Cardinals Seek Clarity From Pope

by Christine Niles  •  •  November 15, 2016   

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VATICAN CITY ( - Four high-ranking cardinals are asking Pope Francis to answer questions about "Amoris Laetitia," the papal exhortation released after last year's Synod on the Family.

The "dubia," or questions, issued to the Holy Father come in light of confusion from Chapter 8, particularly paragraphs 300–305, used by liberal bishops to promote opening up the sacraments to the divorced and civilly remarried, among other things, contrary to longstanding Church teaching and practice.

Titled "Seeking Clarity: A Plea to Untie the Knots in 'Amoris Laetitia,'" the document notes "a grave disorientation and great confusion" among the faithful over "contrasting interpretations" of the exhortation.

The questions were submitted by Cdls. Raymond Burke, former prefect of the Apostolic Signatura; Walter Brandmüller, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Science; Carlo Caffarra, archbishop emeritus of Bologna, Italy; and Joachim Meisner, archbishop emeritus of Cologne, Germany.

They explain, "We want to help the Pope to prevent divisions and conflicts in the Church, asking him to dispel all ambiguity."

The cardinals make clear they submitted their questions privately, but with no response from Pope Francis. "And so we are informing the entire people of God about our initiative, offering all of the documentation," they clarify.

They also attempt to head off criticism, declaring their loyalty to the Holy Father.

We hope that no one will judge us unjustly, as adversaries of the Holy Father and people devoid of mercy. What we have done and are doing derives from the deep collegial affection that unites us to the Pope, and from an impassioned concern for the good of the faithful.

The questions revolve around five points:

  1. Whether "Amoris Laetitia" allows the divorced and civilly remarried to access the sacrament of penance, contrary to Church discipline;
  2. Whether paragraph 79 of "Veritatis Splendor" still holds, which teaches that intrinsic evil cannot be qualified by the individual's subjective intention;
  3. Whether those living contrary to God's commandments are still considered to be living "in an objective situation of grave habitual sin";
  4. Whether paragraph 81 of "Veritatis Splendor" still holds, which teaches that circumstances can never change an intrinsically evil act into a good choice;
  5. Whether paragraph 56 of "Veritatis Splendor" still holds, which teaches the conscience never trumps intrinsically evil acts.

American bishops like Blase Cupich of Chicago and Robert McElroy of San Diego, among others, have used "Amoris Laetitia" to push a liberal agenda, with McElroy going so far as to say that one's conscience may sometimes tell us to act contrary to Church teaching.

"Many Catholics tend to think of our moral life as being rule-oriented," McElroy said at the nation's first-ever diocesan synod to implement "Amoris Laetitia." "Rules are important primarily as a check on rationalization. The real core of Catholic teaching is and always was a decision of conscience."

McElroy also rejected employing the notion of intrinsic evils as a guide to help Catholics vote.

And Cupich has also used the notion of conscience to relax Church teaching on Holy Communion. "I think that when people come for Communion," he said at last year's Synod on the Family, "it's not up to any minister who's distributing the Eucharist to make a decision about a person's worthiness or lack of worthiness. That's on the conscience of those individuals."

It earned him the rebuke of the bishop of Springfield, Illinois, Thomas Paprocki, who wrote a public letter "to set the record straight."

Individuals must form their consciences in accord with Church teaching. Conscience assesses how a person's concrete action in a given situation accords with Church teaching — not to determine whether one agrees with or accepts Church teaching in the first place.

Paprocki went on to clarify that Canon 915 mandates clergy to withhold Communion from manifest, public, grave sinners. This includes those joined in invalid, non-sacramental marriages, considered adultery in Catholic teaching.

Refusing Communion to such people is not about "assessing personal worthiness," Paprocki explains, but rather meant to protect the Sacrament from sacrilege as well as prevent the harm of scandal "caused by someone's public conduct that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ."

It is true that Jesus welcomes everyone. But as Jesus said at the Last Supper, so we say in the eucharistic prayer at Mass, Jesus poured out His blood "for you and for many," since not everyone accepts what Christ offers, just as Judas did not accept what Christ offered him.

Sources confirm Pope Francis received the dubia from the cardinals, but has not yet publicly responded.


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