican I taught (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, IV, 6). Or, as Catholic apologist Karl Keating once put it succinctly: “The charism of infallibility does not help a Pope know what is true, nor does it “inspire” him to teach what is true” (Catholicism and Fundamentalism, by Karl Keating, p. 224)[1].

II. Mr. Walford and the Exercise of Papal Infallibility

Mr. Walford regales the reader with many quotes, as previously observed, on papal infallibility. For example, he quotes Pope Innocent III from his letter Apostolicae Sedis Primatus wherein he says “The Lord clearly intimates that Peter’s successors will never at any time deviate from the Catholic faith, but will instead recall the others and strengthen the hesitant” (p. 143). Mr. Walford also quotes the Catechism of St. Pius X where the question is asked “Can the Pope err when teaching the Church” and the answer is “The Pope cannot err, that is, he is infallible, in definitions regarding faith and morals” (p. 143).

That is just a sampling. To read Mr. Walford’s chapter on papal infallibility–as he piles such citations one upon another in succession, one might wonder whether Mr. Walford believes a pope is ever not infallible. I jest, but only in part. Our author provides many quotes trumpeting papal infallibility–none of which I disagree with; yet, one quote you will not find among those he provides is that of Pope Benedict XVI stating The Pope is not an oracle; he is infallible in very rare situations, as we know (see Zenit News). The point is, not every papal utterance–spoken or written–is protected by the gift of infallibility. So, with this in mind, it is best to briefly review what has been dogmatically defined with regard to papal infallibility as taught by Vatican I (emphasis added):

Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable. (First Vatican Council, Pastor Aeturnus, IV, 9)

In this definition we see the conditions for an extraordinary exercise of papal infallibility: (1) The pope must exercise his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, (2) he must define a doctrine concerning faith or morals (3) and must intend it “to be held by the whole Church.” In speaking of Amoris Laetitia, we are not dealing with an ex cathedra pronouncement of Pope Francis. Mr. Walford realizes this, thus he appeals to the ordinary magisterium of the pope, and here he quotes Pope John Paul II on the subject (emphasis added):

“The Successor of Peter fulfills this doctrinal mission in a continual series of oral and written interventions that represent the ordinary exercise of the Magisterium as the teaching of truths to be believed and put into practice (fidem et mores). The acts expressing this Magisterium can be more or less frequent and take various forms according to the needs of the time, the requirements of concrete situations, the opportunities and means available, and the methods and systems of communication. However, given that they derive from an explicit or implicit intention to make pronouncements on matter of faith and morals, they are linked to the mandate received by Peter and enjoy the authority conferred on him by Christ.” (St. John Paul II, “General Audience,” March 10, 1993, as quoted Stephen Walford’s The Pope, The Family and Divorce, p. 140)

Mr. Walford continues on to say “The Pope has at his disposal several ways of proclaiming the truth of a doctrine: an ex cathedra declaration from himself or through an Ecumenical Council (a defining act), or a definitive teaching through his ordinary magisterium that derives from Tradition, as something held constantly by the Church through the ages and transmitted by the ordinary universal magisterium (nondefining act).” [NB: How then do we know if there is such an “explicit or implicit intention“? The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a commentary, which says in part (emphasis added): “Furthermore, the intention of the ordinary and universal Magisterium to set forth a doctrine as definitive is not generally linked to technical formulations of particular solemnity; it is enough that this be clear from the tenor of the words used and from their context.” [Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Professio fidei. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, June 29 1998. (n. 17)]].

Thus, Mr. Walford with the aid of John Paul II attempts to preserve a Walfordian Amoris Laetitia from the stain of error by emphasizing papal infallibility–and he seems pleased as punch about it. However, our author’s efforts to save a Walforian Amoris Laetitia from the shadow of error only serves to cast that shadow onto prior popes and a constant and universal practice of the Church which quite clearly expressed the opposite through the “tenor of the words” used and “their context.” Yet, if Mr. Walford is correct, it seems to me Catholics would have to conclude a number of things, including (the following list is an illustrative one of the problem, but by no means comprehensive) [emphasis added]:

(1) That a “constant and universal practice of the Church” (cf Familiaris Consortio 84Canon 915) denied Sacramental absolution and Holy Communion–and therefore the graces obtainable therefrom–to countless numbers of Catholics throughout the nearly two thousand year history of the Church, and did so unnecessarily in at least certain cases.

(2) That, under John Paul II, the Pontifical Council of Legislative Texts along with other Roman Congregations was in error when it declared “The prohibition found in the cited canon (i.e., Canon 915), by its nature, is derived from divine law and transcends the domain of positive ecclesiastical laws: the latter cannot introduce legislative changes which would oppose the doctrine of the Church” (see here) and “Any interpretation of can. 915 that would set itself against the canon’s substantial content, as declared uninterruptedly by the Magisterium and by the discipline of the Church throughout the centuries, is clearly misleading” (see here). As an aside, one must also conclude St. Thomas Aquinas was in error in teaching “Therefore Holy Communion ought not to be given to open sinners when they ask for it” (Summa Theologica III, Q 80, A 6) in so far as he did not make an allowance for exceptions.

(3) That John Paul II, basing himself on Sacred Scripture (cf Familiaris Consortio 84) , was in error when teaching of the divorced and remarried that “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” (FC 84) in so far as John Paul II did not admit exceptions. Furthermore, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in its letter of 1994–which was approved by John Paul II and thus participated in his magisterium–was in error in stating of the communion ban as reaffirmed in Familiaris 84 “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).

(4) That the many popes, such as Paul VI [2], John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who reaffirmed this teaching, even claiming it was founded on Sacred Scripture and thus could not be changed, were in error.

(5) That John Paul II was in error when he taught that “Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage” (FC 84) in so far as John Paul II did not allow any exceptions.

(6) That John Paul II was in error in teaching that “…The other principle is that of truth and consistency, whereby the church does not agree to call good evil and evil good. Basing herself on these two complementary principles, the church can only invite her children who find themselves in these painful situations to approach the divine mercy by other ways, not however through the sacraments of penance and the eucharist until such time as they have attained the required dispositions” (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34) in so far as John Paul II rejected categorically the possibility any exceptions (per a Walfordian Amoris Laetitia) to approach the divine mercy through the sacraments of penance and the eucharist.

(7) So, too, Pope John Paul II was in error in teaching “For mortal sin exists also when a person knowingly and willingly, for whatever reason, chooses something gravely disordered” (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 17) in as much as he excludes certain exceptions (i.e., “for whatever reason”) for such a choice. John Paul II, speaking of acts which are intrinsically evil such as adultery, was in error when he taught “…circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act “subjectively” good or defensible as a choice” (Veritatis Splendor 81) in as much as John Paul II did not allow that an adulterous couple under certain circumstance (e.g., to prevent a greater evil) could opt to continue sexual relations without sinning mortally, and thus, for all practical purposes, their choice may be considered either “subjectively good” or at least a “defensible choice.” St. Thomas Aquinas was also in error for not allowing any exceptions to adultery when he taught: “We should not agree with the commentator on this point, since one ought not commit adultery for any benefit just as one ought not tell a lie for any benefit, as Augustine says in is work Against Lying.” (De Malo, Question 15, Article 1, Reply 5).[3]  So too, St. Thomas Aquinas was in error in teaching adultery is always a mortal sin, without exception: “It is written (Tobit 4:13): ‘Take heed to keep thyself . . . from all fornication, and beside thy wife never endure to know a crime.’ Now crime denotes a mortal sin. Therefore fornication and all intercourse with other than one’s wife is a mortal sin” (Summa Theologica II-II, Q 154, A 2).

(8) The Catechism is in error when it teaches: “It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adulteryOne may not do evil so that good may result from it (CCC 1756 – see here).” It is in error, it seems to me, following the logical consequences of Mr. Walford’s argument seen in Part I (see my comments on such circumstances, which he provides on p. 102-103 of his book), in so far as given sufficient grave circumstances, an individual in an adulterous second marriage could choose to continue sexual relations with someone not their valid spouse without sinning mortally. Therefore, it would seem to be true to say, “one may do evil that good may result from it.”

(9)  The Council of Trent which teaches “But no one ought to think that, because he is justified he is released from obligation to keep the commandments; nor is that rash saying to be used, “that it is impossible for a justified man to keep God’s precepts”; for God does not enjoin impossibilities, but commands and admonishes us to do what we can, and to ask his help for what we cannot perform, and by his grace we are strengthened” (Council of Trent, “First Decree on Justification,” Ch. XI) should not be understood to apply to active adulterers in ‘second marriages’ in certain cases–“those in a second civil marriage who see a celibate life as not realistic for them and for whom it is impossible to refrain from sexual relations” per the seeming logic of Mr. Walford (see Part I)– in the sense that while not “released from the obligation to keep the commandments” they are not obliged under pain of mortal sin to keep the commandment “thou shalt not commit adultery.”

(10)   John Paul II was in error when declaring that by “acting in this way“–i.e., requiring a firm purpose of amendment of the divorce and remarried not to continue sexual relations before reception of absolution and of Holy Communion–the “Church professes her own fidelity to Christ and to His truth” (FC 84) in as much a Walfordian Amoris Laetitia suggests the Church can act in the opposite way–i.e., by allowing exceptions–and still be said to “profess her own fidelity to Christ and to His Truth.”

These are just ten propositions that one would have to accept as true in order to accept a Walfordian interpretation of Amoris Laetitia. There are others, but this list and article would grow far longer. But, these suffice just to illustrate my point, that Mr. Walford’s attempt to spare Amoris Laetitia (as interpreted by him) from any suggestion of error, has merely shifted the shadow of error to other popes, councils, the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church and even to St. Thomas Aquinas. Mr. Walford has not resolved a problem.  He has compounded it.

III. Regarding the Limits of Papal Infallibility

As Catholics understand, a pope is infallible under certain, limited conditions. However, to read Mr. Walford’s presentation of papal infallibility to which his statements regarding Pope Francis are bolted on, his argument, it seems to me, might be stated as follows: Popes can teach infallibly under certain conditions, therefore Francis–who is a Pope–has taught infallibly in Amoris Laetitia with regard to communion for the divorced and remarried in certain circumstances. Perhaps needless to say, but the conclusion does not follow necessarily from the premise. It is true to say popes can teach infallibly under certain conditions, but that does not establish that those conditions were present in the case of Amoris Laetitia.

To say ‘popes are infallible under certain, limited conditions’ also implies that when these conditions are absent then there is no necessary guarantee of infallibility. Therefore, in such cases, we might–on a case by case basis–find error even on matters touching upon faith or morals. To deny this simple, common sense observation is to raise the question for the need of the Church to define any conditions on the exercise of infallibility at all–that is, if popes are always infallible. Yet, while Mr. Walford–in fairness to him–may conceptually understand this point, it appears he rejects it in practice, and thus takes on the question of supposed papal error (emphasis added):

“Through our deliberations thus far, we have discovered the Holy Spirit’s special charism of assistance is ever present in the teaching office of the pope; he resides in the heart of the Church as a most wondrous fruit of Jesus’ prayer for Peter, and for that we can be truly thankful. At this point, however, it would be prudent to address the issues surround several supposed errors of past popes that would seem to suggest heresy is possible, and consequently a failing of the dogma of indefectability. Unfortunately, there are Catholics who are misinformed on these cases and thus they are under the impression that if it happened in the past, then it can happen again.” (p. 147)

Having thus introduced the subject of “supposed” papal errors, Mr. Walford then walks the reader through several of the celebrated cases of alleged heretical popes, such as Honorius, John XXII and Celestine III.

The case of Pope Honorius (625-638), in my opinion, bears great similarities to the controversy surrounding Amoris Laetitia. By way of brief background, Sergius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, sent letters to Pope Honorius concerning a rising dispute over new theological expressions becoming current in the East and which became the basis of the Monothelite heresy (NB: see “Guilty Only of a Failure to Teach“[4], and “White is Wrong“[5] for background). In his reply to Sergius, Pope Honorius said he confessed “one will” in Christ, which on its face encapsulated the monothelites’ heretical belief that there is but one will in Christ, and not two–human and divine–as is the orthodox teaching. While Honorius may be defended on the grounds he spoke of the one will in Christ in an orthodox sense, it remains he erroneously considered a real Christological dispute brought to him by Sergius to be ‘an idle question for grammarians.’  While the nascent crisis of the Church screamed out for the Pope of Rome to definitively declare the orthodox faith on the question, Honorius instead disclaimed any intent to define anything at all, saying: “on account of the simplicity of man and to avoid controversies, we must, as I have already said, define neither one nor two operations in the mediator between God and man” [6].

Instead of defining the truth with a rule of faith, Honorius followed Sergius’ suggestion and opted for a rule of silence in which none of the disputed expressions would be used– thereby placing heterodox and orthodox terms on equal footing and to leave heretical bishops in place where they were able to continue to spread the heresy amongst the faithful. History has, rightly, not been kind to the memory of Honorius. At the Sixth Ecumenical Council (681), the council fathers anathematized him for what they “found written by him to Sergius;” in which letters Honorius “followed his [Sergius’s] view and confirmed his [Sergius’s] impious doctrines” [7]. The Council fathers heaped additional abuse upon the memory of the pontiff, going so far as to call him, along with the others condemned, a “tool of Satan” used by the evil one in the “dissemination” of the heresy [8]. The Council fathers ordered the pope’s letters consigned to the flames, and they anathematized him as a heretic. Pope Leo II (682-683) would also condemn his predecessor for negligence which fostered the spread of history.Pope Leo II in posthumously condemning Pope Honorius for his part in a Church crisis:

“(Honorius) did not illuminate this Apostolic See with the doctrine of the Apostolic Tradition, but permitted her who was undefiled to be polluted by profane teaching.” [9]

Now, Mr. Walford, in my opinion, somewhat soft peddles the value of this lesson, saying: “So the truth of the matter is that Honorius was not a heretic; he was unfortunately negligent in not seeing the threat and dealing with it” (p.149). This is something of an understatement to a degree. Honorius, as we have seen, was a “heretic” in the sense he was a “favorer” of heresy; and his “not seeing the threat and dealing with it” was not simply ‘unfortunate‘–it was eternally catastrophic to all who fell into the heresy which his inaction helped spread. If there had been ‘no harm, no foul,’ Honorius would not have been anathematized. Thus, while it is true to say Honorius did not teach error, this fails to convey the whole truth, which is that through silence or other acts of negligence with regard to matters of the faith and morals a pope might help spread heresy–and bear culpability for it.

The second case mentioned by Mr. Walford is that Pope John XXII. The case of John XXII is an interesting one. Even prior to his election, John XXII held the erroneous opinion that the souls of the Blessed departed do not see God until after the Last Judgment, and the future pope had even written on the subject [10].  Mr. Roberto de Mattei wrote an article on the case (“A Pope Who Fell Into Heresy, A Church That Resisted: John XXII and the Beatific Vision“) which appears on the Rorate Caeli website[11]. De Mattei relates in his article how John XXII when pope publicly sermonized on the subject of his erroneous opinion on at least three occasions; that he attempted to impose his view on the Faculty of Theology in Paris; that he was publicly opposed by theologians of the day for this heresy–and that one of them was even tried and imprisoned for resisting the pope’s views. It was only after three years of controversy, and on his deathbed, that John XXII explained he meant only to express himself as a private theologian.

Mr. Walford defends John XXII on the grounds his was a “private opinion” which did qualify him as “a heretic because at the time open discussion was still possible” (p. 150). While it is true to say John XXII was not a heretic and may be true “open discussion was still possible“–the point of all this is that John’s views were in fact erroneous. John XXII’s view contradicted the traditional teaching of the Church up to that time, and it was precisely for this reason there was, even admitted by Mr. Walford, “vociferous opposition” (p. 150) to him from theologians and cardinals.  The degree of opposition John XXII faced, and the fact he felt the need to recant on his deathbed, suggests he did not hold to a theological position that was common or probable. His view was not heretical because the “traditional teaching” had not yet been formally defined. This was something which the next pope, Benedict XII, had to do in order to clean up the theological mess left to him by declaring a dogmatic definition (Benedictus Deus) on the question.  Mr. de Mattei states that:

“Following these doctrinal decisions, the thesis sustained by John XXII must be considered formally heretical, even if at that time the Pope sustained that it was still not defined as dogma of faith. St. Robert Bellarmine who dealt amply with this issue in De Romano Pontifice (Opera omnia, Venetiis 1599, Book. IV, chap. 14, coll. 841-844) writes that John XXII supported a heretical thesis, with the intention of imposing it as the truth on the faithful, but died before he could have defined the dogma, without therefore, undermining the principle of pontifical infallibility by his behavior.”

The last of the controversial cases considered by Mr. Walford is Pope Celestine IIII.  Mr. Walford describes Celetine’s case as follows (emphasis added):

“There is one further unusual and little known case worth considering, concerning Pope Celestine III (1191-98). The case involved a Catholic woman whose Catholic husband, leaving the faith, abandoned her, and married another woman with whom he then had children. The abandoned wife consulted her archdeacon and was given permission to enter into a second marriage–even though the validity of her first marriage was not in question. With her archdeacon’s approval the woman remarried and had children with her new spouse. Matters became complicated when her first husband returned to his faith, left the other woman, and desired to be reconciled with his wife. The case eventually reached Pope Celestine who opined that the woman should remain in her second adulterous union, rather than returning to her true husband. Pope Celestine’s error was due to a misinterpreation of the Pauline Privilege (see 1 Cor. 7:15), which permits the bond of natural marriage–that is, a true marriage by spouses who are not baptized–to be dissolved if one of the spouses becomes a believer and is then abandoned by the unbeliever.  His conviction was that heresy dissolved the first marriage. Celestine’s successor, Innocent III, writing to the Bishop of Ferrara, saw things differently and suggested a situation of heresy could not dissolve a previous marriage.” (p. 150-151)

A few observations on Mr. Walford’s presentation of the case.  Note that our author admits Pope Celestine was in error–gone is the use of “supposed errors”and that this was due to his misinterpretation of Sacred Scripture with regard to the Pauline Privilege. Mr. Walford appears to want to minimize the gravity of what happened by stating that Pope Celestine had merely “opined” on the matter, when the reality is an understatement. Mr. Walford himself admits the Pope said “the woman should remain in her second adulterous union.” We certainly do not say of the local marriage tribunal that it officially “opined” in issuing a decree of nullity or that it merely “opined” when affirming a marriage bond to be valid. What we have is a case where a question involving a doubt over a marital bond–and indeed involving adultery–was put to the Pope; and the Pope gave a reply–admittedly not one binding on the whole Church, but one which was undoubtedly erroneous and which touched upon faith and morals given it involved an interpretation of Sacred Scripture and a woman living in an objective state of adultery

The observations and conclusions above necessarily follow from Mr. Walford’s own presentation of the facts–but he preferred to focus on St. Robert Bellarmine’s defense of Pope Celestine. Mr. Walford writes (emphasis added): “St. Robert Bellarmine in de Romano Pontifice argued that Celestine could not be accused of heresy because “the whole matter was still being thought out.”” That is true, but one cannot escape the fact Pope Celestine’s reply touched on faith and morals, and his opinion was erroneous. What saves Pope Celestine from the accusation of heresy in this instance really involves two things, which are (1) Bellarmine’s point “the whole matter was still being thought out“–which is simply to say there was not yet a definitive teaching of the magisterium on the question; and (2) Pope Celestine’s did not supply a definitive judgment intended, either “explicitly or implicitly,” to be held by all the faithful.  

By these historical examples of papal controversies, Mr. Walford hoped to demonstrate that there are no examples of popes ever being “formal heretics”–and thereby, presumably, inoculate Pope Francis from potential accusations of being a heretic or of having fallen into some error. However, winning the point that there has never been nor ever could be a pope who is a “formal heretic”–a theological opinion with which I personally agree–does not remove from consideration the possibility of papal error absent certain conditions, as the three cases we just reviewed demonstrate.

In these three cases we see, that absent certain conditions, a pope (1) can hold and express an erroneous opinion which, afterwards, is considered to be formally heretical (John XXII); (2) can “favor” heresy by his silence, negligence or by providing confusing doctrinal and or pastoral guidance (Honorius); (3) can issue a type of judgment which is of a non-definitive nature on matters of faith and morals which is erroneous, and (4) can–by the aforementioned errors, acts or omissions–lead or cause or contribute to others falling into or remaining in error (John XXII) or heresy (Honorius) or some other objective situation of sin (Celestine III).

In these three cases, we certainly see various scenarios of what might happen in doctrinal or pastoral areas when a pope’s words and judgments do not meet the conditions which govern the gift of infallibility. However, we tend to limit the hypothetical nightmare scenarios of what we believe possible only to what we know to have happened in the past. This forgets that (1) to those who lived before or through the times of Honorius, John XXII or Celestine, that these popes, or at least some of their acts, might have seemed unimaginable–in the moment–with respect to the promises made by our Lord to Peter; and that (2) worse scenarios, in kind or degree, might yet be possible. Therefore, one should take caution not to fall into one of the two extremes when living in times of such potential error; that is where either one begins to doubt the Lord’s promises to Peter, or one adopts such errors through an exaggerated understanding of papal infallibility.

IV.  Submission of the Will and Intellect

As Mr. Walford’s chapter on the “Magisterium of Pope Francis” begins to draw to close, we finally get to the purpose of all the bible verses and quotes–as if one had not recognized the obvious all along. Having beaten his readers over the head for many pages with a two by four of papal infallibility proof texts (which were never in dispute), Mr. Walford, mercifully, gets to what “in the context of Amoris Laetitia, is the heart of the matter” (p.142). For the sake of brevity, I will provide part of Mr. Walford’s quotation of guidance from the CDF (emphasis added):

“all those teachings –on faith and morals — presented as true or at least as sure, even if they have not been defined with a solemn judgment or proposed as definitive by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. Such teachings are, however, an authentic expression of the ordinary magisterium of the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops and therefore require religious submission of will and intellect….

...One can point to teachings set forth by the authentic ordinary Magisterium in a non-definitive way, which require degrees of adherence differentiated according to the mind and the will manifested; this is shown especially by the nature of the documents, by the frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or by the tenor of the verbal expressions.”

(Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the professio fidei, June 29, 1998,; as quoted in Mr. Walford’s The Pope, The Family and Divorce) [NB. For the sake of brevity Roma Locuta Est inserted elipses into the text above, not found in Mr. Walford’s book]

Mr. Walford wants to make clear that Catholics are required to give religious submission of will and intellect to “authentic expressions of the ordinary magisterium.” Our author immediately follows the citation above by saying it is “notable” in the CDF guidance that even with teachings of the authentic magisterium “there is absolutely no mention of possible errors” (p. 143). Our author attached a footnote to this statement. Given much of the controversy over Amoris Laetitia swirls around a footnote (n. 351) in Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, it is ironic, but perhaps fitting, that Mr. Walford’s last desperate attempt to save his magisterial argument should be found in his book in–of all places-a footnote (n. 42; p, 161). In this footnote, Mr. Walford gives us two papal interventions which he argues are significant in the debate over whether Pope Francis has changed, what is in our author’s view, only a sacramental discipline (NB: I addressed Mr. Walford’s “only a sacramental discipline” claim in Part II of this three part series). Therefore, his point is, these are interventions to which one must give religious submission of will and intellect–causa finita est. The first of these papal interventions is an answer given by Pope Francis in a papal press conference on an airplane.  As Mr. Walford narrates for us (emphasis and middle elipsis added):

…in the press conference on the return from Lesvos, in response to the question, Has there been any alteration in sacramental discipline for the divorced and remarried? He (Pope Francis) said: “I could say yes and leave it at that. But that would be too brief a response. I recommend that all of you read the presentations made by Cardinal Schonborn“…One important question however remains: Was the “Lesvos” answer magisterial? It seems to me it was, based on St. John Paul’s teaching on the ordinary magisterium. He referred to “oral and written interventions” when they derive from an explicit or implicit intention to make pronouncements on matters of faith and morals.” Pope Francis’ oral interventions during the plane press conference fulfilled this requirement. See St. John Paul II, “General Audience,” March 10, 1993.”

Mr. Walford’s analysis of the Pope’s answer is unconvincing. Personally, I find the Pope’s reply somewhat equivocal. Regardless, citations have been produced throughout this rebuttal in which John Paul II, other popes and the CDF have indicated quite clearly the teaching “cannot be modified” (cf CDF 1994 Letter). Therefore, in this light, the Pope’s response above lacks the clarity, to put it mildly, to explain or dispel the seeming contradictions.

I am not one to lightly dismiss things a pope says. That said, it seems to me, a case for claiming a Pope’s spoken intervention indicates an “explicit or implicit intention to make a pronouncements on matters of faith and morals” is stronger when the comments are found in an address or homily with clear, direct statements. For example, in one address, Pope Benedict XVI, while sympathizing with the suffering of the divorced and remarried, nonetheless stated unequivocally “they cannot receive absolution or the Eucharist” and again “…even if it is not possible to receive absolution in Confession, they can nevertheless have ongoing contact with a priest, with a spiritual guide (see Pope Benedict, “Address at the Evening Witness for the World Meeting of Families,” June 2, 2012). Pope John Paul II also made comments regarding the communion ban (cf Homily of John Paul II, October 25, 1980, 7). These oral interventions seem to have a greater claim to being an “authentic” intervention. It might have helped Mr. Walford’s presentation had he at least tried to offer an honest and credible assessment as to why such papal statements–which seemingly contradict his argument– should be set aside in this debate.  Unfortunately, he did no such thing.

The second intervention our author brings forward deals with Pope Francis’ response to the guidelines of the Buenos Aires bishops. Again, as described in Mr. Walford’s n. 43 (p. 161):

Second, in a letter to the Bishops of the Buenos Aires, Argentina (who had issued guidelines on Amoris Laetitia allowing Holy Communion in certain cases), Pope Francis wrote: “There are no other interpretations.” This Letter (upgraded to an Apostolic Letter) and the guidelines themselves are now, significantly, part of the “authentic magisterium” and appear in the October 2016 edition of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis.”n. 43 (p. 161).

Pope Francis’ letter to the Buenos Aires bishops was originally intended as only a private letter and lacked magisterial significance, and only later was raised to the level of “authentic magisterium” by a rescript (see here). The letter was a response to the Buenos Aires area bishops who had written guidelines based on Amoris Laetitia which allowed communion for the divorced and remarried in certain unspecificied cases. Pope Francis had replied to these guidelines stating of them in part “There are no other interpretations.” This, in itself, is somewhat curious because the document interpreted by them, Amoris Laetitia, explicitly states there are “various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it” (AL 3); and not that there “are not other interpretations.” It is also interesting to note the Pope’s letter, now raised to the level of “authentic magisterium,” points to a document (i.e., the Buenos Aires guidelines) which in turn points to Amoris Laetita which in turn disclaims that it is an “intervention of the magisterium” in its introduction: “not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium” (AL 3). All of this–which is puzzling to the average Catholic–has something of a Rube Goldberg feel to it. [NB: The theologian Rev. Brian Harrison has an excellent article on LifeSite News precisely on the subject of the “authentic magisterium” in relation to the pope’s letter (see (LifeSite News: “Authentic Confusion over Pope Francis’ ‘Authentic Magisterium’ by Rev. Brian Harrison, O.S.).  Also, I suggest an article on the website Catholicism.Org by Brother Andre Marie, entitled “The Three Levels of Magisterial Teaching” with commentary on the magisterium which is relevant].

What this all means is rather confusing for Catholics–inclusive of myself–who want to do the right thing, and obey the Lord who said “if you love me, obey my commandments” (John 14:15) and who said to the apostles “he who hears you, hears me” (Luke 10:16). However, if the likes of Cardinal Müller–who found the raising of the Pope’s letter to the level of authentic magisterium “disturbing”– is correct, the Buenos Aries guidelines still might be interpreted in an orthodox manner (see here). If so, the Pope’s Letter would not necessarily change anything regarding communion for the divorced and remarried. That said, while I have great respect for the Cardinal and would not discount what he says out of hand; on a plain reading of the Buenos Aires’ text, I personally do not see how what he suggests is possible. Yet, aside from the Dubia Cardinals, there are other senior prelates, such as Cardinal Scola who continue to maintain, even after the elevation of the Pope’s Letter to “authentic magisterium,” that communion for the divorced and remarried contradicts church teaching (see here) saying: “The non-admissibility of the divorced and remarried to the Eucharist is not a punishment that can be taken away or reduced, but is inherent in the very character of Christian marriage, which, as I have said, lives on the foundation of the Eucharistic gift of Christ the bridegroom to his bride the Church.” Furthermore, a number of bishops and conferences throughout the world continue to follow the teaching of Familiaris Consortio 84 without having been disciplined by the CDF.

In the final analysis, the point of Mr. Walford’s treatment of papal infallibility is to convince the reader that we, the faithful, must submit and adhere to Amoris Laetitia even if it is a question of only discipline. Our author cites another document issued by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith entitled  Donum Veritatis (emphasis added):

“It is also to be borne in mind that all acts of the Magisterium derive from the same source, that is, from Christ who desires that His People walk in the entire truth. For this same reason, 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.” (Donum Veritatis 17.  Emphasis as found in Mr. Walford’s book, p. 152-153).

It may surprise Mr. Walford that I certainly agree with him. Sharing this agreement with regard to the “adherence of the faithful” as well as “religious submission of will and intellect” as we do, he should thus understand my surprise over his treatment of the origin of the change in teaching (or sacramental discipline) he advocates in his book. In chapter one of his book, the author references the confusion of some in the 1970s over the treatment of communion for the divorced and remarried. Mr. Walford praises the efforts of Bishop Ganter (see the author’s discussion on p. 9-11 of his book) who in 1978 published pastoral guidelines which allowed communion in certain cases for the divorced and remarried. By 1980 John Paul II, who had since come along–and after a synod that dealt with this confusion–issued a clear statement in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio reaffirming the communion ban and the reasons for it. The question of the divorced and remarried had also been addressed at the time of the Second Vatican Council by Paul VI [see Note 2].

The teaching of Familiaris Consortio was followed up in 1984 with another Apostolic Exhortation, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, which again reaffirmed the ban (see Part II of this rebuttal). Thus, in a relatively short span of time in recent modern times, two popes had intervened on at least three occasions to end the discussion over communion for the divorced and remarried. Even Mr. Walford appears to recognizes this unavoidable conclusion when he observed of John Paul’s reaffirmation in the 1980s: “Suffice it to say, in the ensuing years of the decade, it seemed as if the ban was unalterable” (p. 15).

However, despite these significant papal interventions, Mr. Walford tells us “by 1993 the question was back at the heart of Catholic debate” when “three bishops” of Germany “issued a joint pastoral letter in which they called for dialogue with the divorced and remarried, with the intention of discerning whether the general ban on access to the Sacraments could allow for exceptions” (p. 15). You might ask at this point how do three German bishops get to ‘call for dialogue‘ on a communion ban reaffirmed by Pope John Paul II and how do they make it legitimately a question “back at the heart of Catholic debate?” Why was John Paul’s reaffirmation not–as Mr. Walford hurls at us in a later chapter–a “magisterial decision” calling for the “adherence of the faithful,” a principle later stated a few years later in Donum Veritatis 17? Ask you may–but Mr. Walford neither suggests an answer nor does he appear to fathom the inherent hypocrisy and contradiction of his position.

Yet, the reader’s questions will not stop there. In 1994 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) replied to the arguments made by these German bishops (NB: this was addressed in detail in Part II, so I will not go into great detail again here, beyond saying the CDF in a letter, approved by John Paul II and thus participating in his Magisterium, stated that the teaching of John Paul II was “presented as binding” and admitted of no exceptions). Mr. Walford admits this  letter, sent to all the bishops of the world, “in reality slapped down the German proposal” (p. 16). Now, consider, Paul VI “slapped down” a similar proposal [see Note 2], Pope John Paul II “slapped down” the same theological proposal in Familiaris Consortio, and Reconciliatio et Paenitentia and again via the CDF response at his request

Now, at this point, given that Mr. Walford had instructed us that the CDF said “…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” (Donum Veritatis 17) one might expect our author would condemn the German bishops for their lack of “adherence.” But, he does not.  Instead, having just admitted the German bishops were “slapped down,” Mr. Walford—avoiding this clear statement of the CDF defending the communion ban as a “binding” and there being ‘no exceptions’–minimizes the import of this same CDF letter by saying of it that it “revealed a fundamental disagreement on the role of conscience” (p. 16).  What?As if all this letter did was merely reveal disagreement, when in reality it should have stopped the Germans in their tracks!

Despite this clear reiteration and elucidation of Pope John Paul II’s magisterium in the CDF response, the German Bishops in turn replied, as Mr. Walford quotes them: “we do not find ourselves in any doctrinal disagreement,” but “the difference has to do with the questions of pastoral practice in individual cases.” Our author tells us the “The Bishops maintained that there does ‘exist room, beneath the threshold of the binding teaching, for pastoral flexibility in complex individual cases that is to be used responsibly” (p.17). The impertinence of the German bishops is unbearable! Their arguments have been “slapped down” by Rome a number of times, as Mr. Walford was forced to admit.  But, they continue to arrogantly and defiantly claim they have the flexibility in individual cases even though the CDF, responding to such an assertion, specifically and explicitly stated the teaching regarding the communion ban is “binding” and “cannot be modified because of different situations.” As shocking as the German response is, even more shocking is Mr. Walford’s characterization of the state affairs at that moment (emphasis added):

“The reality is that the German Pastoral Letter was not significantly different in substance to that of Bishop Ganter from 1978 or from suggestions made by other bishops during various synods. It was an attempt, quite simply, to reengage theological debate at at a time when divorce and remarriage was an ever growing problem, and where people in this situation desired to receive the Sacraments.  The Church could no longer accept – in this particular area of life – that everything was “black and white” and leave it at that. More serious reflection needed to be accomplished under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” (p. 17)

Given Mr. Walford’s demands in chapter 7 of his book for the “adherence of the faithful“(cf DV 17) to the interventions of the pope even on disciplinary issues, his concluding statements above that ‘The Church could not longer accept – in this particular area of life – that everything was “black and white” and leave it at that’ and that “More serious reflection needed to be accomplished under the guidance of the Holy Spirit” are incomprehensible! On what basis can he make this claim? What can be more black and white than Rome saying the teaching “cannot be modified due to different situations”? What does Mr. Walford mean “The Church could not longer accept” this situation? Where is the charism of infallibility that Mr. Walford speaks of–or even the “divine assistance” not lacking to magisterial decisions on disciplinary issues? Does this charism rest with the pope whose CDF continually “slapped down” the German pretensions, or with the Germans who continued to question Rome’s decisions?

The level of Mr. Walford’s cognitive dissonance is astounding! Mr. Walford appears to have no sense of the contradiction. Where is his concern for the “adherence of the faithful” in these events and responses to papal interventions? Our author sanctimoniously lectured us in his book and articles many times about the necessity of such adherence (see earlier article by Mr. Walford here and my response here). He has challenged so-called “dissenters” various times (see here and here and here) on the subject. Yet, the discerning reader cannot help but wonder what Mr. Walford’s opinions are regarding those in whom he placed his ‘theological’ trust, and who were intimately associated with the production of his own book.  Such company,  mentioned in the introduction of this rebuttal series (see Part I), include many who populate the pages of Archbishop Vigano’s testimony (see here). Cardinal Wuerl, for example, is said to have approved and allowed communion for Catholic politicians who oppose Catholic teaching on abortion (see here). Cardinal Tobin, who provided the Nihil Obstat for Mr. Walford’s book, was promoted to his current position according to Archbishop Vigano with the aid of the former Cardinal McCarrick, who himself was associated with Eucharistic abuses (see here, and here). Nor should we pass over the “ostentatiously arrogant” Cardinal Cupich, also promoted with the aid of the disgraced McCarrick according to Archbishop Vigano. Cardinal Cupich appears to have allowed communion to some contrary to Canon 915 (see here and here). Then there is Cardinal Maradiaga, head of the Pope’s group of nine cardinals, who even before Amoris Laetitia was issued was agitating for communion for the divorced and remarried (see here).

But, as bad as the above examples are involving current Princes of the Church, consider the following. According to press reports, it appears that Pope Francis, while Archbishop of Buenos Aires allowed communion for the divorced and remarried. The following facts do not appear to be in dispute:

  1. Before Jorge Bergoglio was made Archbishop of Buenos Aires in February 1998, there had already been four papal interventions (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 of Pope Benedict XVI, 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, we can be morally certain that Cardinal Bergoglio-–a highly educated Jesuit, an Archbishop, and a Prince of the Church-–was not 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, Canon 915 and Sacramentum Caritatis 29; the Declaration of the Pontifical Council of Legislative Texts and, not to forget, the reiteration of this teaching in the Aparecida document which Cardinal Bergoglio helped draft. Yet, according to various reports, this same Archbishop and Prince of the Church allowed the priests of his archdiocese to give communion to those to 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. What does Mr. Walford think of this? We do not know. What we do know is, our author once reminded the signatories of the Filial Correction (see here) that  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”? Speaking to the signatories of the Filial Correction (see here) Mr. Walford  wrote: “The signatories must answer is: do you believe and adhere to that and if not why not?” 

I turned this question around on Mr. Walford several times, without response. The two questions I ask of him are: if the uncontested reports of Cardinal Bergoglio allowing communion for the divorced and remarried in Buenos Aires are accurate, (1) do you believe Cardinal Bergoglio faithfully “adhered” to the aforementioned “magisterial decisions” of the Successor of St. Peter at the time he was Archbishop and, if so, on what grounds do you justify this belief? and (2) if you do not believe his was an example of “faithful adherence” to the Successor of St. Peter – could you tell us of what his actions are an example? (NB: I have asked for Mr. Walford’s response before (see here and here and here). Instead, Mr. Walford ignores such questions while he attacked the “filial correction” and its 62 signatories in an article in the National Catholic Reporter, entitled Filial correction’ of pope marked by glaring hypocrisy, risible accusations).  

While one should not point to bad behavior to justify bad behavior, we are in a better position today since Vigano’s testimony–regarding such men who flout Church doctrine and discipline–to both consider and appreciate these words of St. Vincent of Lerins who speaks of true piety, and what true holy and prudent men do in faithfully handing on the faith (emphasis added):

“For that holy and prudent man well knew that true piety admits no other rule than that whatsoever things have been faithfully received from our fathers the same are to be faithfully consigned to our children; and that it is our duty, not to lead religion whither we would, but rather to follow religion whither it leads; and that it is the part of Christian modesty and gravity not to hand down our own beliefs or observances to those who come after us, but to preserve and keep what we have received from those who went before us. What then was the issue of the whole matter? What but the usual and customary one? Antiquity was retained, novelty was rejected.” (St. Vincent Lerins, Commotorium, Chapter 6)

And, thus, keeping in mind that things that “have been faithfully received from our fathers” are the “same to be faithfully consigned to our children,” it is difficult if not impossible to reconcile with Catholic Tradition the claim that one can now continue to commit acts of adultery in certain circumstances, receive absolution without a firm purpose of amendment and still receive Holy communion (see Part I and Part II). As a hierarchical Church, the lay Catholic must of course depend on the hierarchy to clearly enunciate what it is that requires “religious submission of will and intellect” and obey. However, it is evident that in this moment of history the hierarchy is in a state of confusion. There are bishops and cardinals on either side of the important questions, and the practice and discipline may vary between region or diocese. The famous Dubia, as those following this controversy are well aware, are five questions put to Pope Francis by learned cardinals that would have gotten straight to the “heart of the matter.” Yet, these remain without direct answers from the Pope.

Again, recall, Mr. Walford quoted the follow CDF teaching: “…One can point to teachings set forth by the authentic ordinary Magisterium in a non-definitive way, which require degrees of adherence differentiated according to the mind and the will manifested; this is shown especially by the nature of the documents, by the frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or by the tenor of the verbal expressions” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the professio fidei). As a faithful son of the Church, I absolutely do agree that a Catholic owes “religious submission of will and intellect” to the magisterium of the Church–and, as one of the ‘smelly sheep,’ I yearn to hear the voice of the Successor of St. Peter ring out loudly and clearly in the midst of the current storm.

Absent that clear voice, the Catholic–at least this one–who does look to the interventions of all popes (inclusive of Pope Francis) for instruction, can only be struck by the stark differences with regard to “the mind and the will manifested.”  Using the aforementioned CDF’s guidance quoted by Mr. Walford, I looked first to the “nature of the documents.” Prior to Pope Francis, the “nature of the documents” which were opposed to communion for the divorced and remarried, either directly or indirectly, include the encyclical Veritatis Splendor; three Apostolic Exhortations Familiaris Consortio, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, and Sacramentum Caritatis; The Catholic Catechism (1650); a letter of Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to all bishops, Canon 915, a declaration by the Pontifical Council of Legislative Texts (“Concering the Admission to Holy Communion of the Faithful who are Divorced and Remarried”), and various papal oral interventions). In the time of Pope Francis, the “nature of the documents,” include one Apostolic Exhortation (Amoris Laetitia) with the key teaching, allegedly, in a footnote; one question/answer during press conference on an airplane; and a private letter later elevated to an Apostolic Letter which points to the Buenos Aires guidelines.

If I look to the criteria of “frequent repetition of the same doctrine,” the aforementioned list of documents makes it clear which doctrine was frequently repeated. In addition, the communion ban is a “constant and universal practice of the Church” (cf CDF Letter in 1994 to bishops) and also has in its favor that it is enshrined in Canon 915.  Further, regarding Canon 915, the Pontifical Council of Legislative Texts along with other Congregations declared “The prohibition found in the cited canon, by its nature, is derived from divine law and transcends the domain of positive ecclesiastical laws: the latter cannot introduce legislative changes which would oppose the doctrine of the Church” (see here) and “Any interpretation of can. 915 that would set itself against the canon’s substantial content, as declared uninterruptedly by the Magisterium and by the discipline of the Church throughout the centuries, is clearly misleading” (see here).  No such history supports any discipline suggested by Mr. Walford or a Walfordian Amoris Laetitia; indeed it might arguably be asserted of Pope Francis that not only has he not “repeated” his doctrine, but that he has not as of yet even affirmed it once himself. That is, due to his failure to affirm the nature of his teaching as requested in the Dubia.

As to the last of the criteria, “tenor of the verbal expressions,” again there is no comparison.  Whether the popes themselves or through various congregations of the Curia, it has been affirmed regarding the communion ban that:  “the Church reaffirms” (cf FC 84); “the Church professes in fidelity to Christ and his truth”  (FC 84); “a practice founded on Sacred Scripture” (cf FC 84, CDF, see note on Paul VI in note 2); it has been “presented as binding” (CDF); “cannot be modified due to different situations” (CDF); etc.

I could go on with such clear statements, many I’ve quoted already, but will stop here. The reader though should take note that no such analogous Roman affirmations, confirmations or reaffirmations have been produced by Mr. Walford to clearly support or prove his argument on any point. Take it to the bank that if he had any such statements, he would have produced them. He does not have a single one.

Thus concludes this rebuttal of Mr. Walford and his book, The Pope, The Family and Divorce.

Final Thoughts

Common sense suggests that if everything a pope might say or write is infallible, the First Vatican Council’s definition specifying the unique and requisite conditions for papal infallibility would not have been necessary. I submit to the authority of the Church regarding all that is required for a Catholic Faith, as well as those teachings which require religious submission of will and intellect. That true and said, it is certainly a fair and educated observation, made in good conscience, that the Church at this moment is in the throes of confusion on various theological and moral questions surrounding the debate over communion for the divorced and remarried “in certain cases.” While I have my pious opinion on these, what the ultimate answers are belongs not to me but to the Pope, the hierarchy and to theologians to say–and to which class of men I most assuredly do not belong (nor does Mr. Walford for that matter[12]).

Upon completion of this rebuttal I feel obliged to give my opinion as to what is going on and how this all might end. My opinion is this. It appears to me that it is the tradition and constant teaching of the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Catholic Church that the divorced and remarried cannot receive Holy Communion–unless they first repent and are absolved of their sins, having a firm purpose of amendment to not to commit acts of adultery again; and thus this teaching is infallibly true. However, to my knowledge, this teaching has not yet been explicitly defined as one “to be held definitively by all the faithful.”

Thus, perhaps in a case remotely analogous to John XXII, Celestine III and Honorius but, admittedly, far more extreme and unprecedented–Pope Francis might be excused from what he has said and written, as far as an accusation of formal heresy is concerned, because ‘the whole matter was still being thought out as St. Robert Bellarmine might put it. In any event, I fully expect that a future pope will define infallibly the Church’s doctrine contained in Familiaris Consortio 84, and that all contrary opinions will be anathematized. This scenario is based on the assumption that Mr. Walford’s reading of Pope Francis is the correct one; which, admittedly, seems a fair and probable one.

However, we may still hope, however unlikely, that Pope Francis will be that Pope who makes this definition. Let us pray for Pope Francis that he 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 and his wife, Margaret, live near Atlanta with their 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 (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA).


  1. Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on “Romanism” by “Bible Christians (Ignatius Press. San Francisco, 1988)
  2.  My thanks to a blog article entitled “Four Times the Church has held her ground on communion for the divorced and remarried” by Mary Rezac, found on the Catholic News Agency website. Ms. Rezac’s article discussed and brought to my attention a Summer 2014 essay in Communio, entitled “The Merciful Gift of Indissolubility and the Question of Pastoral Care for Divorced and Remarried Catholics” by Nicholas J. Healy Jr.  In his essay on p. 309, Mr. Healy writes:  “A good place to begin is with Archbishop Elias Zoghby’s intervention during the fourth session of the Second Vatican Council. The patriarchal vicar of the Melkites in Egypt pleaded that special consideration be given to abandoned spouses, and he suggested that the Eastern practice of tolerating remarriage in certain cases should be considered. Zoghby’s remarks provoked a strong negative reaction at the Council.”  Mr. Healy then footnotes this reaction as follows, n. 8 on the same page (emphasis added): “The following morning (30 September 1965), at the request of Pope Paul VI, the order of speeches was suspended and Cardinal Journet was asked to respond to Zoghby. Citing Mk 10:2 and 1 Cor 7:10–11, Journet said that “the teaching of the Catholic Church on the indissolubility of sacramental marriage is the very teaching of the Lord Jesus that has been revealed to us and has always been safeguarded and proclaimed in the Church . . . the Church has no authority to change what is of divine law” (Acta Synodalia IV/3, 58, cited in History of Vatican II, ed. Giuseppe Alberigo, vol. 5 [Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2006], 159).
  3. St.Thomas Aquinas, on Evil, trans. Richard Egan, Q XV, A 1, R 5 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 421.
  4. Guilty Only of Failure To Teach” by Steven O’Reilly (This Rock, Catholic Answer, Inc. October 2000). Retrieved February 17, 2017 from Catholic Answers:
  5. White is Wrong” by Steven O’Reilly. (This Rock, Catholic Answer, Inc. November 2000). Retrieved February 17, 2017 from Catholic Answers:
  6. Scripta dilectissimi filiiquoted by William Shaw Kerr inA Handbook on the Papacy 196.  Cited in “Guilty only of a Failure to Teach.”
  7. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 343 as quoted in “Guilty Only of Failure to Teach
  8. Session XVIII, NPNF, vol. 14, 344 as quoted in “White is Wrong.”
  9. Leonis II ad Constantium. Imp. as quoted in NPNF, vol 14, 352. Cited in “White is Wrong”
  10. Kirsch, J.P. (1910). Pope John XXII. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved February 16, 2017 from New Advent:
  11. A POPE WHO FELL INTO HERESY, A CHURCH THAT RESISTED: John XXII and the Beatific Vision“- by Roberto de Mattei. Retrieved on February 16, 2017 from:
  12. See the blog site Where is Peter and its interview with Mr. Stephen Walford.  In it, the writer and interviewer, Mr. Mike Lewis–who is more than favorably inclined towards Mr. Walford–makes this observation of Mr,Walford (emphasis added): “Catholic websites such as La Stampa and Crux often refer to him as a “theologian,” which immediately garners negative responses on social media, usually along the lines of “he’s a piano teacher, not a theologian.” Walford doesn’t refer to himself as a theologian, although he doesn’t seem to mind when others use that title to describe him.”


7 thoughts on “Part III: Mr. Walford and the Magisterium

  1. Well done. Of course, Walford’s claims and all those who support them can be boiled down to papalatry, his idolization & divinization of Francis. In his own words, in a tweet earlier this year: “we are in 2018, we have a different pope and a different era to some extent. We obey what this pope now teaches.” This was said in reply to someone pointing out the contradiction with the previous magisterium, especially JPII and B16; and unable to reply, that is what he said, in frustrated fashion.

    His starting and ending point is that the will of Francis is absolute and must be upheld no matter what. So, papal will is the object of defense, not whether what is proclaimed is true, part of the deposit of faith, etc.; and papal will is what then (allegedly) makes something to be true, valid. As a result, one is backed into a corner and will commit errors, contradictions, trying to come up with some explanation, any explanation, even if it means trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. At a certain point this also involves intellectual dishonesty. He has been alerted to his errors by various people and knows that what he claims is not true, but he just repeats them and pretends like he doesn’t know. He has also been challenged about labeling himself as a theologian and allowing others to do so, and denied that such labeling has happened. He has also been asked to correct outlets like la stampa that do so, and he has not. The same goes even for theologians who support him- they know some of his claims, even basic theological ones, are wrong, yet they go along with it. This is not to suggest maliciousness- although for some it seems to be the case- but their own cult-like adherence to Francis causes them to fall into the same trap.

    Arrogance/hurt pride also seems at play, and Walford has even admitted that part of his motivation for getting into all this was so that he could get a form of revenge on those who have publicly taken him to task, particularly canonist Ed Peters. He lectures competent theologians and canonists, telling them they’re wrong, when it is he who doesn’t know what he is talking about. When the book was released Walford even sent Peters an unsolicited tweet advertising it, and particularly that it had received the papal “endorsement.” Very juvenile. You may have seen that Dan Hitchens did a recent piece, pointing to 2-3 of Walford’s mistakes and contradictions, some of them stupefying, e.g., “popes are always free from error in faith and morals”


  2. As an addendum, the scary thing is that we now have people essentially saying, as does Walford, that it doesn’t matter if one’s argument doesn’t make sense, the consequences are problematic, the position can’t be explained; but because Francis has said it, it must be accepted, on an erroneous, irrational idea of obedience. Then they will call you “dissenter” and “anti-Francis,” like a secular leftist who loses can argument and can only call you names


    1. I asked him on twitter at one point about the reports Cardinal Bergoglio allowed communion for D&Rs in Buenos Aires, which you know of course opposes the teaching of JPII, BXVI, along with various docs of the CDF and PCLT. All this Bergoglio would certainly have known. Is this an example of the “Faithful Adherence” Walford speaks of? I ask in my article above too…but…no where has he yet replied to me.


  3. All but about ten American bishops give Communion to pro-aborts.

    No pope has ever lifted a finger to stop this public mortal sin.

    Ergo: Every pope of the last 45 years is directly responsible for making can. 915 a dead letter. If they were all to rise from the grave (or the Vatican Gardens), none of them would be entitled to criticize Bergoglio’s treating can. 915 as a dead letter.

    Every Catholic can be certain: In every place where pro-aborts are given Communion, the bishop and priests are corrupt and spiritually dead, and the Church is dying.


    1. Arthur, thanks for the comments. I can’t speak to the “ten” bishops…but, I certainly can’t dispute it. I don’t think I’ve heard of a case where a prominent politician has been denied communion. It was either as Pope or Prefect of CDF that Ratzinger gave letter to McCarrick to share at a bishops meeting, saying “no communion.” McCarrick pocketed the letter, and then mischaracterized it.

      But, all that said, the point isn’t so much whether it was a dead letter–although the CDF and PCLT–did defend it in 1994 and 2000, all of which Bergoglio as an archbishop was aware of. If the reports are true about his allowing of such communion to D&Rs, the hypocrisy of Mr. Walford is astounding. I’ve asked him to comment. no answer.


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