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

We’ve seen Stephan Walford before. HERE

He is, in essence, papolatrous.  He’s also pretty nasty, when it comes right down to it.  He blasts away at La Stampa against anyone who dares to have quizzical thoughts about Amoris laetitia.

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!”

But I digress.  Let’s see Ed Peters’ version of hawk and squirrel … with my emphases and comments:

Nooo, Canon 17 does not let us undercut Canon 915 and what it protects

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.

Based on the biographical interview he granted to the Catholic Herald, it seems that Stephen Walford is a professional pianist and an amateur theologian (one’s dearth of formal education in a complex discipline being an obstacle, but not a complete bar, to one’s achieving some knowledge of at least some topics within that discipline), rather as I am a professional canonist and an amateur, I dunno, Latinist or woodwind player. Nothing wrong with being a professional, of course, or an amateur; but dilettantes are something else. If, having watched “Searching for Bobby Fisher” and knowing how the horsey moves, I started opining publicly on the Sicilian [Defense] opening, what would I be? A dilettante. And chess, mind, is a little thing. [There are only 288+ billion possible positions after four moves apiece, btw.]

Now, in regard to canon law, which Walford repeatedly invokes in the course of trashing as “dissenters” anyone who questions the text and certain applications of Amoris laetitia and its progeny, Walford is simply a dilettante unaware that most of his purported explanations of canon law have little or no connection to what the law really means—and sometimes, not even to what it says. And canon law, mind, not to mention the doctrine it works to protect, is a big thing. [Ultimately, law is in the service of the salvation of souls.  A Big Thing™.]

It is difficult to discuss law, of all things, with people who not know what it actually says. For an example of Walford’s misstating what the law (here, Canon 915) says, see his claim that “canon 915 refers to ‘obstinate’ and ‘persevering’ manifest grave sinners.” Of course, John Paul II’s Canon 915—aware that the Church cannot and does not judge souls or determine who is personally culpable for sin or if so by how much—does no such thing. Rather, this papal norm responds to objectively reckoned and publicly observable situations of sin and, in an unbroken line of practice going back to Scripture, directs ministers of holy Communion to withhold that most august Sacrament from persons who, by their public conduct, have placed themselves within the purview of the canon.

Confusing “sinner” and “sin” is, I grant, quite common in this debate and even several ranking prelates seem to think that externally-made assessments of personal culpability (however that oxymoronic task is to be accomplished) are relevant to the operation of Canon 915. But what can I say that has not been said before? Treating “sinner” and “sin” as equivalents is something a professional would avoid, while an amateur, intrigued by the distinction once he saw it, would, hopefully, stop treating the terms as synonyms. [Eeeeewww!]

It is not, however, Walford’s mistaking the plain text of Canon 915 that attracts my attention, but rather his attempt to explain what Canon 17—a norm little noticed in this debate, for good reason—means and allegedly how, by reading Pope Francis’ words in Amoris through in its light, “a path maybe opened to reception of Holy Communion” for divorced-and-remarried Catholics.

As we are talking about canon law, I suggest we start with the canon. The whole canon.


There’s more gut-ripping available at Ed Peters’ blog In The Light Of The Law.  If you don’t have some squirrel handy, you might make popcorn.


Meanwhile… watch this tweet exchange, to which I was alerted…

Do you see what poor Walford did there?  Poor thing.

Also…. this…

Once again…. his seriously thin skin aside, do you see what Stephen “the poor thing” Walford did there?


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. vandalia says:

    There has been plenty of evidence posted on this site as to the damage caused by having the Liturgy in the vernacular. I sometimes think that translating the Code of Canon Law into English – or at the very least having it readily available online in English – is far more dangerous.

    As a parallel argument to Peters, there is a reason that Monarchs (including Popes) have traditionally used the “royal We”: It is not simply the person who occupies the throne at a particular moment in time who is speaking.

  2. Orlando says:

    Now that’s what I call an old fashioned “whoopin”! I’m Cuban so I should use the appropriate phrase … “cocotaso”! (Loose translation …. being hit in the head really hard) !

  3. chantgirl says:

    Hilary White has been doing a good job on twitter and her blog exposing the contradictions in this camp. In one breath the Walfords and Beans will try to invoke past documents of the Church to try to bully people into mindlessly accepting the Pope’s “novel” take on sacramental discipline without questioning, and in the next breath they will argue that we have a new Church, a new faith, and a new Pope, and we need to get in line with the new.

    So, which is it? Do we have a faith built upon what was handed down, or do we have a Pope who can alter/contradict what was handed down?

    At any rate, logic and clear arguments don’t work with this crowd. They have their mind made up no matter what the facts show.

  4. KateD says:

    Sometimes, when a cut is so precise, the recipient is unaware of the injury
    until later when the profusion of blood draws their attention to the wound.

    …And Doctor Peters, as a life long dilettante, I’m offended by the comparison with Walford.

  5. TonyO says:

    as a life long dilettante, I’m offended by the comparison with Walford.

    That’s cute, KateD.

    One of the things that puzzles me most is Pope Francis’ apparent attitude toward Canon Law, particularly 915. If – as seems entirely likely from everything he has said so far – he really is willing to have pastors give Communion to people who fall under the purview of 915 by their actions, then why NOT change Canon 915? He has the power to abolish it or change it. He has nothing to stop him if he decides to do so. So, what’s the reason for his NOT changing it?

    One possible reason might that – like a lot of people of a certain bent – he has very little regard for law at all. Pope Francis really hates it when people use “the law” to avoid the demands of charity. He also seems to take offense at people who find the law important, and who find details and nuances of the law worth talking about. He seems to have no patience for any of that. He patently shows no use for carefulness in LOTS of other matters, like using “magisterial” about “the reform”, as if it could even remotely be the subject of magisterial authority. So, if that attitude carries over into simply not much caring what the law actually says, he might also simply not care much whether 915 tells priests to do something different from what he wants them to do, on the (mistaken) assumption that priests would – and should – go along with his inferences, between-the-lines implications, and all the other not-law ways he has so far indicated what he would like to see.

    I don’t know if this is the reason he doesn’t bother changing the law. But if it is, then two things might result: one is that we move into a period with a really strong and visible dichotomy between the parts of the Church that think law matters and the parts that don’t. I mean even stronger than than the current de facto situation where tons of priests, pastors and bishops ignore the law. I mean things like places where priests and even bishops are punished by higher-ups for obeying the law.

    Secondly, it would be a strangely backhanded testimony to the importance of the law itself in the teaching and holding of doctrine: one might interpret the situation as being that the Holy Spirit is preventing changes to Canon Law that would undermine doctrine even if – technically – the Pope would be able to make such a change should he decide to. It is of course a debatable stance, but interesting nonetheless.

  6. JMody says:

    Well, near as I can tell, this Walford character is what, a journalist? And an uninformed one at that (but I repeat myself)? Yawn.

    At least we have him on record thinking that faith and morals change according to the whims of the current Pope and are not in fact fixed by the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Nobody comes to the Father except through me or the pages of La Stampa?

  7. Antonin says:

    I see no need to pillory Stephen Walford for accurately representing what many canonist and Bishops are saying (and maybe what the Pope means) – [You have misunderstood what is going on. Walford is working the pillory, not those who have answered him.] the relevant question for me is what does Pope Francis silence in the matter mean. The law, at least according to St Thomas More, is that silence implies consent. Maybe canon law is different but given that the only statement Pope Francis has made in terms of conflict in interpretation is silence as well as support for the Argentinian bishops – the relevant question is what say you Pope Francis

  8. HeatherPA says:

    @chantgirl I agree that logic and clear arguments do not appear to work with the revisionist crowd, but I am not onboard with the online antics of many of the traditional crowd. There are respectful ways of disagreement and debate and then there are ignorant and rude ways. I have unfollowed some of the “stars” of the “traditional” movement because of their behavior on Twitter. Using the word “retard” to describe men of the Church is beneath any Christian. Reducing Catholic women to deleting their accounts or blocking many people just for asking genuine questions about the NO or being proud of their holy priests that celebrate pious NO Masses is not Christian behavior. Fighting with Walford and slinging insults like schoolboy taunts back and forth, even personally insulting his appearance (this was not Dr. Peters but another highly lauded Catholic male blogger) and saying it is what Jesus would have done is gross and debasing to any Christian. I have unfollowed a lot of so-called awesome traditional Catholics and have found some wonderful genuine Catholic follows elsewhere.

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