Latest News

‘A gravely critical moment’: Catholic scholars call on bishops to support the four cardinals

Cardinals and bishops wait for the start of a consistory in St Peter's Basilica (AP)

Twenty-three Catholic scholars and pastors, three of them Oxford University academics, have given their names to a statement in support of the “four cardinals”, after the cardinals’ request to Pope Francis to clarify his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

The scholars include Dr Robert Beddard, the former Vice-Provost of Oriel College, Oxford; Professor Luke Gormally, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life; Dr Nicholas Richardson, Sub-Warden of Merton College, Oxford; and the philosophy professors Carlos A Guerra, Paolo Pasqualucci and Claudio Pierantoni.

Most of the 23 signatories also signed a previous letter to the College of Cardinals, asking them to request clarification of Amoris Laetitia.

The statement says that the four cardinals raise “pertinent and searching questions” about whether Church teaching on the sacraments and the moral law is to be upheld. They say that if the Pope fails to reaffirm Church teaching, it may be necessary for the cardinals to “collectively approach him with some form of fraternal correction, in the spirit of Paul’s admonition to his fellow apostle Peter at Antioch”. Cardinal Burke, one of the four cardinals, has indicated that such a move might be necessary.

The Pope has so far declined to reply to the questions, which were sent in September.

The statement notes that Cardinal George Pell has described the contents of the four cardinals’ dubia as “significant”, and that other bishops have publicly supported the cardinals. It expresses the hope that more will join them, since bishops “have a grave and pressing duty to speak out clearly and strongly in confirmation of the moral teachings clearly expounded in the magisterial teachings of previous popes and the Council of Trent.”

In the eight months since Amoris Laetitia was published, some bishops have interpreted the document in line with Church teaching, while others have suggested it changes this teaching, particularly over Communion for the remarried. The signatories argue that attempts to find a “development of doctrine” have not succeeded: “we find that they fail to demonstrate their central claim that the novel elements found in [Amoris Laetitia] do not endanger divine law, but merely envisage legitimate changes in pastoral practice and ecclesiastical discipline.”

The scholars’ statement warns that the Church may be entering “a gravely critical moment” comparable with the Arian crisis. It points out that when Arianism advanced, “the great majority of bishops, including even the Successor of Peter, vacillated over the very divinity of Christ.

“Many did not fully lapse into heresy; however, disarmed by confusion or weakened by timidity, they sought convenient compromise formulae in the interests of ‘peace’ and ‘unity’. Today we are witnessing a similar metastasizing crisis, this time over fundamental aspects of Christian living.”

The statement says that “lip service” is still given to such teachings as “the indissolubility of marriage, the grave objective sinfulness of fornication, adultery and sodomy, the sanctity of the Holy Eucharist, and the terrible reality of mortal sin”. But it argues that many senior figures undermine or effectively deny such doctrine by an “exaggerated or one-sided emphasis on ‘mercy’, ‘pastoral accompaniment’, and ‘mitigating circumstances’.

Other well-known figures who have signed the statement include Fr John Hunwicke, an ordinariate priest and blogger, the philosopher Dr Thomas Stark, and Dr Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society. Dr Shaw said in a statement: “The Holy Father alone has the power to resolve the current confusion, and must urgently do so for the good of souls.”

Dr Shaw added that some who claimed to support Pope Francis were arguing, in effect, that “Catholics should simultaneously believe that the teaching of Pope St John Paul II – and all his predecessors – remains correct, and also that it is no longer applicable in concrete situations.

“To demand that people undertake this doublethink is not the action of a good father; it is an abuse of ordinary Catholics and of the truth. To reject this kind of defence of Amoris laetitia is required not only by the Faith but by our sanity.”

The full list of signatories is below.

Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro Carambula, STD, JD
Chaplain and Faculty Member of the Roman Forum

Rev. Claude Barthe,

Dr. Robert Beddard, MA (Oxon et Cantab), D.Phil (Oxon)
Fellow emeritus and former Vice Provost of Oriel College Oxford.

Carlos A. Casanova Guerra
Doctor of Philosophy, Full Professor,
Universidad Santo Tomás, Santiago de Chile

Salvatore J. Ciresi MA
Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College
Director of the St. Jerome Biblical Guild

Luke Gormally, PhL
Director Emeritus, The Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics (1981-2000)
Sometime Research Professor, Ave Maria School of Law, Ann Arbor, Michigan (2001-2007)
Ordinary Member, The Pontifical Academy for Life

Rev. Brian W. Harrison OS, MA, STD
Associate Professor of Theology (retired), Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico; Scholar-in-Residence, Oblates of Wisdom Study Center, St. Louis, Missouri

Rev. John Hunwicke, MA (Oxon.)
Former Senior Research Fellow, Pusey House, Oxford; Priest of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham; Member, Roman Forum

Peter A. Kwasniewski PhD (Philosophy)
Professor, Wyoming Catholic College

Rev. Dr. Dr Stephen Morgan
Academies Conversion Project Leader & Oeconomus
Diocese of Portsmouth

Don Alfredo Morselli STL
Parish priest of the Archdiocese of Bologna

Rev. Richard A. Munkelt PhD (Philosophy)
Chaplain and Faculty Member, Roman Forum

Rev. John Osman MA, STL
Parish priest in the archdiocese of Birmingham,
former Catholic chaplain to the University of Cambridge

Dr Paolo Pasqualucci
Professor of Philosophy (retired),
University of Perugia

Dr Claudio Pierantoni
Professor of Medieval Philosophy in the Philosophy Faculty of the University of Chile
Former Professor of Church History and Patrology at the Faculty of Theology of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
Member of the International Association of Patristic Studies

Dr John C. Rao D.Phil (Oxon.)
Associate Professor of History, St. John’s University (NYC)
Chairman, Roman Forum

Dr Nicholas Richardson. MA, DPhil (Oxon.)
Fellow emeritus and Sub-Warden of Merton College, Oxford
and former Warden of Greyfriars, Oxford.

Dr Joseph Shaw MA, DPhil (Oxon.) FRSA
Senior Research Fellow (Philosophy) at St Benet’s Hall,
Oxford University

Dr Anna M. Silvas FAHA,
Adjunct research fellow, University of New England,
Armidale, NSW, Australia.

Michael G. Sirilla PhD
Director of Graduate Theology,
Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio

Professor Dr Thomas Stark
Phil.-Theol. Hochschule Benedikt XVI, Heiligenkreuz

Rev. Glen Tattersall
Parish Priest, Parish of Bl. John Henry Newman, Archdiocese of Melbourne
Rector, St Aloysius’ Church, Melbourne

Rev. Dr David Watt STL, PhD (Cantab.)
Priest of the Archdiocese of Perth
Chaplain, St Philomena’s chapel, Malaga