Are You Waiting on a Response to the Dubia?

Over at The Motherlands (blog), Denise Renner wrote this post: Waiting on a response to the dubia. She says:

“If only children asked questions in the form of dubia: well-worded requests for clarification requiring a “Yes” or “No” in response.”

“It has now been more than 100 days since the dubia were made public. There has been no response.”

“The tricky thing about giving them a “yes” or “no,” is that things become very, very clear.”

My rebuttal to the above-quoted claims is as follows. First, many questions cannot be answered correctly with a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’. Complex questions of theology or praxis cannot always be reduced to a Yes or a No. And even a question written is in the form of a Dubium, that is to say, it is written so that the answer will be, presumably, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, often neither response will be a true clarification.

See my commentary on the 5 Dubia.

Question 1 of the Dubia is not answerable as Yes or No because it makes assumptions and over-simplifies the situation of the divorced and remarried (which situations vary greatly). The term “more uxorio” (in the manner of a wife) means that the couple are having sexual relations, as if they were validly married. But it may be the case that a couple tries to live chastely, and yet they fall into that sin repeatedly. They can be forgiven, if they are repentant. And even if they continue to fall into the same sin, they can confess again, and may receive Communion again.

A far worse problem in the Church today is that the vast majority of Mass-going Communion-receiving Catholics RARELY or NEVER go to Confession. The Dubia treat the divorced and remarried as if they were the only sinners in the Church. It is like the Pharisees accusing the woman caught in adultery. It seems from Jesus’ response that she was repentant. Yet the Pharisees were unrepentant from many grave sins, and still they accused a repentant sinner and wished for her to be condemned by Jesus. I tell you, Pope Francis is not going to condemn any repentant sinners, even if they are divorced and remarried.

Question 2 asks if, since the publication of Amoris Laetitia, the teaching of Veritatis Splendor on intrinsically evil acts still needs to be regarded as valid. That is not really a question seeking clarification, as the supporters of the Dubia falsely claim. This question is not a well-worded request for clarification. It is a pride-filled challenge to the holy Pontiff, accusing him of violating the teachings of Veritatis Splendor. And yet, as I understand the situation, many supporters of the Dubia have themselves rejected the teaching of Veritatis Splendor on intrinsically evil acts by radical reinterpretation (as I have frequently explained in past posts).

As I read Amoris Laetitia, nothing in Veritatis Splendor is denied. Rather, there is an acknowledgement that objective mortal sin is not always actual mortal sin. A person who sins gravely, might repent, confess, communicate, and then later fall again. The controversial passages, n. 300 to 306, I read as a call to conservatives to reconsider some of their common false assumptions, and to take a more pastoral and forgiving point of view. But the authors and supporters of the Dubia attempt to shake off this teaching, and to reassert the errors of over-simplification and of assuming that the divorced and remarried, who know the rules about marriage, must be in a state of actual mortal sin. The Pontiff rightly cites the CCC on the factors that might make an objective mortal sin not also an actual mortal sin, and this has been widely ignored.

The critics of Amoris Laetitia refuse to accept this teaching. They want the Pope to condemn the divorced and remarried for committing adultery with their second (invalid) spouse, just as if Jesus had condemned the woman caught in adultery in this passage from the Gospel of John:

{8:3} Now the scribes and Pharisees brought forward a woman caught in adultery, and they stood her in front of them.
{8:4} And they said to him: “Teacher, this woman was just now caught in adultery.
{8:5} And in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such a one. Therefore, what do you say?”
{8:6} But they were saying this to test him, so that they might be able to accuse him. Then Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the earth.
{8:7} And then, when they persevered in questioning him, he stood upright and said to them, “Let whoever is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her.”
{8:8} And bending down again, he wrote on the earth.
{8:9} But upon hearing this, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest. And Jesus alone remained, with the woman standing in front of him.
{8:10} Then Jesus, raising himself up, said to her: “Woman, where are those who accused you? Has no one condemned you?”
{8:11} And she said, “No one, Lord.” Then Jesus said: “Neither will I condemn you. Go, and now do not choose to sin anymore.”

But Jesus didn’t condemn her. He simply counseled her to strive to avoid this grave sin and of course other sins as well. So why don’t the papal critics take up the point of view of their Lord? I suspect that, for some of them, Jesus is not their Lord at all anymore. Their Lord and Savior is the conservative Catholic subculture along with their own over-simplifications and misunderstandings of Catholicism. No matter what Jesus says in the Gospels, they believe whatever they wish.

Question 3 dishonestly asks if the prohibition against adultery is still in force. Yes, it is. But the assumption in the question is that any “objective situation of grave habitual sin” implies actual mortal sin and prohibits from Communion. It does not. A person can repeatedly sin, repeatedly be forgiven in Confession, and repeatedly take Communion again, as long as they are striving to overcome their sins.

And that question is not really asking for a Yes or No. It is again a challenge to the holy Pontiff, accusing him of departing from the teaching against adultery. I imagine that the Pharisees of Jesus’ time had a very similar objection to His refusal to support the Mosaic death penalty for adultery. So the real answer to Question 3 is not Yes or No, but “Let whoever is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone.”

And what was Jesus writing on the earth? He wrote twice, so He was writing the two great commandments: Love God above all else, and love your neighbor as yourself. The Pharisees of today condemn the divorced and remarried without regard for the complexity of different situations. And they are unrepentant from their own sins of pride and of treating the Vicar of Christ with denigration and condescension. They do not put the love of God first, and the love of neighbor second. Rules rule their thinking, not love.

Question 4 is not a request for clarification, it is an argument in the form of a question. The authors of the Dubia propose a false dichotomy, which would make “circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility” incompatible with the condemnation of acts which are objectively intrinsically evil. To the contrary, the commission of a gravely immoral intrinsically evil act might not be also an actual mortal sin due to mitigating factors. And this can be taken into account in the Confessional, if the divorced and remarried are striving to live chastely, but tend to fall into that sin from time to time.

Question 5 has the same fault. It does not allow for a conscience that is sincerely mistaken, or that is affected by mitigating factors, or that is repentant, but frequently falls again. Instead, the Dubium proposes that everyone who commits an objective mortal sin must be condemned, as if it were always an actual mortal sin. And indeed, this is the assumption of many supporters of the Dubia. They say that if the person knows the rule of the Church, and they break that rule, nothing mitigates their act and it must (supposedly) be an actual mortal sin.

Many Catholics today have a certain fault, which is that they oversimplify the faith. They refuse to consider the complexities found in good theology, and prefer to reduce even complex moral situations to a black-and-white or yes-or-no case. As I read Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis is saying that the priest ministering to a divorced and remarried couple must consider the complexities of the situation. Perhaps they are repentant and can receive forgiveness in Confession and then Communion. But then perhaps they fall into grave sin, and must confess again. Is there a limit to how many times a repentant person can go to Confession? No, there is not.

So the main problem we are facing is not that some Catholics are divorced and remarried, but that most Catholics do not go to Confession.

Why No Response?

Why hasn’t Pope Francis responded to the 5 Dubia? I don’t know his specific reasons. But here’s what I do know:

* Historically, many Dubia do not receive an answer.
* It has NEVER been the case that a Pope answers every Dubium.
* Many Popes have issued documents on controversial matters, without responding to the subsequent objections and questions.
* The same is true for Ecumenical Councils.
* This particular Dubia is a blatant challenge to the teaching of the Roman Pontiff, and not really a request for clarification.

The Magisterium does not debate its teachings with its Cardinals and Bishops. At best, the Dubia is a request for a debate. At worse, it is a set of questions worded so as to accuse the Pope of teaching falsehoods. And in any case, it is clear that the authors and supporters of the Dubia will NEVER accept any clarification from Pope Francis or any subsequent Pope, except the answer they already imagine is true. Their own understanding of the Faith has become like a dogma unto itself. And so, no one can teach or correct them.

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

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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9 Responses to Are You Waiting on a Response to the Dubia?

  1. Francisco says:

    By the way these questions are written, it’s more like a temptation (I would not be surprised if this challenge could even be influenced by demons – demons also know Sacred Scripture – Matthew 4:6-7) than a really humble and respectful request for clarification.
    “Why do you test me?” Jesus would respond.

    The following question from the Pharisees of Jesus’ time can clearly be responded with a “yes” or “no”; however, our Lord wisely responded with neither a “yes” or “no”:

    {22:17} Therefore, tell us, how does it seem to you? Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar, or not?”
    {22:18} But Jesus, knowing their wickedness, said: “Why do you test me, you hypocrites?
    {22:19} Show me the coin of the census tax.” And they offered him a denarius.
    {22:20} And Jesus said to them, “Whose image is this, and whose inscription?”
    {22:21} They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Then render to Caesar what is of Caesar; and to God what is of God.”

    Also, Jesus did not used to explain or teach everything with all the details as to be “clear” (He used to teach using parables), but rather our Lord used to say after His explanations “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear”.

  2. Tom Mazanec says:

    Many Catholics today have a certain fault, which is that they oversimplify the faith. They refuse to consider the complexities found in good theology, and prefer to reduce even complex moral situations to a black-and-white or yes-or-no case.

    Is this a new situation? I thought it was just Human Nature to want simple answers to complex questions.

    • Ron Conte says:

      No, it is not new. But the power of misguided persons to propose and spread errors, of any kind, has increased greatly with the modern means of communication. So it is new that they have such a great ability to spread errors rapidly around the world.

  3. Guest says:

    Many pretend that the Church is not indefectible: that they ought to somehow save the Church from destroying herself. But why be Catholic if we have to ensure that it’s not teaching error? They ought to have confidence that whatever is bound and loosed in the Church is bound and loosed in heaven so they can have confidence in whatever decisions the Church makes concerning communion discipline. If the Church could teach heresy why even be Catholic? Why even have a hierarchy or magisterium? Why not decide for yourself what is Catholic? They’re already doing that anyway!

    One wonders if they have theological faith, and not just natural faith, in the Church…

  4. Dan says:

    The issue is not the need for simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers to so called complex questions. The issue is that the Pope should be EXPLICIT on whether or not Amoris Laetitia has CHANGED the long standing universal practice of prohibiting communion to divorced and remarried Catholics not living as brother and sister. I am not sure why there is disagreement on this point.

    When discussing question 1 of the dubia, you talk about those striving to live chastely, but falling into to sin. This situation is not the issue the Cardinals are referring to. Rather it would be the situation where the couple is NOT currently striving to live chastely and has no intent to do so going forward.

  5. Francisco says:

    In order to understand better the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Church, one have to be humble first, it’s a requirement. Sincerely being in prayer, doing works of mercy and self-denial. Humbly reading the Bible. Hard to be humble, then let’s ask the Lord for help. It’s not a matter of demanding specifics explanations because they will not be given just like that. If we accept only what we understand with clarity, then we wouldn’t have Faith.

    {11:25} At that time, Jesus responded and said: “I acknowledge you, Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the prudent, and have revealed them to little ones.
    {11:26} Yes, Father, for this was pleasing before you.

    So, it’s not the will of God to reveal everything to everyone, otherwise, He wouldn’t have said so. Not everyone is able to understand all the teachings and mysteries of the Church with all the specifics and clear detail or specifications. We are not God.

    One have to have Faith in our Lord and His Church led by His Vicar and Bishops in communion with him.

    The Pope is our Holy Father, not our secretary. If he decides to respond this Dubia, ok, if not, then ok, we can humble accept his silence knowing that he knows what he is doing and we are in the Ark of Salvation. We may not understand some things, but the most important thing that we have to understand is that God never leaves His Church and His promises.

    The Pope has been divinely appointed to “feed us” (John 21:15-17) with his teachings, we cannot be poisoned in any way because that would be Jesus’ fault who has appointed this shepherd.

    Jesus, I trust in You.

  6. Dan says:

    There are not just two sides to this issue as though one must be pro dubia or pro Francis. In my opinion, this mindset is caused by a polarization within Church and it creates obstacles to fruitful dialogue.

    Given the public disagreement regarding the interpretation of Amoris Laetitia, the fundamental question is rather simple. Should it be made clear whether or not Church discipline or doctrine has been modified by Amoris Laetitia?

    I have not seen anyone make a sound argument for answering the above question with ‘no’. Answering ‘no’ leaves each diocese or even each parish establishing their own individual practices based on their own understanding of Amoris Laetitia.

    • Guest says:

      Well, if doctrine has been changed to definitely contradict a past doctrine, we better leave the Church. If discipline has been changed we better shut up and accept it, because the Pope has full authority in the Church. If we have faith that the Catholic Church is the true Church the first is not even a possibility; there must be some error on our part. Perhaps our faith and obedience is being put to the test?

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