February 19, 2019 (Steven O’Reilly) [Last Updated 2/27/2019] – Vatican Insider has just published another article by Stephen Walford (see Stop Ageing Mother Church! An Appeal to Brother and Sister in Faith). Mr. Walford (see Note 1) is already well-known by regular readers of Roma Locuta Est through our compilation of refutations to his various articles (see Summa Contra Stephen Walford) and his book The Pope, The Family and Divorce (see the three part refutation: The Errors of Mr. Walford’s ‘Pope Francis, The Family and Divorce’; Part II: The Development of Mr. Walford’s Errors; Part III: Mr. Walford and the Magisterium).
Mr. Walford’s latest offering is a plaintive plea for comity in the Church with healthy doses of sanctimony and hypocrisy thrown in. Mr. Walford says:
“We must wake up to the reality that division is growing precisely because many are abandoning unity with Peter. Some will claim it is the Pope who is causing this terrible fracture, but that is not possible.”
Mr. Walford makes a slight attempt to address mistakes by opposite ends of the spectrum, writing for example: “My appeal today is concerned with the sin from “left” and “right”; those with agendas that are not in union with the Successor of Peter and thus the Lord.” Mr. Walford’s piece focuses primarily on what I suppose he’d call the “right”, though he does address one fault of the “liberals” (emphasis added):
“With this truth in mind, I humbly invite all bishops, priests, religious and laity to embrace humility and obedience to the Holy Father. I ask them to refrain from spreading half-truths that only serve to confuse and possibly lead astray ordinary God fearing Catholics. I invite them to search their conscience and ask themselves “does the Lord really desire me to aid division in the Church by distancing myself– subtly or not– from the present successor of St Peter”? For those “liberals”, I ask them to consider if Jesus ever said carrying the Cross would be easy, or if we are all called to strive for a heroic degree of sanctity? To question moral truths or magisterial authority in these matters is to suggest that the divine laws contained in the Ten Commandments are too harsh and cannot possibly apply to everyone. If we can exempt ourselves from sins against the sixth commandment, then why not the other commandments as well? Why not abandon love itself?”
Now, as in regard to bolded commentary above, I nearly fell out of my seat reading this–as it appears Mr. Walford argues against himself. Mr. Walford has essentially argued elsewhere (i.e., his book The Pope, the Family and Divorce) in favor of what he above requests that the “liberals” not do–i.e., to not exempt persons from the Sixth Commandment. Yet, in his book Mr. Walford essentially does precisely that by allowing, in certain cases, the divorced and remarried with valid, prior marriages to continue to engage in adulterous, sexual relations. On p.101 of Mr. Walford’s book, he writes: “Christian realism doesn’t deny that the sixth commandment is impossible to obey; rather, it recognizes that for ordinary Catholics who do not possess a high level of virtue or sanctity, the chances of avoiding sexual relations is slim.” Mr. Walford then proceeds in his book to provide a hard case where a divorced and remarried couple, with valid prior marriages, could actually continue to have adulterous relations–thus procuring an “exemption” from the Sixth Commandment, something he here now decries. I will not go into this matter further here, but I have rebutted his book in a three part series (see The Errors of Mr. Walford’s ‘Pope Francis, The Family and Divorce’; Part II: The Development of Mr. Walford’s Errors; and Part III: Mr. Walford and the Magisterium).
But, let us leave this contradiction behind, and return to the main purpose of this response–Mr. Walford’s plea that seems to ask why can’t we all just get along? Mr. Walford’s effort is doomed to failure because he fails to see or admit any role which Pope Francis might have in this crisis. This is an interesting perspective given even Pope Francis seems to disagree with Mr. Walford; having reportedly said of himself: “It is not to be excluded that I will enter history as the one who split the Catholic Church”. Regardless, there is no attempt by Mr. Walford to reconcile his sanctimonious claims of Pope Francis’ “tireless service” for the Church with the Pope’s actual behavior, such as his shameless treatment of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, or most recently of the Little Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer (see here). Also excluded from his seeming considerations is the Pope’s heavy-handed treatment of the Knights of Malta. No where does Mr. Walford reconcile his portrayal of a humble, saintly and non-divisive Francis with the Pope’s constant barrage of insults on so-called “rigid” Catholics (see The Pope Francis Little Book of Insults). Such assaults are as surprising as they are distressing because these Catholic make up a sizable percentage of the small number Catholics who even bother to follow the precepts of the Church. Walford’s positive estimation of this pontificate also does not account for the divisive and dismissive insults this Pope has directed against those faithful in Chile, who had the temerity to protest to the Pope about a sexually-abusive priest and the bishop who covered it all up (see here and here). The fact Mr. Walford ignores such a long record of abusive insults made by the Pope himself makes it difficult to take Mr. Walford’s seriously when he writes: “The division and back biting must stop.”
Furthermore, our writer also ignores the shadow of corruption that surrounds the Vatican regarding accounts of a homosexual orgy within the Vatican “presided” over by a Cardinal close to the Pope (see here) or the promotion of an accused Argentine bishop (and friend of Francis) to a financial post in the Vatican (see here). Nor can we forget the Pope’s continued silence regarding his rehabilitation of Theodore McCarrick. This, despite the fact allegations against that former Cardinal were known to Francis–as noted in Bishop Vigano’s testimony (see here and here) and in Frédéric Martel’s book (see here). It now appears abundantly clear Francis knew of these accusations–yet this did not prevent him from turning his close associates loose to malign and calumniate Bishop Vigano and attempt to undermine his credibility on the very accusations once denied–but now known to be true! Yet, Mr. Walford sanctimoniously tells us, “The division and back biting must stop.”
But, while we are on the subject of Martel’s book (entitled In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy), we should pause to note the likelihood of another budding papal scandal. Reports indicate that Martel had the run of the Vatican for his four-year long project of interviews regarding homosexuality in the Vatican. In this he was apparently aided by Monsignor Ricca. We also know he interviewed close associates of Pope Francis, inclusive of Fr. Spadaro. Martel could not, and would not have had such access unless Francis allowed his underlings to cooperate in the effort. At a minimum, it is clear Francis must have given his tacit–if not explicit approval. I discuss all this in my recent article on the subject (see Martel’s Book: A Pope Francis-approved Hit Job?). Whatever we may assume about the Vatican’s level of active cooperation in Martel’s effort, it is clear this book tears down the reputations of Francis’ opposition, alleging–for example– that two of the dead Dubia Cardinals (Caffara and Meisner) were “homosexually inclined” and that Cardinal Burke is “unstraight.” Further, the project appears to defame Francis’ more conservative predecessors. Martel’s book claims Pope Benedict XVI “liked to flirt” and that “the majority of the popes of the last century were at least homosexually inclined.” Why would Francis give such an author access to the Vatican, one who might malign the reputations of the living and the dead. What we do know according to reports about the book is this: Francis’ opposition comes off the worse from it (see above) while Francis is said to be the only one who comes out looking good. Curious! Talk about divisiveness!
Yet, even these few examples–as we have thus reviewed–do not apparently enter into Mr. Walford’s assessment of the causes of the divide in the Church and the growing discontent with Pope Francis. While it would be enlightening to hear Mr. Walford’s opinions on such matters, he prefers to focus his attention on doctrinal issues. For example, he writes:
“The Lord told us that Peter’s faith would not fail. He is the guarantor of full adherence to the Faith in matters of faith and morals. There are some–even bishops and cardinals–who seem to be attacking those who remain totally loyal and obedient to the Pope, making false claims that they adhere to whatever the Pope says even on matters outside the boundaries of the faith of the Church. Papolatry is a word that in the past few years has been in vogue, and yet it was seldom on the lips of conservatives and traditionalists in the previous two pontificates.
I am reminded of the strong words St Paul VI addressed to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1976 “Unfortunately, the position you have taken is that of an antipope. What can I say? You judged the pope as disloyal to the faith of which he is the supreme guarantor.” Any cardinal, bishop or priest who departs from, or pretends to not know what the magisterium now teaches, clearly acts in the same antipapal way. I think for example, of those who undermine what Pope Francis has clearly taught in Amoris Laetitia and confirmed in several ways since, or those who undermine the power of the papacy to bind and loose- accepting that divine teaching but only on their terms and when they agree it is possible.”
There are several difficulties with Mr. Walford’s commentary above. First, let us take his complaint of the accusation of “papolatry” leveled against him and others. I for one would not accuse Mr. Walford of “papolatry” in the sense he defines it above, i.e., adhering to “whatever the pope says even on matters outside the boundaries of faith of the Church.” Rather, Mr. Walford is guilty of papolatry, in my opinion, in that he essentially accepts as infallible whatever the pope says regarding faith or morals – when the truth is, as Benedict XVI once observed “The Pope is not an oracle; he is infallible in very rare situations, as we know“ (see Zenit News).
Not everything a pope says, even on faith and morals, is necessarily infallible. Infallibility is limited to certain conditions, as understood of the extraordinary magisterium and of the ordinary and universal magisterium. There is no indication anywhere that Pope Francis has invoked infallibility with regard to what is presented in Amoris Laetitia, as this blog (e.g., see here and here) and others have pointed out repeatedly – and has even been noted by Professor Robert Fastiggi, a defender of Amoris Laetitia [see Note 3]. Mr. Walford has simply failed to come to grips with the evidence against his position, or some of the implications (e.g., see What You Gotta Believe…if you believe Mr. Walford; Part III: Mr. Walford and the Magisterium; Part II: The Development of Mr. Walford’s Errors). He continues to ignore the hypocrisy of those who would now appeal to the magisterium in defense of communion for adulterers in some cases, when these same men simply ignored the magisterium on the same issue when it did not suit their purpose–inclusive, by reports, of a certain Cardinal Bergoglio (see The Interview Questions Stephen Walford will not Answer, A simple question for Mr. Walford regarding the “adherence of the faithful”?; A question Mr. Walford will never answer about dissent).
It is simply not reasonable to say, as does Mr. Walford, that Francis has “taught clearly in Amoris Laetitia and confirmed (it) in several ways.” There are a number of respected Cardinals (e.g., Scola), bishops and theologians who have expressed concerns about the proper interpetation of Amoris Laetitia. While it is true these prelates and theologians are generally of a “conservative” or “traditional” mindset, it is also true such men are not given to rejecting clear papal teaching. Thus, their reservations are an indication the teaching is not clear. The suggestion they have made their objections lightly or perhaps out of spite is as unreasonable as it is unfair. Furthermore, Dubia were respectfully submitted to Pope Francis in order to seek clarification of Amoris Laetitia, yet Francis continues to ignore the Dubia–a set of five simple “yes or no” questions. It is absurd to claim in general, as Mr. Walford does in his article at one point, that “If we don’t understand Pope Francis, it is because our version of Catholicism is unbalanced.” Let us look at this suggestion with regard to just the first Dubia:
1) It is asked whether, following the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (300-305), it has now become possible to grant absolution in the sacrament of penance and thus to admit to holy Communion a person who, while bound by a valid marital bond, lives together with a different person more uxorio without fulfilling the conditions provided for by Familiaris Consortio, 84, and subsequently reaffirmed by Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34, and Sacramentum Caritatis, 29. Can the expression “in certain cases” found in Note 351 (305) of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxorio?
If Amoris Laetitia is so clear, let us consider responses to the Dubia above from two unequivocal supporters of that document. Professor Robert Fastiggi, a defender of Amoris Laetitia, answers the first Dubia with a “no” (see here); while Mr. Walford, also a “defender” of Amoris Laetitia, would answer the same Dubia with a “yes” (see here). Where Professor Fastiggi’s interpretation only allows an exception where there is “moral certainty” there is no prior, valid marriage (see here); Mr. Walford allows exceptions even in some cases when there is a prior, valid marital bond (see here and Mr.Walford’s book, where his view is refuted here). So, here we have two “defenders” of Amoris Laetitia with views which are not reconcilable. Whether Mr. Walford wants to admit it or not, Pope Francis has not been clear if two public supporters of exceptions in “some cases” cannot agree on what the Pope is saying! This lack of clarity is dividing Catholics, one from another.
Francis as pope is supposed to be the father and teacher of all Christians–and it is with the love and mercy of a father he should help his children to understand him with clear words. A loving and merciful father does not blame the children for their failure to understand his words. If we fail to understand Francis, it is not because we have an “unbalanced version of Catholicism” but rather because Pope Francis consistently refuses to give answers in some matters where he ought while also being confusing in other matters (e.g., the “Human Fraternity” document). Francis is supposed to be the father and teacher of all Christians — but as I have tried to outline for Mr. Walford –many Catholics just do not see him behaving as he should. If Mr. Walford has concluded “it is not possible” that the Pope has had any role to play in this “terrible fracture” in the Church, it is simply because he has not bothered to look for the evidence — or he has simply just ignored it.
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 StevenOReilly@AOL.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA).
- 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.”
- See the OnePeterFive website article of December 23, 2016 entitled “Pope Francis’ Reported Words: “I Might Go Down in History for Having Split the Catholic Church” by Maike Hickson. Accessed February 20, 2019. In this article, Maike Hickson writes about an article appearing in the German publication Der Spiegel, in which the Der Spiegel‘s Italian correspondent, Walter Mayr, reports the quote above, saying: “In a very small circle, Pope Francis is said to have self-critically further explained himself as follows: “It is not to be excluded that I will enter history as the one who split the Catholic Church.”[Emphasis added by Maike Hickoson]
- Professor Robert Fastiggi has written “In AL, 3 Pope Francis indicates that the exhortation does not represent an intervention on the part of the magisterium to introduce new teachings on “doctrinal, moral or pastoral” issues.” (see Vatican Insider article, “Responding to the Five Dubia from Amoris Laetitia Itself” by Robert Fastiggi). Originally published 3/9/2018. Last modified 3/12/03/2018 at 11:20. Accessed 2/19/2019