Last year a dubia was raised by four cardinals. Written in charitable language it asked for clarification on Catholic teaching following confusion arising from the controversial document Amoris Laetitia.
Amoris Laetitia is proving controversial because it contains teaching, via footnotes in chapter 8, that seem deliberately vague. That is to say written in language more usually associated with liberal Anglicanism than the clarity on which Catholicism is built. A fact currently delighting modernist prelates who are claiming the document allows the divorced and remarried to receive the sacrament without recourse to annulment. Meanwhile it vexes the theologians, and normative Catholics, who insist there can be no change of praxis if official doctrine is unchanged. Furthermore, they argue, not even a pope can trump the teaching of Jesus.
The confusion has caused tensions to rise and political infighting has broken out on social media. The culture war is back with a vengeance. The situation becoming so farcical that a divorced and remarried person who has no anulment can currently receive communion in Germany but not over the border in Poland??! A divide is exposed then, between those who stand by historic teaching and those who hunger for change. It could lead to schism if unchecked. Clearly, given the seriousness of the matter, contradiction must be sorted. Hence the dubia.
It is curious then that, instead of answering the dubia, Pope Francis has chosen to ignore it. A situation leading many to conclude he wants to encourage the change of praxis though he knows doctrine wont allow it. A grave situation if true. Yet why else does he give the nudge and wink to those encouraging change whilst demonising those who stand by traditional teaching as being rigid and uncaring?
It is a crisis which leaves the church in a precarious position. With a Pope beloved by secular culture and the press, by left wing politicians and celebrities and by those Catholics and protestants who hunger for liberal innovation. But who just as equally frustrates and bewilders the more normative sort of Catholic who was perfectly happy under the steadfast pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI; Popes who never got involved in culture wars but wisely sat above them and worked for unity of the church by being predictable and boring. By simply stating the teaching of the church.
Whatever Pope Francis’ strengths- and he has many- he is a maverick figure who divides opinion like that proverbial bottle of Marmite. (It takes one to know one!) Not good news given that unity is dependent on shared proclamation of truth. That chaos follows when gaps are created between our belief and practice. The world might cheer, when you chase worldly relevance, but it wont be converted. So all you do is alienate your core supporters. A path to decline not renewal as the last Century teaches only too clearly.
So it does not surprise me, nor seem unreasonable, that 60 academic theologians have added weight to the dubia, and pressure on the Pope, by issuing a filial correction of Amoris Laetitia. Many suspect that, like the Dubia, it will be ignored- but it ensures serious questions are not being forgotten. One suspects it is but a small step in a longer quest to unearth divine truth on the matter which the Catholic church is called to profess.
What are we grassroots Catholics to make of it? I find myself torn between wanting to show fidelity to the indissolubility of marriage and yet also sympathise with the pastoral desire to help the divorced and remarried. We are, after all, a hospital for sinners not a club for the perfect. Oh how I wish the Pope had not discarded the wisdom of an annulment process but striven instead to make the process free to access and quick to resolve. So much disagreement would have been avoided.
Instead there is chaos. So we might be wise to leave the matters to play out. A cautionary note stemming from uneasy feeling. Why, if change is possible, wasnt official doctrine developed? Why are questions not answered in conventional manner and via conventional process? The silence bothers. After all other Popes answered dubias quickly and courteously- clearing up confusion via simple answers is what dubias are for. Why then the refusal? It is here I smell the rat.
Might politics, not fidelity to Christ, be driving change? Someone suggest the issue might even be money- for the German church tax pays much to the Vatican, and prelates, fearing loss of income if people are turned off by a non PC church, are forcing changes not in keeping with church teaching. That would make sense but I have no way of knowing if its true. It could equally just be that a generation of 1970’s liberals have control for now and don’t care two hoots for official teaching!
What I do know is the question needs answering if peace and unity are to be found where political skirmishes are now occurring. So I stand by those seeking clarity. Let us double down on the prayers for our Holy Father and the Church. And stand by official doctrine until the questions receive clear and definitive answers. And thank goodness for the magisterium that helps shape the questions, to do the checks and balances no synod ever could. The silence itself should encourage orthodox believers. This isn’t going away and the magisterium is holing. So hold your head too and keep praying.