Is Amoris Laetitia an Expression of the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium?

Earlier this week, papal biographer and Crux contributing editor Austen Ivereigh fired off a bravado-laden tweet about Amoris Laetitia (AL) and the corresponding dubia:

Unsurprisingly, this prompted some rebuttals. After asserting that in the matter of AL, we are faced with a case of “Roma locuta, causa finita” (Rome has spoken, the cause is finished), and in another comment insisting that AL is merely “development of doctrine” which has “been happening since Pentecost,” Ivereigh threw down the gauntlet:

Stephen Walford’s piece at Vatican Insider has been out for a while. Published in February of this year, it had its chance to make the rounds, but little came of it. I cannot recall seeing a single rebuttal of it, which apparently leads Ivereigh to believe it’s “irrefutable.”

It’s certainly not irrefutable, but its argumentation is messy, which makes it difficult to respond to succinctly.

But since the question of what papal authority includes — and what it doesn’t — is such a common and contentious topic these days, I thought it might be worth the effort.


Problematic Premises, Faulty Conclusions

Walford makes two major mistakes in his analysis, the first of which is begging the question. He builds his analysis on the false premises that AL is:

a) a legitimate expression of the authentic papal/ordinary magisterium and

b) a work that is inspired by the Holy Spirit and that therefore

c) To oppose it is to “call into question the teaching authority of previous popes and consequently the entire fabric of Catholicism”.

“In particular,” Walford writes, “Amoris Laetitia has led many traditionalists to the conclusion that Pope Francis is at least deliberately “allowing” error and possibly even teaching heresy.”

Walford’s second mistake follows from the first. Armed with the certitude that the faithful owe assent to AL, he never — not even once — addresses the reasons why people are reaching the conclusion that there are serious problems with the document. He does not reference, for example, the 19 theological censures proposed by 45 highly-qualified Catholic scholars and pastors from around the world. He does not attempt in any way to reconcile the questions posed in the dubia that exist in direct response to the obvious and doctrinally-contrary reading of AL. Five of his 12 footnotes are taken from the teaching of Pope John Paul II, but he never discusses the way AL runs roughshod over Familiaris Consortio or, for that matter, Veritatis Splendor. He also ignores the countless articles that have been written and statements that have been made by theologians, philosophers, priests, bishops, and Catholic intellectuals of all stripes, parsing the troubling bits of AL down to their theological molecules and demonstrating why there’s very much a problem here.

Bizarrely, his argument studiously ignores what the entire Amoris Laetitia controversy is about. Instead, it essentially boils down to: the pope said it, and you have to do whatever he says because he’s the boss of you. 


What is the “Magisterium”, Anyway?

The word “magisterium” comes from the Latin word, “magister”, which means, “teacher.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the magisterium as “the living teaching office of the Church” whose task is to give “an authentic intepretation of the Word of God, whether in written form or in the form of Tradition”. The Church’s authority to do this is “exercised in the name of Jesus Christ,” which means that “the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter”.

The Catechism emphasizes that “this magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us that:

Closer study of the living magisterium will enable us to better understand the splendid organism created by God and gradually developed that it might preserve, transmit, and bring within the reach of all revealed truth, ever the same, but adapted to every variety of time, circumstances, and environment. Properly speaking, this magisterium is a teaching authority; it not only presents the truth, but it has the right to impose it, since its power is the very power given by God to Christ and by Christ to His Church. This authority is called the teaching Church.


The Various Types and Authority of Magisterial Expressions

The magisterium of the Church is expressed infallibly in two principal ways: the solemn or extraordinary magisterium, and the ordinary (or “ordinary and universal”) magisterium.

Examples of extraordinary magisterium include: definitive decrees and/or anathemas at ecumenical councils and ex cathedra statements by a pope.

Examples of ordinary magisterium are much more broad: re-iterations of previously held doctrines, papal documents such as encyclicals, etc.

Not all exercises of the magisterium have the same level of authority, and to make matters even more confusing, not all magisterial expressions are infallible. Whenever the Church is teaching, she is exercising, by definition, her magisterial office. As one theologian told me, this means even a papal homily is a form of “magisterial teaching,” but it’s certainly not held on the same level of authority as, say, an encyclical.

This topic can be rather complex, and dogmatic theologians spend a great deal of time parsing out and categorizing the various distinctions within the Church’s magisterial authority. Since I am not a dogmatic theologian, and do not have the space here to present an exhaustive summary, I will draw briefly from the work of others to explain these categories. (Any technical errors in what follows are my own.)

Brother André Marie of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary has written a thorough but concise examination of the various facets of Magisterial authority, coupled with excerpts from the most relevant Church documents that help to explain them. Broadly, he describes the three kinds of magisterial statements (with a fourth that is less clearly defined) as follows:

(1) truths taught as divinely revealed, (2) definitively proposed statements on matters closely connected with revealed truth, and (3) ordinary teaching on faith and morals. A fourth category, ordinary prudential teaching on disciplinary matters, is commonly accepted by theologians and can be inferred from the text of Cardinal Ratzinger’s Donum Veritatis.[2]

The first category truths divinely revealed — would include those taken from the Scriptures and affirmed by the magisterium. These are infallible and dogmatic in nature. According to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s doctrinal commentary Professio Fidei, examples of magisterial pronouncements in this category would include “the articles of faith of the Creed, the various Christological dogmas and Marian dogmas; the doctrine of the institution of the sacraments by Christ and their efficacy with regard to grace; the doctrine of the real and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the sacrificial nature of the eucharistic celebration; the foundation of the Church by the will of Christ; the doctrine on the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff; the doctrine on the existence of original sin; the doctrine on the immortality of the spiritual soul and on the immediate recompense after death; the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts; the doctrine on the grave immorality of direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being.

Teachings in this category could be expressed by the solemn (extraordinary) magisterium, or by the ordinary and universal magisterium. As Vatican I’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Dei Filius (#3), says:

Further, all those things are to be believed with divine and catholic faith which are contained in the Word of God, written or handed down, and which the Church, either by a solemn judgment, or by her ordinary and universal Magisterium, proposes for belief as having been Divinely-revealed.

The second category —  definitively proposed statements on matters closely connected with revealed truthwould include “the legitimacy of the election of a pope, the celebration of an ecumenical council, the canonizations of saints, and Leo XIII’s declaration, in Apostolicae Curae, of the invalidity of Anglican orders; by logical necessity: the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff as it was known before its definition at Vatican I, the moral teachings on the illicitness of prostitution and fornication, and the doctrine of a male-only priesthood.”

These, too, can be pronounced through either the extraordinary or ordinary and universal magisterium, and are to be accepted and held by the faithful. According to Donum Vertitatis (#23) — the CDF instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian:

When the Magisterium proposes ‘in a definitive way’ truths concerning faith and morals, which, even if not divinely revealed, are nevertheless strictly and intimately connected with Revelation, these must be firmly accepted and held.

The third categoryordinary teaching on faith and morals — is more difficult to give examples of. The CDF tells us only that “As examples of doctrines belonging to the third paragraph, one can point in general to teachings set forth by the authentic ordinary Magisterium in a non-definitive way, which require degrees of adherence differentiated according to the mind and the will manifested; this is shown especially by the nature of the documents, by the frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or by the tenor of the verbal expression.”

This category is further explained by the CDF:

To this paragraph belong all those teachings on faith and morals – presented as true or at least as sure, even if they have not been defined with a solemn judgment or proposed as definitive by the ordinary and universal magisterium. Such teachings are, however, an authentic expression of the ordinary Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff or of the College of Bishops and therefore require religious submission of will and intellect.

The fourth category, if we can call it that, is that of “interventions in the prudential order.” This is explained in Donum Veritatis as follows:

When it comes to the question of interventions in the prudential order, it could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies. Bishops and their advisors have not always taken into immediate consideration every aspect or the entire complexity of a question. But it would be contrary to the truth, if, proceeding from some particular cases, one were to conclude that the Church’s Magisterium can be habitually mistaken in its prudential judgments, or that it does not enjoy divine assistance in the integral exercise of its mission.

It should be noted that a pope can always disclaim a personal opinion or his work as a private theologian as a non-magisterial action. Inasmuch as these are not expressions of his teaching office, they are not magisterial in nature. Walford himself offers an example:

In more recent times, Pope Benedict XVI was very careful to state that his Trilogy Jesus of Nazareth“is in no way an exercise of the magisterium”…


So Where Does Amoris Laetitia Fall in The Order of Magisterial Teaching?

At the outset of his essay, Walford states:

Of course what interests us here, in relation to Pope Francis, is not the issue of infallibility for defined dogmas, but the exercise of his ordinary magisterium in which Amoris Laetitia certainly falls [2]. [emphasis added]

Based on what we have just learned about the magisterium, however, does AL actually qualify?

I’d like to begin our examination of this question by considering one of the earliest pieces of commentary on AL, which addressed specifically the question of its authoritative character. It came from none other than Cardinal Burke:

The only key to the correct interpretation of Amoris Laetitia is the constant teaching of the Church and her discipline that safeguards and fosters this teaching. Pope Francis makes clear, from the beginning, that the post-synodal apostolic exhortation is not an act of the magisterium (3). The very form of the document confirms the same. It is written as a reflection of the Holy Father on the work of the last two sessions of the Synod of Bishops. For instance, in Chapter Eight, which some wish to interpret as the proposal of a new discipline with obvious implications for the Church’s doctrine, Pope Francis, citing his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, declares:

I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, “always does what good she can, even if in the process her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street” (308).

In other words, the Holy Father is proposing what he personally believes is the will of Christ for his Church, but he does not intend to impose his point of view, nor to condemn those who insist on what he calls “a more rigorous pastoral care.” The personal, that is, non-magisterial, nature of the document is also evident in the fact that the references cited are principally the final report of the 2015 session of the Synod of Bishops and the addresses and homilies of Pope Francis himself. There is no consistent effort to relate the text, in general, or these citations to the magisterium, the Fathers of the Church and other proven authors.

What is more, as noted above, a document which is the fruit of the Synod of Bishops must always be read in the light of the purpose of the synod itself, namely, to safeguard and foster what the Church has always taught and practiced in accord with her teaching.

Magisterial teachings — particularly those of the ordinary magisterium — build on what has already been established through the perennial teachings of the Church, not personal opinions or synod reports. As Professio Fidei states:

It should be noted that the infallible teaching of the ordinary and universal magisterium is not only set forth with an explicit declaration of a doctrine to be believed or held definitively, but is also expressed by a doctrine implicitly contained in a practice of the Church’s faith, derived from revelation or, in any case, necessary for eternal salvation, and attested to by the uninterrupted Tradition…

Burke cites Amoris Laetitia #3 in his analysis above. In it, the pope makes clear that even he believes that AL is not magisterial.

Since “time is greater than space”, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13), until he leads us fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to see all things as he does. Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For “cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle… needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied”.3 [emphasis added]

How is it possible that something clearly identified as “pastoral” and distanced from being an “intervention of the magisterium” could be considered authoritative and binding? How could something that the pope believes is culturally relativistic could be an exercise of the ordinary and universal magisterium? Either the prescriptions contained in AL are for all Catholics, or they are not.

Writing at the Catholic Herald, Dr. Kurt Martens, Professor of Canon Law at the Catholic University of America, discusses an article written by Spanish priest and professor Father Salvador Pié-Ninot in L’Osservatore Romano, in which he claimed, as Walford does, that “the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia meets all the criteria for being an example of the ordinary magisterium.”

Martens cautions that the case is not so simple, and that too many assumptions are made, drawing, for example, from the type of papal document (“apostolic exhortations” Martens notes, “are among the principal teaching documents of the Church”) without sufficiently examining the intention of the document or its content. Martens also points out that a given papal document may contain “doctrinal elements of different weight”, depending on what sources it cites, and whether they are already expressions of the authentic and binding magisterium. He says that the same thing applies to AL:

The references to Humanae vitae and Familiaris consortio are references to the particular level of the magisterium exercised in those documents.

From that perspective, Father Salvador Pié-Ninot is correct: Amoris Laetitia is indeed a document that partially exercises the ordinary magisterium, in that it repeats the previously proposed teaching of the Church. Amoris Laetitia must therefore be interpreted within the tradition of the Church.

“Immediately after the publication of the article in L’Osservatore Romano,” Martens says,

certain journalists rejoiced on the internet and claimed that Cardinal Burke was wrong in his assessment of Amoris Laetitia being a personal opinion of Pope Francis and not an exercise of the ordinary magisterium.

First of all, Cardinal Burke did not exactly use these words; he said that a post-synodal apostolic exhortation “by its very nature, does not propose new doctrine and discipline, but applies the perennial doctrine and discipline to the situation of the world at the time.”

That is something quite different, and entirely correct.

In conclusion, writes Martens, “Cardinal Burke was not wrong, but one needs to listen to what he has to say, and not assume things he has not said.”

As my high school theology teacher always used to say, “Truth is a matter of semantics.”

For his part, Walford’s sole piece of evidence for his claim that AL is “certainly” part of the (infallible) ordinary and universal magisterium is a footnote that leads to an unsourced quote. I looked it up, and found that it is taken from a catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church, given at a Wednesday audience on March 10, 1993. It reads:

“The Successor of Peter fulfills this doctrinal mission in a continual series of oral and written interventions that represent the ordinary exercise of the Magisterium as the teaching of truths to be believed and put into practice (fidem et mores). The acts expressing this Magisterium can be more or less frequent and take various forms according to the needs of the time, the requirements of concrete situations, the opportunities and means available, and the methods and systems of communication. However, given that they derive from an explicit or implicit intention to make pronouncements on matters of faith and morals, they are linked to the mandate received by Peter and enjoy the authority conferred on him by Christ”.

But if one takes this paragraph in the context of the two that precede it, a very different picture of what John Paul II is saying emerges:

The Gospel texts demonstrate that the universal pastoral mission of the Roman Pontiff, the Successor of Peter, entails a doctrinal mission. As universal pastor, the Pope has the mission to proclaim revealed doctrine and to promote true faith in Christ throughout the Church. This is the integral meaning of the Petrine ministry. …

… As universal pastor, Peter must act in Christ’s name and in harmony with him throughout the broad human area in which Jesus wants his Gospel preached and the saving truth brought: the entire world. …

… The Second Council of Lyons (1274) asserted this about the Bishop of Rome’s primacy and fullness of power, when it stressed: “He has the duty to defend the truth of the faith, and it is his responsibility to resolve all disputed matters in the area of faith” (DS 861). [emphasis added]

In citing John Paul II in this manner while ignoring his explanation of the responsibilities associated with exercising the authority of his teaching office, Walford misses something essential: the disputes over Amoris Laetitia and the questions raised in the dubia look specifically at whether the pope is, in his exhortation, “proclaiming revealed doctrine”, “acting in Christ’s name and in harmony with Him,” and “promoting true faith in Christ throughout the Church”. If this is the “integral meaning of the Petrine ministry,” it only stands to reason that if Pope Francis is fulfilling his “duty to defend the truth of the faith”, his actions and words should be able to bear the scrutiny that has been applied to them.

In other words, he should be able to respond to his critics. He should be able to easily and effortlessly answer the dubia in a way that makes resoundingly clear that he is “in harmony” with Christ — which makes his silence all the more disturbing.

Walford also cites a March 24, 1993 address of John Paul, but makes no mention of the pope’s similar admonition in that same address:

The conciliar texts also point out how serious is the Roman Pontiff’s responsibility in exercising both his extraordinary and ordinary Magisterium. He thus feels the need, one could say even the duty, to explore the sensus ecclesiae before defining a truth of faith, in the clear awareness that his definition “expounds or defends the teaching of the Catholic faith” (LG 25).

Amoris Laetitia, rather than exploring the sensus ecclesiae, included propositions that were “overwhelmingly” opposed by the Synod Fathers. As a document, it was designed to advance a particular “pastoral” agenda — that of promoting an idea of diminished culpability for objective grave sin, and thereby allowing those living in adulterous unions to receive the sacraments, as has now been allowed by various bishops throughout the world citing AL as their basis. The exhortation, rather than being an authentic manifestation of the interventions of the synod fathers, has been demonstrated to have been most likely pre-written, with roots in both the long-time “pastoral” action of Cardinal Walter Kasper in Germany and in the decade-old writing of papal friend and ghostwriter, Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández.


So Amoris Laetitia isn’t Infallible Magisterial Teaching, Then?

Let’s return to our two types of magisterial expression — extraordinary and ordinary — and our sub-categories of magisterial teaching, and look at some examples:

An example of a truth taught as divinely revealed would be Mk. 10:11-12: “Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if the wife shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery”.

An example of an exercise of the infallible extraordinary magisterium that would fall under this first category would be the Council of Trent, session 24, canon 7: “If anyone says that the Church is in error for having taught and for still teaching that in accordance with the evangelical and apostolic doctrine, the marriage bond cannot be dissolved because of adultery on the part of one of the spouses and that neither of the two, not even the innocent one who has given no cause for infidelity, can contract another marriage during the lifetime of the other, and that the husband who dismisses an adulterous wife and marries again and the wife who dismisses and adulterous husband and married again are both guilty of adultery, let him be anathema” (DH 1807).

An example of the infallible ordinary magisterium that would likely fall under this first category (and possibly the second; that is, of things related to divine truths) is Familiaris Consortio 84: “The Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.”

An example of a something that does not correspond in any way to divinely-revealed truth, to truths so related, or even to ordinary teaching on faith and morals  would be AL 301: “It is [sic] can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace. More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule. A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding its inherent values, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin.”

This last example is irreconcilable with the first three, which are all infallible magisterial teachings related directly to divinely-revealed truth.

And that’s a problem.

Ancillary Arguments

To bolster his argument that a pope can’t commit a theological error, Walford quotes from a papal audience (again) of John Paul II in 1992 to reference a statement of

Pope Innocent III, who in his Letter Apostolicae Sedis Primatus (November 12, 1199) stated “The Lord clearly intimates that Peter’s successors will never at any time deviate from the Catholic faith, but will instead recall the others and strengthen the hesitant” [4].

And yet we know without doubt that popes can deviate from the Catholic faith — both in their conduct and personal belief — provided that they do not attempt to bind the faithful to their error. Walford himself says that “No doubt a distinction needs to be made between the ‘private’ theological speculations of a Pope … and teachings deliberately given as part of the magisterium.” He cites the case of John XXII, who erred in his understanding of the beatific vision and recanted before his death — but Walford excuses this deviation by arguing that the “dogma on the beatific vision had not been formulated” at the time.

Walford then attempts to tackle the always thorny question of whether a pope can teach heresy. He argues that some of the Church’s great theologians who considered this — like St. Robert Bellarmine — “ruled out” the idea. He didn’t – he personally believed God wouldn’t allow it, but held that the contrary could be piously believed. Walford also cites Fr. Francisco Suarez in agreement, which is flatly wrong – Suarez actually considered a heretical pope to be a definite possibility, and went so far as to say, “St. Peter taught that an heretical Pope should be deposed.” He then brings in a quote from St. Alphonsus Liguori, who wrote:

“We ought rightly to presume as Cardinal Bellarmine declares, that God will never let it happen that a Roman Pontiff, even as a private person, becomes a public heretic or an occult heretic”

Obviously, however, “ought rightly to presume” is not the same thing as, “are required to believe.” The fact remains: all of the theological exploration of this question to date has been speculative. The Church has not ruled on the matter.

Even so, it seems precipitous at this point to begin hashing out whether a pope can teach heresy until we can agree we’re even allowed to analyze and compare what Francis is saying in AL (and elsewhere) with the perennial deposit of faith — or to address why this exhortation is so deeply troubling in the first place. Walford’s entire argument is predicated on the idea that we have no business doing so, and that we should all just pipe down about it.

Dueling Magisteria

Where the rubber hits the road is in comparing what the Church has always taught — and Our Lord revealed in the Gospels — with what Amoris Laetitia says. When it comes to two contradictory “magisterial teachings”, which are we to believe?

The one that says:

AL 295: ‘Saint John Paul II proposed the so-called “law of gradualness” in the knowledge that the human being “knows, loves and accomplishes moral good by different stages of growth”. This is not a “gradualness of law” but rather a gradualness in the prudential exercise of free acts on the part of subjects who are not in a position to understand, appreciate, or fully carry out the objective demands of the law.’

AL 301: ‘It is [sic] can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace. More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule. A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding “its inherent values”, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin.’

Or the one that says:

Council of Trent, session 6, canon 18: “If anyone says that the commandments of God are impossible to observe even for a man who is justified and established in grace, let him be anathema” (DH 1568).

Council of Trent, session 24, canon 7: “If anyone says that the Church is in error for having taught and for still teaching that in accordance with the evangelical and apostolic doctrine, the marriage bond cannot be dissolved because of adultery on the part of one of the spouses and that neither of the two, not even the innocent one who has given no cause for infidelity, can contract another marriage during the lifetime of the other, and that the husband who dismisses an adulterous wife and marries again and the wife who dismisses and adulterous husband and married again are both guilty of adultery, let him be anathema” (DH 1807).


The one that says:

AL 297; ‘No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!’

Or the one that says:

Matt. 25: 46: “These shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting”


The one that says:

AL 298: ‘The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment. One thing is a second union consolidated over time, with new children, proven fidelity, generous self-giving, Christian commitment, a consciousness of its irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins.’

Or the one that says:

1 Cor. 7:10-11: “To them that are married, not I but the Lord commandeth, that the wife depart not from her husband; and if she depart, that she remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. And let not the husband put away his wife.”


The one that says:

AL 300: ‘Since “the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases”, the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same. [footnote 336] This is also the case with regard to sacramental discipline, since discernment can recognize that in a particular situation no grave fault exists.’

AL 305: ‘Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end. [footnote 351] In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy”. I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak”’.’

Or the one that says: 

John Paul II, Familiaris consortio 84: “The Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage. Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance, which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they ‘take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples’.”

You get the point. There are many more examples. Mutually exclusive things can not be true. The principle of non-contradiction is inviolate.

At the end of what amounts to a lengthy series of quotations in support of the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium — something in which we all believe — Walford then jumps to a conclusion with both feet:

If we claim that we hold Tradition dear, that we defend it with all our strength, then we must accept we defend Pope Francis and his magisterium also. There is no other interpretation available; the popes have spoken.

No, Mr. Walford, there is another interpretation: you simply don’t understand what the Church teaches about her own authority and when it applies to what. And you’ve done a disservice to the faithful by pretending that you do, and telling them they have to fall in line with your erroneous view. 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.


Author’s note: as I said in my text above, I am not a dogmatic theologian, and any errors in the text are my own. Some corrections to the text have been made where I failed to make the correct distinctions, including the title. Others will be incorporated as needed.

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