(Published June 27th, 2017)
A little background. Stephen Walford is a man I have been unfortunate enough to come across online several times. This is because, while I earnesty beseech my readers to pray for the hastening of the coming of the Era of Peace, he on the other hand is striving to distinguish himself as the Catholic world’s greatest enemy of the Era of Peace (according to him you are a Millenarianist Heretic if you aren’t totally dismissive about the Era of Peace) proclaimed by Our Lady at many apparitions (especially Fatima) and prophesied throughout the Catholic tradition as being a time that will follow the Great Catholic Monarch and the Great Pope (see page 65 of this booklet).
In my dealings with him, Walford has usually been the quintessential ideologue: very rude, unwilling to use basic reason and instead always insisting upon immediate, unthinking, and blind obedience to his own misinterpretations of authority statements, unwilling to listen to his opponents and instead simply shouting the same exact thing over and over, louder and louder, incessantly accusatory, and unfortunately the list goes on. On one particular forum I debated with him in, he was banned not once, but twice, due to his poor conduct. Forgive me if I risk being uncharitable here, but I think understanding a bit about the tree is necessary for understanding the fruit, in this case.
Now it seems he has turned his interest from attacking those who believe in the Era of Peace to attacking the teaching of Pope St. John Paul II, directly attacking the Four Cardinals who submitted the Dubia, and thereby indirectly attacking the many Bishops — especially in Canada, America (e.g. Chaput), Poland, and Africa, who have rightly insisted that A.L. does not change the Church’s teaching on who is admissible to Holy Communion.
How Mr. Walford gets such a stage for his views seems to be a mystery to everyone. He evidently has no qualifications whatsoever to teach on theological issues. One cannot help but sympathize with Dr. Edward Peters’ annoyance that “Vatican Insider” insists on telling us that Walford plays piano (perhaps to distract from the fact that Walford should never have been given this platform on Vatican Insider?). Nevertheless, “teach” Walford does indeed attempt, and his -tragically, quite large – audience is much the worse for it. This lack of qualifications is quite clear in how faulty his method is, which I will discuss presently.
Although Walford has written other articles on the topic with fallacious reasoning, I will focus on his most recent one: http://www.lastampa.it/2017/06/27/vaticaninsider/eng/documents/open-letter-to-the-four-dubia-cardinals-nIsyPMFIjp2M5wjLZ1CHJO/pagina.html
Let us consider some of the grave errors in this article (Screenshots are from the article written by Walford, with particularly relevant portions highlighted):
The first is that Walford exalts Francis’ opinions on his own Magisterium to themselves also being Magisterial. This is an elementary trap which, unfortunately, ensnares many like Walford. A Pope is perfectly capable of having incorrect opinions on how his own Magisterium should be understood — and to express such opinions during an interview on an airplane! If a Pope wants to give an authoritative interpretation to one of his Magisterial documents — he does so through another Magisterial document! Not through off handed comments, which do not bear the weight that Walford thinks (wishes?) they have.
I cannot stress this point enough. Pope Francis could spend the next decade making an endless array of off-the-cuff comments (or imprudent appointments) seeming to indicate that a heretical interpretation of A.L. is the correct one — and it wouldn’t change a thing.
Next, Walford proceeds to reveal the heart of his error on this matter
This is absolutely not what the Holy Father is saying. “Situation of sin” is not a synonym for “objective grave sin.” This is Walford sneaking his own heretical interpretation of A.L. in, hoping we won’t notice. “Situation of sin” is closer to referring to “the situation of one’s life wherein one is regularly placed in an occasion of sin.” Pope Francis is simply here pointing out that it is fully possible that one is in a State of Grace even if he is living with a “wife” to whom he is not validly married. How? We already know from Catholic Tradition: if he is trying to live as her brother.
Pope Francis is well within the rights of his office to loosen the degree of insistence that confessors place on having one leave an occasion of sin; this is the essence of what he is trying to do here. For leaving an occasion of sin, while very important, is not actually a constituent of the sacrament itself. That is to say, it comprises neither the form nor the matter of the sacrament. The matter of the Sacrament of Confession is simply the sorrow for sin (penitence) of the penitent (one going to confession). It is possible for him to validly receive absolution even if this penitence is weak and imperfect, and even if there is not the firm intention to leave the occasion of sin; there simply needs to be the intention to try to cease from committing the sin itself. (Analogously, even a tiny crumb of bread can be validly consecrated — but it must be bread)
Next, Walford proceeds to delineate all sorts of Catholic teachings that A.L. reaffirmed. Very nice of him to do, but irrelevant to his argument. Next.
I could be wrong about this, but I speculate that equivocation with the word “certain” may be in part at the source of Walford’s error. In this context, Pope Francis is not saying “absolutely convicted of the truth” by saying “certain,” rather, he is using the word to mean “a specific type of.” Indeed, this “[certain type of] moral security” might not be correct at all — it might be a totally false security! Or, more likely, it is a sense of security that God permits a soul to feel as a stepping stone. Indeed, in the process of conversion, souls often think that God is asking less of them than He in fact is. Consider the very (rather odd) example that Pope Benedict XVI himself used during his own Pontificate: he said that a male prostitute deciding to use a condom can be a “sign of moral progress.” Indeed it can be! For while still engaged in the intrinsic evils of prostitution and sodomy, it at least shows he wants to prevent disease spread. Now, this is NOT a blessing of condom use (as Walford is trying to twist Francis’ words to use them as a blessing of adultery, blasphemously implying it may sometimes be “the most generous response” possible – a heresy formally condemned by the Council of Trent). It is merely an acknowledgement that moving from greater evils to lesser ones may indeed be evidence of grace working in a soul. That does NOT mean that the Church can in any way, shape, or form, condone or bless these “lesser” evils. What the Church can and should do — and what Pope Francis is trying to encourage the Church to do more of — is walk with these souls, help them, love them, and gradually try to get them to the point where they are at least willing to try to not commit intrinsically evil acts, at which point they may validly receive absolution, and only after which they may licitly receive Communion.
Walford again proceeds to delineate six points of Catholic teaching that A.L. reaffirms, while erroneously and arrogantly telling the Cardinals that these six points already answered their dubia, if only they would have given it a “careful reading.” (As if these four eminent, orthodox, theologian Cardinals needed a layman with no theological training to tell them this.)
This false hypothetical is not only ridiculous (for it implies there is one and only one type of false mercy; namely, letting ALL divorced and remarried go to Communion, period; and so long as one steers clear of that, one is not preaching false mercy), but above all, it is a straw man. The good Cardinals are not accusing Pope Francis of teaching a “false mercy.” They are merely asking him for clarification.
On to the worst.
Here, Walford has utterly crossed a line. And it is baffling, even considering his own stated ends. For he is blatantly rejecting a clear teaching of an existing Magisterial Document (Familiaris Consortio paragraph 84) for the sake of his own, clearly erroneous, opinion of how A.L. should be interpreted. Talk about a smack in the face to one of the greatest canonized saints of history. How convenient for Walford’s goals, that he does not even bother to say that this requirement of JPII was Magisterial, and he does not even bother to say that the aforementioned words of Francis, seeming to imply that this requirement is abrogated, are not Magisterial.
Walford continues again with several condescending remarks, giving the Cardinals Catechesis 101. Noting, for example, the fact that culpability can be mitigated, that all Magisterium has essentially the same source, etc.
Walford then resorts to another straw man…
The correction Cardinal Burke was referring to was not a correction of the Pope on Magisterial Faith and Morals itself. Cardinal Burke was implying that he and the other cardinals might have to issue a correction on the ambiguity; on the confusion running rampant in the Church right now that Pope Francis is permitting. Cardinal Burke has already made it clear that he is not accusing A.L. itself of teaching heresy.
Walford then steps up his patronizing remarks to an extreme, listing all sorts of compassionate things that Our Blessed Lord did in the Gospels, and implying that these no doubt scandalize the good Cardinals. Walford reminds the Cardinals that we live in the real world and must “meet people where they are.” I am sure the Cardinals have never heard such profound wisdom before. (Forgive the sarcasm; I very rarely use it.)
Walford is right to want to defend the Holy Father and his Magisterium, and defend the Church against schism. But he is working towards this end by by advocating for an evil worse than schism; namely, heresy.
A.L. can be understood in a perfectly orthodox fashion so long as one realizes that it is an attempt by Pope Francis to get us to focus more on mercy, less on insisting that every occasion of sin has to be immediately fled in order to be eligible for absolution, less on doing everything we can to avoid risking possible scandal even at the expense of risking possible ostracizing of souls. For indeed, neither scandal, nor occasions of sin, are intrinsic evils (though in prudence we should avoid them as much as we can). But adultery is an intrinsic evil. And one who has no desire to try to cease committing an intrinsic evil has never been, is not, and never will be, eligible for Holy Communion. The Church already infallibly teaches that, as does Sacred Scripture itself.
End of discussion.
Now I understand that this all begs the question:
Why, then, isn’t Pope Francis answering the Dubia?
Because he feels that might risk defeating his whole purpose here. Now I do support the Dubia, and I think it would be good for Pope Francis to simply answer them, since the confusion in the wake of A.L. is proving so extreme. But his entire purpose here — as has largely been included as a purpose of most Magisterial Documents since Vatican II — is to gently evangelize the world and lead people to Confession, in hopes that the individual confessor himself will be the one to break the hard truth to them instead of an impersonal document or statement read on CNN doing so. The hard truth is that they must try to live as brother and sister, as Pope St. John Paul II already Magisterially taught.
I am certain — in the convicted sense of the word — that this is how Amoris Laetitia is to be understood.
Pray for Stephen, and pray for me. Pray for our Holy Father, the Four Dubia Cardinals, and all the Bishops throughout the world. Above all, pray for Catholics everywhere, as the Straight and Narrow Way of Our Lord becomes so razor thin that it seems that virtually everyone is falling off of it; whether to the right or to the left.
Our Lady of Fatima,
Pray for us