A dubium is most often sent to one of three Vatican offices: the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and especially the Dicastery for Legislative Texts, which is asked to interpret the meaning or applicability of a canon in the Code of Canon Law.
Dubia can cover almost every imaginable topic. A few of the questions asked in recent decades include: “Can the title of minor basilica be granted to a cathedral?”, submitted to the Congregation for Divine Worship; “Are Mormon baptisms valid?”, sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and “Are already-married candidates for the permanent diaconate required with their wives to practice perfect and perpetual continence after ordination?”, submitted to the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.
Most often, dubia are submitted by bishops, bishops’ conferences, or religious communities, but any Catholic may send them, as was shown in 2021 when three German lay Catholics from the Diocese of Essen submitted a dubium to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith asking if the Church in Germany is in a state of schism as a result of the German Synodal Way.
Who responds to dubia?
The three German Catholics expressed at the time a realistic expectation about hearing back from the Vatican dicastery, saying to EWTN News’ German-language news agency CNA Deutsch that they had “no sense of entitlement” to a reply. The laypeople were correct in their expectation, as the Vatican offices are not required to respond to any dubium sent for consideration. Certainly, the submission of dubia by bishops and bishops’ conferences is more likely to elicit a response, as are questions that emerge out of matters of grave importance to the Church. Members of the College of Cardinals, such as the so-called dubia cardinals of 2016 and now 2023, can also have some anticipation of a response given they are by tradition considered close advisers to the pope. Nevertheless, the Holy Father is not required to respond and might also reply in a manner or through a representative of his choosing.
By custom, when a Vatican dicastery does answer a dubium, it is through a “Responsum ad dubium” (literally, a response to the doubt), and customarily, the response can be answered in the affirmative or the negative, “yes” or “no.” Almost always, the terse reaction is accompanied by a fuller explanation or commentary.