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Cardinal Caffarra: the dubia matter because people’s salvation is at stake

Cardinal Carlo Caffarra (CNS)

Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, one of the four cardinals who have asked the Pope to clarify Amoris Laetitia, has said that it matters because people’s eternal salvation is at stake.

Speaking to the Italian newspaper Il Foglio, Cardinal Caffarra said: “We are talking about questions that are not secondary. It is not a discussion of whether [eating] fish violates or does not violate abstinence. These are most serious questions for the life of the Church and for the eternal salvation of the faithful.”

The cardinal went on: “Never forget, this is the supreme law of the Church: the eternal salvation of the faithful, not other concerns. Jesus founded His Church so that the faithful would have eternal life and have it in abundance.”

In the interview, translated by Andrew Guernsey, Cardinal Caffarra says that the confusion and anxiety in the Church, in the aftermath of Amoris Laetitia, is so obvious that “only a blind man” could miss it.

“On these fundamental questions regarding the sacramental economy (matrimony, confession and Eucharist) and the Christian life, some bishops have said A, others have said the contrary of A, with the intention of interpreting well the same texts,” the cardinal said.

He explained that this was why he and the other three cardinals – Raymond Burke, Walter Brandmüller and Joachim Meisner – had submitted their “dubia”, asking for clarification of the document.

The archbishop said that the actual text of Amoris Laetitia could be read in continuity with Catholic doctrine. But there were widespread interpretations which conflicted with Church teaching on Communion and moral absolutes.

On Friday, when Cardinal Caffarra’s interview was published, the bishops of Malta published guidelines for priests. These state that a remarried Catholic can receive Communion if they come “with an informed and enlightened conscience, to acknowledge and believe that he or she are at peace with God”. Similar guidelines have been published in San Diego. Other bishops, such as Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth, have reaffirmed the Church’s longstanding doctrine.

Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI affirmed the traditional teaching that the remarried cannot receive Communion unless they endeavour to live “as brother and sister”.

Cardinal Caffarra said that the most important of the five dubia was the fifth, on conscience. “It is where we meet and clash with the central pillar of modernity,” the cardinal said.

The fifth dubia asks the Pope to clarify that St John Paul II’s teaching on conscience is still valid. St John Paul’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor teaches that conscience can never find exceptions to absolute moral prohibitions. As the cardinals put it, Veritatis Splendor “excludes a creative interpretation of the role of conscience and … emphasises that conscience can never be authorised to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object”.

Cardinal Caffarra told Il Foglio that the conscience must refer to moral absolutes: “every reasoned judgment is exercised in the light of criteria, otherwise it is not a judgment, but rather something else”. This was, the cardinal said, at odds with a modern, subjective understanding of conscience. Caffarra pointed out that the martyrs had refused to apostatise even in extreme cases – for instance, St Thomas More’s wife pleaded with him not to abandon his family.

Elsewhere in the lengthy interview, Cardinal Caffarra explained the cardinals’ reasoning for submitting the dubia. He said that many laity and clergy had been saying: “‘But you cardinals in a situation like this one have the obligation to intervene with the Holy Father. Why do you exist, if not to assist the Pope in questions so grave as this?’ A scandal on the part of many of the faithful was beginning to grow, as though we cardinals were behaving like the dogs who did not bark, about whom the prophet speaks.”

The cardinal said the four had been careful not to show any disrespect to the Pope, and had therefore sent the letter privately. He says they only decided to make it public when they were sure the Pope would not respond.

Cardinal Caffarra told a story of one priest who had written to him about his difficulty in giving spiritual direction. The priest had a penitent who was in a relationship with a divorced woman. When the priest explained how the man could correct his situation, the man replied: “Listen, Father, the Pope said that I can receive the Eucharist, without the resolution to live in continence.”

The priest told Cardinal Caffarra that he found the situation unbearable. The cardinal said that many parish priests were in a similar predicament: “they find themselves carrying a load on their shoulders that they cannot bear. This is what I am thinking of when I talk about a great disorientation. And I am speaking of parish priests, but many [lay] faithful are even more confused.”