Five dubia, four cardinals, and a Pope


Ricardo Saludo

When it comes to matters of law, Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, dean of San Beda Graduate School of Law, is among the leading minds in town. And in matters of faith, this believer also holds him in high stead.

So, one was gratified when Fr. Aquino cited this writer’s March 16 column on the death penalty, which quoted Catholic scripture, saints and popes justifying capital punishment. In this column, we return the favor with highest esteem.

In his Manila Standard column last Thursday, “Francis whips up a storm,” Fr. Aquino wrote about the controversy over the five dubia or “doubts” raised by four senior Cardinals over Pope Francis’s Amoris Laetitia apostolic exhortation on the family.

The article said: “There is a storm only because some, in the Church, who should know better, rate canon law a more precious commodity than mercy. That, of course, is not new. To the pious Jews and rabbinic lawyers of the time, Jesus was in flagrant violation of the law many times—but what laws they were! Minutiae of conduct and quitting about what was and was not work on the Sabbath—these were the concerns of the law of the time, and these, Jesus did not consider good reason to do good on the Sabbath even if it appeared that he was breaking the law. Francis is not even going that far. He is asking the Catholic in dire moral straits to seek refuge in conscience—and urging pastors to accompany them in this labor of soul-searching. It is a storm that should blow decaying branches off and allow fresh buds to sprout.”

Readers may think the article contends that the four Cardinals who raised the dubia—Carlo Caffarra, archbishop emeritus of Bologna; Raymond Burke, former head of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican supreme court; Walter Brandmüller, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences; and Joachim Meisner, archbishop emeritus of Cologne — did not want the Holy Father “asking the Catholic in dire moral straits to seek refuge in conscience.”

That may not be what Fr. Aquino meant, and it certainly was not what Their Eminence wrote to Francis regarding Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love). Rather, the Cardinals were rightly and reverently seeking guidance and clarification from the Supreme Pontiff regarding questions or doubts raised in the minds of many faithful, consecrated and laity alike, by his exhortation, particularly Chapter 8.

In short, the Cardinals asked the Pope to clarify his views on certain moral issues — not to change or reverse them.

For those wanting to see for themselves what Their Eminences wrote to His Holiness, the document and its cover letter is found, among other websites, at: < >.

Take the dubia about communion for divorced Catholics who wed again without their church marriages being annulled:

“It is asked whether, following the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (300-305), 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 without fulfilling the conditions provided for by Familiaris Consortio, 84, and subsequently reaffirmed by Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34, and Sacramentum Caritatis, 29. Can the expression “in certain cases” found in Note 351 (305) of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxorio?”

To put it in plain language, the Princes of the Church asked the Vicar of Christ whether, based on statements 300-305 in Amoris Laetitia, a person still married under Church law but in a new conjugal union, may obtain forgiveness of his sins through confession and receive Holy Communion while still living as spouse with another partner.

The dubia cites three apostolic exhortations — Pope Saint John Paul 2’s Familiaris Consortio (issued 1981) and Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (1984), and Pope Benedict 16th’s Sacramentum Caritatis (2007) — which, in the Cardinals’ view, set conditions for penance and communion which are not fulfilled by a married Catholic who takes up a conjugal relationship with another partner.

To this question and the other four dubia, which covered Church doctrines on morality and conscience, all the Cardinals wanted from Francis was a plain yes or no. No need to give reasons or argue his positions. Just state them with clarity, Your Holiness.

However, months after receiving the dubia document last September, Francis did not reply. So, in November, the Cardinals made their dubia public, adding to the storm already stirred last July by 45 Catholic theologians and clerics across the globe who wrote all cardinals about alleged theological errors in Amoris Laetitia.

Some Cardinals, bishops and priests came to the Pope’s defense, and insisted that there was no need to clarify what Amoris Laetitia said on the issues raised in the dubia. Vienna Archbishop Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, cited by Francis as his most authoritative doctrinal interpreter, denied that Amoris Laetitia contains statements that are ambiguous or erroneous in doctrine.

Fr. Vito Pinto, chief judge of the Roman Rota, the Church’s highest marital tribunal, maintained: “The Pope is faithful to the doctrine of Christ. … What they [the cardinals]have done is a very grave scandal, which could even lead the Holy Father to take away their red hats,” the emblem of being cardinals.

However, in fact, there are differing views of what Amoris Laetitia allows, with national conferences of bishops taking diametrically opposed positions.

For instance, the German bishops allow absolution and communion for divorced Catholics who take up new spouses without annulling their Church marriages. But in neighboring Poland, such Catholics do not gain forgiveness and may not receive the Eucharist, as Polish prelates interpret Francis’s exhortation.

Unless it is fine for the Catholic Church to have bishops taking contradictory positions on moral issues, there seems to be a need for papal clarification.

Recently, the four Cardinals asked for a papal audience to discuss the dubia. There is no reported action yet on their request.


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  1. aladin g. villacorte on

    What crisis? Here anybody including non-Catholic who wants to receive the holy communion may do so – no question asked.

  2. Pope Francis silence towards the dubia of the 4 cardinals is creating or has created a scandal. Argentina, where the pope came from, an archbishop has officially given Communion to dozens of divorce and remarried in a cathedral. and the pope remains silent?

    is the Catholic Church now two instead of One? can an individual in grave sin who cannot receive Communion from a faithful priest look for other priest who gives Communion towards unrepentant sinners?

    majority of cardinals, bishops and priest are silent in the midst of this grave crisis in the Church. are they afraid that their red hats will be taken off or their career put on hold?

    can we, as members of the Church, see this crisis happening and remain silent? indifferent? lukewarm?

    i hope and pray that our prelates here in our mess up country teach what the Church has always taught for 2k years.

    thank you mr. saludo for your article! please, please, please keep it up until our prelates come to their senses.

    God bless.

  3. John the Mad on

    Of course, in the matter of communion for divorced and “re-married” couples, Pope Francis is on the side of the pharisees in scriptures and the four dubia cardinals are on the side of Christ. It was Jesus himself who said, “What God has put together let no man put asunder.” Francis is not only sundering the sacrament of Holy Matrimony, but is sundering the Church itself. In this diocese such Catholics are permitted communion in contradiction to scripture and tradition. In another one can’t receive communion in conformity to scripture and tradition. Thus he the creed of the Church (the four “notes” one, holy, catholic and apostolic) .

    This matter goes way beyond a spurious debate between canon law and mercy. Francis and his clerical party ignore the clear words of the Logos, the Son of God Himself. The pope’s use of ambiguity is deliberate and heterodox in intent and result. This cannot stand and, if not repudiated, will necessarily lead to schism as faithful, orthodox, Catholics cannot tolerate communion to those in irregular marriages without placing their own souls in peril of damnation. For this, Saint Thomas More and Bishop Saint John Fisher became martyrs. They knew what was at stake and stood with Christ. It cost them their heads, but gained them paradise.

    • John the Mad on

      “Thus he the creed of the Church (the four “notes” one, holy, catholic and apostolic).”

      That should read, “Thus he casts asunder the creed of the Church (the four “notes” one, holy, catholic and apostolic) .”

  4. Mike Schneider on

    If you want peace and clarity in your life you need to put aside Catholicism, Islam and all other man made religions. Simply concentrate on Gods words, plans and promises in the Holy Bible. Study the Bible for a minimum 2 years with reputable teachers and you will find peace.

    Peace be with you

    • “put aside Catholicism etc and study the bible for a minimum 2 years”

      and i found this, “Understanding this first, that no prophecy of scripture is made by private interpretation.” 2 Peter 1:20

      and this, ““And consider the patience of our Lord as salvation, as our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, also wrote to you, speaking of these things as he does in all his letters. In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures. Therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, be on your guard not to be led into the error of the unprincipled and to fall from your own stability” (2 Peter 3:15-17).”

      your so called “reputable teachers” will only add up to the tens of thousands of protestant groups already existing.

      peace man!

    • John the Mad on

      That would be, one presumes, the Holy Bible that the world recognizes as Scripture because Catholic bishops declared it so in the early Church, i.e.,the Synod of Rome (382), the Council of Hippo (393), the Council of Carthage (397), You consider the Catholic Church to be man made, but it was the Church that determined what books in circulation were Scriptural (biblical) and which ones were spurious (e.g., Gospel of Thomas.).