My Commentary on the 5 Dubia regarding Amoris Laetitia

The full text of the Dubia proposed by four Cardinals to Pope Francis is here.

First, I would like to reply to the claim of some dubia supporters that the Cardinals are simply asking questions and asking for clarification. What could be wrong with that? Read the questions below. These questions are not a humble request to be taught or corrected. They are leading questions, meant to rebuke the Pope and to accuse him of violating past magisterial teachings. The questioners clearly present themselves as if they understand Church teaching better than the Pope. And the wording of the questions indicates that they will accept no answer other than the answer they propose within each question.

“1. It is asked whether, following the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (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 without fulfilling the conditions provided for by Familiaris Consortio, 84, and subsequently reaffirmed by Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34, and Sacramentum Caritatis, 29. Can the expression “in certain cases” found in Note 351 (305) of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxorio?”

My answer is that the divorced and remarried, who strive to live chastely, and yet who fall into grave sexual sin, can go to Confession and then receive Communion. Even if they strive and fall many times, as often as they repent, God will forgive them in that Sacrament. And then they can receive Communion.

And again, I will point out that most Mass-going Communion-receiving Catholics also commit objective mortal sins, often of a sexual nature, and yet they receive Communion without prior Confession. The lines for Communion are long, and the lines for Confession are short. Yet we know that many Catholics have sex before marriage, use contraception in marriage, and that they commit many other grave sexual sins. Why are these Cardinals solely concerned with the divorced and remarried?

“2. After the publication of the post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia (304), does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 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?”

Yes, that teaching remains true. What the Dubia and the Filial Petition fail to acknowledge is the difference between objective mortal sin and actual mortal sin. Some persons who commit objective mortal sin do not have the full culpability of actual mortal sin, so they might still be in the state of grace. Moreover, a person who commits even an actual mortal sin may repent, confess, and then receive Communion.

When Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, He also dispensed the Mosaic death penalty. But this change in discipline in no way implied a change in the teaching that adultery is always gravely immoral. Discipline is not doctrine.

“3. 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)?”

Yes, that distinction is still true. But we must always distinguish between objective mortal sin and actual mortal sin. But the dubia errs by speaking as if only publicly known grave sins prohibit from Communion, and not also all the other grave sins that are so popular in sinful secular society today.

“4. After the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (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, 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”?”

Yes. Veritatis Splendor rightly condemns intrinsically evil acts as always immoral, and certain intrinsically evil acts as always gravely immoral. But in many cases, circumstances can mitigate the knowledge and deliberation of the act, making an objective mortal sin not also an actual mortal sin.

“5. After Amoris Laetitia (303) does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 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?”

Yes, that teaching is still valid. But conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity.

Regarding Amoris Laetitia 300 to 305, I do not find any serious error. Rather, the main problem is a lack of clarity on some points, and an absence of objective rules for who may receive Communion. Pope Francis is entirely right to distinguish between objective mortal sin and actual mortal sin, and to acknowledge that subjective culpability varies. The divorced and remarried who are striving to live according to the eternal moral law and the teaching of the Church can sin gravely, go to Confession, and then receive Communion — just as anyone else can.

The main issue for reception of Communion is the fact that so few Mass-going Communion-receiving Catholics ever receive the Sacrament of Forgiveness. My main criticism of Amoris Laetitia is the lack of emphasis on repentance and Confession.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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7 Responses to My Commentary on the 5 Dubia regarding Amoris Laetitia

  1. Tom Mazanec says:

    One reason the lines to Saturday Confession are short may be that people go on Weekdays or Sunday. I go when I feel I need to ASAP, and if that is after a weekday Mass then so be it. And I have seen others in my Parish do this.

  2. Alex says:

    It is clear the four/ or now three cardinals do not seek some clarification or mutual understanding with the pope and the rest of 116 cardinals, they seek confrontation presenting their view as the only true one.

    Let not forget the sister Orthodox churches allow 3 marriages although not encouraging them! A marriage within the orthodox church is accepted by the Catholic church. An orthodox believer can accept holy Communion in Catholic church without Catholic confession, based on his own conscience and discipline to his own church. Then isn’t it a clear case of double standard?

    Let alone other sexual conditions that seem permitted for the Roman clergy that can absolve each other, but not permitted for the catholic faithful.

    • Dan says:

      While the Cardinals do appear to have a bias regarding what the answers to the dubia should be, this does not invalidate the questions presented. This also does not remove the obligation of the Pope to resolve such questions.

      Regarding 2nd/3rd Orthodox marriages, please cite where the Catholic Church accepts these marriages as valid. Also, please cite where Orthodox Christians in these situations are permitted to receive communion in a Catholic Church.

      Also, are you implying that hypocracy by some ivalidates the teaching of Christ as presented to us by His Church?

    • Ron Conte says:

      The Church does not accept 2nd and 3re Orthodox marriages as valid, but She does permit reception of Communion by the Orthodox without examination as to whether they would be worthy if they were Catholics.

      The Supreme Judge of the faithful, the Supreme Pontiff, has no obligation to answer the dubia. And the questions themselves are accusatory and an expression of pride. Also, a dubium is ordinarily submitted to, and answered by, the CDF, not the Pope.

  3. Dan says:

    I agree that Pope Francis has no obligation to respond to the dubia in the sense that some other authority in the Church could compel him. However, he does have a responsibility due to the nature of his office to settle disputes. I am not in a position to determine whether or not the Cardinals have the right disposition, but it would be an error in judgement (in my opinion) for the Pope (based on his view of their intent) to not to respond. He could always request the CDF to issue the formal response, although unfortunately it appears that any forthright response will not be issued prior to a so called ‘formal correction’ from the Cardinals being made public.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Many past Popes made controversial decisions on discipline or doctrine. They issued encyclicals, and the response was that some points were unclear. And they did not respond by answering questions and issuing a clarification. Other past magisterial documents contained, and still contain, some errors, which remain uncorrected to this day. Pope Francis and AL are being treated in a way that is unlike past Popes and their teaching documents. Why? It seems to be because he is liberal, and conservatives (at some point in time) decided that they own the Church, and they determine what is and is not correct discipline and doctrine.

      Examples: To this day, there are many Catholic priests and theologians claiming that HV limits the magisterial prohibition against contraception to married couples. To this day, there are errors in the CCC on intrinsically evil acts (e.g. on lying), as I’ve explained elsewhere. To this day, the criticism of VS by Cardinal Dulles regarding its list of intrinsically evil acts, including slavery, has not been clarified by any Pope. To this day, Cardinal Ratzinger’s error in his commentary on the profession of faith (he divides infallible teachings into two types, with different degrees or types of assent) has not been corrected. They say that the Pope John 22 (not 23) error on the Beatific Vision was recanted by him on his deathbed, but it was not corrected by a magisterial document until a subsequent Pope, Benedict 12. And the error of Pope Honorius I — mainly in failing to clarify and teach definitively on the two wills of Christ — was not corrected until an Ecumenical Council that met about 60 years (IIRC) later.

      This is what the Church is ALWAYS like, people. No Pope issues ONLY infallible teachings. No decisions on disciple are infallible or irreformable. And it is not the job of the Pope to settle every dispute and clarify every point of doctrine or discipline. It’s not his job to coddle the Cardinals and reassure them every time they feel uneasy at his teaching. But I should also point out that when conservatives say that a teaching of Pope Francis is confusing, they mean it is contrary to their own understanding. They are not really seeking clarification, but rather a Pope who teaches in accord with their own preferences.

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