Although Pope Francis has not officially responded to the dubianor to the four cardinals’ wish for an audience — the homily he gave in Santa Marta residence shortly after he received their request for a meeting could point to how he sees the issue.

Given in the morning of Monday, May 8 — the first opportunity the Pope had to preach freely after the cardinals’ letter requesting an audience was hand-delivered to him on Saturday, May 6 — Francis warned against resisting the Holy Spirit and instead to always be open to the “God of surprises.”

According to a report by Vatican Radio, he said the Holy Spirit works miracles and creates new things, and “obviously some feared these novelties of the Church.” A God who surprises us, he continued, can create “difficulties,” just as Peter faced when he was challenged by some of the disciples because they knew that “even pagans had welcomed the Word of God.”

Peter was reprimanded, Francis reminded those present, because according to his critics he was “a scandal” that led them to ask: “You, Peter, the rock of the Church! Where are you leading us to?”

But Peter, the Pope said, saw his vision “as a sign of God” that helped him “take a courageous decision.” The first Vicar of Christ “was able to welcome God’s surprise,” and faced with many surprises of God, “the apostles came together, discussed and came to an agreement” in order “to take a step ahead that the Lord wanted,” Francis said.

The Pope continued:

“From the times of the prophets until now, the sin to resist the Holy Spirit had always been there: this resistance to the Spirit. This is the sin with which Stephen accuses the members of the Sanhedrin: ‘You and your fathers have always resisted the Holy Spirit.’ No, it has always been done this way, and must be done so. They tell Peter not to bring this newness, to remain calm… take a tranquilizer and calm the nerves… be calm … so the voice of God is shut. In the psalm the Lord speaks to the people: “Do not harden your hearts like your fathers.”

He later chastised those who say: “It has always been done like this,” who shut off and resist the Holy Spirit “who always acts in advance and carries the Church forward,” the Pope said.

Asking himself how can one discern whether such innovations are from the Holy Spirit or a spirit of worldliness and from the devil, the Pope said one must ask for the spirit of discernment. For this, he said the apostles “came together, talked and saw the path of the Holy Spirit” — possibly an allusion to the synods on the family and how he views those meetings. But the Pope added that “those without this grace, or those who did not pray for it, remained closed and still.”

“Faith,” the Pope stressed, “never changes. It’s always the same. But it broadens and grows into a movement.” 

He went on to quote the 5th-century early Church father, St. Vincent of Lerins, often regarded as the authority on authentic development of doctrine, who said, “The truths of the Church forge ahead: they are strengthened with years, develop with time, become profound with age, and because they grow stronger with time and years and broaden with time and become more prominent with the age of the Church.”

Vatican Radio said the Pope concluded by urging those present “to ask for the grace of discernment in order not to mistake the path and be trapped in immobility, rigidity and closing of the heart.”

The four dubia cardinals — Carlo Caffarra, Raymond Burke, Walter Brandmüller and Joachim Meisner — are asking the Holy Father for clarity on key contentious passages in Amoris Laetitia after bishops around the world gave widely varying interpretations of the document, especially regarding the important issue of whether to admit civilly remarried Catholics without an annulment to Holy Communion. Some scholars see serious problems with the document itself. 

In February, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, warned bishops to stop interpreting Amoris Laetitia in ways that contradicted unchangeable Church doctrine. 

The dubia cardinals asked the Pope last September to resolve this lack of clarity of interpretation by answering five questions on the exhortation's text to ascertain if previous papal teaching on these issues remains in force. The Pope has yet to respond to their request, or to meet with them.