Amoris Laetitia: A history of doctrinal development or of doctrinal dissent?

August 6, 2019 (Steven O’Reilly) – A few weeks back, the “Where Peter Is” website posted an article by Stephen Walford, who is well known to regular readers of Roma Locuta Est which has responded to his many articles and his book in the Summa Contra Stephen Walford. I commented recently on his most recent article (see The Confusion of the Francis-Apologists), at which time I indicated I would have something more to say on it.

Mr. Walford in his most recent offering, “A Warning from History: St Paul VI, the Magisterium, and Theology” wrote at the outset of his article:

“As the endless stream of “doctrinal declarations,” “corrections,” and “clarifications” continues to cause confusion and scandal for the Faithful, I feel it is imperative to cast our minds back to the pontificate of Pope St Paul VI, who, like Pope Francis, faced challenges and great criticism from some members of the Church.”

And, here, Mr. Walford primarily has in mind Pope Paul VI’s conflict with Archbishop Lefebvre at the time, and he points to a National Catholic Reporter article which discusses it. Now this brings me to the main point I wanted to highlight in Mr. Walford’s article. In it, he draws upon Pope Paul VI’s words to the International Congress on the Theology of Vatican II, given October 1, 1966, and applies them as a lesson for the “opposition” to Pope Francis on Amoris Laetitia. I will skip over most of his article to highlight this central point, where Mr. Walford writes of Paul VI and his address:

St Paul VI couldn’t be clearer in his condemnation of an attitude that seeks to create a sort of parallel magisterium that does nothing but sow division and the scandal of rebellion against the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff:

“On the other hand, if you depart from the magisterium in your search for truth and try to blaze your own personal trail, you will be in danger of becoming teachers without disciples, cut off from everyone else; of expending effort in vain, without bringing any benefits to the faithful; or even of moving off the right road, deciding to make your own judgments the norm of truth instead of respecting the sensus Ecclesiae. Such a decision would be ill-advised indeed, possibly giving rise to a sort of heresy or paving the way for heresy.”

Before concluding his address the Pope asked all those theologians present to confirm their “filial loyalty” to him.

So we can see from this most valuable address that there is no wiggle room for theologians, laity or anyone else to be acting as a sort of theological vigilante association. There never was and never will be a counter-magisterium because the Holy Spirit has willed that a teaching authority should exist in, which He would guide in an authoritative and unique way. That explains why all bishops must be in communion with the Pope, and not the other way round. If we remain loyal and obedient to the divine will in this matter, then we can rest assured that we will always walk along the right path; we will stop the devil in his endless pursuit to replace humility with pride and thus lead many souls to ruin. No, what Jesus our Divine Master desires is filial love and devotion to His Vicar on earth. (Source:A Warning from History: St Paul VI, the Magisterium, and Theology, by Stephen Walford in Where Peter is)

In the final analysis, the point of Mr. Walford’s treatment of papal infallibility is to convince the reader that the faithful must submit and adhere to Amoris Laetitia even if it is a question of only discipline.  One can not, as Walford quotes Paul VI: “blaze one’s own personal trail.” Mr. Walford has made the same sorts of attacks on the “opposition” to Pope Francis in various places. For example, in his book The Pope, The Family and Divorce (see note 1) where Mr. Walford cited a document issued by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith entitled Donum Veritatis which states (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).

As all of this is intended to attack the “opposition” to Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia, there is a degree of irony in Mr. Walford citing Pope Paul VI earlier to make his point (see note 2), especially given Mr. Walford has appeared to argue for exceptions to  Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae (see Walford waffles, again, on exceptionless norms).

However, setting that aside, I wish here to focus on Mr. Walford’s continued appeal in his writings to the necessity of the “adherence of the faithful” as well as “religious submission of will and intellect” even in matters of discipline in the context of the debate over Amoris Laetitia.

I think a critique of his review of the history of how Amoris Laetitia came to be in his book, or at least the interpretation of it advocated by Mr. Walford (see note 1), demonstrates his hypocrisy (1) in demanding “religious submission of will and intellect” of anyone, (2) in bemoaning a lack of  “obedience to magisterial teaching” and (3) in claiming  “there is no wiggle room for theologians, laity or anyone else to be acting as a sort of theological vigilante association.

Let us now briefly review Mr. Walford’s outline of the history of Amoris Laetitia.

John Paul II dispels the Confusion of the 1970s

In chapter one of his book The Pope, The Family and Divorce (PFD), Mr. Walford describes 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 PFD) who in 1978 published pastoral guidelines which allowed communion in certain cases for the divorced and remarried (D&R) living together as man and wife.

Yet, to confront this confusion, John Paul II, who had since come along-–and after a synod that dealt with this confusion in 1980–-issued a clear statement in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio reaffirming the communion ban in such cases and the reasons for it. 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 my rebuttal of Mr. Walford’s book).

Thus, at that point in time, Pope John Paul II had intervened on at least two occasions to end the discussion over communion for D&Rs. Even Mr. Walford appears to recognize 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, PFD).

It is interesting to note that in the face of these these clear papal interventions the most Mr. Walford could say is that the ban “seemed” unalterable. Mr. Walford doesn’t really provide a good explanation of where he sees “wiggle room.”

Enter the German Bishops and Mr. Walford’s Hypocrisy

Despite Pope John Paul II’s clear interventions, Mr. Walford tells us of three German bishops who are opposed to these clear papal statements. Mr. Walford wrote in his book:

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, PFD).

Given Mr. Walford spoke against “theological vigilante associations” in his recent article, the question arises: how do three German bishops get to decide to ‘call for dialogue‘ on a communion ban reaffirmed by Pope John Paul II and how do they get to decide it is a question “back at the heart of Catholic debate?” Did not Mr. Walford wonder about the legitimacy of his analysis in the face of clear papal interventions? How are the German bishops here not a “theological vigilante association”? Do they not exhibit a lack of “obedience to magisterial teaching?” Where was their “religious submission of will and intellect?”

Clearly, Mr. Walford does not appear consistent in applying his criteria for when ‘religious submission’ and ‘adherence of the faithful’ applies and when it does not.

Rome ‘slaps down the Germans’: no communion for adulterers

Yet, after the Germans called for “dialogue” on the question, they instead were shot down again. In 1994, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) replied to the arguments made by these German bishops. I address this in greater documentary detail in Part II of my rebuttal to Mr. Walford’s book. 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 to the communion ban for D&R’s who continue to live as man and wife.

Mr. Walford admits that this CDF letter, sent to all the bishops of the world, in reality slapped down the German proposal (p. 16, PFD). Now, consider, Paul VI “slapped down” a similar proposal [see Note 1], Pope John Paul II “slapped down” the communion for D&Rs in Familiaris Consortio, and Reconciliatio et Paenitentia and now again via the CDF response at the pope’s request

We have on the one side German bishops suggesting there are exceptions, and on the other side Rome declaring the firm answer: ‘no exceptions!’ One would think that a man like Mr. Walford — with his personal professions of faithfulness to papal magisterium — would have admitted there is no “wiggle room” possible here for “theological vigilante associations” after the CDF response. But, one would be wrong.

Instead, Mr. Walford 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, PFD).  What?  I thought it revealed Rome’s answer: no communion for D&Rs who continued to live as man and wife, no exception. It seems to me CDF letter gives a firm answer, and if anything, it revealed the German bishops lack of “religious submission of will and intellect” and lack of “obedience to magisterial teaching.  Yet, to Mr. Walford, it reveals not that, but only serves to ‘reveal a fundamental disagreement.

The unbearable impertinence of the German Bishops

Despite the 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.” Mr. Walford 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, PFD).

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,” i.e. no such exceptions! Mr. Walford’s defense of the papal magisterium against ‘theological vigilantes’ who fail in ‘religious submission of will and intellect’ is no where in sight.

Mr. Walford’s Cognitive Dissonance

After being told by Rome in no uncertain terms the answer is “no,”there are to be “no exceptions,” the German bishops continued to remain defiant. They continue to suggest there can be exceptions for “individual cases.” 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)

Let us remember Mr. Walford’s many statements regarding ‘religious submission of will and intellect,’  ‘obedience to magisterial teaching,’ and his demands “adherence of the faithful” (cf DV 17) to the interventions of the pope even on disciplinary issues. Keeping his prior arguments in mind, and the many papal/CDF interventions reaffirming the communion ban, his conclusion 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? Because the Germans questioned Rome’s clear interventions? 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 does it reside 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 internal contradictions rampant in his presentation and argument. 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 in many articles, and in his recent Paul VI article, about the necessity of such adherence (e.g., 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. How he squares his many criticisms with his historical review Amoris Laetitia is something yet to be seen.

And then there is Cardinal Bergoglio

We cannot complete this historical review without briefly recalling the history of Cardinal Bergoglio — something else Mr. Walford does not do — on the subject of communion for D&R’s still living as man and wife.

Start with the facts. It is improbable Cardinal Bergoglio – a highly educated Jesuit, an Archbishop, and a Prince of the Church – was ignorant of the teaching of Familiaris Consortio 84, Reconciliato et Paenitentia 34, the Catholic Catechism 1650, the guidelines of the CDF approved by John Paul II, and Sacramentum Caritatis 29; and, not to forget, the reiteration of this teaching in the Aparecida document which Cardinal Bergoglio himself helped draft (see note 3). Therefore, it seems reasonable to say one is able to conclude with moral certitude that Cardinal Bergoglio understood the Church’s discipline and teaching regarding communion for the divorced and remarried while he was Archbishop and Cardinal.

Yet, according to various reports, this same Archbishop and Prince of the Church allowed the priests of his archdiocese to give communion to those whom these same “magisterial decisions” expressly prohibited it without exception (e.g., see Sandro Magister’s article: “The Man who had to be elected pope“; and the National Catholic Reporter’s book review of Paul Vallely’s Pope Francis: Untying the Knots; and Paul Vallely’s Newsweek article “The Crisis that changed Pope Francis“).

That Cardinal Bergoglio did allow this appears to be undisputed – at least to my knowledge.  Therefore, I have asked Mr. Walford to comment and answer questions about Cardinal Bergoglio’s “faithful adherence” and “religious submission of will and intellect” to the teaching of Familiaris Consortio 84, and the other referenced documents (see A simple question for Mr. Walford regarding the “adherence of the faithful”?A question Mr. Walford will never answer about dissent, The Interview Questions Stephen Walford will not Answer).

To date, Mr. Walford has not responded. I would be interested in his comments as to how we are to understand Cardinal Bergoglio’s reportedly allowing communion for D&Rs despite his knowledge of the teaching in light of Canon 751 (E.g., was Cardinal Bergoglio in schism and or heresy, having failed to submit to the Roman pontiff on this teaching? Why or why not?) and Canon 752 (did Cardinal Bergoglio fail to give his “religious submission” to the teaching/discipline? Why or why not?).


Having reviewed Mr. Walford’s discussion of the history of Amoris Laetitia above and knowing his defense of Francis’s magisterium, as well as his glaring failure to account for Cardinal Bergoglio’s reported lack of “faithful adherence” to Familiarias Consortio 84, it is impossible to take his criticisms of the “opposition” or resistance to Amoris Laetitia seriously. His defense is replete with hypocrisy.

Mr. Walford outlines a history in his book that he wants his readers to understand to be one of doctrinal development. Instead, his own outline is a defense of dissent from the papal magisterium. He has not provided a history of doctrinal development. He has provided a textbook case of doctrinal dissent.

Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. A former intelligence officer, he and his wife, Margaret, live near Atlanta with their family. He has written apologetic articles and is working on a historical-adventure trilogy, entitled Pia Fidelis, set during the time of the Arian crisis. The first book of the Pia Fidelis trilogy. The Two Kingdoms, should be out later this summer or by early fall (Follow on twitter at @fidelispia for updates). He asks for your prayers for his intentions.  He can be contacted at (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA).


  1. Mr. Walford’s book (The Pope, The Family and Divorce) offers that author’s interpretation of Amoris Laetitia, an interpretation favorable to D&Rs receiving communion, at least in certain cases, even if they live together as man and wife (my three rebuttal to his book is here, here and here). There appear to be other ‘defenders’ of Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia who interpret it contrary to Mr. Walford (see Confusion at Vatican Insider?). However, it certainly appears Mr. Walford’s interpretation is the one favored within the walls of the Vatican. Pope Francis wrote a personal letter to Mr. Walford which serves as the book’s preface. Cardinal Tobin, Archbishop of Newark – of “nighty-night baby. I love you” fame (see here) – provided the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur for the book. Cardinal Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa – who is dealing with financial and seminary scandals (see here and here) – wrote the foreward to the book. Along with Cardinal Tobin, Cardinal Wuerl and Cardinal Farrell (the  Prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life) were all acknowledged by Mr. Walford for their assistance with his book. Mr. Walford also thanked the late Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor – of Saint Gallen mafia fame – who also has come into some scandal of his own posthumously (see here and here), and may have possibly violated Universi Dominici Gregis 12 (see 2013 Conclave: Was there a violation of Universi Dominici Gregis 12?).  Then on top of all this, Mr. Walford’s summary of his book appeared in the L’Osservatore Romano (see here). All of the above is to say, there is good reason to believe Mr. Walford’s is the interpretation of Amoris Laetitia intended by Pope Francis. However, as such, the Pope’s preface to Walford’s book is, therefore, another piece of evidence in support of the Open Letter’s accusation of heresy against Pope Francis (see Pope Francis, the Open Letter and the Pesky Preface). Also, I argue in that same article that the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur for Mr. Walford’s book should be revoked.
  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. 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).

7 thoughts on “Amoris Laetitia: A history of doctrinal development or of doctrinal dissent?

  1. Steve, awesome writing as usual.

    The living Pope is not the only Pope that matters. All Popes that teach must prove from Sacred Tradition and Scripture how their teaching is in concord with all those who came before and the clear words of Christ.

    Absent that, and especially if his teaching is *contrary* rather than in accord, I feel bound not to obey but disobey, or ignore.

    The historical weight of all Popes in union with Jesus Christ should guide every official Papal announcement and teaching. It certainly guides my personal belief. The communion of Saints, before Christ, who gave us the Magisterium as a true light to guide our way.

    There is no “Francis Magisterium”. There is only the Church’s Magisterium, and it incorporates a vast array of Truth from a vast array of Magisterial sources, over millennia, collected and presented to the Faithful as the Truth, sourced in Christ and reflective of heaven above – and the Pope is its servant, not its master.

    I defy any Catholic man, especially Pope, who asserts personal opinion over Dogmatic Sacred Tradition and attempts to change even a comma. Prove it. Even the Pope. Show your work.


  2. By the way, my comment was not directed at you. It may have come across that way. I agree with everything you said here. Merely my two cents.


  3. You’ve hit on a larger point about those who are ga-ga over Francis that has become increasingly apparent: they will entertain, promote, or tolerate people, groups, outlets who are heterodox and foment against the magisterium, all the while accusing others of “dissent.” So, the folks at wherepeteris, for instance, promote and endorse as sources of authentic Catholicism and news, outlets like the NCReporter or the Tablet, or will praise heterodox and corrupt prelates like Cardinal Maradiaga, Kasper, Marx, Cupich, while holding folks like cardinal burke in disdain. And they turn a blind eye to the contradictions here: that the real dissenters who are all of a sudden hyper-papalists under Francis are thus really feigning papal allegiance, as Francis is implementing their agenda items and/or supports their leftist political views; or the fact that these are the folks who undermine the magisterium. The litmus test is only whether one is ga-ga over Francis, and have a cult-like adherence to him. If you’re orthodox but have criticisms of Francis, you’re bad; if you’re heterodox but fawn over Francis, you’re good. This confirms that there are irrational dynamics at work here and that these folks lack credibility. This also extends to others who are real theologians, but who engage in the same kind of strange dynamic, one which seems to involve a pathological psycho-emotional component, i.e., to admit we have a bad pope would be psychologically crushing to such people, so they can’t entertain the reality of it in any way and must maintain a narrative of denial at all costs.


  4. The Roman historian, Doctor Mattei, over at Rorate, has pointed out that the power struggle between the two groups of liberals dominant at the council has now been won by the more liberal of the two groups.

    With the Papacies of JP II and Benedict XVI, the Girondists were in control but erred wildly and tragically by not condemning the worst heretics of The Jacobins – they were allowed to keep their university posts – and now the Jacobins are in control.

    Pope Saint John 23rd’s idea not to punish heresy was a very costly prudential error for which the faithful are still paying.

    It is interesting to note that the Bishop Conferences that were formed prior to V2 were very organised and they seized control of the council from the get go. The “conservatives” led by Mons Lefebvre were VERY slow and late to form an opposition to the liberals who arrived for the Council with a plan to implement a revolutionary plan

    And where did these Bishops Conferences meet to strategerise ? Domus Sanctae Marthae (renovated for a princely price) where Pope Francis now lives. He refused to live in The Apostolic Palace.

    Prolly just a coincidence he is living in the lair of the revolutionaries (is that too churlish?)


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