Perhaps it was because Notre-Dame de Paris was burning. Perhaps it was because the best place to hide something from view is in plain sight. Or perhaps it was because we look for power in wind, earthquake, and fire, but miss the “still small voice” of God when He passes by. (1 Kgs 19:11-13)
Whatever the reason, the world watched, read, and missed the answers to the dubia proposed by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his April essay, “The Church and the Scandal of Sexual Abuse.”
In offering a three-part response to the crisis in the Church, he indirectly answers the five dubia that Cardinals Brandmüller, Caffarra, Meisner, and Burke presented years ago to Pope Francis. The pope emeritus fulfilled a duty that Pope Francis has not, namely, to maintain the bishops and all the faithful in the unity of the Church’s constant teaching on faith and morals.
What did the pope emeritus say? He gives the Church and the world an unequivocal No, Yes, Yes, Yes, and Yes. Five questions, five answers:
Dubium One: It is asked whether, following the affirmations of “Amoris Laetitia” (nn. 300-305), it has now become possible to grant absolution in the Sacrament of Penance and thus to admit to Holy Communion a person who, while bound by a valid marital bond, lives together with a different person “more uxorio” (in a marital way) without fulfilling the conditions provided for by “Familiaris Consortio” n. 84 and subsequently reaffirmed by “Reconciliatio et Paenitentia” n. 34 and “Sacramentum Caritatis” n. 29. Can the expression “in certain cases” found in note 351 (n. 305) of the exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live “more uxorio”?
Benedict’s response: No. “We run the risk of becoming masters of faith instead of being renewed and mastered by the Faith. Let us consider this with regard to a central issue, the celebration of Holy Eucharist. Our handling of the Eucharist can only arouse concern. . . .What predominates is not a new reverence for the presence of Christ’s death and resurrection, but a way of dealing with Him that destroys the greatness of the Mystery. . . .The Eucharist is devalued into a mere ceremonial gesture when it is taken for granted that courtesy requires Him to be offered at family celebrations or on occasions such as weddings and funerals to all those invited for family reasons. . . .[I]t is rather obvious that we do not need another Church in our own design. Rather, what is required first and foremost is the renewal of the Faith in the Reality of Jesus Christ given to us in the Blessed Sacrament. . . .And we must do all we can to protect the gift of the Holy Eucharist from abuse.”
Dubium Two: After the publication of the Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (cf. n. 304), does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s Encyclical “Veritatis Splendor” n. 79, based on Sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, on the existence of absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions?
Benedict’s response: Yes. “Pope John Paul II, who knew very well the situation of moral theology and followed it closely, commissioned work on an encyclical that would set these things right again. . . .It was published under the title Veritatis splendor. . .and did indeed include the determination that there were actions that can never become good. . . .He knew that he must leave no doubt about the fact that the moral calculus involved in balancing goods must respect a final limit.”
Dubium Three: After “Amoris Laetitia” (n. 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 (cf. Mt 19:3-9), finds him or herself in an objective situation of grave habitual sin (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Declaration, June 24, 2000)?
Benedict’s response: Yes. “A society without God – a society that does not know Him and treats Him as non-existent – is a society that loses its measure. . . .Western society is a society in which God is absent in the public sphere and has nothing left to offer it. And that is why it is a society in which the measure of humanity is increasingly lost. At individual points it becomes suddenly apparent that what is evil and destroys man has become a matter of course.”
Dubium Four: After the affirmations of “Amoris Laetitia” (n. 302) on “circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility,” does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s Encyclical “Veritatis Splendor” n. 81, based on Sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, according to which “circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act ‘subjectively’ good or defensible as a choice”?
Benedict’s response: Yes. “There are goods that are never subject to trade-offs. There are values which must never be abandoned for a greater value and even surpass the preservation of physical life. . . .God is (about) more than mere physical survival. A life that would be bought by the denial of God, a life that is based on a final lie, is a non-life.”
Dubium Five: After “Amoris Laetitia” (n. 303) does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Veritatis Splendor” n. 56, based on Sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, that excludes a creative interpretation of the role of conscience and that emphasizes that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object?
Benedict’s response: Yes. “The crisis of morality. . .was chiefly the hypothesis that morality was to be exclusively determined by the purposes of human action that prevailed. . . .Consequently, there could no longer be anything that constituted an absolute good, any more than anything fundamentally evil; (there could be) only relative value judgements. There no longer was the (absolute good), but only the relatively better, contingent on the moment and on circumstances. . . .But there is a minimum set of morals which is indissolubly linked to the foundational principle of faith and which must be defended if faith is not to be reduced to a theory but rather to be recognized in its claim to concrete life. All this makes apparent just how fundamentally the authority of the Church in matters of morality is called into question. Those who deny the Church a final teaching competence in this area force her to remain silent precisely where the boundary between truth and lies is at stake.”
Benedict’s response ends the deafening silence with regard to the fundamental questions of faith addressed by the dubia. He answers them, clearly and unequivocally. He knows the hour is late.
Benedict warns us that “the very faith of the Church” is being called into question. “It is very important to oppose the lies and half-truths of the devil with the whole truth: Yes, there is sin in the Church and evil. But even today there is the Holy Church, which is indestructible. . . .Today God also has His witnesses (martyres) in the world. We just have to be vigilant to see and hear them.”