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

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

[Walford is missing more than an ellipsis]

Posted by Oakes Spalding on FRIDAY, JUNE 23, 2017

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 chutzpah.

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One comment on “Stephen Walford on Amoris Laetitia – The Case of the Missing Ellipsis

  1. Insidious Pope Francis with Bumbling Ivereigh & Walford lead to

    Fred Martinez
    Thursday, June 22, 2017

    “Dissolution, Confusion, and Death”
    Insidious means to proceed “in a gradual, subtle way, but with very harmful effects.” (Oxford Dictionary)

    Is Pope Francis insidious in bringing about Communions to the those in adulterous “second marriages” through Amoris Laetitia?

    The Pope’s personally chosen Special Secretary for the synods on marriage and family Archbishop Bruno Forte revealed Francis’s “gradual, subtle way” of bringing about adulterous Communions to the website Zonalcale.it:

    “If we speak explicitly about communion for the divorce and remarried.” Archbishop Forte, reporting on a joke of Pope Francis, “you do not know what a terrible mess we will make. So we won’t speak plainly, do it in a way that the premises are there, then I will draw out the conclusions.” (Zonalcale.it, May, 3 2016)

    Papal biographer and Crux editor Austen Ivereigh and all of Francis’s inner circle as well as loyal supporters know that Forte spilled the beans on the Pope’s purpose for the synods and Amoris Laetitia.

    It is a given that they have to pretend that Forte didn’t reveal Francis’s insidiousness.

    The next step for persons that are not bumblers is to invent a convincing narrative or spin that Catholics could halfway buy.

    Instead Francis supporter Ivereigh claims Stephen Walford’s article for the Vatican Insider is “irrefutable.” (Vatican Insider, “The Magisterium of Pope Francis: His Predecessors Come to His Defence” February 2, 2017)

    Walford’s central argument is that Amoris Laetitia is a case of papal ordinary magisterium and to deny it’s authority is to “call into question the teaching authority of previous popes and the entire fabric of Catholicism.”

    He claims three great Church theologians “ruled out” that a Pope can teach heresy.

    His claim that the great Fr. Francisco Suarez agreed with his thesis is worst than sloppy writing. It is the opposite of the truth.

    Suarez taught “it is a given that a pope could be a formal heretic.” (Crisis, “Can a Pope be a Heretic?,” March 4, 2015)

    Scholar James Schall, S.J. said:

    “Bellarmine and Suarez considered a de facto possibility of an heretical pope. They granted that the Church would have to depose him if he did not self-declare his heresy.” (The Catholic Thing, “On Heretical Popes,” November 11, 2014)

    Walford said St. Robert Bellarmine and St. Alphonsus Liguori agreed with him.

    As Schall’s quote shows Bellarmine taught that the possibility of heretical popes could be piously believed despite what the saint personally believed.

    As with Bellarmine, Liguori personally believed that popes could not be heretics, but like the former he did not disallow Catholics to believe in the possibility of heretical popes.

    Villanova University theologian Jessica Murdoch explains magisterium authority for Walford:

    “Responding faithfully to the trans-temporal magisterium of the Church (and not just to the magisterium of one’s own time) requires holding in view two other principals of interpretation. First, ‘the minor gives way to the major.’ Second, the ‘one gives way to the many.’… Thus, Amoris Laetitia cannot supersede the encyclical Veritatis Splendor…. One must privilege the harmony of the many pontificates in union with each other, and their unanimity with the Fathers and Doctors of the Church over the one seemingly dissonant voice.” (First Things, “Creeping Infallibility,” 9-27-16)

    The article shows that to disbelieve papal teachings that are dissonant from every single magisterium teaching in the history of the Church is the only way not to “call into question the teaching authority of previous popes and the entire fabric of Catholicism.”

    Denying such dissonant papal teachings is the only way not to bring about “dissolution, confusion, and death” into the Church.

    In the same article, Murdoch said:

    “By contrast, doctrinal evolution in which a new teaching sublates and eliminates the earlier teaching in a quasi-Hegelian fashion breeds dissolution, confusion, and death.”

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