Cardinals Target Synod, Blitzing Francis With ‘Dubia’

News: World News
by Jules Gomes  •  •  October 2, 2023   

Pope Francis refuses to respond to reformulated questions from prelates

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UPDATE: The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) has released the response, to the Cardinals' July dubia.

VATICAN CITY ( - In an unprecedented move, five senior cardinals have submitted a set of five dubia (Latin for "doubts") to Pope Francis that question the direction of the Synod on Synodality. 

Pope Francis with Fr. James Martin, S.J.

The cardinals made their dubia public on Monday, just before the opening of the synodal process, after Pope Francis refused to respond to a second set of "reformulated" questions, according to a letter cosigned by the five prelates.

The five cardinals are Cdl. Walter Brandmüller, Cdl. Raymond Burke, Cdl. Joseph Zen, Cdl. Juan Sandoval Íñiguez and Cdl. Robert Sarah.

Warning the faithful "not to be subject to confusion, error and discouragement," the letter explained why the cardinals were publically releasing the dubia

The cardinals said they submitted five reformulated dubia to Pope Francis on Aug. 21. It asked for clarity on the issues of doctrinal development, the blessing of same-sex unions, the authority of the Synod on Synodality, women's ordination and sacramental absolution.

Alerting the Faithful

In their "Notification to Christ's Faithful," the prelates said that they submitted an earlier version of the dubia on July 10 and received a reply from Pope Francis the following day. 

The cardinals explained to the faithful that they resubmitted their doubts because Pope Francis "did not follow the practice of responsa ad dubia (responses to doubts)" by not using the conventional form of "yes" and "no" replies.

Pope Francis' responses 'have not resolved the doubts we had raised, but have, if anything, deepened them.'

Moreover, the cardinals said they had manifested their "deepest concern to the pontiff" following "various declarations of highly placed prelates" that are "openly contrary to the constant doctrine and discipline of the Church." 

Such pronouncements by high-ranking cardinals and bishops "have generated and continue to generate great confusion and the falling into error among the faithful and other persons of goodwill," the cardinals' letter added. 


Pope Francis' responses "have not resolved the doubts we had raised, but have, if anything, deepened them," they said in a statement to the National Catholic Register.

Five Doubts

In the first dubium, the cardinals ask if the Magisterium can trump the Holy Bible and contradict it and whether "divine revelation should be reinterpreted" according to current cultural fashions and the "new anthropological vision."

Pope Francis replied with a handwritten letter two days after homosexualist Jesuit Fr. James Martin sent him three dubia.

The second dubium raises the issue of whether the blessing of same-sex unions would be in accord with revelation and the Magisterium. The cardinals point out that homosexual unions are considered "objectively sinful situations" according to Catholic doctrine. 

Cdl. Victor Manuel Fernández

In their third dubnium, the cardinals raise the concern of a novel ecclesiology that is being facilitated under the pretext of synodality as "a constitutive element of the Church."

The cardinals ask if synodality can be "the supreme regulative criterion of the permanent government of the Church without distorting Her constitutive order willed by Her Founder" under the headship of the pope and the college of bishops.

In their fourth dubium, the cardinals ask if the theology of priestly ordination has changed and "whether the teaching of St. John Paul's apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, which teaches as a truth to be definitively held the impossibility of conferring priestly ordination on women, is still valid."

The fifth dubium is a direct challenge to Pope Francis' "insistence on the duty to absolve everyone and always, so that repentance would not be a necessary condition for sacramental absolution."

The cardinals ask if the teaching of the Council of Trent that requires contrition as a prerequisite for valid sacramental absolution "is still in force, so that the priest must postpone absolution when it is clear that this condition is not fulfilled." 

Francis' Snub

In 2016, Cdl. Burke and Cdl. Brandmüller along with late Cdls. Carlo Caffarra and Joachim Meisner sent a set of five dubium to Pope Francis following the publication of the pontiff's controversial apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia

The dubia asked the pontiff to clarify his position on admitting divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacraments. Pope Francis did not respond.

In contrast, homosexualist Jesuit Fr. James Martin sent Francis in January three dubia seeking clarification on the issue of homosexuality, and Pope Francis replied with a handwritten letter two days later. 

People who, on the other hand, expect great changes, are going to be really disappointed.

In 2021, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a responsa ad dubium, giving a categorical "no" to a dubium on whether the Church has "the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex," Church Militant reported

Later in 2021, the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued a responsa ad dubia on certain provisions of Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis' motu proprio restricting the Traditional Latin Mass.

No Big Changes Now

Meanwhile, the newly created cardinal and prefect of the DDF, Victor Manuel Fernández, predicted that "those who expect big changes" to come out of the Synod of bishops will be "disappointed."

"People who are afraid of strange or misplaced doctrinal advances, and people who, on the other hand, expect great changes, are going to be really disappointed," Fernández told Spanish media ACI Prensa.

"At least not this year," he added. "Afterwards, we will see what emerges, and next year we will see what happens, but for this synod, this year, we cannot expect too much."

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