15 Key Quotes From Cardinal Caffarra’s Interview on the ‘Dubia’

The archbishop emeritus of Bologna sheds light on the thinking of the four cardinals, and why they see a papal clarification of ‘Amoris laetitia’ as so vital.

Cardinal Carlo Caffarra.
Cardinal Carlo Caffarra. (photo: Il Foglio)

Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, one of the four cardinals to ask the Pope Francis to clarify certain controversial passages in his apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia, has spoken publicly for the first time about the dubia in an informative interview with the Italian daily Il Foglio.

Along with Cardinals Walter Brandmüller, Raymond Burke and Joachim Meisner, the archbishop emeritus of Bologna sent the Holy Father the dubia on Sept. 19, asking him to give 5 “yes” or “no” answers to ascertain if controversial passages of Amoris laetitia, susceptible to contradictory interpretations, are consistent with Church teaching based on Tradition and Sacred Scripture.

The most controversial of these concerns whether the text of the document allows some remarried divorcees engaging in marital relations without an annulment to receive Holy Communion.

The Pope has not responded to the questions and made it known he would not be responding, leading the cardinals to publicize the dubia on Nov. 14.

Cardinal Caffarra explains in this exchange with Matteo Matzuzzi, published Jan. 14, the reasoning behind the initiative; the extent of confusion and illogicality deriving from ambiguities in the document which the dubia aim to rectify; and why he believes leaving the “final word” to individual conscience perilously leads to allowing “private judgment” to be the “ultimate criterion of moral truth.”

That last point specifically relates to interpretations of the apostolic exhortation most recently expressed in a directive by the bishops of Malta and published Jan. 13 in L’Osservatore Romano. The bishops have allowed remarried divorcees, living in an objective state of adultery but with an “informed and enlightened conscience” and after a period of discernment, to receive Jesus in the Eucharist if they judge themselves to be “at peace with God.”  

In reply to questions from the Register, the spokesman of the archdiocese of Malta, Kevin Papagiorcopulo, simply said Jan. 16 the “criteria” in the Maltese bishops' document “follow the magisterium of the Catholic Church in the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia by H.H. Pope Francis.” He also urged reading the entire document, which was signed by Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo.

Catholic World Report has a translation of the entire interview here which is worth reading in full, but here below are 15 key quotations from the interview which shed light on the thinking of the four cardinals:


  • “[The dubia] were reflected on, at length, for months, and were discussed at length among ourselves. For my part, they were prayed about at length before the Blessed Sacrament.”


  • “Our concerns were twofold. The first was not to scandalize the little ones in the faith … The second concern was that no person, whether a believer or not a believer, should be able to find in the letter expressions that even remotely could appear in the slightest lacking in respect towards the Pope. The final text, therefore, is the fruit of quite a lot of revisions: texts [were] revised, rejected, corrected.”


  • “It is a fact — which only a blind man can deny — that there exists in the Church a great confusion, uncertainty, and insecurity caused by some paragraphs of Amoris laetitia … Some bishops have said A, others have said the contrary of A, with the intention of interpreting well the same texts.”


  • “A scandal on the part of many of the faithful was beginning to grow, as though we cardinals were behaving like the dogs who did not bark about whom the prophet speaks.”


  • “[Referring to letters from priests he has received] They find themselves carrying a load on their shoulders that they cannot bear. This is what I am thinking of when I talk about a great disorientation. And I am speaking of parish priests, but many lay faithful are even more confused.”


  • “[The dubia] seemed to us the simplest way [to resolve the contradictory interpretations]. The other question which arose was whether to do it in private or in public. We reasoned and agreed that it would be a lack of respect to make everything public right away. So it was done in private, and only once we had obtained certainty that the Holy Father would not respond did we decide to publicize it.”


  •  “Some individuals continue to say that we are not being docile to the magisterium of the Pope. This is false and calumnious … I can be docile to the magisterium of the Pope if I know what the Pope is teaching in a matter of faith and of the Christian life. But this is exactly the problem: what the Pope is teaching on the fundamental points simply cannot be well understood, as the conflict of interpretations among bishops shows.”


  • “The division, already existing in the Church, is the cause of the letter, not its effect. The things unworthy within the Church, however, above all in a context such as this, are the insults and threats of canonical sanctions.”


  • “None of us wanted ‘to oblige’ the Holy Father to respond: in the letter, we spoke of [his] sovereign judgment. We simply and respectfully asked questions.”


  • “A Church which pays little attention to doctrine is not a more pastoral Church, but a more ignorant Church. The Truth of which we speak is not a formal truth, but a Truth that gives eternal salvation.”


  • “When I hear it said that it is only a pastoral change, and not doctrinal [in dealing with the sin of adultery] … it means to admit that yes, generally a triangle has three sides, but there is the possibility of constructing one of them with four sides. This is, I say, an absurdity.”


  • “If there is a clear point [in Bl. Cardinal Newman’s writing], it is that there is no evolution where there is a 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 one, but contradicts it.”


  • “One of the fundamental teachings of [Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis splendor] is that there exist acts which can, in and of themselves, be considered wrongful, regardless of the circumstances in which they are committed and the purpose which the agent intends. He [John Paul II] adds that denying this fact can lead to denying the meaning of martyrdom.”


  • “[On the conscience of the individual] I retain that this is the most important point of all. It is where we meet and clash with the central pillar of modernity.”


  • “[On whether Amoris laetitia allows a “creative interpretation of conscience” permitting “legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts” (dubium n. 5)] These are matters of a disturbing gravity. It would elevate private judgment to the ultimate criterion of moral truth. Never say to a person: ‘Always follow your conscience’, without adding immediately and always: ‘Love and seek the truth about the good.’ You would be putting into his hands the weapon most destructive to his own humanity.” 

Cardinal Caffarra is the founding president of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family; he was one of Pope Francis’ 45 handpicked delegates chosen to attend the Ordinary Synod on the Family in 2015.