The Pope Is Not Answering the Four Cardinals. But Few Justify Him
There are more and more cardinals and bishops, however, who are lining up in support of the authors of the five questions seeking clarification on the ambiguities of “Amoris Laetitia.” Here they are, one by one
by Sandro Magister
ROME, December 21, 2016 – “They are only four cardinals,” Brazilian cardinal Cláudio Hummes, a chief elector of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, has said of the authors of the letter to the pope with the “dubia” on the controversial points of “Amoris Laetitia.” “Only four against more than two hundred, an enormous group that instead is giving all its support to the pope”:
In reality, the landscape appears quite a bit more uneven, to judge by all those among the cardinals and bishops who have spoken out about the “dubia” after their publication on November 14 by cardinals Walter Brandmüller, Raymond L. Burke, Carlo Caffarra, and Joachim Meisner.
There are eighteen cardinals and bishops so far who have spoken on the issue. And of these not more than seven have taken the pope’s side in lashing out against the four authors of the “dubia.”
In any case, there has by no means been the outbreak of collective and universal defense of Pope Francis presented as a certainty by Hummes.
Not only that. The first to lash out against the four cardinals did so with such virulence as to find himself isolated in turn, with respect to the other supporters of Pope Francis.
It was the bishop emeritus of Syros, Fragkiskos Papamanolis, president of the tiny Greek episcopal conference, who in an open letter on November 20 taxed with nothing less than heresy and apostasy the four authors of the “scandal,” unworthy of being part of the college of cardinals:
None of the other critics of the four cardinals has reiterated such exaggerated accusations.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna and repeatedly accredited by Francis as his most authoritative doctrinal interpreter, has denied that “Amoris Laetitia” contains statements that are ambiguous or erroneous in doctrine, and therefore – he has said – it must not be attacked but obeyed, in that it is a “magisterial document.”
Schönborn made these observations on November 18 in Rome, during a course of formation for bishops organized at the tribunal of the Roman Rota. And they became public over the following days, on a par with analogous statements made by another speaker at the course, Dimitrios Salachas, apostolic exarch for the Byzantine-rite Catholics living in Greece:
Newly-created cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the new dicastery for laity, family and life, has dismissed the doubts raised over “Amoris Laetitia”: “I honestly don’t see what and why some bishops seem to think that they have to interpret this document.” In his judgment, Francis has no reason to respond, in part because he “has [already] spoken” in the letter sent to the bishops of the region of Buenos Aires concerning chapter eight of the post-synodal exhortation.
These are thoughts that Farrell had already presented in an interview with the “National Catholic Reporter” published on October 14:
As for fellow new cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, he has spoken out along the same lines as Schönborn. “Amoris Laetitia,” he has said, is a “magisterial document,” the fruit of two synods, which therefore cannot be brought into question, and the pope has no duty to respond to doubts that are “not the doubts of the universal Church.” He added that what the pope said in the November 18 interview with “Avvenire” is sufficient: “Some still fail to understand, it’s either black or white, even thought it is in the flux of life that one must discern.”
Cupich presented these considerations on November 22 at the press conference on the occasion of his promotion as cardinal:
Finally there is, among the critics of the four cardinals, the Spanish cardinal Fernando Sebastián Aguilar, 86, who in a commentary published in the December 3 issue of “Vida Nueva” and reproduced in “L’Osservatore Romano” dismissed the doubts as “imaginary, because the pope has said what to him appeared fitting with sufficient clarity”:
It must be noted, however, that in a previous commentary of his in “Vida Nueva,” this too reproduced in “L’Osservatore Romano,” Sebastián Aguilar had given chapter eight of “Amoris Laetitia” a rather restrictive interpretation, admitting absolution and communion for the divorced and remarried only “at the decline of their existence,” when they could more easily comply with the condition, reiterated by John Paul II, of living as brother and sister:
And above all it must be recalled that in 2014, in the run-up to the first synod on the family, Sebastián Aguilar even wrote the preface to a book by Cardinal Gerhard L. Müller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, that refuted from top to bottom the ideas of Cardinal Walter Kasper in favor of communion for the divorced and remarried, and therefore of remarriage while the first spouse is still alive:
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Cardinal Müller is precisely one of those who have said that they understand the reasons for the “dubia” of the four cardinals, albeit without entering personally into a consideration of the questions.
In a December 1 interview with the radio station of the archdiocese of Cologne, part of which was published by the Austrian agency Kathpress, Müller said that the congregation for the doctrine of the faith speaks and acts “with the authority of the pope” and therefore cannot “take a side in the controversy.” But he also expressed the hope for an objective debate on the questions raised by the four, one that should avoid the “danger of polarization”:
It is a practice of the congregation, in fact, that its responses to the “dubia” submitted to it be formulated and published with the explicit approval of the pope.
One prominent example of this practice is the response that the congregation for the doctrine of the faith – headed at the time by Joseph Ratzinger – gave in 1995 to a doubt that had been submitted to him concerning whether or not the Church has the authority to ordain women to the priesthood:
So if the congregation has not yet replied to the five “dubia” raised by the four cardinals concerning “Amoris Laetitia,” and likely never will, this is because it lacks the pope’s approval, as Müller has made clear.
Among the cardinals and bishops who have publicly come out in support of the initiative of their four colleagues is the German cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, in a December 13 interview with Kath.net:
The request for clarity – he said – is more than justified: it should suffice to think about the ambiguous form in which “Amoris Laetitia” suggests a change of doctrine in a footnote. And the indignation with which some have reacted – he added – brings it “into doubt that the indignant are moved by the quest for truth.”
There is Cardinal George Pell, who at a conference in London on November 29 denounced the “false theories” of conscience that nullify every truth and, when asked about the “dubia” raised by the four cardinals, called them “significant” and asked in turn: “How can you disagree with a question?”:
There is Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the congregation for divine worship, who without explicitly citing the “dubia” but clearly alluding to them said in a November 28 interview with “L’Homme Nouveau” that “the whole Church has always held firm that one cannot receive communion when one is aware of having committed a grave sin, a principle that was definitively confirmed by the encyclical ‘Ecclesia de Eucharistia’ of Saint John Paul II,” and added that “not even a pope can dispense with this divine law”:
There is the auxiliary bishop of Astana, in Kazakhstan, Athanasius Schneider, who first in a written statement of November 23 and then at a conference in Rome on December 5 at the Fondazione Lepanto – attended by cardinals Brandmüller and Burke – and finally in a December 6 interview with a French television channel has forcefully supported the initiative of the four cardinals, which he has called “prophetic”:
There is the Polish bishop Józef Wróbel, auxiliary of Lublin, who in a November 21 interview with “La Fede Quotidiana” said that for the four cardinals, raising those “dubia” was “not only a right but even a duty,” and that “it would be just to respond to their observations”:
Then there is another Polish bishop, Jan Watroba, president of the commission for the family of the Polish episcopal conference, who according to a November 23 report in the German newspaper “Die Tagespost” has recognized in the initiative of the four cardinals “the expression of a commitment to and a concern for the correct interpretation of the teaching of Peter,” which demands “a clarifying response” all the more now that every bishop and pastor finds himself “overwhelmed with such questions.”
“It is too bad,” he emphasized, “that there exists no unified interpretation and no clear message of the document [Amoris Laetitia] and that one has to add interpretations to the Apostolic document. I personally prefer such documents, as John Paul II used to write them, where additional commentaries or interpretations concerning the teaching of Peter were not necessary”:
There is Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the new dicastery for the promotion of integral human development, who on December 1 said to the “National Catholic Register” that it would be good, in the absence of a response from the pope, for cardinals and bishops to meet together and compare the respective interpretations of “Amoris Laetitia” and to see how “they would respond and react to each other”:
There is Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the congregation of the causes of saints, who, far from burying the “dubia” raised by the four cardinals, also said, in a November 24 interview with Vatican Radio, that “the debate must be continued in reciprocal respect and above all by using the talents of the respective positions,” in order to arrive at “more integrated and improved positions.”
There is Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, president emeritus of the pontifical council for justice and peace, who in a December 16 interview with “La Fede Quotidiana” said that “it is licit in matters of doctrine to address a viewpoint to the pope, and it is also right to reply,” especially because that “case by case” of which “Amoris Laetitia” speaks can in fact “lend itself to dubious interpretations”:
And finally there is – in his own way – Archbishop Angelo Becciu, substitute of the secretariat of state, in a December 18 interview with “Vatican Insider”:
In the interview, Becciu neither explicitly approves nor discredits the initiative of the four cardinals, reiterating instead “the principles” he takes as inspiration.
Meaning the following:
“As a humble collaborator of the pope, I feel the duty to give him my honest when he is in the phase of elaborating a decision. Once it has been made, I completely obey the Holy Father.”
Perfect. But then this same principle also applies when a decision, once made, lends itself to interpretive doubts. And this is precisely what the four cardinals have done, who without “disobeying” the pope have sent him five precise requests for clarification.
Pope Francis is not responding. But the “dubia” remain.
And with them is growing more and more each day precisely that “reflection and discussion, calmly and with respect,” which the four wanted to promote within the “entire people of God”:
This article has been limited to a summary of position statements by cardinals and bishops.
But there are other areas of the “people of God” from which have come significant contributions concerning the “dubia” raised by the four cardinals.
Among the most recent and important it should suffice to cite here the letter to Francis written by two theologians of such acknowledged expertise as John Finnis and Germain Grisez, delivered to the pope on November 21 and made public in “First Things” on December 9:
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.