Mexican ‘Dubia’ Cardinal: A Synod ‘Does Not Have Doctrinal Authority’

‘There are lines that are always very clear, have been very clear in the faith and in the Tradition of the Church,’ he said.

Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez
Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez (photo: Credit: InterMirifica.net / via CNA)

Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, archbishop emeritus of Guadalajara, Mexico, and one of the five signatories of the recent dubia sent to Pope Francis on matters of doctrine and discipline in the Catholic Church, assured that “a synod does not have doctrinal authority ... and the danger is that they give it to it.”

The word dubia — plural for a dubium — literally means, from the Latin, “doubts.” But another way of translating it is to see the word meaning “questions that seek clarification.”

In an Oct. 6 telephone interview with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, the 90-year-old cardinal said that “doctrinal authority resides in the pope or in the worldwide episcopate together with the pope. A synod has only pastoral competencies; it must see to the best application of the Gospel to the faithful in pastoral care. It doesn’t have doctrinal authority.”

The Mexican archbishop emeritus signed the original July 10 and follow-up Aug. 23 dubia together with Cardinals Robert Sarah, prefect emeritus of the then Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong; Raymond Leo Burke, prefect emeritus of the Apostolic Signatura, the supreme court of the Church; and Walter Brandmüller, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences.

The dubia addressed concerns about the reinterpretation of divine Revelation, blessings for homosexual partners, and synodality being a “constitutive dimension of the Church.”

Additionally, the cardinals consulted Pope Francis about the possibility of priestly ordination for women and that repentance may not be necessary to receive sacramental absolution in confession.

The questions were originally sent to Pope Francis on July 10 and were answered just one day later. Not satisfied with the Holy Father’s answers, which they considered to “not have resolved the doubts we had raised, but have, if anything deepened them,” the cardinals restated their questions and sent them again on Aug. 23.

These latest questions have not received an answer. The five cardinals thus decided to make the questions public on Oct. 2, two days before the start of the Synod on Synodality.

Speaking with ACI Prensa, Sandoval said that the motivations and concerns that led him to sign the dubia came from “some imprecise expressions that can lend themselves to erroneous interpretations of the issues we are treating there.”

The cardinal explained that at the beginning of the new phase of the synod, in which “many people along those lines are participating,” they wanted to “collaborate in preserving the truth” and that those who went to “the synod with goodwill have a simple guide.”

For the Mexican cardinal, the Holy Father’s responses to the dubia were “a little evasive, a little vague,” so “they were reformulated in a clearer, more forceful way, so that he could answer Yes or No, and he did not answer. So we agreed to publish them.”

The prelate stressed that they first addressed “the Pope in a very private manner,” and “we agreed to publish them to help guide a little the people of goodwill that are in the synod. That was the reason.”

The same day that the cardinals released their new questions seeking clarification, the Vatican published the response that Pope Francis had sent them on July 11 to the originally formulated dubia.

Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, who became prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith on Sept. 11 and was created a cardinal by the Pope 19 days later, criticized the dubia signatories.

In an Oct. 2 statement to the Spanish newspaper ABC, Cardinal Fernández noted: “The Pope has already answered them, and now they publish new questions as if the Pope were a slave for the errands.”

For Cardinal Sandoval, these statements are “a slightly ingenuous and exaggerated defense,” because all “cardinals are the Pope’s collaborators, the Pope’s advisers.”

He insisted that the clarifications were requested “for the sake of the truth and for the good of the Church,” “without denying that he is the Pope, who has authority in the Church.”

“It's not that he is our slave; not at all. A dialogue with him is a dialogue about important truths of the faith and morals of the Church,” he noted.

Cardinal Sandoval assured that, from its writing to its public dissemination, the five cardinals, “unanimously, wanted to move forward with this matter of the dubia.”

Given the concern of Catholics about doctrinal debates in the Church, Cardinal Sandoval noted that these discussions have existed “always and will continue until the end of the world.”

For the cardinal, it’s important that every Catholic “adheres with simplicity to the truth of the Gospel, to what is written in the holy Scriptures and the Church has always taught, so as not to be disconcerted.”

“We are not plated machines [made] all the same. We are people of faith, who refer to Revelation, which is a great mystery, never completely comprehensible, graspable, understandable. But there are lines that are always very clear, have been very clear in the faith and in the Tradition of the Church. That’s what we’re referring to,” he said.

Cardinal Sandoval told ACI Prensa that “the concern is that the synod is going to deviate somewhat doctrinally. And that would be something very, very sad; that would be written in the annals of the Church.”

“It would not be the first time. There have been meetings, synods, councils that were half wrong,” he said. “There have been throughout the history of the Church. We are on the path of faith, not of sight, and the intelligence, our understanding of the mystery, is limited like our heads, our abilities.”

However, he stressed that “there are always things in faith that must be accepted as Christ said them, without seeking accommodations,” because “when accommodations are sought for fashions, modern times, and people’s tastes, the truth begins to be falsified.”

In response to questions about the cardinal’s personal style — which usually receives more media attention than the substance of his message — Cardinal Sandoval explained that he tries to do what he can “to maintain orthodoxy, fidelity to the faith that has been transmitted to us. One does what is possible and what is in one’s power and what one must do.”

“And we, the dubia cardinals, think this: that we have an obligation as cardinals, collaborators of the Pope, advisers of the Pope, to advise in this case,” he concluded.

Born on March 28, 1933, in the town of Yahualica in the Mexican state of Jalisco, the 90-year-old cardinal was ordained a priest on Oct. 28, 1957, and incardinated in the Archdiocese of Guadalajara. He holds a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University of Rome.

Pope John Paul II appointed him coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Ciudad Juárez in 1988, and he succeeded as bishop in 1992.

In 1994, John Paul II appointed him archbishop of Guadalajara as successor to Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo, who was assassinated in 1993.

He held this position for 17 years, until Pope Benedict XVI accepted his resignation due to the age limit on Dec. 7, 2011, when the cardinal was 78. He now lives in Guadalajara.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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