After these many years, I finally can say I have something in common with Arnold Horshack. I feel like I must raise my hand high, and exclaim loudly, oh, oh, oh in order to get an answer to my questions. Most of you are probably not old enough to remember the very popular 1970s TV sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter that gave John Travolta’s career a big boost. Horshack was a classmate in the Kotter show. He always found it necessary to bring loud attention to himself in class when he had a question. Click here to see what I mean.
What In the World Are Dubia?
Dubia, I have learned as the Catholic world is in an uproar, is the church’s word for having questions. We often say in English that we are dubious about something, meaning we are doubtful. This form of questioning has been used in the past, and is a very respectful way of getting clarification regarding church law or teaching. An example here from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2000, gives another dubia with the resulting answers.
Currently, four cardinals of the Church have raised their hands high and said oh, oh, oh, loudly in public, after no answers came from their first attempt to send questions privately to the Pope. They want clarification from the Holy Father regarding parts of his exhortation Amoris Latitia. A significant part that is questioned has to do with approving communion for the divorced and remarried. They are asking him as well as a the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard L. Müller. It is the top level of questioning which exposes their doubt at the source, and has caused criticism about their loyalty.
I have questions myself, and I am happy that the cardinals have taken this official step after not getting a response from the Pope at their first questioning. My memory of reaction to church documents does not go back very far, so I cannot say if there was an angry response with the past request that I cite above, as there is with this current one.
I am dubious that there was.
Lex dubia non obligat
The Catholic Encyclopedia explains Probabilism; a method used by theologians to apply divine law to our lives:
According to the axiom: lex dubia non obligat, a doubtful law does not bind. But a law is doubtful when there is a solidly probable opinion against it. Hence it is lawful to follow a solidly probable opinion in favour of liberty.
What was previously understood as an irregular situation (divorced and remarried), is presented in Chapter Eight of Amoris Latitia as a possible blending of the irregular and the regular. This judgement is dependent upon the subjective view of the couple involved, as interpreted by a priest. This subjective determination is being presented to us as justification and solidly probable opinion for receiving communion, despite the objective adulterous situation. At least, according to some. This is precisely the point in doubt.
Please, Holiness, Answer
With the Church’s history of questioning and debating, please, Holiness, clarify what you mean in Amoris Latitia when you say that the sin of adultery may not be considered a sin, or a lesser degree of sin, in special cases. I see nothing wrong with exploring theological questions, and I am willing to understand a viewpoint especially when it comes from you.
But, a serious problem with this thought was generated by your exhortation when this idea was explained in a very sketchy way. To leave the decision in the hands of the clergy without giving any real guidance or scriptural support as to how to proceed does not present a reasonable understanding to anyone. It only gives the impression that if a priest feels sorry for a couple they may proceed to communion, but another couple may not.
There Is Nothing Wrong With Casuistry
The Holy Father, at a later time, gave an argument for discernment using the word “casuistic,” where one makes a judgement if the rule need be followed as stated, or if an exception exists. This is certainly not a new concept. We use judges in civil and criminal law to decide if the law must be followed as written, or if an exception allows for the law not to be applied.
I once drove my son to the hospital in a hurry as he could not breathe. He had been discharged the day before with no clear diagnosis. We gave him oxygen from my emergency supply kept in case of a severe asthma attack. I drove ignoring traffic laws, as it was after midnight and not much traffic was about. I judged that it was faster than waiting for an ambulance and he was not in distress after using the oxygen. I had training and experience as a fire truck driver, so was accustomed to emergency driving. I would expect that my actions would be overlooked regarding lawbreaking, because of the situation. It is possible however, that a judge or police officer might wish to apply the strict observance of the law in that case, balancing benefits against traffic dangers, differently than I did.
How We Would Better Be Able To Understand
In the case of adultery, in order for this direction by Pope Francis to be accepted and understood by the faithful, cardinals and bishops who ask for further explanation must be given examples to gain acceptance for this concept. Like the one I have given above. This is only a natural course for a teacher to take. The problem to overcome is that this presentation appears to be in conflict with prior teaching.
The current teaching regarding marriage indissolubility and casuistical argument was addressed by Saint John Paul II in 1979:
Christ did not accept the discussion at the level at which his interlocutors tried to introduce it. In a certain sense he did not approve of the dimension that they tried to give the problem. He avoided getting caught up in juridico-casuistical controversies. On the contrary, he referred twice to “the beginning.” Acting in this way, he made a clear reference to the relative words in Genesis, which his interlocutors too knew by heart. From those words of the ancient revelation, Christ drew the conclusion and the talk ended.
The situation Pope Francis gives us, is one where the couple do not give up adultery and live as brother and sister. If Pope Francis is calling this situation not adulterous because it is not subjectively seen as adulterous, then I can see how he must explain further, as it appears to be in direct contradiction to a previous Pope’s teaching as cited above and elsewhere.
The Worst Thing That Is Happening
I do not object to working out theological problems. I do object strenuously to seeing the Church behave as if it were a political organization. We have just finished an election in the U.S. that lasted for 18 months. Even at this date, weeks after the final vote, anger and accusations continue over differences between candidates and political parties. The history of our country bringing an end to the election process by all of the participants, is being ignored by two of the losing parties with scant justification, and some rioting by citizens. This change of attitude in politics, plus the apparent lack of younger, less morally corrupt persons willing to run, is leading to a more dangerous split in American life.
I expect much, much more from our Church.
To call the cardinals that asked for clarification (for themselves, for me, and for others) “‘witless worm[s],‘ ‘troublesome,‘ and ‘heretics’ and ‘apostates‘ for issuing the dubia…”, is nothing more than recent American politics transferred to the Vatican. Will we read (in future attacks on questioning) about Little Raymond (Burke) or will I be placed into a parish of deplorables because of my love of the Latin Mass? The Pope has already offered psychological opinion regarding the desire for this Mass. We usually condemn speculation about a person’s motive instead of discussing the issue as argumentum ad hominem. Another Latin phrase commonly meaning: argument against the person, rather than the idea.
If a priest-confidant of the Pope wishes to call me a “witless worm,” and do so instead of explaining where I am wrong, he relegates me to a lower value than others. But I am not a worm, and I have not done anything other than ask questions, as have the four cardinals. I expect to be treated as having intrinsic worth as much as a baby that the Pope kisses, or a disabled person he stops to bless, or a couple not in a marriage designed by God.
In a way I hope that this attack on those who wish to get more explanation is just bad manners emulating the worst of what we have seen in politics. We Catholics have in our history a rich store of explanation and argument by St. Thomas Aquinas and all the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church. I also hope that this rude reaction and silence is not because there is no explanation at all.
I will follow all teaching that conforms to Christ’s commands.
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