The absurd argument of the dubia critics: an illustration

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Dec 20, 2016

One more quick comment on the dubia debate, and then—I hope, unless I’m unduly provoked—I’ll turn my attention to happier thoughts of Christmas.

The argument against the dubia, if I understand it correctly (which is not certain, since it is never made explicit), runs something like this: We cannot set out clear black-and-white lines regarding the handling of marriage and divorce cases. Every case is different; all the complicated circumstances must be examined before we make any judgment. Abstract rules can’t be applied equally to all cases.

Perfectly true. But isn’t that the purpose of marriage tribunals: to examine the complicated circumstances of individual cases, and apply the general rules to the particular circumstances? If there are no general rules to be applied, then the tribunals (or the pastors, in the Amoris Laetitia dispensation) will be operating in a vacuum.

Apply the same logic in another, less controversial field, and you’ll notice the absurdity:

Experienced tennis umpires know that there are many marginal calls. Whether the ball is called “in” or “out” is influenced by a number of different factors: the angle of the shot, the position of the line judge, the condition of the court. No two shots are alike. Therefore, only abstract theorists of the game would want the lines drawn on the tennis court before the match.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: rickt26170 - Dec. 26, 2016 7:33 PM ET USA

    What's unsettling is that the logic leaving to Amoris Laetitia could be used on almost any aspect of Church teaching: gay marriage, abortion - anything can be seen as having shades of gray. The Burke and others understand this clearly - only one of five questions in the dubia deals with AL itself, the others concern bedrock Church thought and teaching.

  • Posted by: claude-ccc2991 - Dec. 21, 2016 3:02 AM ET USA

    Not to deny your tennis analogy, which is excellent(!), but another thought occured. I love (NOT!) the argument of the nebulists that we can't have abstract rules determining the situation. All except one, it seems, and that's the ultimate abstract rule that we can't have abtract rules. Here's hoping that you're not further provoked!

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Dec. 20, 2016 3:24 PM ET USA

    This is beginning to look like another Long Lent for the Church. I do not see happy times ahead.