Four cardinals asked Pope Francis for clarifications (dubia) on Amoris Laetitia back on September 19, 2016. Their request remains unanswered to this day.
At the beginning of July, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, who also received the dubia, was not re-appointed as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (July 1), and Cardinal Meisner, one of the four authors, passed away (July 5).
I.Media recalled that “these dubia aroused contrasting reactions. For example, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, director of the Jesuit journal Civiltà Cattolica and known for being close to the pope, believed there would be no debate since the answers were given during the synods on the family in 2014 and 2015. For the dean of the Roman Rota, Fr. Pio Vito Pinto, this sort of publicity could – in other times – have cost the four authors their red birettas.
On the contrary, some laymen, some members of the clergy, and even some cardinals supported the dubia and joined in with the questions. Thus, for Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the doubts were legitimate and the reactions were ‘disproportionate’.
For Cardinal Renato Martino, former president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, there is ‘nothing bad’ about the dubia, and ‘it is legitimate in terms of doctrine to turn to the pope and express an opinion – and it is also just that he would respond.’”
On April 25, 2017, seven months after the writing of the dubia, the four cardinals asked the Sovereign Pontiff for an audience, but it has not yet been granted. Vaticanist Sandro Magister, who published the dubia on November 14, 2016, also published the text requesting the audience that continues to be refused. The legitimate worry of the cardinals is tangible:
A year has now gone by since the publication of Amoris Laetitia. During this time, interpretations of some objectively ambiguous passages of the post-synodal Exhortation have publicly been given that are not divergent from, but contrary to, the permanent Magisterium of the Church. Despite the fact that the Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith has repeatedly declared that the doctrine of the Church has not changed, numerous statements have appeared from individual Bishops, Cardinals, and even Episcopal Conferences, approving what the Magisterium of the Church has never approved. Not only access to the Holy Eucharist for those who objectively and publicly live in a situation of grave sin, and intend to remain in it, but also a conception of moral conscience contrary to the Tradition of the Church. And so it is happening — how painful it is to see this! — that what is sin in Poland is good in Germany, that what is prohibited in the archdiocese of Philadelphia is permitted in Malta. And so on. One is reminded of the bitter observation of Blaise Pascal: ‘Justice on this side of the Pyrenees, injustice on the other; justice on the left bank of the river, injustice on the right bank’.
“Numerous competent lay faithful, who are deeply in love with the Church and staunchly loyal to the Apostolic See, have turned to their Pastors and to Your Holiness in order to be confirmed in the Holy Doctrine concerning the three sacraments of Marriage, Confession, and the Eucharist. And in these very days, in Rome, six lay faithful, from every Continent, have presented a very well-attended study seminar with the meaningful title: ‘Bringing clarity.’
“Faced with this grave situation, in which many Christian communities are being divided, we feel the weight of our responsibility, and our conscience impels us to ask humbly and respectfully for an Audience.”
The obstinate silence of Pope Francis in response to this request does not fail to surprise Roman observers. Thus, in the Nuova Bussola quotidiana on June 20, Riccardo Cascioli, wrote under the title “Silence, an Incomprehensible Attitude”:
A pope who does not even deign to grant the cardinals a sign, does not respond to their letters and requests for an audience: I believe there is no precedent for this, at least in the past few centuries of the history of the Church. This silence is all the weightier when you think of the great number of telephone calls, letters, and audiences Francis grants to a multitude of people of all sorts. It is difficult not to see this attitude as a desire to mortify and humiliate the cardinals who are considered an obstacle to the reform plan.
“The reason for this attitude is incomprehensible: of course the pope can disagree with the four cardinals; he can even have a hard time digesting their insistence in pointing out the incoherencies of Amoris Laetitia and several of its interpretations; but why not tell them so openly, why completely ignore their existence? Can’t a cardinal, any cardinal be perplexed at certain of the pope’s acts? And is that a reason for him not even to have a right to an answer to his request to meet with the pope?”
The Italian journalist recalled:
What is more, to increase the uneasiness, there is the fact that this scornful attitude of the pope towards those who signed the dubia goes against everything he preaches. Take for example his recent audience with the Congregation for the Clergy (June 1 -- Ed. Note), when he encouraged the bishops to be close to their priests: ‘How often have I heard priests complain – I have said this many times, perhaps you have heard – ‘I called the bishop: he wasn’t there, and the secretary told me he wasn’t there, and I asked for an appointment; ‘He is full up for three months’’… and that priest ends up detached from the bishop. But if you, bishop, know that in the list of calls that your secretary leaves you, a priest has called, and your diary is full, then that same day, in the evening or the day after, but no more, call him back on the telephone and tell him how things are, evaluate things together, whether it is urgent or not... But the important thing is, that priest will feel that he has a father, a father close to him. Closeness. Closeness to the priests. You cannot govern a diocese without closeness, you cannot help nurture and sanctify a priest without the paternal closeness of the bishop’.’”
Riccardo Cascioli concluded with a question: “If the bishops have a duty to be close with their priests, doesn’t that also apply to the pope with his cardinals and bishops?”
On the same day, June 20, historian Roberto de Mattei denounced “the scandal of silence” in Correspondance Européenne:
There is no scandal nor rebellion in the fact that the Pope’s collaborators are asking for a private audience and that in their request, they describe with parrhesia, but also with objectivity the growing division in the Church with each day that passes. The scandal is in the refusal of the Successor of Peter to listen those who are asking to be received by him.
“More so since Pope Francis has wanted ‘welcome’ to be the ‘trademark’ of his pontificate, stating in one of his first homilies at Santa Marta (May 25, 2013) that ‘Christians who ask need never find closed doors’. Why then this refusal to give an audience to the four Cardinals who are only fulfilling their duties as advisors to the Pope?
“The words of the Cardinals are filial and respectful. We can presume that their intention was to seek better ‘discernment’ in Pope Francis’ plans with a private audience andeventually to address the Sovereign Pontiff with a filial correction in camera caritatis (“just between them” -- Ed. Note).
“The silence of Pope Francis in their regard is tenacious and disrespectful but his persistence expresses the opinion of those who move ahead with determination in their own way. Seeing the impossibility of a private correction because of the inexplicable refusal of an audience, the cardinals will now have to move ahead resolutely in their way also, if they wish to keep this silence in the Church from being greater than their words”.
On July 15, Pope eEmeritus Benedict XVI had a message read at the funeral of Cardinal Joachim Meisner, one of the four who signed the 2016 dubia and the 2017 request for an audience, and who died on July 5. He alluded to the situation of the Church today, repeating the image of the “boat taking water on all sides” that he had already used in 2005, shortly before he was elevated to the sovereign pontificate:
We know that this passionate shepherd and pastor found it difficult to leave his post (as archbishop of Cologne in 2014 -- Ed. Note), especially at a time in which the Church stands in particularly pressing need of convincing shepherds who can resist the dictatorship of the spirit of the age and who live and think the faith with determination. However, what moved me all the more was that, in this last period of his life, he learned to let go and to live out of a deep conviction that the Lord does not abandon His Church, even if the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing”.
Phrases like “resist the dictatorship of the spirit of the age”, “live and think the faith with determination”, and “the Lord does not abandon His Church, ever if the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing”, have led some to believe that Benedict XVI was indirectly and discreetly supporting what the authors of the dubia did.
Three months before the dubia, an Australian university professor called for a stronger reaction to the errors of Amoris Laetitia. On April 22, there was an international congress in Rome on the theme: “Clarifying Amoris Laetitia”. One of the talks was given by Professor Anna M. Silvas, Senior Research Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities University of New England (Australia). She warmly invited the cardinals not to base their actions on human prudence, but on supernatural prudence:
Is it still a possibility, the Cardinals’ proposed fraternal correction of the Pope? We heard of this last November, and it surely lifted our beleaguered spirits.
“But now it is the end of April, and nothing has come of it. I cannot help but think of that passage from Shakespeare: ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men…’ (Julius Caesar, Act IV), and wonder if the tide has come and gone, and we the lay faithful are left stranded again.
“Yet Cardinal Burke has recently said: ‘Until these questions are answered, there continues to spread a very harmful confusion in the Church, and one of the fundamental questions is in regards to the truth that there are some acts that are always and everywhere wrong, what we call intrinsically evil acts, and so, we cardinals, will continue to insist that we get a response to these honest questions.’
“Well, I hope so, dear Cardinals, I hope so! We the faithful, beg you: forget about calculating prudent outcomes. Real prudence should tell you when it is the right time for courageous witness, whose other name is martyrdom.”