If you would never in a million years dream of entertaining the notion that one may knowingly and unrepentantly commit intrinsic grave evils, fully intending to continue committing them and open with this intent, with no desire whatsoever to even try to stop, and nevertheless validly be absolved and licitly be given holy Communion, then you needn’t bother reading any more of this post. For you are among the blessed few whose faith is simple and pure and irreproachable. You know that you can trust the Bible, you know that you can trust the Catechism, and you do not waste your time considering novelties that contradict the clear teachings contained in them.
But if, like most, you find yourself confused or inclined to believe that this notion may be legitimate, then you may wish to read on.
In this post, I will provide:
- A brief summary of the Amoris Laetitia conflict.
- Perhaps the only logically grounded discussion of the nature of Magisterium, authority, infallibility, etc., that one is likely to easily find.
- A description of where we now stand considering the most recent developments in the aforementioned conflict; especially the astounding flourishing of the heretical interpretation of Amoris Laetitia.
- An observation of the fact that — all judgments regarding the man himself aside (I am sure he is a holier and better Catholic than myself) — Stephen Walford has now demonstrated his teachings on the Faith to be a thoroughly rotten tree, as this tree has repeatedly produced thoroughly rotten fruit (and, as Our Lord says, “no good tree bears bad fruit,” Lk 6:43), and thus it is now clear for all to see that his attacks on the Era of Peace, the Divine Will, Fr. Joseph Iannuzzi, etc., are just more rotten fruit proceeding from this same tree that now produces his attacks on Pope St. John Paul II’s Magisterium, the Dubia Cardinals, EWTN, Fr. Gerald Murray, etc. (For at this point, Mr. Walford’s “hateful screeds against canon lawyers, bishops, cardinals…” and his avowed methodology of using “pejorative adjectives to put down people he disagrees with” instead of actually engage in logical discussion with them has now been noted to the world on EWTN itself: (e.g. starting at 12 minutes in in this video) )
- Quick rebuttals of some of the more common objections against the orthodox interpretation of A.L.
- A more in-depth explanation of what may, and what may not, be modified out of a desire to be merciful in the Communion debate
- A word on time travel (it’s relevant)
- A footnote on mercy
Want an even more brief preview? Here it is:
At this point I know that some are thinking to themselves “Great; another clueless Pharisee.” If that describes your reaction then please, I implore you, before sending me hate mail, at least scroll to the very bottom and read the “Footnote on Mercy.”
Now, on to the post.
Firstly, I write this post because some have openly wondered — considering my last post in which I refuted Stephen Walford’s errors here (I will not be restating everything from that post, so if you’d like an explanation of why Amoris Laetitia is orthodox and why the heretical interpretation is incorrect, you may want to start by checking that post out)– what my thoughts are now that Walford has been given a 45 minute Papal Audience (which not even good Cardinals can get, despite publicly begging for them), and the Buenos Aires guidelines have appeared in the AAS (Acta Apostolica Sedis). Therefore, lest souls be lead astray by others saying “Oh, now that _____ has happened, Daniel must now believe _____,” I must write.
In fact, none of my stances have changed, and I continue to insist that Walford is espousing heresy.
Secondly, I write this post because my last one strongly promoted the Era of Peace; whereas attacking this promise given by Our Lady at Fatima is Mr. Walford’s second-favorite endeavor (it used to be his first, though he now prefers condoning adultery and attacking JPII, EWTN, etc.). From WordPress analytics I can see that many arrive at this blog by doing searches for Stephen Walford and for Divine Will topics, therefore I should be sure to address this intersection of several issues.
A little background for those wise enough to have hitherto avoided concerning themselves with these debates:
- Almost 2 years ago, Pope Francis promulgated the Apostolic Exhortation entitled Amoris Laetitia, which — though it has ambiguous statements that unfortunately can be interpreted in a heretical fashion (hence my support for the Dubia cardinals and my desire to see Pope Francis Magisterially clarify them) — is not heretical and does not say that one unrepentantly committing adultery may validly receive absolution and licitly receive Communion.
- Over the following 2 years, the Church bureaucracy (including many of its elements housed within the Vatican city state) began to favor the heretical interpretation (that there are indeed occasions where one may unrepentantly commit adultery and nevertheless receive absolution and Communion).
- Mr. Walford, perhaps inspired by a noble desire to defend the Pope against the latter’s more ignoble detractors, or perhaps inspired by seeing a great self-advancement opportunity (God shall judge that, not I), has been seeking to distinguish himself as one of the English speaking world’s foremost defenders and promoters of the heretical interpretation; primarily by his articles that for some reason are published on “La Stampa.”
- After a few of these aforementioned articles, Mr. Walford was granted a Papal Audience
- Most recently, the “Buenos Aires” guidelines (which were written by the Argentinian Bishops in order to direct their priests on how to apply Amoris Laetitia), were placed in the AAS along with a letter from Pope Francis saying that this is the proper interpretation of A.L. These Buenos Aires guidelines seem to endorse the heretical interpretation that Walford was espousing. Please note that the “AAS,” Acta Apostolica Sedis, is the name for the publication issued monthly by the Vatican to have a record of what is done in the Vatican. If something finds its way into this publication, it is commonly considered “an official act of the Holy See,” which a novice might think means “an official act of the Magisterium,” which is NOT the case. Read on for more.
It is point number 5 that above all needs to be addressed, and it brings to the fore the question:
Meaningfully answering this question requires stepping back a few paces: stepping back from tossing Latin Magisterial document names back and forth, stepping back from Canon Law, stepping back from Papal Pronouncements, stepping back from tradition, and yes, even stepping back from theology.
We must instead begin at the very beginning, and consider the reason behind our identity. Indeed, all of us are first “man” and only after are we “Catholic.” Therefore becoming and justifying the latter can only occur by way of methods proper to the former, lest we fallaciously beg the question. Similarly, only a complete fool would try to answer the question “Why believe what a Magisterial document says?” by responding “Because it is a Magisterial document. And Magisterial documents say we must obey Magisterial documents. Q.E.D.”
By now I have been engaged in more discussions and read more articles on the nature of authority, infallibility, and Magisterium than I can count. Whether in a graduate theology course or merely perusing the blog of a lay apologist, the problem I have seen always the same: circular reasoning. They quote a Catechism, or a Council, or something else, to prove why a Catechism, or a Council, or something else, is trustworthy. An avalanche of terms are thereafter thrown into the mix in an attempt to cover up the argument’s weakness: “religious submission of intellect and will vs. certitude of faith. Ordinary vs Extraordinary Magisterium. Universal vs. Local. Encyclical vs. Exhortation vs. Letter vs. Constitution. Pastoral vs. Doctrinal vs Dogmatic. Development vs Rupture” On, and on, and on it goes.
This is intellectually bankrupt. Yes, those terms have their place, but they do not actually answer the question we must now ask.
So, why are we Catholic?
We are Catholic because God really exists, God really did become man, this God-man really did found a Church, and this God-man really did issue a very specific promise to this Church that He founded. All of these realities are perfectly evident and demonstrable without appealing to Catholic Church teaching (they are, rather, why we appeal to Catholic Church teaching).
For it is absolutely, categorically impossible for God to lie (even reason alone tells us He is all-good), or to be wrong about anything (even reason alone tells us He is all-knowing).
But Jesus said “You are Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18. Therefore anything that would constitute, in any way, shape, or form, the gates of hell prevailing against the Church, is a true and absolute metaphysical impossibility by simple logic that anyone over the age of seven should be capable of. Any attempt to build the reliability of the Magisterium and our response to it on any ultimate foundation but this one is circular and doomed to failure.
But let us also consider what Jesus did not say to Peter. Many have already pointed out that He did not say that all of Peter’s opinions would be true (indeed, Peter himself did a good job refuting that notion with his own life). He certainly did not say that all Bishops would be good or would preach the truth (Judas did an even better job refuting that one). But he also did not say “You are Peter. And 1,876 years from now, a daily gazette will be formed in the Vatican, called the ‘Acta Apostolica Sedis.’ Every word found in that is bound in heaven.”
For a long time, I have had the entire Acta Apostolica Sedis on my computer. I often refer to it in theological research. I can certainly see how one who is unacquainted with it might fall into thinking that a Catholic should deem it an absolutely trustworthy source of Church teachings; with the mere fact that an assertion is found within it causing that claim to become completely trustworthy Magisterium. But that is not the case.
What, then, can we trust?
- If the successors of the apostles (the Bishops) of the entire world get together and carefully discuss, for years, matters of the Faith, and vote on final versions of their agreed documents, and then these documents are promulgated to the whole Church or even the whole World by the successor of Peter himself (the Pope) — and if this end result were to teach error, then the gates of hell would certainly have prevailed against the Church. Therefore this can never happen. In other words, the teachings of Ecumenical Councils are certain (the most recent one being Vatican II)
- If an essentially similar process (albeit with important distinctions) occurs and the product is not the documents of a council, but the production of a Universal Catechism, and this Catechism is promulgated by the Pope himself by way of an authortative Magisterial Document affirming its contents, then this Catechism teaching an error on faith or morals would also constitute the gates of hell prevailing against the Church, and so too is impossible. Hence, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is absolutely trustworthy.
- If the visible head of the Church, the successor of Peter, the Pope Himself, were to clearly, officially, publicly teach an error on Faith or Morals, this too, I believe, would constitute the gates of hell prevailing against the Church. This is why I stand by every teaching of all of Pope Francis’ official Magisterium: Lumen Fidei, Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si, and, yes, Amoris Laetitia. Indeed, the actual teachings contained within formal documents promulgated directly by the Vicar of Christ himself and issued to the Church, are absolutely trustworthy.
(Incidentally, it must be noted that the Catholic Church is the only institution on Earth with a built in self-destruct button. In a few moments, any Pope in history could have completely destroyed it by teaching ex-cathedra (infallibly) a teaching obviously contradictory to what has already been taught ex-cathedra. That would immediately reveal to the world the absence of the Divine Mandate that the Church claims — just as a “prophet” is revealed as anything but when his “prophecies” fail. And yet, it’s never happened. Despite being the most fragile institution in history, the Catholic Church is both the largest and the oldest. I sure hope that gives the skeptics — and all non-Catholics — great pause.)
What else, since it would not (or does not) constitute the gates of hell prevailing against the Church, could happen (or has happened)?
- If a heretical interpretation of one of the aforementioned items became very common, this would not constitute the gates of hell prevailing against the Church.
- Nor would it so constitute this prevailing if the heretical interpretation was held by many (even most) Bishops.
- Nor even if it were held by the Pope Himself, so long as he did not elevate this interpretation by way of a new Magisterial document clearly affirming it. (Needless to say, errors in off the cuff Papal remarks, interviews, personal letters, private letters, and even homilies, do not constitute the gates of hell prevailing against the Church).
Now, it is no trifle that the Buenos Aires guidelines, which seem to endorse the heretical interpretation of Amoris Laetitia, are now in the AAS along with a letter allegedly from Pope Francis endorsing them, and a rescript from Cardinal Parolin insisting that Pope Francis wants them decreed as “authentic Magisterium.” The fact remains, however, that Cardinal Parolin saying that the Holy Father said that something is authentic Magisterium does not make it authentic Magisterium; not even if his saying this makes its way into the official gazette of the Acts of the Vatican. No, the Holy Father himself has to issue something Magisterially for it to be authentic Magisterium. Up to the publication of this post, the only Magisterial proclamation that Pope Francis has made on this issue is Amoris Laetitia itself which, as many have already pointed out, is orthodox so long as it is interpreted correctly.
Do not accuse me of using subtle sophistry here to try and evade the Magisterium; that would only reveal how misguided you are. Any experienced lawyer could easily tell you that if the question “Is the Buenos Aires interpretation now Magisterium?” were put on the dock, all of the “evidence” currently used to try to answer that question “yes” would in fact be mere hearsay. For all this “evidence” amounts to nothing more than someone who cannot issue Magisterium saying that the one who can issue Magisterium has done so. The fact — crystal clear and easy for anyone who wants the truth to see — is that he has not.
But no, what we have here is no trifle. In fact, it is a downright crisis. Consequently:
I have had this blog for almost a decade; and most of that time I have spent imploring my readers to recognize that, for so many years, Our Lady has been warning us, in so many apparitions, that the Great Apostasy is coming. In many ways, it has been here for several decades. But it is clearly about to climax. And yet, the promises of Christ are irrevocable: the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church.
Yes, I repeat, what we see unfolding before our very eyes these days is precisely what we should have been expecting:
- A situation wherein the Magisterium itself is heresy free, as promised by Christ, and as it always will be.
- A situation wherein any Catholic of good will can easily see what this Magisterium says (just by Googling “Catechism of the Catholic Church” or “Amoris Laetitia”), and it will not be difficult for him to understand.
- However, a situation in which most (including most priests and bishops) will reject this clear Magisterial teaching, accessible to anyone, for the sake of a heretical interpretation that has become fashionable; entering the very summits of where Divine Providence could possibly allow it to reach, but not one inch further (remember, again, that Pope Francis has not issued a new Magisterial Document affirming the Buenos Aires guidelines! Nor will he. Mark my words.)
Two more reasons, for those still undecided, why the truth of this matter is not in the least difficult to see:
Perhaps above all, we must remember that the promoters of the heretical interpretation deliberately ignore this one most poignant thing: namely, what has not happened. They rejoice every time a new document or phone call is leaked, or interview granted, indicating the Pope himself may have the heretical interpretation in mind as his own preference (which does not make it the Magisterium), and they certainly rejoice every time a new Bishop’s conference institutes the heretical interpretation. But they ignore the fact that the Pope has now had almost two years to actually Magisterially teach the heretical interpretation: and he has not once done so. With the flick of a wrist he could do so, and he has not. It takes a great ignorance — likely a willful one — for that to not speak volumes.
Tied for first place in what we must above all remember in this great trial is, again, a very simple fact that Walford et al deliberately ignore. Amoris Laetitia is an Apostolic Exhortation; a Magisterial document of identical weight to Familiaris Consortio, the act of the Magisterium by which Pope St. John Paul II taught, definitively, the very opposite of Walford’s teaching. The absence of even the most basic reason here is mind boggling. Walford et al. is readily contradicting the clear and explicit teaching contained in the body of an Apostolic Exhortation written by a canonized saint Pope just a short few decades ago for the sake of an ambiguous and incorrect interpretation of a footnote at the bottom of an Apostolic Exhortation written by the living Pope. My 3 year old son has a long way to go before he reaches the age of reason; but even he knows that a scale with a brick on the right side will not be budged by a feather being placed on the other.
I’ll even put this in a table so as to catch the eye of those merely skimming this article:
Walford himself does not deny the contradiction. He has already openly repudiated the right-hand column above, calling it “unrealistic.” And this is the basic approach now taken by all promoters of the heretical interpretation — namely, that what was once Magisterially taught can now be abrogated because it is “unrealistic.”
The hypocrisy is astonishing, but not surprising. It is precisely what Walford did, over and over again, in my debates with him on the Era of Peace. He would endlessly throw one errant interpretation of one paragraph of the Catechism in my face; always refusing to so much as acknowledge it when I demonstrated his interpretation was in error and when I would present to him countless Magisterial texts clearly affirming — in stark contradiction to his errant interpretation of one paragraph of another text — that there will in fact be an Era of Peace (“But there is a Cardinal who agrees with me!” he would shout). All, of course, to no effect. Just as even now, there is no use trying to convince Mr. Walford of the truth; which is why I have not bothered reaching out to him on this, but instead have only publicly responding to his own public errors.
A recap of why Walford’s teaching is heretical
Stephen Walford, joining with the Argentinian Bishops, the Maltese Bishops, many German Bishops, etc., is insisting that there are situations wherein Absolution may be validly bestowed upon, and Communion may be licitly given to, one who is unrepentant of adultery. This, of course, is not how he phrases his argument, but it is in fact what his argument consists in. I am not claiming that it is heresy to say that the divorced and remarried may be given Communion. That is a dangerous generalization and defenders of orthodoxy must avoid it. We already know that there are multiple situations in which the divorced and remarried may be licitly given Communion, for example:
- If their first marriage was annulled and their second is validated, or
- If they are striving to live as brother and sister
I understand and accept that Pope Francis is asking us to make changes, and he has every right to do so within the bounds of orthodoxy. Therefore, I am even willing to consider the following situations as cases in which the “divorced and remarried” may licitly be given communion: (Please do not say that I am promoting or defending giving Communion in the following situations. I am merely saying that I am open to considering these cases, as they are not manifestly heretical like the teaching of Walford et al is)
3. A couple living together could be incapable of getting an annulment for their previous marriages for some accidental reason not connected to the validity of the marriage itself, and perhaps both are morally convinced of the invalidity of their previous marriages. In this case, they are convinced that they are, in fact, not committing acts of adultery because they do believe that their current marriage is possible due to the invalidity of their first marriages and the fundamental possibility of two Christians exchanging vows and thus potentially efficaciously ministering the sacrament to each other (for the validity of a marriage, even between Catholics, does not absolutely and categorically depend upon its being made in a Church, by a priest, with the Church’s permission, etc. Those are ordinary requirements; but they do not constitute the matter of the Sacrament and therefore are not absolute). In this case, they at least have some grounds for hope that their current marriage is valid and thus their carnal union is not intrinsically adulterous.
4. A couple living together could be perfectly capable of getting their marriage validated but, due to the obstinacy of one spouse, this does not wind up happening. If the circumstances nevertheless make it apparent that an annulment would be possible if only the other spouse would cooperate, then the cooperative spouse could perhaps do whatever could be done and then proceed with a clear conscience in acts proper to marriage within that relationship.
Cardinal Müller speaks of possibility #3 in his introduction to Professor Buttiglione’s book. But Müller also says:
“For this reason, repentance and the intention to avoid future occasions of sin is necessary. Without this, sacramental forgiveness cannot be given. This is in any case the doctrine of the Church.” (emphasis added). In saying this, the good Cardinal is defending the perennial and infallible teaching of the Church against Buttiglione’s assertion, which is literally the complete opposite of what Müller is here saying.
Professor Buttiglione contorts Müller’s words. He, Andrea Tornielli, and others, are claiming that Cardinal Müller has opened the door; thus it is now impossible to claim that their heretical interpretation is heretical. In fact, what Müller wrote has nothing to do with their heretical interpretation. Consider, for example, Cardinal Müller’s words above when you read the following quote from Tornielli’s interview of Buttiglione, wherein the latter blatantly, and deceitfully, attributes the heretical interpretation to a consequence of Cardinal Müller’s action: “…thanks to my book and Cardinal Müller’s preface, for the first-time critics have been forced to respond and cannot deny one point: there are mitigating circumstances in which a mortal sin (a sin that would otherwise be mortal) becomes a lighter sin, a venial sin. There are therefore some cases in which remarried divorcees can (through their confessor and after an adequate spiritual discernment) be considered in God’s grace and therefore deserving of receiving the sacraments. It seems a shocking novelty, but it is a doctrine entirely – I dare say hard-rock – traditional”.
But Cardinal Müller says nothing about “mitigating factors” being what enables a divorced and remarried couple unrepentantly committing actual adultery to receive Communion. He says the complete opposite.
Rather, Müller makes it obvious that this enabling of licit reception of Communion is entirely based upon a hope — even if that hope is a long shot — that they are not committing adultery at all!
But this is child’s play compared to what Buttiglione does next. He blatantly lies about what Pope Saint John Paul II himself taught in Familiaris Consortio.
Here is what Pope St. John Paul II actually taught, Magisterially and authoritatively, in Familiaris Consortio (article 84; emphasis added):
Here is what Buttiglione says (emphasis added):
Here we have Buttiglione:
- Fallaciously asserting that JPII said this teaching was discipline, when in fact JPII’s reference to “practice” is implicitly, if not clearly, a reference to a doctrinal practice.
- Blatantly lying about how JPII was issuing his warning on scandal; asserting that this warning was the primary or sole reason for the teaching, when in fact it was merely a secondary consideration.
- Finishing it all off with another lie and calumny against JPII, pretending that JPII didn’t treat divorced-and-remarried “like other sinners.”
Although Buttiglione’s three errors here are clear enough for anyone to see, allow me to briefly explain each of them:
- JPII did not say he was issuing a disciplinary teaching. Far from it. Buttiglione is evidently assuming that by “practice,” JPII means “merely disciplinary.” But this is not so. The Church often uses the word “practice” to refer to discipline and often uses it to refer to doctrine. For example, the Catechism (1032) uses “practice” to refer to the Church praying for the dead, the necessity of which is anything but a mere changeable discipline. Article 1472 of the Catechism specifically refers to indulgence as both a “doctrine and a practice,” putting to rest any notion that something being a “practice” means that it cannot be doctrinal. Still later, the very matter of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick — namely, holy oil — is described as a “practice,” making it clear that even the most fundamental realities of the Faith, which the Church cannot touch, can be called “practices.”
- Besides that, it seems to me abundantly clear that JPII was issuing a doctrinal teaching here. First of all, he did not say “I,” rather he said “the Church,” which Popes often use when they wish to give even greater regard to a teaching. Secondly, JPII says that the Church is reaffirming the practice – implying strongly that this is a constant teaching (and no constant teaching can change). Thirdly, JPII said that the practice is based on Sacred Scripture, making it even clearer that this is an element of the Deposit of Faith, not merely a merely human and thus changeable tradition. Fourthly, he uses absolute language in issuing the teaching; saying, for example, that such people are “unable” to approach Communion (not merely that they “ought not” or “are not currently permitted to,” etc.)
- JPII did not say that the problem is “simply” (as Buttiglione says he said) scandal. JPII made it abundantly clear that scandal was an entirely separate problem; really, a merely additional concern beyond the primary one (which is simply the point I have been making this whole article). How on earth Buttiglione rationalized this blatant misrepresentation is beyond me. It is as if I told a babysitter “don’t let my son play with the silverware; he might electrocute himself by sticking it an outlet. There is another important reason for this: I don’t want my silverware lost,” and the babysitter decided that she’d merely replace the silverware, thus making the problem with it being lost less problematic, and thus allowed him to play with the silverware.
- Yes, Pope Francis is — rightly — saying that the divorced and remarried must be admitted to penance like all other sinners. But that is not what Buttiglione’s own argument is. Buttiglione is saying that adultery should now be considered as a special class of mortal sin that must be absolved even if there is no repentance for it! If this was treated “like all other sinners” are treated in the confessional, it would simply mean going by the clear teaching that the Church has always given and that JPII was merely reiterating. See the case study below.
So now we can see clearly that Buttiglione’s argument rests upon, 1) A Fallacy, 2) A Misrepresentation, and 3) A lie. No matter how much fluff he adds onto those three elements; all of which are necessary to his argument, the fact remains — a fact which no human with reason can deny — that a chain with three broken links is useless, no matter how many good links are added thereafter.
I must finish this section by adding how very odd — aggravating, really — it is that so many theologians are pretending that Catechesis 101 (dressed up with many of their own fancy words), which any catechized Catholic has always been aware of, all of a sudden changes everything. Any minimally educated Catholic already knows that there is a huge difference between committing a grave (potentially mortal) sin and being in a state of mortal sin; and that only God knows if a soul is in the latter from committing the former — for it rests upon full knowledge and consent, and that circumstances can mitigate culpability. Again: everybody already knew that. This is not profound, and it is not new. We did not all of a sudden wake up and realize that this is true thanks to the promulgation of Amoris Laetitia. It is not new, and it does not change anything about the nature of the Sacraments.
That we now have countless Theologians, Bishops, Cardinals, etc., claiming that this Catechesis 101 which everyone already knew somehow now revolutionizes the Church and allows us to change her perennial and doctrinal teaching is nothing short of a Diabolical Dishonesty.
Again, I am not necessarily advocating for giving Communion in cases 3 and 4 above. I am merely pointing out that, if they are truly cases wherein Communion may be licitly given, the grounds for thus giving Communion is not diminished responsibility for adultery: it is, rather, a (reasonable or unreasonable: I leave that up to more qualified minds than my own) hope that their union is not adulterous because perhaps their marriage may be valid. The “diminished responsibility” argument is radically inadequate here in serving as the sole or primary justification for giving Absolution and Communion. It can only serve as an auxiliary aid in choosing as merciful as possible a path within the confines of orthodoxy.
The “La Stampa” writers are constantly engaged in a straw man campaign; expending all of their effort to try and convince their readers that, since there is a case wherein the “divorced and remarried” may licitly be given Communion (referring to the possibility of #3 or #4 above), it must not be heretical to thus interpret Amoris Laetitia. They deliberately ignore that they are comparing apples and oranges. The entire basis for #3 and #4 above is that the sexual activity of the couples may actually not be adulterous; NOT that the sexual activity is indeed adulterous — but only venially so, not mortally so.
Diminished responsibility can:
- Above all, make it possible (or even likely) that a soul committing grave sins is nevertheless in a State of Grace and therefore among the elect (are we too embarrassed to acknowledge that this is all about the Salvation of Souls? The Sacraments can be means to that or they can be obstacles to that: they are the latter if received unworthily)
- Make options 3 or 4 above more worthy of consideration, wherein the possible validity of the existing marriage may be hoped for even if such a hope was scorned in earlier days
- Make leaving the occasion of sin a less stringent requirement; or even be entirely dispensed. That is a disciplinary requirement.
- Make the risk of causing scandal a less serious concern; or, at least, less serious than getting the souls back to Communion. That, too, is a disciplinary requirement.
Rather, the most that mercy can possibly stretch this criteria is any case akin to the following:
One who is addicted to mortal sin may reasonably be supposed to be in a state of grace if he does not want to commit the sin and is at least in general striving to be freed from it, granted he tries to make an act of perfect contrition before receiving Communion. A confessor may indeed licitly advise receiving Communion in this case, but only because the penitent has at least the desire and intention of being free of the sin. But that desire is totally absent from what situations that Walford et al describe.
The quintessential case study under this banner was the one taught to our class by our Moral Theology professor (a highly regarded priest-theologian whose learnedness and orthodoxy no one would question) in seminary: a young man addicted to masturbation. A confessor may indeed absolve him and advise the reception of Communion, even if he thinks it is likely that this penitent will fall again into this grave sin. He may do so on precisely the grounds those now speak of in promoting the heretical interpretation of A.L. But this here is the proper application of these grounds:
- the confessor understands that this young man will have an incredibly difficult time being freed of these chains,
- the confessor understands that we live in an unprecedentedly corrupt society in which lust is incessantly foisted upon us, and
- the confessor understands that the young man likely does not fully comprehend Catholic teaching on human sexuality and thus likely does not fully grasp the gravity of the offense in question.
- Consequently, the Confessor may indeed absolve this penitent, “tolerating,” you could say, the fact that the sin will likely continue to occur.
But the confessor may absolutely NOT absolve this penitent if the young man comes to him and says “I masturbate regularly. But I have absolutely no intent or desire to stop doing it. You have to absolve me, however, because the circumstances of the day means that my responsibility is diminished, and therefore I have a right to receive Absolution and Communion. I repeat: I have no intention to amend my life.”
Likewise, if one is in fact committing objective acts of adultery, and there is no hope that these acts are anything but actually adulterous, and if this person is absolutely without any intent or desire whatsoever to try to be rid of these sinful acts, then it is absolutely, categorically, metaphysically impossible to efficaciously absolve this “penitent” and licitly give him or her Communion. And this is precisely what Walford et al are advocating for by their rejection of Familiaris Consortio paragraph 84 and the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1650.
There we have it.
- “The Orthodox have valid sacraments, and they allow divorce and remarriage.”
- Yes, the Orthodox have valid sacraments, but their teachings are not Divinely protected from error as are those of the Catholic Church. The allowance of divorce and remarriage (even with its countless caveats that you can read about elsewhere) in Orthodox Churches is just one of their several heresies (among their heresies regarding contraception, the Immaculate Conception, original sin, and the filioque)
- “Communion is already given to divorced and remarried Orthodox who come to Mass at Catholic Churches”
- If it is, it shouldn’t be. Canon 844 does indeed allow Communion in Catholic Churches to be given to members of Eastern Orthodox Churches, but it too requires that these recipients be properly disposed. Nowhere does the Magisterium allow for this proper disposition to mean something different for the Orthodox merely because they have different practices. When “proper disposition” is used in Canon Law it doesn’t mean “proper disposition as the subject views it,” it means “proper disposition as the Catholic Church teaches it in fact consists in.” For indeed, the definition of “proper disposition” does not somehow change for you merely because you belong to a schismatic Church (no, I do not think it is usually good to refer to the Orthodox as such; but in this case, I must be brutally blunt)
- “We need to meet people where they’re at. We need to live in the real world. We need to be realistic. We need to accompany. We need to focus on the concrete realities. We need to not be like the Pharisees. Etc. etc. etc.”
- Amen to all of that. But none of it is even a little bit capable of justifying the heretical interpretation
- “We need to take a merciful approach to this. Jesus was merciful.”
- Absolutely. See “Footnote on Mercy.” Hint: this, too, is radically inadequate in rationalizing heresy.
- “Who can and cannot be Absolved and receive Communion is a matter of discipline, not doctrine; therefore the Church and the Pope can change it.”
- No it isn’t. I see this statement repeated everywhere, but I have never once seen it justified. Where on earth does anyone get the idea that the necessity of repentance/contrition for valid absolution is a merely disciplinary requirement? That is the very matter of the Sacrament. The Church has precisely zero right and zero ability to nullify the matter of a Sacrament. Yes, of course, there are disciplinary teachings associated with the Sacraments: how long one must fast before receiving Communion, how often one must go to Confession, etc. But there are also doctrinal teachings associated with them: e.g. Consecration of the Eucharist can only be undertaken on bread. Matrimony must involve the exchange of vows of the spouses. Baptism must be done with water. The Church cannot possibly change these things. Likewise, the Church cannot change the fact that some form of contrition (even if imperfect) is required for Absolution (for it is, literally, the matter of this sacrament), and there is absolutely no contrition if the “penitent” has no intent or desire or plan to cease committing objective grave sins (and engaging in sexual acts with one to whom you are not married is dogmatically defined as an objective grave sin), therefore there is no matter for the sacrament to act upon, therefore the sacrament cannot work, no matter how much sophistical acrobatics are performed by local Bishop’s Conferences. Furthermore, that one must be properly disposed in order to receive the Eucharist is not merely disciplinary. Though disposition is neither the matter nor the form of the sacrament (hence I say that one improperly disposed illicitly receives the Eucharist, not invalidly), it is nevertheless a doctrinal requirement in approaching it; for it is merely a direct application of a Scriptural teaching (1 Corinthians 11:27). Even if you reject that (please don’t), the whole heretical interpretation argument still hinges upon the aforementioned impossible situation with Absolution, hence the whole argument completely falls on those grounds alone, at the very least.
- “Don’t you realize that we are living in incredibly difficult times? Don’t you realize how many marriages may be invalid? Don’t you realizes that this changes everything?”
- Yes, I absolutely realize this. And I am completely open to the suggestion that the annulment process should be streamlined, and that more cases could be considered as making an annulment possible (e.g. lack of faith and/or understanding of the sacrament of matrimony). As I said above, I am also not closed to the suggestion that there is a possibility of the couple themselves having a moral certainty of the invalidity of their previous marriages and thus the possibility of the validity of their current marriage even outside the usual canonical process. But all of that is a non-sequitur. The heretical interpretation — which this entire post is dedicated to refuting and which Walford, Buttiglione, Kasper, etc. endorse — does not merely say that: it says that even all that aside — even aside the possibility of the validity of the current marriage — the couple may engage in sexual acts that are objectively adulterous and which they know are objectively adulterous, with no intention or desire to try to stop committing them, but still be validly and licitly absolved and given Communion. That is the heresy.
- “You cannot know someone’s heart. There are many, many people who are doing something that may be objectively contravening God’s law but, due to circumstances of all sorts, are in fact in God’s friendship.”
- I agree fully with this as well. But the fact that we cannot know someone’s heart is precisely why Catholic doctrine is as it is on this issue. Yes, many people who commit acts that are objectively, intrinsically, and gravely sinful are, in fact, not in a state of mortal sin due to their mitigated culpability (“diminished responsibility”). This is not some fact that I begrudgingly accept. It is a fact I truly believe and am hopeful for the salvation of many on the basis of. But no man can look upon such a situation and decide for himself that culpability is sufficiently mitigated that a soul is in a state of grace despite committing objectively and intrinsically evil acts. Not a priest, not a Bishop, and not the Pope. I repeat: Penance, a Sacrament instituted by Christ, cannot have its matter or form abrogated by any authority in the Church. The matter of the Sacrament of Penance is the penitence of the penitent. Without that, absolution is categorically impossible just as consecrating a piece of iron is categorically impossible. But there is no penitence if the “penitent” is committing objectively, intrinsically evil acts and has absolutely no contrition for them, and fully intends to continue committing them without any desire or attempt to even try to stop.
- “You are taking a very unwise and imprudent stance on this, Daniel. Haven’t you been watching Catholic news? Don’t you see that you’re clearly on the losing side, and the vast majority have sided with what you call the ‘heretical’ interpretation?”
- Answer below…
That many if not most of those apologists, theologians, priests, bishops, and cardinals who have spoken on this matter have sided with the heretical interpretation matters about as much to me as about what my next door neighbor’s dog thinks about it. Truth is not determined by a majority vote. Truth is determined by Jesus Christ, who guides the Church through the Magisterium; not through these sneaky little maneuvers here and there so that Vaticanistas who waste away their days listening to Church-bureaucracy gossip are best suited to know it, love it, and follow it. No. It is the simple, faithful souls are those best disposed to know, love, and follow the Truth. That is, the souls who know they can trust the Bible and the Catechism.
How blind are we if we cannot see that Professor Seifert’s admonition is entirely valid if the heretical interpretation is the correct one?
If “diminished responsibility” all of a sudden becomes legitimate grounds for valid Absolution and admission to holy Communion, even when the sin in question is entirely grave and entirely without any form of repentance or desire to stop, then anything goes. The “slippery slope” argument is not being employed here; that is not necessarily a logically valid argument; for it states that movement in one direction necessarily means its continuation. But the reductio ad absurdum is a valid argument; and this is the one used here. In other words, if a given justification is required to grant a certain conclusion, then that conclusion cannot be admitted without also admitting whatever other conclusions that justification necessarily leads to. This, again, is basic logic that even a youth should be capable of.
If the “mitigated responsibility” argument applies to adultery, then we cannot arbitrarily decide that it stops there. It applies, rather, to everything. We no longer can say anything clearly about any sin with respect to Absolution and Holy Communion. Everyone must be absolved. Which of course means that no one will be confident in his absolution; and Confession’s entire purpose — namely, giving absolute confidence that one’s sins are truly forgiven so that one’s soul may be fully healed — has disappeared.
If the heretical interpretation is granted, then indeed the entirety of Catholic Moral Teaching necessarily collapses.
We of course see it already, thanks to the fact that indeed, the heretical interpretation is gaining so much ground that most in the Church are taking it for granted
- We have Fr. James Martin openly promoting homosexuality with impunity wherever he pleases
- We have Pontifical Academy for Life members insisting that circumstances may require Catholic couples to use artificial contraception
- We have the German Church blessing active homosexual relationships
- We have high ranking Bishops in major nations openly endorsing the legalization of gay marriage when this occurs in their homeland (see Australia)
- We have a high ranking Vatican prelate having actual homoerotic murals painted in his Church
- We have many high ranking Vatican prelates openly pushing for a reversal of Humanae Vitae
- We have hitherto good Catholics walking out on their spouses who never would have dreamt of doing so before. Unfortunately, I have personally witnessed this multiple times in the past couple years.
This list could go on for a long time.
Yes, heresy has been very fashionable for the past several decades. And, although it has invaded the Church for a long time, this invasion always looked radically different than it does now. It was reserved to places anyone would expect it: quietly in liberal seminaries, in liberal parishes, at Universities, etc. But now we see it openly and proudly in the Vatican itself, and in the highest levels of national Bishop’s conferences.
This never would have been able to happen before. It is happening now because of the flourishing of the heretical interpretation.
But even all of that is relatively minor in relation to the far bigger point that many are missing.
If an Apostolic Exhortation (Familiaris Consortio) clearly issues a certain teaching, and if this teaching is then reissued in a Universal Catechism, which is itself promulgated by way of an Apostolic Constitution ensuring that its contents are a “sure norm” for teaching the Faith (Fidei Depositum IV), and if this given teaching can be — not merely modified in tone or approach — but completely and utterly contradicted in subsequent Magisterium…
In other words, if “______” in what is obviously the Magisterium then becomes “not ______” in later Magisterium, then the gates of Hell have prevailed against the church. In other words:
… for she has officially taught something completely contradictory to what she has already officially taught. (The Church has not and never will collapse; the heretical interpretation is just that — a lie; as all heresy is)
Am I worried this might happen later, though? Of course not. I am completely certain that it never will.
So why am I bothering to even go to all of this effort to refute the heretical interpretation?
Because to simply sit back, knowing that God’s Will shall always prevail, and watch it happen, is the sin of Quietism. God expects us to participate in the fruition of His Will.
Furthermore, even though I know that this heretical interpretation will never enter the Magisterium, the heights in the Church and the media that it has already reached is likely even now causing the damnation of countless souls. A greater tragedy than this could not be imagined, hence my effort to do whatever I can (even if it is only one small part) to quell it.
A word of parting advice.
Please resist the urge to join a camp. There are, of course, two primary ones: the anti-Pope Francis camp and the pro-heresy camp. The former camp, even if they are right (they often aren’t), will be found on Judgment Day very guilty; for no son is excused for dishonoring his father, even if his father is a bad man (and Pope Francis is not a bad man). Rather, such a son will always be judged very harshly. The latter camp, caught up as it is with the spirit of this age, is more than willing to hold contradictory claims at the same time: making them not only unworthy of the name “Catholic,” but unworthy of the name “rational animal,” the definition of man, for it is primarily our reason that separates us from the beasts, and one rejects this by willingly accepting blatant contradictions.
You don’t need a camp. You have the Barque of Peter. Camps make life easier; sure. They don’t make it better.
Appendix on Time Travel and Stephen Walford
I would like to do Mr. Walford the service of assuming his good will, and assuming that his error arises not from malice but from confusion.
Proceeding from this premise, I believe I see where the error arises.
He recently did an interview for the Catholic Herald in which he confesses to being a “whovian.” I understand this is a term used by fanatical fans of the TV show “Dr. Who,” which I have never seen, but which I understand is a typical work of sci-fi time travel nonsense and absurdity.
In the past few years I have been unfortunate enough to watch two such movies that had this absurdity in them (I wouldn’t have watched them at all if I was forewarned!): Interstellar and Arrival. In both of these movies, there are cases where, due to “time travel,” the effect of a cause is itself the cause of that cause. In other words, they propose a self-caused cause; something that is not even possible for God Himself. (For He is the uncaused Cause, not the self-caused cause)
I am not at all surprised to see Walford is a “Dr Who” fanatic. He is already in the habit of re-tweeting Fr. Spadaro’s tweets and clearly is a big fan of his. (Fr. Spadaro is infamous for his assertion that, in theology, 2+2=5). In contradiction to this, it is essential for everyone; especially for any Catholic today who wishes to keep the Faith in the midst of the Great Apostasy:
The common thread here is that, frankly, these don’t care about the Truth. They care about results. They are philosophical and theological pragmatists, more than willing to accept and promote lies for the sake of their desired ends, and this is the same fundamental error by which they propose Holy Communion for unrepentant adulterers.
But true mercy is never the result of lies. For a lie, too, is an intrinsic evil — though one that worldly people (including worldly Catholics — even “orthodox minded” worldly Catholics) always find ways to rationalize.
Now, I’m not going to begrudge anyone the enjoyment of a little absurdist fiction every now and then; perhaps even of the nonsensical “time travel” sort (though if asked, I would advise against even that; for art that we choose to expose ourselves to always forms our minds and souls, whether or not we recognize it, and we should only ever choose to listen to, watch, or read things that will help us become saints). But if Mr. Walford would go so far as to call himself a “Whovian,” then I can’t help but conclude that he heartily endorse the premise of this show, namely, that “time travel,” wherein the past can be changed (which St. Thomas Aquinas made clear is categorically impossible even for God — see Sum I, Q25, A4) is at least a theoretical possibility. In other words, “that which has happened” can also be “that which has not happened,” which means that “A” and “Not A” can both be held, which means that the Law of Noncontradiction is abolished, which, quite literally, means that anything goes. (I don’t think this is a stretch at all; Walford first went out of his way, in the above linked article, to describe the Papacy itself as a reflection of Dr. Who)
This of course is very convenient for those who want to assert blatant contradictions, such as:
- Church teaching cannot change, and Church teaching can change.
- You have to submit to this teaching because it’s Magisterium of Level A, but you have to reject this other teaching which is Magisterium of Level A
- Adultery is an intrinsic grave evil, but adultery is not an intrinsic grave evil
- A Sacramental Marriage is absolutely indissoluble, but a Sacramental Marriage is not absolutely indissoluble
And plenty of others, all of which are necessary to the heretical interpretation of A.L. that they promote.
As I mentioned in the summary at the very beginning of this post; none of this has anything to do with judging the man himself. I am not interested in publicly cataloguing Mr. Walford’s vices (I am sure I have more than he). I only bring up these very specific points because they are necessary in understanding the following:
- Stephen’s current attacks on Catholic doctrine fit into a pattern that he has been employing for years, and as such should surprise no one.
- Stephen has fundamental errors not only in his theological teachings, but in his very approach to theology, and as such he is not a reliable source on anything pertaining to theology, and those looking for professional help from him should probably stick to asking him for help with the piano.
Unfortunately the contradictions even in this Catholic Herald article do not end here. In it, he also brags of his devotion to JPII, ignoring that he blatantly contradicts JPII’s magisterium, publicly calling it, in one of his La Stampa articles, “unrealistic.” He also says he’s “never attacked anyone,” in trying to get more sympathy by claiming that the abuse he’s received has been unreal. As I and others know; he did nothing but attack, relentlessly, when engaged in a debate with us over the Era of Peace. I can scarcely recall dialoguing with someone more vitriolic, rude, and sarcastic than Stephen Walford. I would have gladly never mentioned this, were it not for the fact that he is now publicly promoting himself as some kind of a martyr who would never dream of engaging in that behavior himself. Mr. Walford was banned not once, but twice, on a forum for his terrible conduct in his debate with me and others!
Some are openly wondering where this “Walford” came from: “out of nowhere, it seems,” they say. Well, having known him for quite some time now, it makes total sense to me. He is the perfect man for the “job” he now has. For he is very used to appearing orthodox but actually persecuting orthodoxy. This is precisely what he does with the Era of Peace: he relentlessly attacks those who promote this fully orthodox belief — in line with countless Magisterial documents, believed by almost all of the Fathers of the Church, and promised by many books of Sacred Scripture, and absolutely promised by countless trustworthy private revelations — while himself promoting a lie: namely, an Eschatology of Despair, where this earth is doomed and there’s nothing we can do about it; where Our Lord’s prayer will prove in vain, in which He asked “Thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
And he is the perfect man for his current job, because this is exactly what he is doing now. With the superficial guise of orthodoxy (pretending to revere the Magisterium, JPII, Faustina, Benedict, etc.), he relentlessly persecutes the orthodox. Calling, for example, good Cardinals with valid concerns promoters of “satanic” abuse.
Don’t be surprised to hear me say that I look forward to enjoying Mr. Walford’s company in Eternity, after he and I both have been purged of our many defects. For I do think that in his heart of hearts he is a sincere Catholic; albeit one being used powerfully now by the devil (likely unknowingly). But for now, I must take the strong strand that Our Lord was forced to once take with Peter, and tell Mr. Walford, publicly:
Get behind me, Satan.
For he is being used by Satan right now as, frankly, one of his most powerful tools on earth. Walford is convincing countless souls to reject orthodoxy (Familiaris Consortio), and to despair of Divine Intervention (the Era of Peace).
What a combination. Heresy and hopelessness.
May God change his heart, and may Catholics be wise enough to not listen to him until he does.
Footnote on Mercy
I wholeheartedly support what could even be called a veritable revolution of mercy. I remain an enthusiastic supporter of Pope Francis’ general mission (even if it is undeniably dotted with blunders) of making the Church a field hospital for sinners; a true bastion of mercy for a hurting world.
I absolutely recognize and agree that we must not treat the divorced and remarried like we did in the 1950s; for the world has changed and people simply do not understand today what was universally recognized then. I am all for loosening up our worries on risking causing scandal, and focusing more on ensuring we are doing everything possible to bring back the lost sheep. I am all for spending less time fretting about ensuring that everyone who is absolved be entirely rid of the occasions of sin; and instead getting them on the path of the Sacramental Life as soon as it is conceivably possible that they are ready.
But we cannot engage in this mission by contradicting the Faith. Never, ever, ever, ever. And to simply throw the Sacraments at people who are not at all disposed or prepared is not only heretical, as I believe I have demonstrated in this post, but it is also an act of hatred against these very souls. For it entails a type of superstitious attitude about the Sacraments: supposing they are magical charms that transform their recipients even outside of and in contradiction to the free cooperation of the recipients. This is not the case. The sacraments require our disposition and cooperation. Pretending that this disposition and cooperation exists when it doesn’t is not an act of mercy or charity to anyone.
If, even considering all of that, you are still not satisfied, then please don’t waste your time by lamenting “what about real mercy, Daniel? Don’t you know how hard these situations are?”
Where is the mercy for the abandoned spouse? The one who must live daily with the agony of knowing that her husband walked out of their perfectly valid marriage, had children with his new “wife,” and now wants the Church’s blessing on this? I regularly receive prayer requests from women in precisely this situation. Don’t suppose you know what “mercy” means just by looking at one affected party. Look at both.
Now, I am a miserable sinner worthy only of a thousand rebukes. But one rebuke no one could issue to me with a straight face is that I neglect the Divine Mercy. I will spare you the recitation of my “resume” in this regard, but feel free to peruse this site and my other sites if you need that demonstrated. We must indeed be absolutely dripping with mercy today, considering the state of the world, and we must remain very willing to be flexible where flexibility is possible. But we must never be willing to alter the Deposit of Faith; which is nothing but an absolutely diabolical false mercy, and exercising this false mercy is not a work of love, but a work of hatred.
Walford’s snide remarks “we must live in the real world,” “we must meet people where they’re at,” etc., in condoning heresy, will not work on me. I am fully aware of these facts. And these facts do not alter other facts.
Very Important Footnote on Opinion
I feel very confident that what I have asserted above regarding who may and may not licitly receive Communion is merely a reiteration of an unchangeable doctrine of the Church. However, I will not go so far as to say that I feel absolutely certain of it. So please, if in the future Pope Francis does clearly Magisterially teach that the divorced and remarried may licitly receive Communion even in contradiction to the teachings of JPII in Familiaris Consortio, don’t go declaring Pope Francis an anti-Pope. He is clearly the validly elected Pope, and that will not change until he dies or retires – period. However, I would say that I do feel rather certain that what I have asserted above regarding the validity of absolution is indeed a reiteration of a clear dogma of the Church. Absolution cannot occur if there is the deliberate intent to continue committing objective grave sin.