The “Prevailing Interpretation” will not Prevail

December 13, 2020 (Steven O’Reilly) – The Where Peter Is blog recently posted an article by the site’s founder, Mike Lewis, entitled “Pope clarifies Amoris Laetitia in new book.”  The article covered the recently released book penned by Pope Francis, “Let Us Dream: The Path To a Better Future.”  Specifically, Mr. Lewis looks to Francis’s book to see what light it sheds on the meaning of Amoris Laetitia on the question for communion for the divorced and remarried. Mr. Lewis writes:

“In a new book, entitled Let Us Dream: The Path To a Better Future, Pope Francis provides both an in-depth explanation and the theological reasoning behind one of his most widely-debated teachings. The question over how to correctly interpret the eighth chapter of his 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia has been seen as controversial in some corners of the Church, especially footnote 351. This footnote has been widely interpreted to mean that in some individual cases of reduced culpability, Catholics in irregular marriage situations (such as those who are divorced and civilly remarried) may be admitted to the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist in the course of accompaniment and discernment with a pastor.”

The problem here is that if the above is the proper interpretation of Amoris Laetitia intended by Pope Francis — and that is what it appears in all likelihood, such an interpretation is in contradiction to perennial Catholic teaching on a number of points. For one, the Catholic Church has always taught that divorced and remarried Catholics, who live together in a marital way (more uxorio), cannot receive Holy Communion without first repenting of their adultery, and having a firm purpose of amendment (cf. Familiaris Consortio 84).  However, more broadly, Amoris Laetitia also appears to contradict or call into question the teaching of John Paul II  in Veritatis Splendor 56, 79, and 81; thereby introducing moral relativism.

Catholics following the controversy will well remember the “Dubia cardinals” Burke, Brandmuller, Caffara, and Meisner and the questions or “Dubia” these cardinals posed to Pope Francis. The Dubia were five questions on issues of moral theology arising from Amoris Laetitia (see text of Dubia here). In asking the questions, the Cardinals hoped elicit a clarification from the pope on the meaning in chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia. Though first submitted to Francis in September of 2016, the Dubia to this day remain unanswered. Curiously, Francis has never formally responded to them. Two of the Dubia cardinals died and went to their eternal reward awaiting the Pope’s response.

While the Pope never replied to the Dubia cardinals, a few of  his main public defenders, such as Stephen Walford (see HERE) and Dr. Robert Fastiggi (HERE), mustered the courage the Pope lacked, and attempted to answer the Dubia for him. [NB: Walford and Fastiggi have been somewhat lionized in publications such as Where Peter Is and Vatican Insider for their defenses of the orthodoxy of Pope Francis/Amoris Laetitia; yet such sites have failed to either publicly note for the record (to my knowledge), or reconcile the fact these two writers have opposite views on the interpretation of Amoris Laetitia, which are mutually contradictory.  I discuss this in Confusion at Vatican Insider?. If Mr. Lewis is correct that that Amoris Laetitia has a Walfordian meaing, it will be interesting to see whether Dr. Fastiggi will modify his opinion].

Mr. Lewis argues in his article, as we shall see, that if any doubt had remained about the meaning of Amoris Laetitia, the Pope’s “clarifying statements” in his book, should now put the question to rest.  All that is left for those who have had concerns, or questions is to “recant.”

Francis citing St. Thomas Aquinas…does that put the question to rest?

Where Peter Is site is one of the biggest sycophantic defenders of Francis regardless of offense; so much so the site might more properly be called Where Francis Is. It comes as no surprise that Mr. Lewis informs us that Francis — in his newly released book — has ‘put to rest‘ the question of what is the “accurate interpretation” of Amoris Laetitia. That interpretation, according to Mr. Lewis, would allow a “case-by-case discernment.” Mr. Lewis writes (emphasis added):

Pope Francis puts any questions about the accurate interpretation of Amoris Laetitia chapter eight (and footnote 351) to rest. He writes, “Because of the immense variety of situations and circumstances people found themselves in, Aquinas’s teaching that no general rule could apply in every situation allowed the synod to agree on the need for a case-by-case discernment.

Francis describes this synodal decision as a “breakthrough,” where the Holy Spirit saved the synod in the end. Pope Francis credits the synod participants who were experts in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas, including Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who he mentioned by name. These Thomistic scholars were able to help come up with a solution that was both faithful and true to the traditions of the Church, by recovering “the true moral doctrine of the authentic scholastic tradition of Saint Thomas, rescuing it from the decadent scholasticism that had led to a casuistic morality.”

The tension was broken and a path was discerned that neither infringes on doctrinal truth, nor needlessly denies mercy to those who seek it with an open and receptive heart. The pope continues, “There was no need to change the Church’s law, only how it was applied. By attending to the specifics of each case, attentive to God’s grace operating in the nitty-gritty of people’s lives, we could move on from the black-and-white moralism that risked closing off paths of grace and growth. It was neither a tightening nor a loosening of the ‘rules’ but an application of them that left room for circumstances that didn’t fit neatly into categories.”

That is to say, the prior teaching of popes that “no exceptions” were possible to the practice of denying communion to the divorced and remarried (D&Rs) living more uxorio has been changed by Francis to allow exceptions in certain cases, even if one or both individuals is such an irregular relationship have a prior valid marriage. 

Per Mr. Lewis’ review of the book, the Pope credits the likes of Cardinal Schönborn for a Thomistic solution “that was both faithful and true to the traditions of the Church.” These Thomistic scholars like Schönborn helped recover, in the Pope words, “the true moral doctrine of the authentic scholastic tradition of Saint Thomas, rescuing it from the decadent scholasticism that had led to a casuistic morality.” Though not explicitly stated in Mr. Lewis review of the Pope’s book, the Pope’s reference to the Angelic Doctor appears to be to paragraph 304 and footnote 347 in chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia [see Note 2]. In AL 304 (n. 347), the Pope wants to cite St. Thomas to buttress his point that a general principle cannot cover all potential exceptions, i.e., for Francis, Aquinas commentary on ‘general rules’ or ‘principles’ not applying in every case might be applied to the question of adulterers receiving communion in some cases. Thus, presumably, we are to conclude with Francis that the “general principle” that denies Communion for adulterers cannot apply to every possible or unforeseeable circumstance confronting the adulterer. That is, there might be cases or circumstance where the sexually active, “married” adulterers are not in a state of mortal sin, and thus, would neither need to explicitly repent of adultery, nor would they need a firm purpose of amendment to avoid such adulterous acts in the Sacrament of Confession before receiving Communion [NB: I critiqued another Where Peter Is writer’s (Pedro Gabriell) defense of such a proposition in On the Doctrine of Mitigating Circumstances].

Unfortunately, Mr. Lewis does not inform his reader that the Pope’s use of St. Thomas Aquinas is dubious at best. That is to say, there are Catholic philosophers and theologians who well argue that Francis has misused Aquinas in Amoris Laetitia. For example, E. Christian Brugger observes (emphasis added): 

“Aquinas’ example of a “defective” norm is: “goods entrusted to another should be restored to their owner.” He says this generally binds, but if one intends to use the goods to fight against one’s country, and that one asks you to return his goods, it could be unreasonable to restore them. This is because the norm “one ought to restore goods to one’s owner” is not a moral absolute.” (See Five Serious Problems with Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia, by E. Christian Brugger in Catholic World Report)

As Brugger and others have noted, the Pope’s application of Aquinas’ teaching on general principles to communion for adulterers is that the commandment “thou shalt not commit adultery” is not a ‘general rule’ or general principle.  Rather, as Brugger rightly observes, it is a “concrete moral absolute.”

Aquinas himself says there is no reason or good (e.g., committing a adultery to save the kingdom) that could justify one to engage in adultery. The Angelic Doctor taught no exception or benefit could make it licit to commit an act of adultery: “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). St. Thomas taught 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).

In light of the above, it is difficult to accept the Pope’s characterization that he or the Thomistic scholars he has in mind rescued Aquinas from “decadent scholasticism.”  St. Thomas Aquinas, touching directly upon the question before us, addressed the question of open sinners receiving communion: “Therefore Holy Communion ought not to be given to open sinners when they ask for it” (Summa Theologica III, Q 80, A 6).  It is plainly evident, the Angelic Doctor did not make an allowance for exceptions on the matter at hand (see also, St. Thomas Aquinas: “No so fast, Francis!”). Consequently, it is clear, if there is anyone in need of rescuing, it is Aquinas: he must be rescued from the hands of Pope Francis.

Prevailing Interpretations of “Catholic leaders”…do they put the question to rest?

The Pope’s egregious misuse of Aquinas aside, we must keep Mr. Lewis’ whole point in mind. That point is, the Pope’s “clarifying statements” in his book ‘puts to rest’ the whole question: communion for the divorced and remarried, under certain circumstances, is permissible for D&Rs, in certain circumstances, even if there is a valid prior marriage. Such cases involve individuals who have reduced moral culpability for their relationship (i.e., they are not in a state of mortal sin), and thus being in a state of venial only, would neither  need to specifically confess their adultery in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, nor have a firm purpose of amendment to end their adulterous relationship. Mr. Lewis notes that others had already come to this conclusion:  

This has long been the prevailing interpretation put forth by leading Catholics, including many who are close to Pope Francis. These figures include high-ranking prelates who have written about the exhortation or laid out guidelines for its implementation in their own dioceses, including Cardinals SchönbornClemente, and Ouellet. This interpretation was also articulated in great detail in the book Pope Francis, the Family, and Divorce: In Defense of Truth and Mercy by Stephen Walford, which received the endorsements of three more prominent churchmen close to Francis—Cardinals Donald Wuerl, Kevin Farrell, and Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga— and includes a preface written by the pope himself.

Mr. Lewis regales his reader with this listing of “leading Catholics” and the “prevailing interpretation” they have put forth.  It seems, per Mr. Lewis, it is only for us to follow their lead. However, the prevailing interpretations of those “close to Pope Francis” are but an echo chamber. If Francis is error, then they share in his error. More on that later. 

Mr. Lewis might cite a Schonborn, Clemente, and Ouellet but there are other high-ranking prelates, including Cardinals, who reject their interpretation at best as being erroneous, and even as being heretical. Given this latter category of prelates are not given to rejecting authoritative papal teaching, their reservations are an indication the teaching, clear or not, is in error. Indeed, scholars and theologians have raised serious questions about the teachings of Francis, even raising the prospect that he has fallen into heresy (see Prominent clergy, scholars accuse Pope Francis of heresy in open letter). 

Mr. Lewis speaks of Mr. Walford’s book in which the “prevailing interpretation” is “articulated in great detail.” Mr. Walford’s book does not sway me in the least, either on the question of Communion for adulterers, or the vision of moral relativism it advances. On the subject of Mr. Walford’s writings, I have written many articles rebutting his views which are now compiled in the Summa Contra Stephen Walford. Specifically, regarding Mr. Walford’s book, I have offered my own detailed, point-by-point rebuttal of The Pope, The Family, and Divorce 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 , Part III: Mr. Walford and the Magisterium; and see also What You Gotta Believe…if you believe Mr. Walford). 

Mr. Lewis’ assurances that Mr. Walford’s book received “the endorsements of three more prominent churchmen close to Francis—Cardinals Donald Wuerl, Kevin Farrell, and Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga” are of little comfort or consequence. Each of these men are either associated in some dubious fashion with ex-cardinal McCarrick, or some other scandal (see, for example, here and here, here and here). Furthermore, Mr. Lewis neglects to mention others associated with Mr. Walford’s book, such as Cardinal Tobin, Archbishop of Newark – of “nighty-night baby. I love you” fame (see here); who gave the book its Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur. In addition, Mr. Walford wrote a thank you in his book to the late Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor – of Saint Gallen mafia fame – who also has come into some potential scandal and disrepute of his own posthumously (see here and here; and here). Consequently, one might understandably be excused for dismissing the “endorsements” of these “prominent churchmen close to Francis.”  They are worth nothing.

Does the Pope’s preface to Mr. Walford’s book…. put the question to rest?

Mr. Lewis then reminds us that Pope Francis wrote the preface to Mr. Walford’s aforementioned book. I have written an article that specifically addresses the problems raised by the Pope’s preface to Mr. Walford’s book (see Pope Francis, the Open Letter and the Pesky Preface; also appearing at One Peter Five HERE). If the propositions outlined in the Open Letter (p. 1-3) are heretical, then it is probable if not certain that Mr. Walford’s example of a divorced and married couple who decide to resume sexual relations (examined in my article), and many of his arguments underlying it and presented in his book are heretical as well. I will not go deeply into the questions raised in my article on the Pope’s “pesky preface” here, but I outline a couple of its conclusions.

  1. Cardinal Tobin’s Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur for Mr. Walford’s book must be withdrawn
  2. The issue of when Pope Francis wrote the preface aside, the preface certainly appears to give approval to a book potentially containing erroneous and heretical arguments.

As I suggested in my article on the “Pesky Preface,” the facts should be of interest to the authors of the Open Letter, or Catholic prelates who might ever decide to pursue a case of potential heresy against Francis.

Buenos Aires Guidelines, and Francis’s “authentic Magisterium”…do they put the question to rest?

Having tried to convince us that the Pope’s book, and prevailing interpretations put the matter to rest, Mr. Lewis then appeals to the only ‘official’ documents in play on the question, either written or approved by Pope Francis after Amoris Laetitia.  Mr. Lewis writes: 

“Answer the dubia,” soon became a rallying cry for critics of Pope Francis. The dubia letter galvanized Catholics who were suspicious of his teachings. Some went as far as to declare Francis a heretic over the matter. Still others—while at the same time insisting the exhortation was unclear—declared that Amoris Laetitia absolutely did not change the existing Church practice.

Questions continued even after a set of guidelines addressing such cases, written by the bishops of the Buenos Aires region, was officially promulgated as authentic Magisterium by Pope Francis in December 2017, along with an apostolic letter asserting that “there are no other interpretations.” This set of guidelines aligned with the prevailing interpretation, asserting that, “Amoris Laetitia offers the possibility of having access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist.”

Here, perhaps, is the strongest argument that Mr. Lewis can offer. However, as with the misuse of the Angelic Doctor, and the appeal to the dubious authority of “leading Catholics” which Mr. Lewis cites, this argument, too, fails. Some have tried to make much of the Pope’s placement of the Buenos Aires guidelines and his approval of their interpretation of Amoris Laetitia into the AAS; claiming this makes this interpretation, and the teaching of Amoris Laetitia “authentic magisterium”–as if this argument ends the questions surrounding whether the “prevailing interpretation” is orthodox. However, it is not clear what this placement in the AAS really means as even ‘supporters’ of Francis disagree among themselves [see Note 2].

Regardless, even assuming the strongest possible magisterial meaning of the placement of the Buenos Aires guidelines and the Pope’s letter endorsing them into AAS; none of this amounts to a defining, infallible act of the Magisterium. Consequently, the possibility of error remains. I do not see how Mr. Lewis and the other purveyors of the “prevailing interpretations” could credibly deny this. With regard to the dispute over Amoris Laetitia and communion for the divorced and remarried, there are two choices before us:

  1. We must accept Francis is not in error in teaching ‘exceptions are possible in certain cases,’ and that all prior popes were in error in teaching ‘there are no exceptions possible,’ or
  2. We must accept ‘there are no possible exceptions‘ as taught by all prior popes as being true, and that it is Francis who is in error, in as much as he asserts ‘exceptions are possible in certain cases.’ 

It must be one or the other. Thus, there is not only the possibility of error — there is the certainty of it. The question is only, whose error is it, and how to explain it.

Whose Error is it, and How to Explain it?

Francis stands alone amongst the popes in teaching ‘exceptions are possible.’ The teaching of Pope Francis on the question of the divorced and remarried is without any prior precedent, except one born of seeming disobedience to past popes (see Amoris Laetitia: A history of doctrinal development or of doctrinal dissent?).

Francis no where links his teaching to Holy Scripture. On the other hand, he misapplies, if not arguably abuses, the words of St. Thomas Aquinas as addressed earlier. In contrast, prior to Francis, the teaching of the popes was constant and consistent. All who addressed the question of communion for the divorced and remarried (living more uxorio) taught communion was impermissible, no exceptions possible, unless the couples repented, confessed, and had firm purpose of amendment to not engage in adulterous acts. This has been taught directly or indirectly (i.e., against moral relativism) in a host of papal and other authoritative Church documents [e.g., the encyclical Veritatis Splendor 56, 79, and 81; three Apostolic Exhortations Familiaris Consortio 84, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 34, and Sacramentum Caritatis29; The Catholic Catechism (1650); Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful, 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 intervention)]. 

Whereas Pope Francis stated early on Amoris Laetitia that it is not an intervention of the Magisterium (see AL 3)[see Note 3); in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II spoke authoritatively, declaring “the Church reaffirms her practice” (FC 84)[note 4]. Where Francis does not link his teaching to Scripture, Pope John Paul II taught the practice of not admitting the divorced who have remarried to communion is “based on Sacred Scripture.” Further, John Paul II taught these individuals cannot be granted absolution in the sacrament of Reconciliation unless they have repented, i.e., no exceptions — something denied implicitly or explicitly by the purveyors of the “prevailing interpretation.” If John Paul’s affirmation that this teaching is based on Sacred Scripture is not clear in itself, he goes on to state that “by acting in this way” — i.e., the Church’s practice just outlined — “the Church professes her own fidelity to Christ and to His truth.”  Thus, the implication is clear: to have acted or to act in any other way, the Church would be acting contrary to Christ and to His truth.

The above should be enough to convince one that John Paul II was speaking with authority, or rather reaffirming what the Church has already authoritatively ‘professed.’ Despite the clear teaching reaffirmed by John Paul II, certain German bishops suggested there might yet be exceptions to the absolute ban taught by John Paul II. In response to this German letter, Pope John II directed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to prepare a response which he then approved. In this response, the Cardinal Prefect of the CDF, Joseph Ratzinger, wrote the following (emphasis added): 

Even if analogous pastoral solutions have been proposed by a few Fathers of the Church and in some measure were practiced, nevertheless these never attained the consensus of the Fathers and in no way came to constitute the common doctrine of the Church nor to determine her discipline. It falls to the universal Magisterium, in fidelity to Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to teach and to interpret authentically the depositum fidei.

With respect to the aforementioned new pastoral proposals, this Congregation deems itself obliged therefore to recall the doctrine and discipline of the Church in this matter. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ, the Church affirms that a new union cannot be recognised as valid if the preceding marriage was valid. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Holy Communion as long as this situation persists.(Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful. September 14, 1994)

In this first excerpt from the CDF’s letter, Cardinal Ratzinger rejects the German pastoral solutions as never attaining the “the consensus of the Fathers,” thus rejecting any claim  for the authority of Tradition as a support for an argument from the development of doctrine. Having done this, the CDF response — which participates in the Magisterium of the Pope (cf Donum Veritatis 18) — states that “It falls to the universal Magisterium, in fidelity to Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to teach and to interpret authentically the depositum fidei.”  That is to say, we will now teach and interpret the depositum fidei for you, i.e., Roma locuta est.

Recalling the “doctrine and discipline of the Church,” Cardinal Ratzinger states “in fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ” that (1) the Church cannot affirm a new union as valid if a prior one was valid, and (2) if the divorced are remarried civilly, they objectively contravene God’s law, and therefore (3) they cannot receive Holy Communion. Thus, the Eucharistic ban follows logically and necessarily from this fidelity to the words of Christ – and thus cannot be altered. The CDF response continued (emphasis added):

“At the same time it (i.e., Familiaris Consortioconfirms and indicates the reasons for the constant and universal practice, “founded on Sacred Scripture, of not admitting the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion”. The structure of the Exhortation and the tenor of its words give clearly to understand that this practice, which is presented as binding, cannot be modified because of different situations.  (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful. September 14, 1994)

Here too, the force and clarity of the teaching is undeniable. A CDF document approved by John Paul II – again, which participates in his Magisterium – confirms this teaching is a “constant and universal practice” that is “founded on Sacred Scripture.” The CDF says this practice “is presented as binding” by the Pope and “cannot be modified because of different situations.”

Final Thoughts

I will conclude my article, by making a few comments on the conclusion of Mr. Lewis’ own article, wherein he writes:

“Many of these Catholics publicly declare their orthodoxy, fidelity to the pope, and their submission to the Magisterium. Many times in the past, they have been fiercely critical of those of us who have accepted the prevailing interpretation. Some of them have even accused us of pushing an agenda contrary to that of Pope Francis.

It remains to be seen whether anyone recants their position in light of these new clarifying statements by the pope.”

I have been critical of the likes of Mr. Lewis, Mr. Walford and the other denizens of Where Peter Is, whose defenses of “prevailing interpretations” of Pope Francis often cross the line into papolatry. I long ago outlined why I have entered this debate of our time. In this article, and indeed over the history of this blog, I have argued in detail the reasons I believe opposition to the “prevailing interpretations” of Pope Francis on certain points — particularly on Amoris Laetitiais the orthodox position. I don’t come to this view lightly. Indeed, my published articles in apologetics prior to founding this blog had been focused exclusively on defending the Petrine office.

Despite the opinions of Mr. Lewis, I continue to fully accept the primacy and authority of the Apostolic See, as always. Indeed, it is precisely because I fully accept the primacy and authority of the Apostolic See that I believe we must examine what Francis says, and or how he is interpreted by others in light of the teachings of past popes. As a Catholic educated in his Faith and as a student of history, I know that (1) there are necessary conditions that must be present for an exercise of papal infallibility; and (2) there have been times when there have been popes who have erred (e.g., Pope John XXII), and or who have favored heresy (e.g., Pope Honorius). Both of these propositions are true.

Yet, even though the purveyors of the “prevailing interpretations” have failed to demonstrate the teaching of Pope Francis meets the conditions of infallibility, the possibility Pope Francis might fall into the second category has not even entered into their imagination as even a hypothetical possibility.  The truth is, the non-infallible, magisterial acts of a pope, are not above criticism and reproach. We certainly have seen in the history of the Catholic Church 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, absent clear precedent ––with respect to the promises made by our Lord to Peter; and (2) that worse scenarios, in kind or degree, might yet be possible or allowable by Divine Providence. 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.

Whatever Mr. Lewis might argue, whether taken separately or collectively, neither Amoris Laetitia, the Buenos Aires guidelines, the pope’s claims of “authentic magisterium,” a papal preface to Walford’s book, nor the Pope’s “clarifying statements” in his own recent book amount to an exercise of papal infallibility. Even setting aside the question of infallibility, the authority of Mr. Lewis’ evidence wilts and shrivels away when weighed against the teaching of prior popes and of the Church. It is clear the Church has taught that practice of denying communion to the divorced and remarried (living more uxorio) is a “constant and universal practice” of the Church, “founded on Sacred Scripture”, which is a “binding” and which “cannot be modified because of different situations”; and that the Church in teaching and following this practice “professes her own fidelity to Christ and to His truth“.  Thus, the implication is clear, as I argued earlier: to have acted, or to act in any other way, the Church would be acting contrary to Christ and to His truth.

In sum, the nature, quality, and preponderance of the evidence strongly suggests the “prevailing interpretations” are, to put it mildly, erroneous in Faith. If so, what then of Pope Francis–i.e., how are his words and actions to be explained and understood? There are some who argue Francis is not a valid pope [note 5]. Others, including theologians and scholars, have offered one possible explanation that should be explored: that the pope is a formal heretic (see Open Letter). Still others have suggested nothing can be done about a heretical pope (e.g., here) — a seemingly tacit, if oblique, admission that we indeed have one. Perhaps, the most charitable interpretation of events might be to consider Francis as being in the position of John XXII [note 6], though admittedly, the current case would be far more extreme and unprecedented. Still, in such an opinion, Pope Francis might be excused from what he has said and written because ‘the whole matter was still being thought out’ as St. Robert Bellarmine might put it (i.e., the teaching of Familiaris Consortio 84 has not yet been defined by an act of the extraordinary magisterium). In any event, it is my opinion that a future pope will define infallibly the Church’s doctrine contained in Familiaris Consortio 84, and that all contrary opinions will be anathematized — and all books, prefaces, and other writings that argue the contrary will be consigned to the flames.

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. A former intelligence officer, he and his wife, Margaret, live near Atlanta with their family. He has written apologetic articles and is author of Book I of the Pia Fidelis trilogy, The Two Kingdoms. (Follow on twitter at @fidelispia for updates). He asks for your prayers for his intentions.  He can be contacted at  or (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA or on Parler: @StevenOReilly).


  1. Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 94, art. 4.  As quoted by Amoris Laetitia 304:  “Although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects… In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles; and where there is the same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all… The principle will be found to fail, according as we descend further into detail”
  2. Various supposed ‘defenders’ of Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia allege contradictory things, both about the meaning of Amoris Laetitia, its level of magisterial authority, and the meaning of the Buenos Aires guidelines being placed in the AAS, e.g., Dr. Fastiggi (see Confusion at Vatican Insider?)
  3. In AL 3, Pope Francis writes: “Since “time is greater than space”, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.” (Amoris Laetitia 3)
  4. Pope John Paul II wrote in Familiaris Consortio 84 (emphasis added): “However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.

    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. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”[180]

    Similarly, the respect due to the sacrament of Matrimony, to the couples themselves and their families, and also to the community of the faithful, forbids any pastor, for whatever reason or pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry. Such ceremonies would give the impression of the celebration of a new sacramentally valid marriage, and would thus lead people into error concerning the indissolubility of a validly contracted marriage.

    By acting in this way, the Church professes her own fidelity to Christ and to His truth. At the same time she shows motherly concern for these children of hers, especially those who, through no fault of their own, have been abandoned by their legitimate partner.

    With firm confidence she believes that those who have rejected the Lord’s command and are still living in this state will be able to obtain from God the grace of conversion and salvation, provided that they have persevered in prayer, penance and charity.” (Familiaris Consortio 84)

  5. Here, I have in mind those that argue Francis is either not a valid pope, or not the Successor of Peter because Benedict is still pope.  I have named this theory the “BiP” theory (i.e., Benedict is Pope).  I reject this thesis, and have written extensively against it (see Summa Contra the BiP Theory (Why Benedict XVI is NOT the pope, and The Summa Contra Dr. Mazza).  Other speculative questions involving the 2013 conclave I find both curious and interesting (e.g., Curiouser and Curiouser: Who Dispensed Jorge Bergoglio SJ from his vows?). This blog also continues to investigate questions re the involvement of McCarrick, St. Gallen Mafia, and others in the 2013 conclave (see The Conclave Chronicles). However, any question that may linger that would cast doubt on the validity of the 2013 conclave can only be decided by a future pope. 
  6. The following is excerpted from Part III of my rebuttal of Mr. Walford’s book: “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 not 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.”

28 thoughts on “The “Prevailing Interpretation” will not Prevail

  1. “might be excused from what he has said and written because ‘the whole matter was still being thought out’ ”

    Bergoglio doesn’t have this excuse. It’s been clearly taught since it left the lips of Christ. To choose something else is to disobey Christ.

    Thanks for writing this. As clear as you’ve laid it out, it won’t make any difference to those who refuse to see.


  2. Steven, My well of charity regarding Bergoglio ran dry about 6 1/2 years ago. My spider-sense of danger started going off the charts as soon as he walked out onto the balcony and glared at everyone below.


    1. John….I agree. I felt the same “disturbance in the force” when I saw him. A Jesuit priest friends also gave me an early warning on him.

      I am curious as to how ecclesiatical history will record the Francis pontificate in the final analysis. Fallen pope due to formal heresy, a material heretic, a favorer of heresy, erroneous, or an anti-pope. I hope we don’t have to wait long.




      1. I think a slight rewording may be needed. “A fallen man, a formal heretic, a material heretic, a favorer of heresy, erroneous, and an Anti-Pope.” As you know, not only do I believe B16’s abdication AS POPE was not complete / correct, so the Seat wasn’t vacant, but all of public pronouncements from Bergoglio prior to 2013 made him ineligible for ANY Church Office or position including the Papacy.


      2. John,

        Well, as you know, the one theory I have ruled out of all them, is the Benedict is still pope BECAUSE his resignation letter or intent was somehow defective. I do reject that theory.

        I suppose I would consider the possibility that he was somehow forced out. I touched on that in . However, that would require additional evidence, and then further consideration of whether it truly constituted coercion.

        Setting the above aside, Bergoglio’s views prior to 2013 are an interesting angle. Some have suggested Cum ex apostolatus Officio (sp?) might apply. I did look at his pre-election views on communion for D&Rs, and it seems his actions were arguably schismatic — i.e., not obeying the manifest will of the Roman Pontiff. I discuss that here:

        The bottom line though for all the various theories is that the few “good guy” cardinals/bishops there are will not do anything. So…we are in “limbo” until a future pope comes along and decides that question.




  3. I would note that some popes who were of less than sterling character, Medici and Borgia come to mind, were generally pretty orthodox, if somewhat sloppy in their theology. This is in contrast today when a number of ranking worthies seem to be promoting a social rather than religious agenda. Little wonder that many in the pews are disturbed and confused and not a few simply leave.


    1. John,

      I am working on a short something on McCarrick, having to do with his China trip in June of 2013. It should come out in a day or two.

      Also, I’ll probably also do a “Top 10” list of Roma Locuta articles of 2020, to come out between Christmas and New Year’s.

      Of course, as events dictate…there may be one or more others. Most likely, the events would have something to do with the US election controversy.

      But, above all for Christmas writing….I am hoping to spend much of my time-off during Christmas time to continue work on Book II of my Pia Fidelis trilogy. The first book…already out…is “The Two Kingdoms.” Book II is tentatively titled “Brigands and Barbarians.”



      P.S. Pia Fidelis: The Two Kingdoms would make a great Christmas gift! 😉 I did mark down the Kindle price for the Season.



  4. Dear Mr. O’Reilly. Yes he did.

    But he was seriously wrong in what he proposed vis a vis Holy Communion for Adulterers and I’d be willing to bet that you would never taken that heretical position even as a teenager.

    Sadly, one can see that was a typical ideological position of mercy that our current Pope adopts and promotes but Jesus is both infinite Mercy and in finite Justice and to treat only of mercy is to treat Jesus as half of a Divine Person.

    IOW, it is worse than nonsense, it is a deceptive lie


  5. “‘Where Peter Is’ site is one of the biggest sycophantic defenders of Francis regardless of offense; so much so the site might more properly be called Where Francis Is.”

    LOL after arguing with Pedro regarding the ambiguity of the council (he claims there is absolutely none) they finally banned me for life. That alerted me as to the total insanity of sites such as this. Papolatry came to mind, as they didn’t like one. Great site Steve. Thanks.


    1. Sam,

      Thanks for the comments! Glad you found the site. Curious….Had they alerted you by name to this site?

      As far as being banned. Mike Lewis eventually blocked me on Twitter. Don’t know if Pedro has or not off hand. I did have, what I thought, a friendly back and forth on AL after I published an article rebutting his (see ). At the time, I asked him for a specific case example he had in mind, for a mitigating circumstance…he said he’d provide me one. Never did.

      Thanks again.



  6. It was Emmett’s ‘Unveiling the Apoc.’ site,that sparked my interest, seeing the link after clicking your name. Emmett questioned your stance re Francis’ papal standing. I liked your response. I was the same ‘sam’ there. I have some reading to do on your site. Just found it today. Thanks again Steve. Keep up the good work.


    1. Sam, thanks for the question.

      Interesting read. Thanks for pointing it out. I thought I had read he had something new out, but I hadn’t got round to it till now. Thanks.

      Interesting comments on the Benedict “emeritus” problem; but more so on Francis.

      I’d have to read through it again, but my initial take is that it seems to be a clear rebuke of Francis, or rather, as “clear” as it can be in the soft, ‘delicate speech’ so often used by prelates these last 70 years.

      I note he ended his article with the same scripture verse as I ended my “will not prevail” article. I mention this NOT to suggest in anyway he saw my article(!), but rather to suggest his use of it where he uses it (the punchline of the article at the end), underlines for me that Mueller clearly sees Francis is off the rails. He’s calling him back to be a shepherd of the CATHOLIC CHURCH, and not the new world order.

      Frankly, given the pope’s recent health problems, I do wonder if Cardinal Mueller is trying to position himself for the next conclave. Again, I have to read it a time or two more, but my initial impression is that there is a tension between him saying a “fair reading” of AL can be reconciled with the magisterium — but not in the way taught by Francis’s flatterers — on the one hand; but then calling, it seems, on Francis to ‘convert’ and confirm the brethren. I wish Mueller had been more direct than he was.

      Still…a very interesting article. Thanks again for highlighting it.



  7. Thanks for taking interest Steve. I do hope somebody goes after Francis – the minds of Jesuits, oy! If what you say might occur, Muller possibly pitching for head of the church, and follows suit with post conciliar thinking, he could be even worse than Francis. (Makes you wonder why Muller put his thoughts on paper for the world to see instead of telling to PF to his face. And no response from Francis yet). I mean following post vcii thinking playing out such as it has been is progressively worse each year.

    I wish someone else higher up (other than Schneider or Vigano) would make their thoughts known about Francis. What I don’t get is why +Benedict isn’t heard about regarding Francis. Surely he has his thoughts. What PF had said previously, that he doesn’t want to be pope anymore… his time would be short…he doesn’t call himself Vicar of Christ but just bishop of Rome, should be telling all on its own. (I heard the role of pope will be changed ). Defenders of PF , that he can do no wrong are strange to me. That we catholics must adhere to everything he says… it’s just too eerie. But that’s what serious NO Catholics do these days. I prefer the ‘resist him to his face’ mentality when applicable, much like the people at the Remnant et al for example. He is deliberate in his ambiguity, doesn’t seem to mind how anyone takes him, not afraid of schism. People like to say ‘oh but he hasn’t committed heresy so far’ response. Sad commentary, isn’t it?

    Malachi Martin described the state of the church going on as a ‘cleansing’ from God. Perhaps the pontiff sees the writing on the wall and is only speeding up the process. Perhaps he sees the total and undeniable rot in the church and simple wants all the rot (all the clergy poisoned) to be separated from the orthodox clergy. ( I am playing devil’s advocate here in his defense ). Popes are supposed to be defenders of the Faith. I don’t see this from Francis. Sorry, my thoughts are all over the place, almost random.

    Warm regards,



    1. Note: Pope Benedict made it very clear when he resigned that his successor would be Pope in every sense and that he would no longer have any role in Church affairs. He has done exactly as he said. As far as PF, time and the Almighty will eventually determine what is to be.


      1. Donald, thanks for the comments. I believe you are correct. Benedict is not the pope. As for Francis…we can only pray and wait for the next conclave — and the hope we get a good pope. My guess though, as I indicated to Sam, is that we may have to wait until the pope after that for a restoration.




    2. Sam,

      the past almost 8 years of Francis have been troubling to say the least. As far as Schneider, Burke, et al, my guess is they’ve gone about as far as they intend to go in saying something about Francis. I think that unfortunate, as I think more can be said. That said, I am sure Archbishop Vigano will continue to be vocal.

      The next conclave will be interesting. Short of Divine intervention…it’s clear the Francis-cardinals will dominate. But I think the argument Muller was making will resonate to some degree as to the confusion caused by the current pontificate of Francis. The next papacy might cement whether bishops continue to be managers, and toadies of the State (likely if Francis II is elected); or whether there is the recognition bishops need to act like the successors to the apostles that they are.

      Unfortunately, personally, I doubt those arguments will win the day and give us a “good” pope in the conclave immediately following Francis. However, after the inevitable, additional decline that must follow in any papacy of a Francis II, the conclave after that will likely have no other choice but reverse course. We’ll see.

      Thanks for the comments.



  8. Just read your article now. Thank you very much for doing all the research and laying everything out. I found it very informative and completely agree with your conclusions. God bless you.


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