Thoughts from Father Z on the Five Dubia and The Four Cardinals

From Fr Z’s blog: 

The Smear Machine is grinding. Right on schedule, the liberal news outlets are closing ranks to discredit The Four Cardinals who submitted dubia to the Holy Father about what are generally admitted by reasonable people to be confusing points.

Thought: I suggest to the liberal catholic media to take a page from the lesson book of the secular MSM when it came to a certain recent election.  They were wrong from the start about just about everything.  Now, they have little to no credibility in the eyes of the no longer so silent majority.  Whatever side you were on in that election, take note of the role the media played.

Next thought: I’ve seen in comments and email statements that the dubia are about Communion for the divorced and remarried.  Yes and no.  That one issue is certainly a concern.  But if you read the dubiayou see that The Four have asked His Holiness to clarify, after what he wrote in Amoris Laetitiaif there are still absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions.

What are The Four asking?  Breaking it down… QUAERUNTUR:

Are people who live habitually out of keeping with God’s commandments objectively (at least… if not subjectively) in the state of grave habitual sin?

Even if people are not necessarily in a subjective state of sin, can their circumstances or intentions transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act ‘subjectively’ good or defensible as a choice?

Can “conscience” authorize to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object?

As you can see, these questions go way beyond the single issue of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried.

Thought: In fact, another set of dubia could be conceived about the nature of the Eucharist and what Communion by reception of the Eucharist means.  But that’s another bowl of soupe à l’oignon gratinée.

In an interview at the National Catholic Register, Card. Burke responded to a question from Ed Pentin:

What happens if the Holy Father does not respond to your act of justice and charity and fails to give the clarification of the Church’s teaching that you hope to achieve?

Then we would have to address that situation. There is, in the Tradition of the Church, the practice of correction of the Roman Pontiff. It is something that is clearly quite rare. But if there is no response to these questions, then I would say that it would be a question of taking a formal act of correction of a serious error.

Some people are jumping up and down in little jowl-shaking circles, squawking that Card. Burke “threatened” the Pope.   They, hair on fire, are ready to defend the Pope from these mean Cardinals!  These same people have, in the past, as far as I can recall, not been zealous in defense of papal teachings, so this is a pretty interesting development.  At least of clear papal teachings…. 

I saw a piece at the Spanish site Religion Digital entitled: Burke amenaza al Papa con hacerle “un acto formal de corrección de un error grave”… Burke threatens the Pope with making “a formal act of correction of a serious error”

They found someone named Juan Mari Laboa, who quipped “There is no such figure in Canon Law. It’s crazy.”

Thought: I love it when libs start quoting canon law. It guides everything they do, you know!

In the Spanish piece we find:

Inasequible al desaliento, el cardenal norteamericano ha explicado, en una entrevista al National Catholic Register que, si el Papa no responde a la misiva, ” haremos frente a esta situación” . Para Burke, “existe, en la Tradición de la Iglesia, la práctica de la corrección al Romano Pontífice. Es algo que es claramente bastante raro, pero si no hay respuesta a estas preguntas, entonces yo diría que sería cuestión de hacer un acto formal de corrección de un error grave”.

Algo que, como explica Laboa, no es cierto. ” No se puede juzgar ni proclamar los errores de un Papa formalmente “, explica. “Como cualquier cristiano, puede dar su opinión, y hacerlo en público, pero no pretender que sea ningún ‘acto de corrección formal’. ¿Corregir formalmente al Papa? Es una locura “, apunta. Lo que sí podría -o debería- hacer Bergoglio, apuntan los expertos, es llamar a los cuatro cardenales y retirarles la birreta, algo que ya hizo en su día el Papa Pío XI.

What this?

Laboa says that: “You can not judge or proclaim the errors of a pope formally” he explains. “Like any Christian, you can give your opinion, and do it in public, but not pretend to be any ‘act of formal correctness’. ¿Pope formally Correct? It’s crazy , ” he says. What could – or should Bergoglio do, the expert says,  is to call in the four cardinals and withdraw the biretta, which happened in the day of Pope Pius XI.


Louis Billot, SJ, Cardinal from 1911 to 1927 when he resigned. Billot died as a simple priest – probably happier – at the Jesuit Novitiate near Ariccia, Italy.

So… The Four should be striped of the Cardinalate, quoth he!

Apart from being an abysmally stupid move from the point of view of strategy, for that would make The Four martyrs, giving them power when they have none now, and would underscore the importance of the dubia, it would undermine the entire purpose of the College of Cardinals.  But that’s how libs do things.  They use the boot to the knee, the rifle butt to the forehead, the bullet in the back of the skull.  It is long lib tradition.

Thought: Isn’t it ironic that when members of a consultative body (the College of Cardinals) offer observations or ask for clarifications, the libs, who want much greater involvement from consultative bodies at every level, have a spittle-flecked nutty?   The Pope calls for a little “lío” …  ¡Hagan lío!, quoth he… and when he gets some lío, the dissident liberals, newly converted to their ultramontantist papalism, cry FOUL!

Here’s my take on this “formal act of correction”.  Let’s not over complicate it.  YET.

Thought: Were a bunch of Cardinals, or even one Cardinal, to submit to the Holy Father a letter or document in which he corrects the Pope’s teaching, that submission would be “an act”.  If he presented it through channels, or even in person, but with a measure of protocol, which surely would not be lacking, that would be a “formal act”.  If the letter contained corrections of errors, that would make such a letter a “formal act of correction”.

This doesn’t have to be hard.  YET.

At the same time, there is a difference when a score or more of Cardinals sign on than when four sign on.

Thought: To this point, the Cardinals are asking questions.  They are requesting clarifications.  It is usually a good idea – when dealing at this altitude – not to ask questions to which you don’t already know the answers.   The dubia are framed as dubia, but surely the questions contain corrections.  This is a gentle way of presenting their concerns.   Shift a few words and drop the question marks at the end.  Right?  But it remains that they were framed as dubia, questions.

The Four turned to the Holy Father and asked him to be what he truly is: our teacher.

Considering that all of the faithful have the right to recourse to their pastors, to seek true teaching, this is a reasonable move.  If Joe and Mary Bagofdonuts have the right to recourse, why not Cardinals, whose actual role it is in the Church is to provide counsel on important issues?  Don’t Cardinals have at least the rights of the guy in the pew?  Libs will give you a different answer on each occasion.

Frankly, more Cardinals should submit more dubia more often!

Thought about the other point: Is there some procedure, some formal process, to correct a Pope?  There probably isn’t, other than to form a group of some sort and submit a letter or a statement to him.

Oh… wait… that’s what’s going on.

There is another kind of “formal act of correction”, however.  In the history of the Church, if memory serves, Popes have been condemned by Councils. Pope Honorius I ( +638), was anathematized by Constantinople III in 680 as a Monothelite heretic.  St. Pope Leo II subsequently recognized this Council.  It is the 6th Ecumenical Council.

So, Ecumenical Councils seem to be able to make a “formal act of correction” of a Pope, retroactively at least.  It is unlikely that a sitting Pope would ratify a Council which condemned him.

Hmmm… had Pope Francis thought about a Council, he might rethink his thought.  Once a Council were convoked there would be no controlling it.  Who knows what would happen?

Thought: There’s a bright spot in the cloud of confusion.  Libs are finally reading Canon Law!  They have turned to the Code, like hounds on the leash, flanks all a quiver, to charge forth with little yelps of glee in pursuit of their prey, all in the service of the Roman Pontiff.  Such zeal!

New converts often show this sort of zeal.  It must be an interesting experience for some of these people to want to defend everything a Pope says and come to his aid against the forces of evil!

Thought: I suspect that the Holy Father will determine that it is not in his best interest to answer these dubia.  I suspect that he will publicly ignore them.  The Pope surely know how to write clearly when he wants to.  He surely knows how to find people who can write clearly if he wants to.  Had he wanted Amoris laetitia to be so clear that it could not be read in different ways, he would have written it that way.  Hence, the lack of clarity serves some purpose.  It is hard to determine what that purpose might be.  We probably need a little more time to watch how things play out.  However, if ambiguity is being used in such a way as to change the Church’s teaching, then I imagine that we haven’t seen the last “formal act” from Cardinals.

Meanwhile, let’s not forget that the dubia of The Four didn’t come like a thunderbolt out of the blue.  Since Amoris laetitia wasn’t there a letter sent by 45 scholars, Catholic priests and prelates?  Wasn’t there another letter signed by 790,000?  Wasn’t there another statement.

Thought: Those who say that Amoris laetitia is simply quite clear in every respect and that you must be ignorant of the Gospel if you don’t get it (read: You must be really stupid!) may be overestimating its crystal clarity.

Final thoughts: For those of you who are really upset and who don’t know what to do in the face of all this confusion, I will remind you of my view of pontificates as parentheses.

In the history of the Church there are many pontificates.  Popes come and go.  Some pontificates are long and, like parentheses, some are short.  Some parentheses and pontificates are important and some are not.  Eventually God, the author of our history, hits “Shift-Zero” and the pontificate ends.  Another begins.   So, keep a historical perspective.  God’s providence is surely at work in this parenthesis as in every other.

Who can know what good and beneficial things, under God’s direction, will emerge out these catalysts and clashes?  Holy Church is indefectible.

(CP&S emphasis added)

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8 Responses to Thoughts from Father Z on the Five Dubia and The Four Cardinals

  1. johnhenrycn says:

    A nice Lutheran hymn to enjoy in the morning – Mä olen niin pienoinen. So small am I.


  2. johnhenrycn says:

    …and just one more from the old country, which I played over and over for my 100 year old Granny during the last weeks of her life. Oi kiitos, sa Luojani armollinen. Oh thank you, merciful creator:


  3. johnhenrycn says:

    …oh, okay… just one more recorded my a relative of mine in 1939 shortly before his death in the Winter War against the communists:


  4. johnhenrycn says:

    Right guy (^). Wrong year. Wrong recording:


  5. johnhenrycn says:

    Sorry. I give up. Until next time.


  6. kathleen says:

    Father Z’s “thought” :

    Had he wanted Amoris laetitia to be so clear that it could not be read in different ways, he would have written it that way. Hence, the lack of clarity serves some purpose. It is hard to determine what that purpose might be. We probably need a little more time to watch how things play out. However, if ambiguity is being used in such a way as to change the Church’s teaching, then I imagine that we haven’t seen the last “formal act” from Cardinals.

    Am I the only one who finds those words of Father Z, indicating a hidden “purpose” hidden in AL, frighteningly sinister? What could that “purpose” possibly be, other than that of changing the Church’s unchangeable doctrinal teaching?

    And that, of course, would be heretical!


  7. Here is a related article giving some information about what ‘process’ might follow the Letters of the 4 Cardinals:


  8. mmvc says:

    Am I the only one who finds those words of Father Z, indicating a hidden “purpose” hidden in AL, frighteningly sinister?

    Kathleen, I’m sure you’re not the only one… by a long way.

    Father Z’s thoughts here reflect those of numerous priests and prelates, lay Catholics, canon lawyers, theologians and philosophers, who, out of great concern for the Church and in the interest of the Truth, have grappled with the ambiguities in AL in recent months. Isn’t it for those very same reasons that we’ve highlighted some of their excellent writings here on CP&S? We have also tried to defend the Truth ourselves (you more than all of us put together ;-)) against those who overestimate ‘its crystal clarity’ and who ‘say that Amoris laetitia is simply quite clear in every respect and that you must be ignorant of the Gospel if you don’t get it (read: You must be really stupid!)…’


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