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: < http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/full-text-and-explanatory-notes-of-cardinals-questions-on-amoris-laetitia >.
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.