BOLOGNA, Italy — In an interview with an Italian daily published Saturday, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra discussed at length the questions that exist about the interpretation of Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on love in the family.
Cardinal Caffarra, the archbishop emeritus of Bologna who was head of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family from 1981 to 1995, spoke to Matteo Matzuzzi of Il Foglio in an interview published Jan. 14.
He is among the four cardinals who authored a letter with five dubia, or doubts, about the interpretation of Amoris Laetitia, requesting that Pope Francis “resolve the uncertainties and bring clarity.” Their letter was sent privately to the Pope Sept. 19, but released to the public two months later.
The letter and its dubia “were long reflected on, for months. … For my part, they were also the subject of lengthy prayer before the Most Blessed Sacrament,” Cardinal Caffarra explained to Il Foglio.
The four cardinals believed themselves obliged to submit the dubia because of their role in counseling the Pope and because of “the fact … that in the Church there exists great confusion, uncertainty, insecurity caused by some paragraphs of Amoris Laetitia.”
“In these months, in terms of fundamental questions regarding the sacramental economy (marriage, confession and the Eucharist) and the Christian life, some bishops have said A, some others have said the contrary of A, with the intention of interpreting well the same text.”
Cardinal Caffarra said that “the way out of this ‘conflict of interpretations’ was to have recourse to fundamental theological criteria of interpretation, the use of which I think can reasonably demonstrate that Amoris Laetitia does not contradict Familiaris Consortio.”
And yet, he said, “We saw that this epistemological model would not suffice. The contrast between the two interpretations continued,” and so the only way to address the question was to ask the author of Amoris Laetitia to clarify it.
Out of respect for the Pope, the four cardinals chose to submit their dubia privately, deciding to make them public only “when we had certainty that the Holy Father would not respond. … We interpreted his silence as authorization to continue the theological discussion. And, moreover, the problem profoundly involves both the magisterium of the bishops (which, lest we forget, they exercise not by the delegation of the Pope, but on the basis of the sacrament which they have received) and the life of the faithful.”
The cardinal noted that scandal on the part of the faithful had been growing, “as though we comported ourselves like the dogs who did not bark,” alluding to Isaiah 56:10, in which the prophet says the Lord’s watchmen “are all mute dogs; they cannot bark; dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber.”
He also added that division in the Church “is the cause of the letter, not its effect.”
Cardinal Caffarra pointed to the example of a pastor who had written him saying, “In spiritual direction and in confession, I don’t know what to say” when confronted by penitents who wish to receive Communion despite their adulterous situation, and they cite the Pope in their defense.
“The situation of many pastors of souls, I mean above all parish priests, is this,” the cardinal continued: “There is on their shoulders a burden too hard to bear.”
Cardinal Caffarra charged that speaking of too great a division between doctrine and pastoral practice is a grave problem: “To think pastoral practice is not founded and rooted in doctrine signifies that the foundation and root of pastoral practice is arbitrary. A Church which pays little attention to doctrine is not a more pastoral Church, but a more ignorant Church.”
He continued, “When I hear it said that this is only a pastoral change, and not a doctrinal one, or that the commandment prohibiting adultery is a purely positive law which can be changed (and I think no righteous person can think this), this signifies that, yes, a triangle has generally three sides, but that it is possible to construct one with four sides. That is, I say, an absurdity.”
Cardinal Caffarra also discussed the notion of “development of doctrine,” which is at times used to invoke the admission of the divorced and remarried to Communion.
He said, “If there is one clear point, it is that there is no evolution where there is contradiction. If I say that S is P and then I say that S is not P, the second proposition does not develop the first, but contradicts it. Already Aristotle had justly taught that enunciating a universal affirmative principle (e.g., all adultery is wrong) and at the same time a particular negative proposition having the same subject and predicate (e.g., some adultery is not wrong), this is not making an exception to the first. It is contradicting it.”
The dubia, he noted, were meant to clarify whether or not Amoris Laetitia is a development of the preceding magisterium, or a contradiction of it, as both interpretations have been taken by some bishops.
“Has Amoris Laetitia taught that, given certain circumstances and after going through a certain process, the [divorced-and-remarried] faithful could receive the Eucharist without resolving to live in continence? There are bishops who have taught that this is possible,” the cardinal remarked. “By a simple deduction of logic, one must, therefore, also teach that adultery is not in and of itself evil.”
He affirmed that Amoris Laetitia’s value is that “it does not call pastors of souls to be content with responding ‘No’” to the faithful, but calls them to help the faithful discern their situations.
Cardinal Caffarra maintained that the importance of the dubia is ensuring that bishops and pastors remember that there are intrinsically evil acts, which he noted can be known by reason and first recognized by Socrates.
The cardinal then turned to misunderstandings of conscience. He clarified that conscience “is an act of reason … a judgment, not a decision,” and contrasted this with the understanding of conscience as “an unappealable tribunal on the goodness or evil of one’s actions: one’s subjectivity.”
He said the fifth dubium was the most important, for it regarded conscience, asking if the teaching “that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object” still need be regarded as valid.
Cardinal Caffarra noted that a passage of Amoris Laetitia seems “to admit the possibility that there can be a true judgment of conscience … in contradiction with what the Church teaches as pertaining to the deposit of divine Revelation. It seems; therefore, we have given the dubia to the Pope.”
The cardinal concluded by referring to Blessed John Henry Newman, who he said understood conscience “in a most lucid way”. The English convert recognized that private judgment cannot be elevated as “the ultimate criterion of moral truth.”
“Never say to a person: ‘Always follow your conscience’ without adding, always and immediately: ‘Love and seek the truth about the good.’ Otherwise. you would put in his hands the weapon most destructive of his humanity.”