.- Citing conflicting interpretations of Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation on love in the family, four prominent cardinals wrote a letter to him in September requesting that he “resolve the uncertainties and bring clarity.”
The full text of the letter was published in an English translation by the National Catholic Register Nov. 14.
“We the undersigned, but also many Bishops and Priests, have received numerous requests from the faithful of various social strata on the correct interpretation to give to Chapter VIII of the Exhortation,” the cardinals wrote in their Sept. 19 letter to the Pope.
The signatories were Cardinals Walter Brandmüller, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences; Raymond Burke, patron of the Order of Malta and prefect emeritus of the Apostolic Signatura; Carlo Caffarra, Archbishop Emeritus of Bologna; and Joachim Meisner, Archbishop Emeritus of Cologne.
They noted the fact that “theologians and scholars have proposed interpretations” of Amoris laetitia, especially its eighth chapter on accompanying, discerning, and integrating weakness, which “are not only divergent, but also conflicting.”
The cardinals also noted that “media have emphasized this dispute, thereby provoking uncertainty, confusion, and disorientation among many of the faithful.”
“Compelled in conscience by our pastoral responsibility and desiring to implement ever more that synodality to which Your Holiness urges us, we, with profound respect … ask you, Holy Father, as Supreme Teacher of the Faith, called by the Risen One to confirm his brothers in the faith, to resolve the uncertainties and bring clarity, benevolently giving a response to the 'Dubia' that we attach to the present letter,” they wrote.
The cardinals submitted five “dubia”, or doubts, about the interpretation of Amoris laetitia to be clarified by its author, also drawing the dubia to the attention of Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
A foreword to the text of the letter notes that it arises from “deep pastoral concern” following “disorientation and great confusion of many faithful” and contrasting interpretations of the apostolic exhortation “even within the episcopal college.”
“The great Tradition of the Church teaches us that the way out of situations like this is recourse to the Holy Father, asking the Apostolic See to resolve those doubts which are the cause of disorientation and confusion.”
On this basis, the four cardinals wrote that their submission of dubia is an act of justice because “we profess that the Petrine ministry is the ministry of unity,” and of charity because “we want to help the Pope to prevent divisions and conflicts in the Church, asking him to dispel all ambiguity.”
The foreword noted that Pope Francis “decided not to respond” to their dubia.
“We have interpreted his sovereign decision as an invitation to continue the reflection, and the discussion, calmly and with respect. And so we are informing the entire people of God about our initiative, offering all of the documentation.”
They expressed hope that their act would not be interpreted “according to a 'progressive/conservative' paradigm. That would be completely off the mark. We are deeply concerned about the true good of souls, the supreme law of the Church, and not about promoting any form of politics in the Church.”
“We hope that no one will judge us, unjustly, as adversaries of the Holy Father and people devoid of mercy. What we have done and are doing has its origin in the deep collegial affection that unites us to the Pope, and from an impassioned concern for the good of the faithful.”
The five dubia concern the teaching found in Amoris laetitia, and its relation to the teaching of the preceding Magisterium, especially that of St. John Paul II.
In an appended explanatory note, the cardinals wrote that the dubia “are worded in a way that requires a 'yes' or 'no' answer, without theological argumentation. This way of addressing the Apostolic See is not an invention of our own; it is an age-old practice.”
They sought answers to the dubia noting that “doubt and uncertainty are always highly detrimental to pastoral care.”
They emphasized that the differing interpretations of Amoris laetitia are “due to divergent ways of understanding the Christian moral life” and that more than merely being a question of the admission of the divorced-and-remarried to penance and Communion, the exhortation's interpretation “implies different, contrasting approaches to the Christian way of life.”
The first dubium asks whether following Amoris laetitia “it has now become possible to grant absolution in the sacrament of penance and thus to admit to Holy Communion a person who, while bound by a valid marital bond, lives together with a different person 'more uxorio' (in a marital way) without fulfilling the conditions provided for by Familiaris consortio n. 84 and subsequently reaffirmed by Reconciliatio et Paenitentia n. 34 and Sacramentum Caritatis n. 29. Can the expression “in certain cases” found in note 351 (n. 305) of the exhortation Amoris laetitia be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live 'more uxorio'?”
The cardinals wrote in their explanatory note that an affirmative answer to the first dubium would mean the Church teaches either that divorce doesn't dissolve the marriage bond, but persons who are not married “can under certain circumstances legitimately engage in acts of sexual intimacy”; that divorce dissolves the marriage bond and that the divorced-and-remarried “are legitimate spouses and their sexual acts are lawful marital acts”; or that divorce does not dissolve the marriage bond, but “admitting persons to the Eucharist does not mean for the Church to approve their public state of life; the faithful can approach the Eucharistic table even with consciousness of grave sin, and receiving absolution in the sacrament of penance does not always require the purpose of amending one’s life. The sacraments, therefore, are detached from life: Christian rites and worship are in a completely different sphere than the Christian moral life.”
The second dubium asks if one still needs to “regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis splendor n. 79 … on the existence of absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions?”
This raises the question of intrinsically evil acts, for which “no discernment of circumstances or intentions is necessary” to “know that one must not do it,” which was reaffirmed by St. John Paul II in his 1993 encyclical on fundamental questions of the Church's moral teaching, Veritatis splendor.
The third dubium asks, “is it still possible to affirm that a person who habitually lives in contradiction to a commandment of God’s law, as for instance the one that prohibits adultery (cf. Mt 19:3-9), finds him or herself in an objective situation of grave habitual sin”?
They noted that Amoris laetitia could appear to contradict a 2000 declaration of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and also acknowledged that the distinction made in Amoris laetitia between a subjective situation of mortal sin and the objective situation of grave sin “is indeed well established” in Church teaching.
Nevertheless, they sought to clarify if “it is still possible to say that persons who habitually live in contradiction to a commandment of God’s law, such as the commandment against adultery, theft, murder, or perjury, live in objective situations of grave habitual sin, even if, for whatever reasons, it is not certain that they are subjectively imputable for their habitual transgressions.”
The fourth dubium asks if one still needs “to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis splendor n. 81 … according to which 'circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act ‘subjectively’ good or defensible as a choice'”?
This question was raised to discover whether Amoris laetitia agrees that an intrinsically evil act can never “become excusable or even good … on account of circumstances that mitigate personal responsibility,” given its stress on such mitigating circumstances.
The fifth dubium asks if the teaching of Veritatis splendor which “excludes a creative interpretation of the role of conscience and that emphasizes that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object” still need be regarded as valid.
With this, the cardinals sought to determine if Amoris laetitia holds that conscience “can be in tension or even in opposition” with the precepts of God's law, “autonomously deciding about good and evil.”
The letter of the four cardinals follows a varied reception and interpretation of the apostolic exhortation within the Church.
Some have maintained it is incompatible with Church teaching, and others that it has not changed the Church's discipline. Still others read Amoris laetitia as opening the way to a new pastoral practice, or even as a progression in continuity with St. John Paul II.
The cardinals' letter also comes in the wake of a letter sent in June to all the Church's cardinals and patriarchs asking that they “take collective action to respond to the dangers to Catholic faith and morals posed” by Amoris laetitia, noting that the exhortation “contains a number of statements that can be understood in a sense that is contrary to Catholic faith and morals.”
That letter, signed by 45 theologians, had identified 19 propositions in Amoris laetitia “whose vagueness or ambiguity permit interpretations that are contrary to faith or morals, or that suggest a claim that is contrary to faith and morals without actually stating it.”