By Fr. Robert Fromageot, FSSP:
As you know, thanks to the interpretive flexibility in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, some dioceses are adopting the novel policy of allowing the civilly divorced and remarried faithful full access to the sacramental life of the Church, while other dioceses are holding fast to the perennial practice of the Church. Last September, as a result of the harm such contradictory approaches are causing, four cardinals (Carlo Caffarra, archbishop emeritus of Bologna; Raymond Burke, patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta; Walter Brandmüller, president
emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences; and Joachim Meisner, archbishop emeritus of Cologne) submitted five questions (known as dubia) to the Holy Father and to Cardinal Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Such questions are called dubia because their purpose is to seek clarification from the Holy See about some matter about which there exists some doubt. In this case, the five dubia are designed to elicit clarification from the Vatican regarding precisely those ambiguous parts of Amoris Laetitia which are being used as the basis for the above mentioned novel pastoral approach.
For example, in paragraph 301 of AL, we read that the “Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations.” Later, it concludes: “hence it can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.” Accordingly, the third dubium asks: “After Amoris Laetitia (301), is it still possible to affirm that a person who habitually lives in contradiction to a commandment of God’s law, as for instance the one that prohibits adultery (Matthew 19:3-9), finds him or herself in an objective situation of grave habitual sin (Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, ‘Declaration’, June 24, 2000)?” Canon 915 declares that those who “obstinately persev[ere] in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy Communion.” The “Declaration” argues that this canon is applicable to faithful who are divorced and civilly remarried. Moreover, it declares that, since the minister of the Eucharist has no means of judging another person’s subjective imputability, “grave sin” is to be understood objectively. Therefore, the judgment implicit in Canon 915 (i.e., the judgment the minister of the Eucharist is expected to make) concerns a person’s objective life situation, not whether he is in a state of mortal sin. The latter determination belongs to the subjective realm, where mitigating factors may very well reduce, even eliminate culpability.
So far neither Pope Francis nor the prefect of the CDF have answered the five dubia. This choice to remain silent is not without precedent. In the 7th century Pope Honorius I preferred to withhold judgment so as not to offend those who adhered to the heresy known as monothelitism (the idea that Christ possessed only one natural will). In a private letter he wrote to Sergius I, Patriarch of Constantinople — and a monothelite — he writes: “That our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son and Word of God, by whom all things were made, is Himself one, operating divine and human things, the sacred writings plainly show. Whether, however, on account of the works of the Humanity and Divinity, one or two operations ought to be proclaimed and understood, these things do not belong to us; let us leave them to the grammarians, who are accustomed to display to the young their choice derivations of words.”
It was left to a subsequent Council and Pope to condemn monothelitism and censure Pope Honorius for leaving the meaning of terms to grammarians and thereby failing to exercise his Petrine authority and “illumine this Apostolic Church with the doctrine of the Apostolic tradition,” preferring instead to let it (while immaculate) “be stained by profane betrayal.” Similarly, it may be left to Pope Francis’ successor to answer these dubia and bring Amoris Laetitia out of the shadows of ambiguity into the light of clear magisterial teaching so that it can no longer be used as a basis to oppose the constant pastoral policy of the Church regarding civilly remarried divorcés.
For those who have imbibed the antinomian zeitgeist, laws like Canon 915 represent a serious inconvenience. And anyone who appeals to law in defense of the perennial teaching of the Church is likely to be accused of being no better than a self-absorbed promethean neo-pelagian, a rigid Pharisee who trusts only in his own powers and feels superior to others because he observes certain rules and remains intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. Let us be willing to endure such epithets and refuse to join the ranks of those who, in their zeal to include adulterers in the sacramental life of the Church, craftily ignore the law and denigrate what it means to be a living member of the Body of Christ. In the words of Scripture, let us not be “led away with various and strange doctrines” (Heb. 13:9). On the contrary, let us “stand fast and hold the traditions which [we] have learned” (2 Thes. 2:14). And let us pray for our shepherds, especially Pope Francis.