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Vatican publishes Pope’s response to cardinals’ dubia

October 03, 2023

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith has published Pope Francis’s response (Spanish text, English translation), dated July 11, to questions posed by five cardinals on July 10.

The Pontiff’s response addressed questions about divine revelation, the blessing of same-sex unions, synodality, the ordination of women, and the necessity of repentance for sacramental absolution. The Pope’s response led Cardinals Walter Brandmüller, Raymond Burke, Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, Robert Sarah, and Joseph Zen Ze-kiun to send reformulated dubia to the Pope on August 21. These reformulated dubia have received no response and were made public on October 2.

Whether divine revelation should be interpreted according to cultural changes

Addressing the question about divine revelation, Pope Francis said that “cultural changes and new challenges in history do not modify Revelation but can stimulate us to express certain aspects of its overflowing richness better, which always offers more. It is inevitable that this can lead to a better expression of some past statements of the Magisterium, and indeed, this has been the case throughout history.”

He continued:

On the one hand, it is true that the Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but it is also true that both the texts of the Scripture and the testimonies of Tradition require interpretation in order to distinguish their perennial substance from cultural conditioning. This is evident, for example, in biblical texts (such as Exodus 21:20-21) and in some magisterial interventions that tolerated slavery (Cf. Pope Nicholas V, Bull Dum diversas, 1452). This is not a minor issue given its intimate connection with the perennial truth of the inalienable dignity of the human person. These texts need interpretation.

The same applies to certain considerations in the New Testament regarding women (1 Corinthians 11:3-10; 1 Timothy 2:11-14) and other texts of Scripture and testimonies of Tradition that cannot be materially repeated today.

It is important to emphasize that what cannot change is what has been revealed “for the salvation of all” (Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, 7). Therefore, the Church must constantly discern between what is essential for salvation and what is secondary or less directly connected with this goal.

Whether the Church should offer blessings for same-sex unions

Addressing the question about the blessing of same-sex unions, Pope Francis wrote that “the Church has a very clear understanding of marriage: an exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to procreation. Only this union can be called ‘marriage.’“

“For this reason, the Church avoids any type of rite or sacramental that might contradict this conviction and suggest that something that is not marriage is recognized as marriage,” the Pope continued. “However, in our relationships with people, we must not lose the pastoral charity, which should permeate all our decisions and attitudes.”

The Pope added:

Pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or more persons, that do not convey a mistaken concept of marriage. For when a blessing is requested, it is expressing a plea to God for help, a supplication to live better, a trust in a Father who can help us live better ...

Decisions that may be part of pastoral prudence in certain circumstances should not necessarily become a norm. That is, it is not appropriate for a Diocese, a Bishops’ Conference, or any other ecclesial structure to constantly and officially enable procedures or rituals for all kinds of matters, because not everything that “is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances can be elevated to the level of a rule” as this “would lead to an intolerable casuistry” (Amoris laetitia, 304). Canon law should not and cannot cover everything, nor should Episcopal Conferences with their varied documents and protocols claim to do so, as the life of the Church flows through many channels other than normative ones.

Whether synodality is the supreme form of Church governance

Addressing the question on synodality, Pope Francis wrote that “not only the hierarchy but the entire People of God in various ways and at different levels can make their voices heard and feel part of the Church’s journey. In this sense, we can say that synodality, as a style and dynamism, is an essential dimension of the Church’s life.”

Whether priestly ordination can be conferred on women

Addressing the question on women’s ordination, Pope Francis wrote that “when St. John Paul II taught that we must affirm ‘definitively’ the impossibility of conferring priestly ordination on women, he was in no way denigrating women and giving supreme power to men.”

“On the other hand, to be rigorous, let us recognize that a clear and authoritative doctrine on the exact nature of a ‘definitive statement’ has not yet been fully developed,” Pope Francis added. “It is not a dogmatic definition, and yet it must be adhered to by all. No one can publicly contradict it and yet it can be a subject of study, as with the case of the validity of ordinations in the Anglican Communion.”

Whether repentance is necessary for absolution

Finally, addressing the question on the necessity of repentance for absolution, Pope Francis wrote that “repentance is necessary for the validity of sacramental absolution and implies a resolution not to sin.”

“There are many ways to express repentance,” he continued. “Often, in people who have a very wounded self-esteem, declaring themselves guilty is a cruel torment, but the very act of approaching the confessional is a symbolic expression of repentance and of seeking divine help.”


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  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Oct. 03, 2023 8:19 PM ET USA

    A very familiar lack of conciseness and clarity. No wonder the Cardinals reformulated their dubia. "May you live in interesting times". These may be a little too interesting!