ROME — In an essay published by “Vatican Insider” today in three languages, a British Catholic author has challenged the four cardinals who submitted a set of dubia, or doubts, about Amoris Laetitia to Pope Francis to drop their opposition, arguing they’re largely wrong on the merits and fueling abuse directed at the pontiff and his supporters.
“We cannot come to any other conclusion than Pope Francis …has legitimately made possible the reception of Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried in certain carefully considered cases where grace is working in their souls, and a sincere desire to strive for holiness is present,” Stephen Walford writes.
“If we cannot accept this premise,” Walford adds, “then we are not accepting the teaching of previous popes.”
Walford also warns the four cardinals about forces in the Church their perceived resistance to Pope Francis is encouraging.
“The abuse from many, including those who run websites and traditionalist blogs aimed at the Holy Father and those who are loyal to him, is nothing short of satanic,” he writes.
“In the desire for the unity of the Church around Peter, it is essential to affirm the pope has the authority — ratified in heaven — to make disciplinary changes for the good of some divorced and remarried souls, and so I ask you to bring to an end this situation by accepting the constant tradition of the Church that popes are free from error in matters of faith and morals,” he says.
Walford’s last book, Communion of Saints (Angelico Press), carried endorsements from two cardinals – Gérald Lacroix of Quebec, and George Alencherry of the Syro-Malabar Church in India – as well as two members of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, one of whom is also a former chief of staff for the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine.
Given that Vatican Insider is edited by veteran Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli, who’s known to be close to Pope Francis, Walford’s essay is likely to be seen as reflecting views held by key figures around the pontiff.
The dubia were submitted to Francis in September 2016, and then made public in November when the pope did not respond. The four cardinals presenting them were Italian Carlo Caffarra, American Raymond Burke, and Germans Walter Brandmüller and Joachim Meisner.
The cardinals asked the pope to respond to five questions, one about whether Amoris Laetitia indeed permits divorced and civilly remarried Catholics in some cases to receive the sacraments, and the others about whether certain previous Church teachings on marriage, conscience and sin had been amended.
On the first point, Walford says the cardinals appear to “have trouble accepting the two authentic interpretations of Pope Francis” affirming that sacramental discipline has changed. One, Walford said, came in response to a question from American journalist Frank Rocca aboard the papal plane returning from Lesbos in April 2016, shortly after the document appeared, and the other in a letter to the bishops of the Buenos Aires region in his native Argentina in September 2016 approving their draft guidelines for implementing Amoris.
Walford cites several papal and Vatican documents to assert that Francis has the authority to make such a change, and concludes that “there is no possibility of a formal correction,” an idea that Burke floated at one stage, “in relation to matters of faith and morals taught as part of the magisterium.”
On the other dubia, Walford contends that the cardinals are basically overreacting, saying that even after the publication of Amoris Laetitia:
- “The teachings on the indissolubility of marriage remain.”
- “Each person must strive to follow the moral teachings of the Church.”
- “Divorce is an evil, and adultery is always evil — even if guilt can be reduced or erased altogether.”
- “Consciences must be formed. Nowhere does the text allow anyone to come to the conclusion they can do as they please.”
- “In no way does Pope Francis suggest that irregular unions are a ‘good’ alternative option to the original marriage. However, it cannot be denied that grace is at work in some of these unions.”
Walford concludes by asking the four cardinals to reverse course, in part because he argues their stance is emboldening ugly currents within the Church.
“You may or may not be aware that there is a growing section of traditionalists and even some conservative Catholics who see you as the standard bearers for the rejection of this papacy,” he said. “I know from experience that some of it is deeply troubling … You are their role models, and that is an intolerable situation.
“In reality, there is no confusion but only outright rejection and defiance towards the legitimate pope and his magisterial teachings,” Walford writes. “If all the cardinals had accepted and defended Pope Francis’s clear teaching, there would have been no fuel for the dissenting fire.”
Walford’s essay is published simultaneously by Vatican Insider in English, Spanish and Italian.