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Oh, Oh, Oh, I Have Dubia!

December 12, AD2016

frustration, anger, confusion, sadness, alone

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.

The Future?

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.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

H.L. Duncan is a senior citizen widower in his 8th decade of life (70s) who was married for 36 years to his only wife Jill. He lives on 40 acres of the Great Basin Desert in an owner built solar powered home. He has three children who have left the nest and are now too far away. After an Episcopalian childhood, his teen years brought on the disease of agnosticism with occasional bouts of atheism. He entered the Church in 2010 and says he has felt at home ever since. His working life included Forest Fire Truck Driver, Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa building schools, Motion Picture Cameraman in industrial films and while in the U.S. Army, production assistant to a Producer in Hollywood, Professional Still Photographer, Photo Lab Technician, Postal Service Letter Carrier, Computer Systems Analyst in business and government, Computer Consulting, Owner of an Internet business, Web site creation. His educational background is mostly self directed reading and experiential but does include; A graduate of the London School of Film Technique, London, England, AA degree in Business Data Processing with an additional course in accounting, Seminars and technical classes. He now spends his days in local parish church work and Right to Life groups, Internet conversations with new friends and old enemies of the Church.

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  • Birgit Atherton Jones

    Bravo! I agree with the questions you bring to light, as do the Cardinals, and admire the civil way in which you laid out all angles of this mess.

  • DJ1960

    The “Catholic world” is not in an “uproar” over the four cardinals and their dubia. Only certain online echo chambers are.

  • DJ1960

    The “Catholic world” is in an uproar about the four cardinals and their dubia. Only certain online echo chambers are.

  • james

    ” I also hope that this rude reaction and silence is not because there is no explanation at all.”

    At the very beginning of his papacy, I seem to remember Francis taking a private phone call from a former diocesan parishioner, and although the pope never officially commented the woman testified loud and clear – the pope had told her (not confirmed because it was a private call) that she could receive communion, though technically divorced and remarried. One of the disadvantages of not understanding Spanish are the subtle, impossible concepts that are unable to be translated into English. I can best explain it using a live Van Halen
    CD in my collection. On the front jacket it shows two suburban houses, one in ruins and the other not. This latter home had a life size statue of Jesus standing on the front lawn – as if to say, draw your own conclusions. . On the inside of the jacket is a quote by one, Loren Adams: ” What is understood need not be discussed.” The oh, oh, oh moment seems to be a conceptually redundant question that hasn’t a place at the table. You don’t lose up to 70% of a religion’s supporters unless you are lacking a vitality that can be seen by those who understand and need not discuss. And what the conservative clique of cardinals fail to see is that the denying of communion by canon law to some Catholics had only one effect – they left and don’t feel the need to return. Adultery was a capital offense in Jesus’ day. His response to those with stones and the woman was “Is there no one left to condemn you ?” What is understood by reason is that Jesus removed the capital from the offense – the church put it back. In ending, I will say that after clicking on the hyperlink ‘here” it is crystal clear why churches are closing and not replacing those who left.

    • An interesting comment James. My take-away is that language, discussion, meaning, clarity, understanding, communication, speaking, reading, and any other words having to do with human interaction are meaningless activities to you. The only value I can see to bringing Eddy Van Halen into this discussion is that he is twice married.

    • james

      Fair enough. But for conservative clergy those take away points will fall on deaf ears when it comes to the issue because the word compromise will never fit the equation. As I recall Jesus very seldom revisited His answers but turned to parables to let those who could hear, hear. Merry Christmas to you and yours, H. L.

    • Thank you James. Merry Christmas to you too.

  • Howard

    The “problem” is that the cardinals have highlighted the fundamental issue of our time: Are there really cases of right and wrong that exist independently of human desire, or are some people (at least) able to change anything that had previously been “right” to “wrong” and anything that had previously been considered “wrong” to “right”? Actually, almost no one is saying that just anybody can make these changes, which are to be binding on the hoi polloi; they have to be the consensus of the public. Or maybe of elected officials. Or maybe of the courts. Or maybe of academia. Or maybe of celebrities. Or, in some circles, of bishops — not acting as guardians and developers of the Deposit of Faith, mind you, but as men with the ambition to mingle with celebrities and politicians and who have the power to silence opposition within the Church. Ultimately, this comes down to the question, Does might make right after all?

    • Adrian Johnson

      When deliberate, undisambiguated, ambiguity is preached by the Pope, we are seeing him stealthily institutionalising the Sin of the Holy Spirit: calling good the notion that unrepentant adulterers are worthy to receive the Eucharist, and evil the 4 good cardinals who have asked the Pope to clarify his ambiguous teaching.
      The Sin of the Holy Spirit is calling evil good, and good evil.
      The sin itself precludes forgiveness, because the sin doesn’t admit of sin that needs to be forgiven; so God is rendered unable to forgive such self-referential unrepentance.

  • Thomas Sharpe

    The most difficult thing about practicing Humanae Vitae has not been the abstinence, or the planning, or that it doesn’t work (it does),. No, the most difficult thing has been the almost total absence of any Teaching from the Pulpit, and the times of being considered “weird” or “rigid”. It appears now that that difficulty has reached it’s pinnacle.

    If pastors were truly concerned about the large numbers of divorced, they would preach the meaning of Marriage and how, if a couple commits themselves to it, they have little to no chance of divorce. It’s because that would be a Cross for Laity and Clergy, that it is not preached. And it’s because, the opposite path of capitulation to the Truth is easier, that we are -where we are -now.