Pope Francis’ Comments to Reuters on the Dubia Incomplete

Perplexity over the Holy Father’s questionable recollection of the controversy may be due to the fact that his full comments on the matter in the interview have yet to be published.

Cardinals Carlo Caffarra and Raymond Burke attending the Rome Life Forum, Rome, May 19, 2017.
Cardinals Carlo Caffarra and Raymond Burke attending the Rome Life Forum, Rome, May 19, 2017. (photo: Edward Pentin photo)

Pope Francis’ recollection of the handling of the dubia raised eyebrows this week when in a recent Reuters’ interview, he appeared to criticize the manner in which four cardinals officially presented questions to the Holy Father seeking clarity on certain moral teachings of the Pope’s apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia.

But the transcript of the interview to Reuters news agency in which he gave the comments has yet to be published in full, and the Pope apparently says more about the matter which is yet to be reported, the Register has learned. 

In a two-hour sit-down interview last Sunday, among a host of wide-ranging topics, the Holy Father answered a question on the dubia — five “doubts” that four cardinals sent the Vatican in September 2016.  The dubia addressed, in part, the issue of whether to allow some remarried divorcees to receive Holy Communion.

Despite the method of submitting dubia being a long held and proven practice to clarify Church teaching with simple “yes” or “no” answers to questions, the Pope made it known to the CDF that he would not answer the request

The four cardinals — Carlo Caffarra, Joachim Meisner, Raymond Burke, and Walter Brandmüller — therefore went public with their initiative two months later. Cardinals Caffarra and Meisner have since died.  

But in the comments published so far in the Reuters’ interview on June 20, Vatican correspondent Philip Pullella reported the Pope appearing to recall a different sequence of events. 

Pullella wrote that in 2016, Cardinal Burke and “three other cardinals issued a rare public challenge to Francis over some of his teachings in a major document on the family, accusing him of sowing disorientation and confusion on important moral issues.” 

He added: “Francis said he had heard about the cardinals’ letter criticizing him ‘from the newspapers ... a way of doing things that is, let’s say, not ecclesial, but we all make mistakes.’” 

Pullella confirmed to the Register that the Pope was clearly responding to a question about the dubia and not a separate cardinals’ initiative, such as the letter of 13 cardinals sent to the Pope before the beginning of the second Synod on the Family in 2015

In comments about the Pope’s remarks, Cardinal Burke told the Register June 21 that he believes the Holy Father “must not have understood” the Reuters’ journalist. 

He added, “The presentation of the dubia to the Holy Father was done according to the long-standing practice of the Church, that is, they were presented to the Holy Father without any publication, in order that he could answer them for the good of the whole Church.” 

Cardinal Burke recalled that on Sept. 19, 2016, Cardinal Caffarra had “personally delivered the letter containing the dubia to the papal residence, and at the same time to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.” 

“Only, when, after several weeks, there was no acknowledgement of the dubia or response to them, and we cardinals were given to understand that there would be no response to these questions regarding the Sacraments of Holy Matrimony and the Holy Communion and regarding the foundations of the Church’s moral teaching, the four Cardinals, including myself, were obliged, in conscience as cardinals, to publish the dubia, on Nov. 14, 2016, so that the faithful would be aware of these serious questions touching upon the salvation of souls,” he said. 

The cardinal added that “during the entire time since the presentation of the dubia, there has never been a question about the fact that they were presented to the Holy Father, according to the practice of the Church and with full respect for his office.”

Pullella told the Register June 21 that more of the Pope’s comments on the dubia will be published soon.