- On 19th September 2016, four Cardinals – Caffarra, Burk, Brandmueller and Meisner – present 5 dubia or requests for clarification to the Pope concerning certain ambiguities in Amoris Laetitia.
- On 19th November 2016, having received no answer, the four Cardinals publish their dubia.
- On April 25th 2017, the four Cardinals write to the Pope asking for an audience, enclosing an “audience sheet” setting down what they wish to discuss with him.
- On June 19th 2017, the letter of the four Cardinals, which has received no response, is published.
So what is going on here? It is really very simple. The Pope does not want to answer the five dubia, all of which are simple yes or no answers. The reason for this is equally simple. If the Pope answers one way, he contradicts the Magisterium of his predecessors. If he answers another way, he effectively destroys what he has tried to do with Amoris Laetitia, that is, introduce a change of practice in the Church which per se means a change of doctrine. So, the Pope continues to sit on the fence, trying to have it both ways, while the four Cardinals try to push him off it, one way or another, hoping, or knowing, that if forced off the fence there is only one possible way for him to jump.
Interestingly, by refusing to answer the dubia, the Pope has in a certain sense given an answer of sorts. His refusal to answer effectively means that he is not endorsing, at least not officially, the guidelines of the Maltese bishops and others. What the Maltese bishops say remains a local pronouncement, not official Church teaching, even if it may have been published in the Osservatore Romano. What the Maltese bishops teach in their guidelines can be nullified by the Pope or his successors in the Chair of Peter.
But here we run into the chief concern of the Four Cardinals. It is confusing, indeed more than confusing, it is intolerable, for it is dangerous to the credibility of the Church, that what should be considered good in Germany should be considered wrong in Poland. This is not Catholicism, it is rather national churches on the Anglican or Orthodox model. If this ambiguity is allowed to continue, the consequences will be catastrophic.
Furthermore, it simply cannot be the case, for it has never been the case before, that one Pope can contradict the Magisterium of his predecessors. Amoris Laetitia has to be read in continuity with Familiaris Consortio and Veritatis Splendor. If it somehow “replaces” Familiaris Consortio and Veritatis Splendor, are people like me, whose teaching in seminary was based on those two documents, now to “unlearn” them? Have they been corrected? Were they for a time only? Or were they of permanent significance? But if Amoris Laetitia is to replace the previous magisterial documents, then what may replace Amoris Laetitia twenty years from now?
As the dubia make clear, one interpretation of Amoris Laetitia strikes at the heart of Catholic moral teaching as everywhere and always understood. In a sense there can only be one answer to the dubia, and that is that the traditional teaching must stand, and that Amoris Laetitia must be read in the light of that teaching alone.
Anyone who has been reading what I have written on this subject knows by now that I stand with the four Cardinals. So do many others, Cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons and laity.
Holy Father, answer the dubia! For the good of the Church, and for the good of the papal office, please answer the dubia!