Friday, June 23, 2017

Stephen Walford on Amoris Laetitia - The Case of the Missing Ellipsis

Steve Skojec just wrote a post at OnePeterFive, Is Amoris Laetitia an Expression of the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium, where he critiques an article of a few months ago on Amoris Laetitia. The original article in Vatican Insider, The Magisterium of Pope Francis: His Predecessors Come to His Defence by Stephen Walford, was little noticed at the time, but yesterday on Twitter, Pope Francis apologist Austin Ivereigh threw down a sort of late gauntlet to prominent opponents of Amoris Laetitia, daring them to refute the article.

Essentially, Walford argues that papal exercises of the ordinary magisterium - papal teaching authority expressed at a lower level of authority than infallible ex-cathedra pronouncements - still demand our assent. Or to put it another way, when a pope intends to teach as pope on a question of faith and morals, he cannot err, even when speaking non-infallibly. Walford argues that the statements of previous popes support this, in sources as varied as private letters, public audiences and encyclicals. Thus, the claims of Amoris Laetitia - among them, that communion should now sometimes be allowed for people living in irregular marital situations - must be accepted.

Or to put it even more simply or directly: What Pope Francis says in Amoris Laetitia must be true because he, the Pope, said it. Previous popes would agree.

Skojec does a great job of demolishing Walford's argument, and, thus, meeting Ivereigh's challenge. If you haven't already read both pieces - Walford's original and Skojec's response - I highly recommend doing so. Not only is the debate obviously relevant to Amoris Laetitia - the most contentious papal document in at least two generations - but it is also useful in understanding the general question of papal authority. Can a pope ever be wrong? Under what conditions? What is the ordinary (or universal) magisterium? And so on.

One problem is that while Walford's argument can be literally summarized in a tweet, the counter-argument cannot. And this is annoying.

Or worse than annoying. Some would argue that throwing dust is how the devil often operates. By the time you put together a complex refutation of his mix of lies, half truths and, yes, truths, your audience has fallen asleep, or stopped listening because the whole thing is too complicated to follow.

Not that Walford is the devil. For all I know, he's a fine fellow. But he's literally doing the devil's work here, whether he's aware of it or not.

Skojec summarizes the problem with Walford's argument in the final paragraph of his post. The summary is a bit longer than a tweet:
That the Church’s ordinary magisterium is infallible is indisputable. That Amoris Laetitia is an expression of it — particularly where it contradicts or calls into question the magisterial teaching that came before it — is anything but.
That's exactly right, of course, and as good a summary as any.

My contribution to the discussion - a sort of footnote - will be to make one observation about Walford's disingenuous use of sources that Skojec didn't point out (he couldn't point out everything - his post was quite long, as it is). It's the first thing that I noticed, and, indeed, the only thing that I noticed before I stopped looking, after Skojec had published.

Walford begins by using a quote from John Paul II, given at a general audience on March 17, 1993:
St. John Paul II described it as the “charism of special assistance” explaining further: “This signifies the Holy Spirit’s continual help in the whole exercise of the teaching mission, meant to explain revealed truth and its consequences in human life. For this reason the Second Vatican Council states that all the Pope’s teaching should be listened to and accepted, even when it is not given ex cathedra” [1].
My translation says, "heard and welcomed" as opposed to "listened to and accepted," but no matter. More to the point is how the excerpt ends. Due to the fact that in this instance Walford seems to have a preference for Chicago style (which eschews ellipses in certain cases) over MLA style (which requires them in those cases), it's not clear that the excerpt actually ends in mid-sentence. Let's re-do the last part in MLA style:
"For this reason the Second Vatican Council states that all the Pope’s teaching should be listened to and accepted, even when it is not given ex cathedra..." [1].
It turns out that the part that follows our ellipsis is actually crucial for understanding John Paul II's claim. Unfortunately, Walford breaks off the excerpt in the middle of a sentence. I wonder why.

Here's the second part of the sentence that he does not quote:
...but is proposed in the ordinary exercise of the magisterium with a clear intention to enunciate, recall, reiterate Faithful doctrine.
And now, the full sentence from John Paul II:
For this reason the Second Vatican Council states that all the Pope’s teaching should be listened to and accepted, even when it is not given ex cathedra, but is proposed in the ordinary exercise of the magisterium with a clear intention to enunciate, recall, reiterate Faithful doctrine.
Are you still awake?

There's the rub. Whether or not Francis had a "clear intention to enunciate, recall (or) reiterate Faithful doctrine" is the question. Since many have argued persuasively that the controversial passages of Amoris Laetitia actually contradict Church doctrine, including Church doctrine as reiterated by John Paul II himself in Familiaris consortio and Veritatis Splendor, among other places, we cannot reasonably say that he did. That he will not "answer the dubia," affirming that he did, is indeed, good evidence that he did not.

I take back some of what I said about Walford. He's a man with an agenda, and nothing will stop him from trying to persuade people of the truth of that agenda, even if it's cutting sainted popes off in mid sentence to further his case. That's not exactly innocent. Yes, what he did was dishonest. And that's merely what happens in his second paragraph with his first source. It doesn't bode well.

But in fairness to Walford, he's not unique. Defenses of Amoris Laetitia are riddled with this type of thing. Indeed, Amoris Laetitia itself is riddled with this type of thing, selectively quoting documents from, say, John Paul II or Benedict XVI to attempt to bolster the case, even when in some instances, other parts of the documents or even other parts of the same sections or even paragraphs in those documents contradict the case.

But Walford takes the cake by doing it within a sentence.

Give them their due. They have chutzpa.


  1. Excellent.

    ABS would go further and note the ultimate source of the Bergolian problem is his lack of love of God.

    Psalm 118:165 Much peace have they that love thy law; and to them there is no stumbling block.

    Our Pope and Our Cross is forever complaining about putative Pharisees - those faithful Catholics who strive to honor and actualise all the Commandments of Christ - and claiming those Pharisees are not open to the surprises of The Holy Ghost, which, let's be honest, is a reference to his agenda of rapidly introducing novelties that will forever change the Church and the opposition to those novelties by the Traditionalists whom Franciscus calls Pharisees.

    Franciscus rarely seems to be at peace during his many public appearances during which time he berates those who do not surrender to his agenda of rapid and radical change.

    In fact, can it be said that Franciscus loves God if he does not love His law?

    I do think Psalm 118 specifically identifies the problem Franciscus has; he does not love the Ten Commandments, the Commandments of Christ, or the unspoken norms and praxis of multimillenial existence, Tradition - and, thus, how can it be said he loves God?

    A Commentary on the Book of Psalms by St. Robert Bellarmine is useful here:

    The greatest and truest praise that can be conferred on anyone is to say they love God's law; for if they love the law, they love him who gave the law; and if they love him, they love everything belonging to him; and thus, on their part they have no enemy; but, as far as they are concerned, they are at peace with all. Again "To them that love God all things work together unto good," and, therefore, he that loves God should be at peace with all; and, therefore, the Apostle, Gal 5 says, "The fruit of the spirit is charity, joy, peace, etc. By the same process of reasoning, "there is no stumbling block"; to him "who loves they law;" he runs on smoothly to his country, for he who loves the law cannot give scandal, scandal being a sin, and sin being a breach of the law; but scandal offended by others, either applies to the infirm, who, from their ignorance, look upon as forbidden what is not forbidden at all, and take offense at things they thought were illicit; or it is that of the Pharisees, who put a bad construction on what should have been viewed in quiet a different light. But they "who love the law" are neither infirm nor Pharisees, and, therefore, "to them there is no stumbling block."

    One has a duty to pray that Franciscus is quickened and revivified by love for he clearly does not love those Catholics who keep the Faith once delivered.

    O, and there is also the duty to maintain the Bonds of Unity in Worship, Doctrine, and Authority while remembering the teaching of Saint Vincent of Lerins who observed that such events that have befallen we wee Catholics is one way that God tests us to see if we love Him.

    Now, some may think it a bit much that we have had to endure so many epicene ecclesiastics during this execrable epic epoch but, as someone famous must have once said, Them's the breaks.

  2. You have to wonder who Stephen Walford thought was his audience. 90% of Catholics, having never read Amoris Laetitia, already agree with the Pope in general, mainly because the Pope agrees with them about being "flexible" with moral doctrine. 5% of Catholics, knowing something about AL, agree with the thinking as it just extends the theology of Vatican II and consequently need no convincing. The last 5% disagrees with Pope Francis on the grounds that it not in line with historic Catholic morality.

    1. Well, I think mixed into that final 10% are sincere Catholics who could go either way. They feel the pull of both wanting to trust and obey the Pope (as they, in general, should) and wanting to follow Catholic teaching (but what is it?). And that 3% (or whatever it is) have the power to move many of the rest. I suppose these fights are always among a small minority of intellectual "leaders."

      And even if one is immovable in his position, for whatever reason, good arguments have the power to strengthen their resolve or weaken it (if given by the other side).

  3. Point well take Oakes. I guess the thing is with me is that I'm getting so sick and tired about hearing justifications and rebuttals for Pope Francis words and actions. Actions that are on the face of it clearly contrary to historic Catholic teaching. So, it seems to me, that anyone who tried to defend this man is either stupid, obtuse or has a bad conscience. Of course, I may be wrong and surely suffering from impatience.

  4. I am surprised more people haven't read Jessica Murdoch's piece on First Things from last autumn. It's titled Creeping Infallibility. Murdoch without being too abstract or wordy gives the Church's definition of what Doctrine is and what isn't. She takes those defenders of AL to task without being full of snark.

  5. Another interesting thing to consider is that in matters of doctrine, teachings that are older and more well-established take precedence over newer teachings. Pope Francis is only one pope of many. His teaching would only be infallible insofar as it was in agreement with the continuous teaching of the Magesterium from Day One, because every pope in our history had the charisma of infallibility, too.

    If AL is infallible teaching, then every papal teaching from our history that disagrees with AL is wrong. I'm guessing that a great many papal teachings disagree with AL, excepting those do not touch on moral theology in any way. This means that either they are all wrong and Amoris Laetitiae is the first infallible thing a pope has ever written on moral theology, or AL is wrong. Papal infallibility would paradoxically collapse entirely if AL was truly infallible, because it would render every other papal teaching fallible.

  6. Please God, deliver us soon from Pope Francis the Terrible!

  7. This nonsense didn't start with Francis. When John Paul II made the assertion Walford cites, it provided the rhetorical and pseudo-theological fig leaf for his arbitrary, unilateral revision of Catholic teaching on capital punishment for murder. Don't believe that? Then read the following:
    Francis is the logical extension of the papal positivism (aka, neo-Ultramontanism) that has afflicted the Catholic Church since John Paul II's papacy. In fact, most of the Catholic "apologists" (cf, Tim Staples) are nothing but neo-Ultramontanists, with Mark Shea as the ultimate example of how this perversion destroys the mind.

    1. Joseph--Good point. Celebrity cultism entered the Catholic Church with Pope John Paul II and even more so with the highly visible, crowd pleasing, political and not especially Catholic
      Pope Francis. Our focus is to be on Christ not his messengers. What happened to St Augustin's saying that "he must decrease and Christ increase".?

  8. Yes, but doesn't AL rely on the Church's teaching on the application of Conscience ? This of course brings up an entire and new point of discussion, ie what are those teachings..
    AL relies upon a "calculus of conscience" that weighs sins on both sides of an equation and seeks the "lesser evil".
    This is subject to rampant abuse, of course, but I understand that this is what "they" rely upon, so that is where the discussion's continuation should go...imo

    1. Conscience has become an excuse to do as you please. Catholic truth trumps conscience. We must obey the letter of the law. We are obligated to learn the law. And the Catholic Church is obligated to teach it. Unfortunately, the Church doesn't do this well because they value money and political power over sacrifice and love of Christ.

  9. The "indefectible" church has been teaching error since Vatican Deux . AL is just another error in the list.

    Ergo---this is not the "Church". If it is, then the gates of hell have indeed prevailed.

    Seattle Kim

    1. Seattle Kim, the "Gates of Hell" will not prevail because Hell, Satan, the Antichrist, the False Prophet and Death itself will be thrown into the Lake of Fire, according to the Book of Revelation.

      Nevertheless, we cannot dismiss the possibility that satanic elements have taken charge of the Vatican and elements of the hierarchy. Pope Paul VI even said that "the smoke of Satan" entered the sanctuary.

      The authors of the epistles warned against apostasy in the "last days," which began technically at Pentecost.

      Read Malachi Martin's "Windswept House," and you'll know what's happening and why.

  10. From everything I've learned about Paulette. VI, I think he blew the smoke in himself.

    I do not believe the gates of hell have prevailed. But I also no longer believe that the conciliar church is actually The Church. To believe that would mean believing that the indefectible Church has been teaching error
    For the last 50+ years.

    I love Malachi's books.

    Seattle kim

  11. Seattle Kim. Malachi was the Jeremiah of our time. Attention should be paid. God always provides clues about the future for those who seek them in good faith.

    1. I often wonder if Martin were alive today--would he denounce the current 'church'
      as a false church of apostasy. Things are just so much worse now.

      Seattle kim

  12. responded to Walford's two articles back in February and March. The links to all three may be found here: