A Strange Notion of Mercy

Yesterday, I had the misfortune of reading yet another of the propaganda pieces seeking to burnish the reputation of a papacy under constant fire. Its author, British “teacher”* Stephen Walford — who was recently rewarded with a papal audience for his previous efforts attempting to deflect criticism from Amoris Laetitia — absolutely gushes with admiration for a pope he repeatedly calls a “prophet” — in particular, a prophet of mercy.

Because unlike Walford, I believe in authentic mercy, I’ll spare you many excerpts from the strangled prose in his premature hagiography of the pope. And yet, while Walford qua Walford doesn’t really matter, he is emblematic of a certain strain of sycophantic thought that has been bubbling up out of Rome, seeking to counter the narrative of orthodoxy and place the whims of a single pope above the teaching of all of his predecessors — or more importantly, God Himself. It will serve a certain purpose, therefore, to briefly examine his bizarre analysis:

Amoris laetitia is the obvious case in point. The opponents of the Holy Father, it seems, have not considered the idea that maybe Jesus actually desires union with the civilly remarried who love him dearly yet feel trapped by circumstances. For them, adultery is adultery, and it matters not if the perpetrator is a man who cares for nothing except self-satisfying lust, or the betrayed and lonely woman who has found a deep love with a man who has treated her children as his own. The Pelagian sees Jesus acting like an algorithm who has a fixed judgment based on the sin; but that “Jesus” would not be fully human.


For Francis the prophet of divine mercy, Jesus doesn’t look to the past or just the present moment. No, his real interest is in future possibilities and his grace and patience work on that basis. But, some argue, how can there be true repentance if sexual relations continue? Of course, what these people should really be considering is how does Jesus weigh on the scales of justice these sins with the considerable amount of virtue and love possibly displayed in other areas of their lives? “Charity covers a multitude of sins”–as St. Peter, the first Pope, infallibly taught– and unless a soul is in a state of mortal sin, it is entirely possible that a path of sanctification is under way despite the irregular situation.

After reading the above, you might find yourself as surprised as I was to know that Walford thinks he has the standing to label as “utterly wrong” the logic of renowned Austrian philosopher Joseph Seifert in pointing out certain obvious consequences that will follow from a literal reading of Amoris Laetitia. As in his other essays on the topic, Walford never bothers to address the concerns presented, but instead contents himself with the assertion of his own subjective interpretations in lieu of an argument. “The Pope is simply teaching,” Walford positively beams, “that the soul does not have to be in despair, and that God understands the complexity of the situation.” Which situation? Adultery, of course. As though somehow complexity absolves us from the life of virtue and the obligation to remove ourselves from grave sin. After all, “Jesus is not a wizard who magically makes the complex family situation disappear.” (If He can’t do it, how can we be expected to, amirite?!)

Perhaps more peculiarly, Walford also never bothers to explain why in Francis’ new Church of “mercy,” it is morally justifiable for a Catholic thinker of Seifert’s stature to be fired for asking a sincere and respectfully-worded question about a papal teaching. After all, if people are too stupid to be able to know that a sin like adultery is grave or too mired in complexity to ever give consent to it, how can a man be guilty of a fireable offense simply by asking questions about proposals for dealing with that complexity? And for that matter, why doesn’t this “prophet of divine mercy” in Rome intervene on Seifert’s behalf, asking his subordinate — the Archbishop of Granada — to restore Seifert to his position at the Dietrich von Hildebrand Chair at the International Academy of Philosophy? If the divorced and remarried can have recourse to the sacraments, can’t Professor Seifert have recourse to his job?

How is it that this “mercy” is supposed to work, anyway? Is it selective, or is it for all?

If mercy is, indeed, for everyone, then why has the “prophet” of this mercy not deigned to grant an audience to those four cardinals who have carried the hopes and fears of the faithful with them as they seek theological clarity and doctrinal truth from Christ’s vicar through the dubia? So long, in fact, did “the prophet of divine mercy” delay in granting this request, that two of the four cardinals who asked the questions have actually died just waiting for him to acknowledge their request to speak with him. One would think, since Francis is (as Walford assures us) THE “prophet of divine mercy,” he would have realized immediately the injustice he had committed in failing to show paternal mercy toward these concerned successors to the apostles when he learned of the passing of Cardinal Joachim Meisner in July, and sought out the other three dubia cardinals with all haste to assure them that their concerns were being heard — at least before the passing of Cardinal Caffarra in September.

Strangely, His Mercifulness — who found the time to bless Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and his ‘wife’, both of whom were previously married, during his recent trip to Colombia — couldn’t pencil them in in the past 12 months since they first sent him the questions privately.

Instead we read about something that sounds…different than mercy. A personal account from the Italian journalist, teacher, and pro-life leader Francesco Agnoli about how the late Cardinal Caffarra was ignored for months by “a pontiff who never misses phone calls or the reception parties”**:

“One day he [Caffarra] confided in me and in our common friend, Lorenzo Bertocchi, who slept very badly during the recently concluded Synod on the family; who suffered greatly to see someone trying to throw Familiaris ConsortioVeritatis Splendor, and Humanae Vitae in the shredder: “I would have liked to take the train,” he said, “and to escape to Bologna, leaving the Synod.”

I pressed him, asking how it was possible for the Church to debate what was not debatable (the indissolubility of marriage) and how it had come to the point of having cardinals and bishops favorable to gay marriage. He was also astonished, but confident. But, I asked him, are you at peace? “Humanly speaking, no: I do not see a solution to the crisis. From the spiritual point of view, I am at peace, for the Church is Christ’s, and He does not abandon it.”

Still on that occasion, he told us that during the Synod he had asked for an urgent meeting with Benedict XVI: “His secretary told me that it was impossible to have him immediately, but I insisted. Then he told me yes for the following day, and I could meet with Benedict. “

Imagine our curiosity, dear reader: We asked him what the German pontiff’s opinion was about the direction taken so far by the synod fathers, Kasper first of all. But Caffarra stopped. He had a great modesty, the reticence that is natural in great spirits. He loved to speak at conferences, in catechesis, but he knew to keep incredible self-control on other occasions. And yet, his face revealed enough to understand that his meeting with Benedict had given him the courage to continue in his battle against the innovators.

Thus, after the Dubia and all that happened afterwards, it was enough for me to get out of him, on another occasion, almost by force, an admission: Caffarra continued to see Benedict even after the Dubia. And certainly he was not “rebuked”, quite the contrary!

When I heard the news of the audience denied by Francis, I asked Caffarra how it was that a pontiff, who never misses phone calls or the reception parties, after months had still not yet met with the four cardinals who also asked for an audience, also on behalf of thousands of priests and faithful. It seemed to me a very strange lack of respect. Caffarra only reminded me that the Church’s Tradition and Law provide that cardinals “are not merely personalities who wear red slippers”, but they are called by God to be “at the side of the pope”: “That is why we have acted according to the laws of the Church, according to procedures not invented by us, but provided for, and we wait … “. Nothing more.

So it seems, then that at least one of the two living men we have called “pope” had respect and kindness for this man of God. Too bad he’s not the real “prophet of divine mercy” — or for that matter, the reigning pope! As for the one who is currently running the Church, veteran Vatican watcher Sandro Magister recounted for us how he again snubbed Cardinal Caffarra (whom Magister described as the “driving figure” behind the dubia) at a meal shared by chance near Bologna in April:

During the lunch he sat beside him, but the pope preferred to converse with an elderly priest and with the seminarians who were sitting at the same table. “Unfortunately, no hint of encouragement,” the cardinal confided after the meeting. And to someone who pointed out that in the photo of their embrace released by the Vatican press office (see above) he appeared “with a serene and firm expression” while the pope had a “scowling” face, he replied: “You have correctly interpreted the exchange of glances.”

Indeed, the image in question shows not the countenance of mercy on the face of the “prophet”, but of discomfort and consternation, while Caffarra’s own gaze is one of piercing intensity and purpose:

The telegram from this so-called “prophet of divine mercy” conveying condolences to the people of Bologna on their beloved cardinal’s passing was polite and professional. It made no mention, however, of the question that so deeply bothered Caffarra, that weighed upon his heart as he waited for an answer from his pope in vain until he drew his final breath. Adding insult to injury, this week we read rumors, not yet sourced, that when “the prophet” learned of the passing of Cardinal Caffarra during his journey to Colombia, he informed the journalists accompanying him that he would not be answering any questions about the late cardinal during his usual in-flight press conference, where no other topic has ever appeared to be off limits. As we await confirmation of the truth of this report, we cannot help but note that when it comes to the dubia cardinals, this “prophet” never seems to have any answers.

And yet, we are meant to believe that this is mercy?

Let me rephrase Walford’s words so that they better reflect reality:

The Holy Father, it seems, has not considered the idea that maybe Jesus actually desires those who question what His servant has done to His teaching receive an answer from that man, inasmuch as he has been solemnly charged with guarding His Church. For them, divine truth is divine truth, and it matters very much indeed if the violator of that truth is a man who cares for nothing except obtaining self-satisfying power over the Church, even as he sits upon the very throne of St. Peter. The Modernist sees Jesus as a means to an end; a divine rhetorical device who can be used to admonish the insufficiently enthusiastic to fall in line with the official agenda; but that “Jesus” would not be fully divine.

In fact, he wouldn’t be Jesus at all.

Still, if this “prophet of divine mercy” so clearly sees that “Jesus doesn’t look to the past or just the present moment” and that “his [sic] real interest is in future possibilities and his [sic] grace and patience work on that basis”, why can he not also see that these men who have stood up and asked simple and forthright questions about his teaching are at least as guiltless in their sincere concern as the adulterers he so enthusiastically coddles and excuses? Why can he not see that these men in fact display a “considerable amount of virtue and love in other areas of their lives” that “covers a multitude of sins” — including the apparent sin of asking questions in order to obtain clear and authentic teaching from the Church?

Why can he not see then, that it is his obligation to “accompany” them, not ignore them?

Could it be, perhaps, because the “mercy” touted by this “prophet” and his sycophants is anything but authentic? Could it be that it is of an entirely different kind?


(**Translation by Andrew Guernsey)


Correction: the original text stated erroneously that the pope had blessed “Argentinian president Mauricio Macri and his remarried ‘wife'” . While Francis did receive Macri and his “wife” at the Vatican in violation of protocol last year, in fact, the blessing bestowed during this trip was upon Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and his ‘wife’, both of whom were previously married. Also, Stephen Walford contacted us to say that he is not a “school teacher”, as we originally said, but refused to tell us what it is that he does teach. So, we have put “teacher” in quotes above, pending any further information. 

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