Bishop Schneider: ‘Dubia’ Cardinals Are a Prophetic Voice and Doing Their Duty

Draws on historical precedent during Arian heresy and says the viciousness of their critics is aimed at "silencing the voice of truth".

Bishop Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan.
Bishop Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan. (photo: Edward Pentin/

The four cardinals who last week published the Dubia calling on Pope Francis to clarify Amoris Laetitia have acted in a manner consistent with the history of the Church and are fulfilling their basic duty as bishops and cardinals, Bishop Athansius Schneider has said.

He also said the “unusually violent and intolerant reactions” to the initiative by some bishops and cardinals have one aim only: to “silence the voice of truth, which is disturbing and annoying the apparently peaceful nebulous ambiguity of these clerical critics.”

In a Nov. 23 statement entitled A Prophetic Voice of Four Cardinals of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, the auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, said the cardinals’ public appeal was moved by “genuine collegial affection” for the Successor of Peter, and that their action follows the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. 

The bishop, who has become a sought after champion of doctrinal orthodoxy in recent years, then drew on historical precedent for such an action, focusing in particular on the Arian heresy and quotes from St. Hilary of Poitiers, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory Nazianzen, and Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman.

Last week, Cardinals Carlo Caffarra, Raymond Burke, Walter Brandmüller, and Joachim Meisner revealed they had written to Pope Francis in September asking for clarification on 5 dubia (doubts) about Amoris Laetitia, the Pope’s summary document on the Synod on the Family.

The Pope, who has yet to respond to the initiative which calls simply for “yes” and “no” answers from the Vatican, has made it known to the cardinals through Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith, that the Holy See would not be answering the questions.

Various supporters and critics of the Dubia have weighed in since the cardinals went public. For example, Bishop Józef Wróbel, auxiliary bishop of Lublin, Poland, told the Italian daily La Fede Quotidiana (The Daily Faith) that the four Cardinals “did well in asking for clarification” and it is “evidently necessary to answer them.” He added that the cardinals “did well and have exercised correctly what Canon Law provides for. I think it is not just a right, but moreover a duty.”

Meanwhile, retired Bishop Frangiskos Papamanolis, who serves as President of the Bishops’ Conference of Greece, vociferously accused the four cardinals of committing sin, going so far as to say they had committed heresy and caused scandal by issuing the Dubia. He said in an open letter they should have resigned as cardinals before even writing them.  

Bishop Schneider’s key points are listed below, followed by the full text of his statement:


  • In the Dubia, the Cardinals have merely stated real facts in the life of the Church.


  • The Four Cardinals only did their basic duty as bishops and cardinals, which consists in actively contributing so that the revelation transmitted through the Apostles might be guarded sacredly and might be faithfully interpreted.


  • In making a public appeal to the Pope, bishops and cardinals should be moved by genuine collegial affection for the Successor of Peter and the Vicar of Christ on earth, following the teaching of Vatican Council II (cf. Lumen gentium, 22).


  • One has to trust that Pope Francis will accept this public appeal of the Four Cardinals in the spirit of the Apostle Peter, when St Paul offered him a fraternal correction for the good of the whole Church.


  • [Quoting St. Thomas Aquinas]: "When there is a danger for the faith, subjects are required to reprove their prelates, even publicly. Since Paul, who was subject to Peter, out of the danger of scandal, publicly reproved him. And Augustine comments: 'Peter himself gave an example to superiors by not disdaining to be corrected by his subjects when it occurred to them that he had departed from the right path'" (Summa theol., II-II, 33, 4c).


  • The Pope speaks of a need for “open discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral, spiritual, and pastoral questions. The thinking of pastors and theologians, if faithful to the Church, honest, realistic and creative, will help us to achieve greater clarity.”


  • The unusually violent and intolerant reactions on behalf of some bishops and cardinals against the calm and circumspect plea of the Four Cardinals [has caused] great astonishment.


  • Such apodictic merciless judgments reveal not only intolerance, refusal of dialogue, and irrational rage, but demonstrate also a surrender to the impossibility of speaking the truth, a surrender to relativism in doctrine and practice, in faith and life.


  • The above-mentioned clerical reaction against the prophetic voice of the Four Cardinals parades ultimately powerlessness before the eyes of the truth. Such a violent reaction has only one aim: to silence the voice of the truth, which is disturbing and annoying the apparently peaceful nebulous ambiguity of these clerical critics. 


  • The negative reactions to the public statement of the Four Cardinals resemble the general doctrinal confusion of the Arian crisis in the fourth century.


  • The Four Cardinals with their prophetic voice demanding doctrinal and pastoral clarity have a great merit before their own conscience, before history, and before the innumerable simple faithful Catholics of our days, who are driven to the ecclesiastical periphery, because of their fidelity to Christ’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.


  • Above all, the Four Cardinals have a great merit in the eyes of Christ. Because of their courageous voice, their names will shine brightly at the Last Judgment.


In Defense of the Four Cardinals by Bishop Athanasius Schneider.