In an unexpected move, Vatican News, the official news agency of the Vatican, announced that Pope Francis, via the Prefect of the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith, Víctor Manuel Fernandez, published Pope Francis’ response to five questions, or dubia.
But Vatican expert Sandro Magister clarified immediately that those answers are actually the response to previous dubia presented by two cardinals in July. The responses published by the Vatican actually inspired the seven further questions in “yes” or “no” format released on Monday Oct. 2nd by five Cardinals concerned with how issues related to Church doctrine and discipline will be handled at the Synod on Synodality that starts later this week.
Those seven questions remain unanswered.
Below is an unofficial English translation of the Pope’s responses that sparked the seven new dubia.
Although it does not always seem prudent to answer the questions addressed directly to me, and it would be impossible to answer them all, in this case it seemed appropriate to do so because of the proximity of the Synod.
Dubium regarding the statement that Divine Revelation must be reinterpreted based on the cultural and anthropological changes in vogue.
a) The answer depends on the meaning you give to the word “reinterpret.” If it is understood as “interpret better” the expression is valid. In this sense, the Second Vatican Council affirmed that it is necessary that with the task of the exegetes – I would add the theologians – “the judgment of the Church matures” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, 12).
b) Therefore, 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.
c) Consequently, she also matures in the understanding of what she herself has affirmed in her Magisterium.
d) Cultural changes and the new challenges of history do not modify Revelation, but they can stimulate us to better explain some aspects of its overflowing richness, which always offers more.
e) It is inevitable that this may lead to a better expression of some past statements of the Magisterium, and in fact it has happened this way throughout history.
f) On the other hand, it is true that the Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but it is also true that both the texts of the Scriptures and the testimonies of Tradition need an interpretation that allows their perennial substance to be distinguished from cultural conditioning. It is evident, for example, in biblical texts (such as Ex 21:20-21) and in some magisterial interventions that tolerated slavery (cf. Nicholas V, Bula Dum Diversas, 1452). This is not a minor issue given its intimate connection with the perennial truth of the inalienable dignity of the human person. These texts need an interpretation. The same applies to some New Testament considerations about women (1 Cor 11:3-10; 1 Tim 2:11-14) and for other texts of Scripture and testimonies of Tradition that today cannot be physically repeated.
g) It is important to highlight that what cannot change is what has been revealed “for the salvation of all” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, 7). Therefore the Church must constantly discern between that which is essential for salvation and that which is secondary or less directly connected to this objective. In this regard, I would like to recall what Saint Thomas Aquinas said: “the more one descends to the particular, the more indeterminacy increases” (Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 94, art. 4).
h) Finally, a single formulation of a truth can never be adequately understood if it is presented alone, isolated from the rich and harmonious context of all Revelation. The “hierarchy of truths” also implies placing each of them in adequate connection with the most central truths and with the totality of the Church’s teaching. This can ultimately give rise to different ways of expounding the same doctrine, although to those who dream of a monolithic doctrine defended by all without nuances, this may seem like an imperfect dispersion. But the reality is that this variety helps to better manifest and develop the various aspects of the inexhaustible richness of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium, 49). Each theological line has its risks but also its opportunities.
Dubium regarding the statement that the widespread practice of blessing same-sex unions agrees with Revelation and the Magisterium (CCC 2357).
a) The Church has a very clear conception of marriage: an exclusive, stable and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the begetting of children. Only that union is called “marriage.” Other forms of union are realized “in a partial and analogous way” (Amoris laetitia 292), which is why they cannot be strictly called “marriage.”
b) It is not a mere question of names, but the reality that we call marriage has a unique essential constitution that requires an exclusive name, not applicable to other realities. Without a doubt, it is much more than a mere “ideal”.
c) For this reason the Church avoids any type of rite or sacramental that could contradict this conviction and imply that something is recognized as marriage that is not marriage.
d) However, in dealing with people we must not lose pastoral charity, which must permeate all our decisions and attitudes. The defense of objective truth is not the only expression of this charity, which also consists of kindness, patience, understanding, tenderness, and encouragement. Consequently, we cannot become judges who only deny, reject, and exclude.
e) Therefore, pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or several people, that do not transmit an erroneous conception of marriage. Because when one asks for a blessing, a person is expressing a request for help from God, a prayer to be able to live better, a trust in a Father who can help us live better.
f) On the other hand, although there are situations that from an objective point of view are not morally acceptable, pastoral charity itself requires us not to treat as “sinners” other people whose guilt or responsibility may be attenuated by various factors that influence subjective imputability (cf. Saint John Paul II, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 17).
g) Decisions which, in certain circumstances, may form part of pastoral prudence, should not necessarily become a norm. That is to say, it is not appropriate for a Diocese, an Episcopal Conference or any other ecclesial structure to constantly and officially enable procedures or rites for all types of matters, since everything “that is part of a practical discernment in a particular situation cannot be elevated to the category of a norm”, because this “would give rise to an unbearable casuistry” (Amoris laetitia 304). Canon Law should not and cannot cover everything, and neither should the Episcopal Conferences with their varied documents and protocols, because the life of the Church flows through many channels in addition to the normative ones.
Dubium regarding the statement that synodality is a “constitutive dimension of Church” (Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis Communio 6), so that the Church would by its nature be synod.
a) While you recognize that the supreme and full authority of the Church is exercised either by the Pope due to his office, or by the college of bishops together with its head, the Roman Pontiff (cf. Vat. Ecum. Conc. II, Dogmatic Const. Lumen Gentium, 22), however, with these dubia, you yourselves express your need to participate, to express your opinion freely and to collaborate, and thus you are demanding some form of “synodality” in the exercise of my ministry.
b) The Church is a “mystery of missionary communion”, but this communion is not only affective or ethereal, but necessarily implies real participation: that not only the hierarchy but the entire People of God in different ways and at different levels can make themselves heard and feel part of the Church’s journey. In this sense we can say that synodality, as a style and dynamism, is an essential dimension of the life of the Church. Saint John Paul II has said very beautiful things on this point in Novo Millennio Ineunte.
c) It is quite another thing to sacralize or impose a particular synodal methodology that pleases one group, turning it into a norm and obligatory channel for everyone, because this would only lead to “freezing” the synodal path, ignoring the diverse characteristics of the different particular Churches and the varied richness of the universal Church.
Dubium regarding the support of pastors and theologians for the theory that “the theology of the Church is changed” and therefore that priestly ordination can be conferred on women.
a) “The common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood differ essentially” (II Vat. Ecum. Conc., Dogm. Const. Lumen Gentium, 10). It is not convenient to maintain a difference of degree that implies considering the common priesthood of the faithful as something of “second category” or of lesser value (“a lower degree”). Both forms of priesthood illuminate and support each other.
b) When St. John Paul II taught that the impossibility of conferring priestly ordination on women must be affirmed “definitively”, he was in no way belittling women and granting supreme power to men. St. John Paul II also affirmed other things. For example, when we speak of priestly power “we find ourselves in the area of function, not of dignity or holiness” (St. John Paul II, Christifideles laici, 51). These are words that we have not sufficiently embraced. He also clearly maintained that although only the priest presides over the Eucharist, the tasks “do not give rise to the superiority of some over others” (Saint John Paul II, Christifideles laici, note 190; cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Inter Insigniores Declaration, VI). He likewise affirmed that if the priestly function is “hierarchical”, it should not be understood as a form of dominion, but rather “is totally ordered to the holiness of the members of Christ” (St. John Paul II, Mulieris dignitatem, 27). If this is not understood and the practical consequences of these distinctions are not drawn, it will be difficult to accept that the priesthood is reserved only for men and we will not be able to recognize the rights of women or the need for them to participate, in various ways, in the leadership of the Church.
c) On the other hand, to be rigorous, let us recognize that a clear and authoritative doctrine regarding the exact nature of a “definitive declaration” has not yet been exhaustively developed. It is not a dogmatic definition, and yet it must be followed by everyone. No one can publicly contradict it and yet it can be an object of study, as is the case with the validity of ordinations in the Anglican Communion.
Dubium regarding the statement “forgiveness is a human right” and the Holy Father’s insistence on the duty to absolve everyone and always, for which repentance would not be a necessary condition for sacramental absolution.
a) Repentance is necessary for the validity of sacramental absolution, and implies the intention not to sin. But there is no mathematics here and once again I must remember that the confessional is not a customs office. We are not owners, but rather humble stewards of the Sacraments that nourish the faithful, because these gifts from the Lord, more than relics to be guarded, are help from the Holy Spirit for people’s lives.
b) There are many ways to express repentance. Frequently, in people who have very damaged self-esteem, to plead guilty is cruel torture, but the mere fact of approaching confession is a symbolic expression of repentance and of seeking divine help.
c) I also want to recall that “sometimes it is very difficult for us to give place in pastoral care to the unconditional love of God” (Amoris laetitia 311), but we must learn to do so. Following St. John Paul II, I maintain that we should not demand from the faithful overly precise and certain purposes of amendment, which ultimately end up being abstract or even egotistical, but that even the predictability of a new fall “does not prejudge the authenticity of the purpose.” (St. John Paul II, Letter to Cardinal William W. Baum and to the participants of the annual course of the Apostolic Penitentiary, March 22, 1996, 5).
d) Finally, it must be clear that all the conditions that are usually placed on confession are generally not applicable when the person is in a situation of agony, or with very limited mental and psychic capacities.