Confusion at Vatican Insider?


February 28, 2019 (Steven O’Reilly) – The blog site Where Peter is (WPI) recently published a post entitled Fastiggi and Walford defend Francis and the Church. Dated February 18, 2019, this WPI article notes:

“Today, I would like to draw your attention to two fantastic pieces published in La Stampa’s “Vatican Insider” page by two notable defenders of this papacy and the Catholic Faith. Both writers have a strong understanding of Catholic ecclesiology as well as the pope’s role as the visible source of unity in our faith.”

I would like thank the folks at WPI for posting their article and its references to the recent separate articles by Professor Fastiggi and Mr. Walford which each appeared in La Stampa’s Vatican Insider. It prompted me to take a closer look at their positions with regard to Amoris Laetitia. Ultimately, this led me to compare and contrast their positions across a series of articles each of them have written for Vatican Insider over the years, since the publication of Amoris Laetitia. What I found was fascinating. I touched on this briefly in a recent article on Roma Locuta Est (see Mr. Walford’s “appeal” and why it rings hollow), where I noted these Vatican Insider writers have contradictory position on whether the divorce and remarried (D&R) bound by a valid marital bond can receive communion (i.e., contrary to Familiaris Consortio 84).

Again, I thank WPI for its article which quoted from both writers–again calling them “two notable defenders of this papacy and the Catholic faith.” However, given that WPI is a site devoted to defending “Pope Francis and his teachings” from attacks “within the Church” (see here); I found it quite odd that both WPI and Vatican Insider are seemingly fine with citing and supporting contradictory positions at one and the same time (i.e., those of Mr. Walford and Professor Fastiggi). Principle of non-contradiction be damned!

The first of the Vatican Insider articles which WPI draws its readers’ attention to is one by a respected theologian, Professor Robert Fastiggi. His article, Pope Francis and Papal Authority Under Attack, appeared February 18, 2019. This article desires to defend papal authority against supposed attacks, noting at one point:

Over the past several years a concerted assault on the doctrinal and moral authority of Pope Francis has emerged. After the publication of the Holy Father’s 2016 post-synodal exhortation, Amoris laetitia, the papal critics went into high gear.

The thrust of the argument is that Catholics owe “religious submission of mind and will” to the pope, even when he is not teaching ex cathedra. The article alleges at various points this submission has not been offered to Pope Francis with regard to Amoris Laetitia, the Death Penalty, the Vigano’ affair, etc. While these are all worthwhile topics to discuss, this present article will restrict itself to Amoris Laetitia (AL).

The second of the two Vatican Insider articles written by a “notable defenders of this papacy and the Catholic faith,” which caught my eye on WPI’s site, is one written by “theologian“[1] Stephen Walford (see Stop Ageing Mother Church: An Appeal to Brothers and Sisters in the Faith), well known to our readers (see Summa Contra Stephen Walford). I replied to Mr. Walford’s “appeal” here (see Mr. Walford’s “appeal and why it rings hollow).

The commonality between Fastiggi and Walford is that they have written on AL at various points over the years on Vatican Insider, and both suggest that those now agreeing to their own interpretation of it, are not adhering to the Pope’s teaching and are failing to give “submission of mind and will” to it. What neither Vatican Insider or WPI have noticed, or to my knowledge have given any sign of recognizing, is that their two “go-to” guys for Amoris Laetitia contradict one another, and substantially so.

Regarding the First Dubia and AL n. 351 (305)

Let us take a look at their contradictions with regard to the first Dubia by the four cardinals. This first Dubia asks:

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?

Mr. Walford, one of Vatican Insider‘s defenders of Amoris Laetitia, has answered this Dubia with a “yes” (see here). As it is clear this Dubia speaks of a D&Rs “bound by a valid marital bond,” it is clear Mr. Walford’s “yes” allows exceptions “in certain cases” (n. 351 (305)) for them to receive communion, even when there is a prior, valid marital bond (see here and Mr.Walford’s book, where his argument is refuted here).

On the other hand, Professor Robert Fastiggi, the other Vatican Insider defender of Amoris Laetitia, answers the first Dubia with a “no” (see here). Thus, the “certain cases” of n. 351 (305) cannot be applied to the D&Rs described in the first Dubia (i.e., those bound by a valid marital bond). Indeed, Professor Fastiggi writes: “Nowhere in AL does Pope Francis give explicit permission for divorced and civilly “remarried” Catholics to receive Holy Communion who are not observing continence. The “certain cases” in footnote 351 would seem to apply to special situations when there is moral certainty that the prior bond was invalid, but there are no proofs available to demonstrate this invalidity.” (Vatican Insider).

It is clear enough Mr. Walford’s position (see Vatican Insider here) is that those D&Rs with a clear conscience (1) that “their first marriage never existed” or (2) “those who know the situation is not right, yet love the Lord and the Church and desire to grow in a continual conversion” can receive communion. Those in the second category are those “bound by a valid marital bond,” explicitly considered by the first Dubia. While Fastiggi appears to agree with Mr. Walford on the first category (i.e, where there is moral certainty there is no prior, valid marital bond)[2], it is also clear that Professor Fastiggi, at least by logic of his argument, would reject Mr. Walford’s second category (i.e., D&Rs with an existing, valid marital bond). Thus, here we have two of Vatican Insider’s “defenders” of Amoris Laetitia with views on the first Dubia which are not reconcilable with respect to D&Rs bound by a valid marital bond. The difference is not insignificant.

Regarding Doctrinal Development

Mr. Walford’s position is that there has been a significant doctrinal development with AL. Indeed, he has written a book (The Pope, the Family and Divorce) in which an entire chapter (“Doctrinal Development: Time is Greater than Space“) is devoted to Mr. Walford’s contention that AL is a doctrinal development. In part he says (emphasis added):

Pope Francis has nevertheless taught that “moral certainty” can be had when certain circumstance don’t allow for the full objective ideal to be realized. In essence, this means that even if the sinfulness of an act remains, God will take into account our intention, and the other factors that affect a decision made in good conscience; again, the principle of “time is greater than space” would appear to be at play here. As long as the conscience is not closed off to seeking the truth–with God’s grace and patience–spiritual growth can certainly be made.  We may recall Blessed Cardinal Newman’s gradual acceptance of Catholicism as a prime  example of this. It is within this context that the doctrinal development of the “law of gradualness” applies–originally taught by St. John Paul II–and reaffirmed by Pope Francis inAmoris Laetitia 295.” (p. 131)

(Source: Stephen Walford. The Pope, the Family and Divorce (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2018), p.131.

Mr. Walford ends up suggesting what he had in a Vatican Insider article, that “those who know the situation is not right, yet love the Lord and the Church and desire to grow in a continual conversion” (see here) can receive communion. In his book, which I’ve made reference to before, Mr. Walford provides the sort of circumstances that might now allow the D&R to receive communion (p. 102-103 of The Pope, the Family and Divorce).

Fastiggi’ position is that the doctrine and discipline have not changed. That is to say, there has been no doctrinal development, at least not in the sense that Mr. Walford allows. Speaking of interpreting AL, again in a Vatican Insider article (see here), Professor Fastiggi’s stated that AL must be interpreted with a “hermeneutic of continuity.” In doing so, he links to an article by Fr. Matthew P. Schnedier, LC in the February 12, 2019 issue of Homiletic and Pastoral Review (see “Does the Text of Amoris Laetitia Allow Communion for the Divorced and Remarried?” by Fr. Matthew P. Schneider, LC). While I will not address Fr. Schneider’s article, it is clear Professor Fastiggi cites it favorably with regard to his own position, and in this regard we need only note Fr. Schneider concludes his article, touching on continuity, by writing: “The text of Amoris Laetitia does not allow absolution or Communion for the divorced and remarried who intend to have sexual relations with their “second spouse.” “

Therefore, it is manifestly clear that two writers chosen by Vatican Insider to defend Pope Francis and AL are in direct contradiction as to the nature of any doctrinal development which applies to Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia that would allow the D&Rs with an existing valid marital bond to either receive absolution or communion while still intending to have sexual relations with a new “spouse.”

Regarding the Buenos Aires Guidelines

In late 2017, Pope Francis added the Buenos Aires guidelines, his private letter responding to them and a rescript regarding them to the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (AAS) (see here). Now, in Mr. Walford’s appraisal, this fact means the teaching allowing D&Rs to receive communion in some circumstances (inclusive of “certain cases” involving existing, valid marital bonds) is now “authentic magisterium.” Mr. Walford wrote in Vatican Insider:

If loyal Catholics around the world had hoped that the news of Pope Francis’ decision to raise the Buenos Aires Bishops’ Amoris Laetitia guidelines to the level of “authentic magisterium” would bring to an end the dissent, then they were sadly mistaken. If anything, the dissenters have dug their heels in even more. Whereas at one time it was traditionalists and certain conservatives who looked accusingly at liberals for allowing the “smoke of Satan” to enter the Church, the finger is firmly pointing in the opposite direction now.

(Source: Vatican Insider. “The Amoris Laetitia Dissenters: The Murky World of Distorting Facts, Creating False Arguments and Sowing Confusion” by Stephen Walford. January 4, 2018)

In this same article, Mr. Walford goes on to say (emphasis added): “Since the issue of whether the Pope’s decision to allow certain divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist being magisterial or not has been cleared up, the question needs to be asked of the dissenters: where is your obedience to the authentic and living magisterium of the Church?” And, again, as we have already heard from Mr. Walford, this decision of Pope Francis includes even D&Rs bound by valid marital bonds in “certain cases.”

Furthermore, in his book on AL (The Pope, the Family and Divorce), Mr. Walford in his chapter, “The Magisterium of Pope Francis,” affirms that Pope Francis made a decision to “alter sacramental discipline for some divorce and remarried” (p. 153) and in a footnote (n. 42, p. 161) this assertion cites the Buenos Aires guidelines and the AAS. Thus, we see Mr. Walford’s understanding of the magisterial status and the nature of AL teaching in light of the AAS. [NB: I rebut Mr. Walford’s book in a three part series: here, here and here].

What of Professor Fastigi, another Vatican Insider contributor? What does he say of the Buenos Aires guidelines? Well, Professor Fastiggi has also written on them and also for Vatican Insider. The Professor writes (emphasis added):

Others no doubt will appeal to the papally endorsed Guidelines of the Bishops of the Buenos Aires region as proof that Pope Francis wishes to allow Holy Communion for divorced and civilly “remarried” Catholics who are not living in continence. No such proof, though, is present because n. 6 of those Guidelines merely opens the “possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist” for Catholics living in some complex circumstances when a declaration of nullity was not able to be obtained.

Since no change has been made to the Sacrament of Reconciliation by either Pope Francis or the Buenos Aires Bishops, we must assume that those who confess their sins also manifest a “purpose of amendment” as required by canon 987 of the CIC. To suggest that no purpose of amendment is required is to read into the Buenos Aires Guidelines something that is not there. Some might object that the Guidelines are silent on the purpose of amendment so we can’t assume that it is required. Such an argument based on silence, however, is extremely weak. It is as weak as the argument that Pope Francis, in footnote 351 of AL, is giving permission to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion without living in continence. Footnote 351, however, only says that—for those living in irregular situations—the assistance offered by the Church can, in certain cases, “include the help of the sacraments.” Because no change in the doctrine or discipline of the sacraments has been made by Pope Francis we must assume—in both justice and charity—that the help of the sacraments conforms to the doctrine and discipline of the Church.

(Source: Vatican Insider: ” Responding to the Five Dubia from Amoris Laetitia Itself” by Robert Fastiggi. Published 3/9/2018; Modified 3/21/2018. Accessed 2/28/2019)

While I will not here comment on Professor Fastiggi’s analysis of the Buenos Aires guidelines, it is clear that he does not believe that these guidelines– in light of their inclusion in the AAS –signify that the teaching of AL is to now be understood as to allow communion for D&Rs without the purpose of amendment[3] and the commitment to live as brother and sister, as taught in Familiaris Consortio 84. As Professor Fastiggi above writes, “…no change in the doctrine or discipline of the sacraments has been made by Pope Francis…”.

Thus, while Mr. Walford definitively affirms the Pope has “altered the sacramental discipline” of the Church with his “authentic magisterium,” Professor Fastiggi definitively affirms there has been “no change in the doctrine or discipline” made by Pope Francis. The two positions are contradictory. Both cannot be right.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

In sum, it is clear that the views of Vatican Insider‘s “notable defenders” of Pope Francis and all things Amoris Laetitia are in direct contradiction to one another– on both the content and magisterial status of the Church’s doctrine and discipline regarding communion for D&R’s. However, each of these “notable defenders” are trotted out, as the occasion seemingly warrants, to deal with or besmirch those who dare to raise questions about what Pope Francis is actually teaching in Amoris Laetitia. Yet, the fact these two contributors to the Vatican Insider are in such fundamental disagreement with one another only demonstrates the truth of what the questioners allege: Amoris Laetitia is at best ambiguous, and therefore the Dubia require answers from Pope Francis.

Thus, if I am might offer some gratuitous suggestions to the Vatican Insider, it might be worthwhile–for the benefit of your readers–to have a written debate on your site between Professor Fastiggi and Mr. Walford. The points to be debated between them should include those where they are in manifest contradiction to the other, e.g., (1) Dubia #1 (n. 351 (305)), (2) Amoris Laetitia and doctrinal development, (3) the meaning and authority of the Buenos Aires guidelines with respect to their inclusion in the AAS and (4) in light of AL, whether D&Rs with existing, valid marital bonds can receive absolution and communion without a firm purpose of amendment[see note 3].

Hey, Vatican Insider folks, please do me a favor and send me an email to give me a heads up as to when you’ll publish that back-and-forth discussion. It should be an interesting read. I’d love to know which interpretation the Vatican Insider editorial board actually adheres to as well!

Grazie mille. Auguri.

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. 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.”
  2. I say the Professor appears to agree with Mr. Walford’s position re where the “moral certainty” resides. However, this is not all together clear to me. Mr. Walford seems to place the judgment of “moral certainty” within the D&R but “guided” by a priest confessor, but Professor Fastiggi, to me at least, seems to include the priest confessor’s judgment of “moral certainty” as a necessity, when he says: “In such cases, the discernment of a priest confessor is needed who must take responsibility before God for any counsel given to the divorced and remarried Catholic. Any access to Holy Communion must be in a reserved manner to avoid scandal” (see here). Perhaps, Mr. Walford’s position is the same as Professor Fastiggi in so far as who needs to be moral certain–but it does seem the Professor is unequivocal. For now, it is not clear to me (as of this writing) whether it is the priest confessor’s moral certainty or simply his guidance which is a necessary condition for Mr. Walford. Regardless, in either event, it is not obvious why the priest confessor can attain “moral certainty” but a marriage tribunal could or would not be able to do the same on the same basis as he.
  3. I have not specifically addressed the question in my article; but it appears to me at least that Professor Fastiggi and Mr. Walford would also disagree on whether “a firm purpose of amendment” is required or not of D&Rs for absolution and for reception of communion. It seems from Professor Fastiggi’s comments, he would argue that one is required for D&Rs bound by a valid marital bond. However, Mr. Walford in his book (see page 104) argues this is not the case. I offer a rebuttal to this argument here.


3 thoughts on “Confusion at Vatican Insider?

  1. I find your analysis thoughtful and helpful. The best part is I don’t have to bother reading their articles and then banging my head against a wall to stop the pain. Kidding aside, I’ve long ago stopped reading anything they produce as it’s not worth any of my time. Watching a old Gilligan’s Island episode is more religiously relevant to the Faith than much of the world of PF.


    1. Thanks, John! Thanks for reading the blog. I subject myself to banging my head on the wall reading their stuff…so others don’t need to! 😉

      But as to reruns…I heard the Green Acres theme song the other day, and it made me smile…thinking back to some of those old shows….Get Smart, Addam’s Family, etc. Certainly, a pleasant diversion from PF.




  2. But, as i like too those old TV shows, they are NOT GOOD, but LESS BAD (than those things that we have as OPEN BAD today)

    For example: Mr Smart had killed several times the “bad guys” and does it totally “natural”… no consequences! (and we know that it have moral consequences!)


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