VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — The Vatican and Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, the new prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), have both responded to a newly published dubia from five cardinals that raised five key concerns about Catholic doctrine in relation to the Synod on Synodality.
Breaking early morning around Rome on October 2, five cardinals made public a series of questions, or dubia, that they had sent to Pope Francis over a month ago.
The dubia were written and submitted by Cardinals Walter Brandmüller, former prefect of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences; Raymond Leo Burke, former prefect of the Apostolic Signatura; Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, former Archbishop of Guadalajara; Robert Sarah, the former prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; and Joseph Zen, the former bishop of Hong Kong. Both Brandmüller and Burke were signatories of the previous dubia submitted to the Pope in 2016 about Amoris Laetitia.
The five cardinals had sent dubia to Pope Francis on July 10, which he answered in a letter delivered on July 13 and dated July 11. According to veteran Vatican reporter Sandro Magister, who published the dubia, that text – a seven-page document written in Spanish – bore Francis’ signature but “the letter displayed the writing style of his trusted theologian, the Argentine Victor Manuel Fernández.”
The five cardinals consequently sent another letter to the Pope on August 21, formulated in a “yes or no” style, since the papal reply was apparently “vague and elusive.” This was left unanswered – a fact that prompted today’s publication of the dubia.
Their questions pertained to five points and came with a particular urgency, as they noted the Synod on Synodality as an event “which many want to use to deny Catholic doctrine on the very issues which our dubia concern.”
The dubia questions in particular were as follows:
- Is it possible for the Church today to teach doctrines contrary to those she has previously taught in matters of faith and morals, whether by the Pope ex cathedra, or in the definitions of an Ecumenical Council, or in the ordinary universal magisterium of the Bishops dispersed throughout the world (cf. Lumen Gentium 25)?
- Is it possible that in some circumstances a pastor could bless unions between homosexual persons, thus suggesting that homosexual behavior as such would not be contrary to God’s law and the person’s journey toward God? Linked to this dubium is the need to raise another: does the teaching upheld by the universal ordinary magisterium, that every sexual act outside of marriage, and in particular homosexual acts, constitutes an objectively grave sin against God’s law, regardless of the circumstances in which it takes place and the intention with which it is carried out, continue to be valid?
- Will the Synod of Bishops to be held in Rome, and which includes only a chosen representation of pastors and faithful, exercise, in the doctrinal or pastoral matters on which it will be called to express itself, the Supreme Authority of the Church, which belongs exclusively to the Roman Pontiff and, una cum capite suo, to the College of Bishops (cf. can. 336 C.I.C.)?
- Could the Church in the future have the faculty to confer priestly ordination on women, thus contradicting that the exclusive reservation of this sacrament to baptized males belongs to the very substance of the Sacrament of Orders, which the Church cannot change?
- Can a penitent who, while admitting a sin, refuses to make, in any way, the intention not to commit it again, validly receive sacramental absolution?
“They have not published the response of the Holy Father, who despite his many occupations took the trouble to answer them,” added the new cardinal. “Instead of publishing those answers, they are now making public new questions, as if the Pope were their slave for errands.”
In an explanatory note, the five dubia cardinals stated that the letter they received from the Pope on July 13 “did not follow the practice of responsa ad dubia [responses to questions].”
Fernández did not comment to ABC on the new, more precise versions of the questions, which the dubia cardinals said they had specifically “reformulated … to elicit a clear response based on the perennial doctrine and discipline of the Church.”
Vatican also fires back
In a particularly rare move, the Vatican also responded to the five dubia cardinals. Published on the Vatican’s website in the afternoon, some six or seven hours after news of the dubia began to circulate, the Vatican provided the July 11 letter that the five dubia cardinals received from the Pope and that prompted their August 21 dubia. (A translated version can be found here, with the original Spanish document here.)
The Vatican also published a September 25 letter from Fernández to Pope Francis, in which the cardinal asked to quote from the Pope’s July 11 response to the dubia on future occasions.
The letter – typed, with a handwritten signature from Pope Francis – contained several quotations from Amoris Laetitia, Vatican II, and the writings of Pope John Paul II.
The letter repeated one of Pope Francis’ regular phrases about Church teaching: “while it is true that divine Revelation is immutable and always binding, the Church must be humble and recognize that she never exhausts its unfathomable richness and needs to grow in her understanding.”
Repeated also were comments previously made by Cardinal Fernández hinting at openness to same-sex “blessings.” Providing there is no “mistaken conception of marriage,” the letter wrote in support of instances of blessings for couples: “when a blessing is requested, it is expressing a request for help from God, a plea to be able to live better, a trust in a Father who can help us to live better.”
Drawing from Amoris Laetitia, the letter further argued regarding an openness to same-sex “blessings”:
Canon Law should not and cannot cover everything, nor should the Episcopal Conferences claim to do so with their various documents and protocols, because the life of the Church runs through many channels in addition to the normative ones.
As part of the response to the cardinals’ question about whether Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis definitive statement that it is impossible to order women, the Pope’s letter stated:
let us acknowledge that a clear and authoritative doctrine has not yet been exhaustively developed about the exact nature of a “definitive statement.”
It is not a dogmatic definition, and yet it is to be observed by all. No one can publicly contradict it and yet it can be the subject of study, as is the case with the validity of ordinations in the Anglican Communion.
The broadside from the Vatican and the swift response from Cardinal Fernández suggest that officials behind the Vatican’s walls are particularly concerned to ensure that nothing will prevent the Synod on Synodality from proceeding as planned.