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Cardinals send new ‘dubia’ to Pope, plead for clarity

October 02, 2023

Five prominent cardinals have submitted dubia to Pope Francis, urging him to clarify points of doctrine before this month’s meeting of the Synod on Synodality.

In a letter made public along with the text of their questions for the Pontiff, the five cardinals say that clear answers are needed “in view of various declarations of highly-placed prelates… that are openly contrary to the constant doctrine and discipline of the Church.” They explain that “the gravity of the matter of the dubia, especially in view of the imminent session of the Synod of Bishops,” calls for a clear papal statement to reaffirm Catholic doctrine.

The dubia have been presented to Pope Francis by:

  1. Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, the former president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences;
  2. Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former prefect of the Apostolic Signatura;
  3. Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iniguez, the retired Archbishop of Guadalajara;
  4. Cardinal Robert Sarah, the former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship; and
  5. Cardinal Joseph Zen, the retired Bishop of Hong Kong.

The cardinals reveal that they submitted their questions to Pope Francis in July, and received a 7-page letter in reply. But the Pope’s response failed to satisfy the demands of the dubia—which were intended to eliminate doubts. In fact, the cardinals report, the Pope’s words “have not resolved the doubts we had raised, but have, if anything, deepened them.” Consequently “we reformulated the dubia to elicit a clear response.” Since sending their second request for clarification in August, the cardinals reported, they have received no further response.

The dubia are carefully phrased to allow for the possibility of a Yes/No response. [See link below for the full text.] The cardinals ask:

  • Whether divine revelation “should be interpreted according to the cultural changes of our time…
  • Whether the Church can offer blessings for “objectively sinful situations, such as same-sex unions…
  • Whether synodality “can be the supreme regulative criterion of the permanent government of the Church…
  • Whether the definitive teaching that priestly ordination cannot be conferred upon women “is still valid…”
  • Whether repentance is necessary for sacramental absolution.

The cardinals explain that they raised the questions because statements issued by prominent Church leaders “have generated and continue to generate great confusion and the falling into error among the faithful and other persons of goodwill.” In an open letter “to Christ’s faithful,” they explain that they felt an obligation to make their concerns public “so that you may not be subject to confusion, error, and discouragement.”

Although submitting a dubium to the Vatican, to clarify a specific point of doctrine, has a long history, the practice has drawn far greater attention in the past decade, as ranking prelates have sought to ease the confusion created by papal statements. In 2016 four cardinals submitted a set of dubia regarding the teaching of Amoris Laetitia—and never received a response from the Pontiff. (Cardinals Burke and Brandmüller, who joined in the new dubia also signed that 2016 request for clarification, along with the late Cardinals Carlo Caffarra and Joachim Meisner.

The cardinals who have signed the new dubia represent four continents: Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. Significantly, none of these five cardinals currently has a pastoral assignment, and none will participate in the October meeting of the Synod. Three (Cardinals Brandmüller, Sandoval, and Zen) are over the age of 90.


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  • Posted by: rfr46 - Oct. 04, 2023 5:27 AM ET USA

    PF has no intention of responding clearly to the dubia. His modus operandi is by now very clear: create ambiguity and confusion, which undermine Catholic doctrine and discipline.

  • Posted by: feedback - Oct. 02, 2023 1:33 PM ET USA

    Cardinal Gerhard Müller should also be in that group. Perhaps inviting him to be part of the October Synod was a way to silence him preemptively?