Wherein Fr. Z. derides and maligns Stephen Walford for defending the Vicar of Christ

Stephen Walford is a devout Roman Catholic and the author of two books so far: Heralds of the Second Coming: Our Lady, the Divine Mercy, and the Popes of the Marian Era from Blessed Pius IX to Benedict XVI and Communion of Saints: The Unity of Divine Love in the Mystical Body of Christ. He is currently working on a third book on the subject of Amoris Laetitia.

Walford is also the author of some articles supporting Pope Francis and defending Amoris Laetitia:
* Open Letter to the Four Dubia Cardinals
* The Amoris Laetitia Dissenters

And here is An Interview with Stephen Walford in the Catholic Herald (UK), where he speaks about the verbal abuse he has suffered from critics of Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia.

Now I don’t agree with every point that Walford makes in his posts on Amoris Laetitia, but I see that he is doing good work, supporting the Supreme and Universal Pastor. And when he calls the critics of Pope Francis and of Amoris Laetitia dissenters, well, I think that is an accurate term. The Pope has decided this question, and those who disagree are dissenting, perhaps faithfully [n. 49ff], but it is a type of dissent nonetheless.

Dr. Ed Peters

Peters’ post on Stephen Walford begins thusly:

“A professional knows the limits of his knowledge. An amateur does not know the limits of his knowledge. A dilettante does not know that there are any limits to his knowledge.”

In this post and several others, Peters expresses the canon lawyer’s version of elitism. He speaks as if no one can interpret, apply, or comment on Canon Law, but the professional, the expert, that is to say, himself and few others. And if his reply to this accusation is that he never quite said so, explicitly, well, it is nonetheless clear in his attitude and in many of his expressions, such as the quote above. At one point, in a past post, he goes so far as to criticize Pope Francis’ understanding of canon law, and then he exalts his own understanding above that of the Supreme Judge of all the Faithful.

What about theologians? In the elitism of Dr. Peters, can they enter the debate about Canon 915 and related topics? Apparently not, since most theologians need more training in canon law. So when it comes to the debate about Canon 915, the insights and the search for greater understanding of the faithful is swept aside, because they are not doctors of the law. And the words of the Pope and of most theologians are swept aside as well. Because Peters is a professional canon lawyer, and they are not.

It must be very frustrating for Dr. Peters to be so absolutely sure that he himself is right, and yet watch the body of the faithful following the Pope, instead of him. No wonder he lashes out at Walford, in an unprofessional manner.

Concerning the quote above, it is not necessarily true that every professional knows the limits of his knowledge. Some professional canon lawyers speak as if their knowledge places them above the Pope, the Synod of Bishops, and most theologians. So Peters himself is proof that this assertion is false. And there is no reason why an amateur would not know the limits of his knowledge. Some would, and others would not. These are baseless assertions designed to place Peters in the higher category, the professional, and Walford in the lower category, the dilettante.

As for the claim that a dilettante does not know that such limits exist, who’s to say whether a person fits such a term? It is merely a derogatory expression Peters uses to denigrate any non-canon lawyers who dare to disagree with his expert opinion. Wait. I should not have said “opinion”. I have read many posts by Peters, and he puts forward his views as if they were absolute incontrovertible fact. His posts are filled with sinful pride. Even when the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and its president rule against him, Peters continues to assert that he is right, and all others are wrong.

On the question of applying Canons 17 and 18 to Canon 915, so as to support the decision of Pope Francis on the divorced and remarried, Peters may well be right. (See, his posts have value, but they would be much better if he didn’t denigrate those who disagree. But then that is a common fault among conservatives.) Even so, being right on a point of the law does not excuse his uncharitable and demeaning treatment of Stephen Walford, whose main offense seems to be that he defends the decisions of Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia and other documents.

Dr. Peters points out that Canon 915 refers to manifest grave sin, not to the sinner. He offers this distinction as a purported correction of Walford. But here is the text:

“Can. 915 Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

“Those who have been… and others” means persons who are committing a certain type of sin. Now they are sinners, objectively. There is no subjective judgment of culpability, as found in Canon 916 “A person who is conscious of grave sin….” But we are still talking about sinners. A Catholic who is “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin” is guilty of some actual sin, at least negligence in learning the faith, and perhaps some degree of culpability in committing the objectively grave sin, even if it is short of the full guilt of actual mortal sin. And the Canon concerns who is prohibited from Communion, so it is not a Canon about sin itself and only sin. We are talking about sinners who may be denied Communion, despite being among the baptized faithful.

Peters’ use of the terms amateur and dilettante is mean-spirited name-calling and uncharitable denigration, directed at a believing and practicing Catholic, because he dared to tread in Peters’ domain of Canon Law and dared to disagree with him. Yet there is no such distinction in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, nor in the teaching of His Church. Consider two Doctors of the Church, St. Aquinas and St. Therese of Lisieux. Aquinas is a professional theologian, and Therese had an eighth-grade education. Yet the Church, in Her wisdom, gives both the role of Doctor (teacher). So it is ridiculous for Peters to denigrate the views of any fellow Catholic, because he is not a professional or an expert.

I should also note that Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, the president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, agrees with Pope Francis on Communion for the divorced and remarried.

Father Z.

The post by Father John Zuhlsdorf (Fr. Z.) on the exchange between Walford and Peters is an unmitigated expression of arrogance, malice, derision, and calumny. Peters’ post deserves criticism. But the post by Father Z. is objectively gravely immoral. It is a shameful irony when, in discussing the objective mortal sins related to divorce and remarriage, the Catholic priest himself sins gravely. If grave sin prohibits from Communion, even when that sin might not carry the full culpability of actual mortal sin, then Fr. Z. should not receive Communion either, until he repents.

UPDATED – Wherein faithful canonist Ed Peters guts papolatrous dilettante Stephen Walford

The word “papolatrous” refers to someone who commits idolatry with the Pope as the object of that false worship. I’ve read Walford’s articles on Amoris Laetitia, and he in no way idolizes the Pope. There is not even a single sentence which could, by any stretch of the imagination, be interpreted as the expression of such a grave sin. So the accusation is calumny, an objective mortal sin. Walford is accused of pope-worship merely because he supports the Pope’s decision on Communion for the divorced and remarried, in contradiction to the opinion of Peters and Zuhlsdorf.

Fr. Z. goes on to quote and discuss Peters’ post. Father uses the image of a hawk tearing the guts out of a squirrel:

“Canonist Ed Peters looks at Walford’s comments on canon law. It’s kinda gory… and fun. I remember one crisp November day sitting on a bench in Central Park and eating a sandwich from Pastrami Queen while up in a tree a large hawk of some sort ripped the guts out of a squirrel. HERE (for Peters’ article, not the squirrel thing). Nearby a dad told his kids that birds didn’t go to the store for meat in plastic packages. At which point the hawk drew out a nice long bit of intestine, eliciting a vigorous, “EEEEWWWWW!””

A priest disagrees with the views of a Catholic author. The priest references an exchange between the author and a canon lawyer. And then the priest compares the exchange to a squirrel having his guts ripped out by a hawk. In this metaphor, the hawk is Peters and the squirrel is Walford. I wonder if Peters agrees with the use of this image.

And the priest takes delight in this metaphor, calling it “fun” and suggesting that his readers “make popcorn” for the reading of Peters’ post. Essentially, Fr. Z. is finding enjoyment in the sin of another person, in Peters’ sinful treatment of someone who, while he may have erred on Canon law, was making a good-hearted effort to defend the decisions of the Vicar of Christ. Neither Peters, nor Zuhlsdorf is engaging in charitable correction. Taking delight in the sin of another is itself a grave sin.

Then we have the sin of scandal. A Catholic priest who speaks this way publicly, in a forum read by thousands of Catholics, harms the souls of his readers by sinning openly and severely, without apparent remorse. And one can easily see, in the comments after many similar posts, that his readers do follow suit.

But this is not the only example. Consider his comments about a liberal priest and his derision of the Pope, imprinted on a mug, which he sells for a profit. Profiting from the ridicule of the Roman Pontiff does not seem to be prohibited, explicitly, by Canon law, but it should be.

Fr. Z. has repeatedly spoken about liberal Catholics, Pope Francis, and supporters of the Pope with derision and denigration. This sinful attitude, that traditionalists or conservatives cannot possibly be wrong in their views, and therefore all who disagree deserve verbal abuse, is unchristian and uncharitable, yet all too common today. It is objectively a grave sin, just as divorce and remarriage (given the oft-discussed case of a valid first marriage, and sexual relations in the second union) is a grave sin.

It is a ridiculous hypocrisy for Fr. Z. to sin publicly and gravely, by calumny and derision toward those who disagree with him, and yet receive Communion, all while he argues that the divorced and remarried cannot receive, because they sin gravely. The Pharisees of old behaved just the same way, condemning the woman caught in adultery, while disregarding their own sins of pride.

{18:10} “Two men ascended to the temple, in order to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector.
{18:11} Standing, the Pharisee prayed within himself in this way: ‘O God, I give thanks to you that I am not like the rest of men: robbers, unjust, adulterers, even as this tax collector chooses to be.
{18:12} I fast twice between Sabbaths. I give tithes from all that I possess.’
{18:13} And the tax collector, standing at a distance, was not willing to even lift up his eyes to heaven. But he struck his chest, saying: ‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’
{18:14} I say to you, this one descended to his house justified, but not the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled; and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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7 Responses to Wherein Fr. Z. derides and maligns Stephen Walford for defending the Vicar of Christ

  1. Francisco says:

    This is indeed scandalous for a priest to behave this way. I may expect this kind of behavior from a bad-mannered teenager (which is not acceptable either) but not from a priest. He even admits that the imagery that he is comparing is “gory”, yet he enjoys it and calls people to enjoy as well. This is no much different than the type of enjoyment that the ancient people at the coliseum had by watching the early Christian martyrs to be ripped off. He is also mocking Jesus Christ, a baptized brother member of His Body. A person may be right about something, but that is no excuse to sin by being arrogant about it.

    {7:22} Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and perform many powerful deeds in your name?’
    {7:23} And then will I disclose to them: ‘I have never known you. Depart from me, you workers of iniquity.’

    {9:4} And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

    Notice that Jesus takes it personally and we must respond about it at the day of judgment.

    [1 Corinthians 13]
    {13:1} If I were to speak in the language of men, or of Angels, yet not have charity, I would be like a clanging bell or a crashing cymbal.
    {13:2} And if I have prophecy, and learn every mystery, and obtain all knowledge, and possess all faith, so that I could move mountains, yet not have charity, then I am nothing.
    {13:3} And if I distribute all my goods in order to feed the poor, and if I hand over my body to be burned, yet not have charity, it offers me nothing.

  2. Guest says:

    For the past two years, I’ve had the feeling that the pope might be persecuted by the Church’s own children. The far-right politicians who hate the pope’s teachings on refugees and global solidarity and the far-right Catholics who believe that the pope is a heretic who is destroying the Church seem like they have a common enemy.

    To quote Jacinta:

    “I don’t know how it was, but I saw the Holy Father in a very big house, kneeling by a table, with his head buried in his hands, and he was weeping,” she told the two other seers, brother Francisco and cousin Lucia dos Santos, one day, after they had taken a siesta on the slabs of her parents well. She continued: “Outside the house, there were many people. Some of them were throwing stones, others were cursing him and using bad language. Poor Holy Father, we must pray very much for him.”

  3. Bob says:

    The widsom of Amoris Laetitia is being applied to Humanae Vitae!

    Some circumstances require contraception


    • Ron Conte says:

      That is a misapplication of AL. Contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. Intrinsically evil acts are never justified by intention or circumstances. However, to apply AL correctly: the culpability for said act might be reduced by various mitigating factors, making it less than an actual mortal sin.

  4. Ron Conte says:

    In a Twitter exchange with Walford, Dr. Peters had this to say: “Hi. It’s not arrogance, it’s serious impatience with your writings. And, even if it were arrogance, you should not be grateful for it. Sarcasm is a form of lying. Anyway, do the citations I offered from published authors, and not anonymous friends, move you at all to reconsider?”

    Walford cited Cardinal Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, as well as saying that he was advised by “a professor of canon law” on what he wrote. Peters ignored the citation of the Cardinal, and called the professor of canon law an anonymous friend. But what really struck me was the expression assertion “it’s not arrogance” followed by obstinate manifest arrogance.

  5. Francisco says:

    The following is from Pope Benedict XV (not 16) Encyclical “Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum” 1914:

    “13. … – but it will bring it to pass that those who occupy higher positions will in some way bring themselves down to those in a lower position, and treat them not only justly, for it is only right that they should, **but kindly and in a friendly and patient spirit**, and the poor on their side will rejoice in their prosperity and rely confidently on their help – even as the younger son of a family relies on the help and protection of his elder brother.”

    “22. Again, let no private individual, whether in books or in the press, or in public speeches, take upon himself the position of an authoritative teacher in the Church.”

    “23. As regards matters in which without harm to faith or discipline – in the absence of any authoritative intervention of the Apostolic See – there is room for divergent opinions, it is clearly the right of everyone to express and defend his own opinion. **But in such discussions no expressions should be used which might constitute serious breaches of charity**; let each one freely defend his own opinion, **but let it be done with due moderation, so that no one should consider himself entitled to affix on those who merely do not agree with his ideas the stigma of disloyalty to faith or to discipline**.”

    “25. .. follow most closely him whom Christ has appointed to be the guardian and interpreter of the truth….”.

    And this is the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him.

    Regarding Peter’s comment on the alleged “anonymous friends”, even so, God is not a respecter of persons (Romans 2:11) (Acts 10:34), so truth has to bee seek and evaluated by what it is. Truth is not dependent by whom or by what is coming from.

    • Francisco says:

      Adding to my comment above:
      Truth is not dependent by whom or by what is coming from (other than God, of course, Who is Truth Himself).

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