Pope Francis responds to 5 ‘Dubia’

 Pope Francis responds to 5 ‘Dubia’  ING-040
06 October 2023

Pope Francis has responded to five dubia [“doubts”] that were sent to him last July by Cardinals Walter Brandmüller and Raymond Leo Burke, supported by three other Cardinals, Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, Robert Sarah, and Joseph Zen Ze-kiun. Published on the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith’s website on Monday, 2 October, the Holy Father’s response to the cardinals was prefaced with the following statement: “Although I believe it is not always prudent to respond to questions directly addressed to me, and it would be impossible to answer all of them, in this case, given the proximity of the Synod, I have deemed it appropriate to do so”.

The first dubium asks whether Divine Revelation should “be reinterpreted in the Church according to the cultural changes of our time, and the new anthropological vision promoted by these changes”, or whether it is “binding forever, immutable, and therefore not to be contradicted”. In his response, the Holy Father underlined that Divine Revelation is “immutable and always binding”, but added that the Church should “be humble and recognize that she never exhausts its unfathomable richness and needs to grow in her understanding”, thus also maturing “in her understanding of what she has herself affirmed in her Magisterium”. Although cultural and historical changes “do not modify Revelation”, he added, they can spur us to express some aspects of its richness better, leading to better expressions of some past statements of the Magisterium.

In their second dubium, the cardinals asked the Pope about the assertion that the widespread practice of blessing same-sex unions is in accordance with Revelation and the Magisterium (ccc 2357). The Church’s position on marriage, the Holy Father said, is that it is “an exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to procreation”, one that has a “unique essential constitution that requires an exclusive name, not applicable to other realities”. However, he added, one must not forget about pastoral charity, and pastoral prudence, which should discern whether there are forms of blessing that “do not convey a mistaken concept of marriage”.

The third dubium asked whether synodality can be the “supreme regulatory criterion of the permanent governance of the Church”, without distorting her very “constitutive structure whereby the supreme and full authority of the Church is exercised both by the Pope by virtue of his office and by the college of bishops together with their head, the Roman Pontiff” (Lumen Gentium, 22). In his response, Pope Francis underlined that the Church is a “mystery of communion”, one that implies the participation of both the hierarchy and the People of God. Because of this, “synodality, as a style and dynamism, is an essential dimension of the Church’s life”, he said and thus, to impose a specific synodal methodology that may appeal to some and then turn “it into a norm and an obligatory path for everyone”, would only ‘freeze’ “the synodal journey, ignoring the different characteristics of the particular Churches and the varied richness of the universal Church”.

In their fourth dubium, the cardinals asked Pope Francis if the Second Vatican Council’s dictum stating that “by the ‘sacred power of the order to offer sacrifice and forgive sins’ (Presbyterorum ordinis, 2) [priests] act in the name and person of Christ the Mediator”, is still valid, and whether Saint John Paul ii’s Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis “which teaches as a truth to be held definitively the impossibility of conferring priestly ordination on women”, is still valid. When Saint 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”, the Holy Father said. Indeed, he added, Saint John Paul also said that “if the priestly function is ‘hierarchical’, it should not be understood as a form of domination but ‘is totally ordered to the holiness of the members of Christ’ (St. John Paul ii, Mulieris dignitatem, 27).

In the fifth dubium, the cardinals asked whether forgiveness is a human right and whether the Council of Trent’s teaching stating that contrition “is necessary for the validity of sacramental confession is still in force”. Pope Francis affirmed that repentance is necessary for the validity of sacramental absolution, adding however, that there are different ways to express it.

The full text of the dubia and the Pope’s responses to them, can be found on the website of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. Also on the website are the Dicastery’s responses to questions raised by Cardinal Dominik Duka on behalf of the Czech Bishops’ Conference, concerning “the administration of the Eucharist to divorced individuals living in a new union”.