On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a score of Catholic academics and pastors—of whom I am one—spoke out, in an open letter, in support of the “Four Cardinals” who submitted and then made public five “dubia” (doubts or questions) to Pope Francis on issues raised by his post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia. The four cardinals—Raymond Burke, Carlo Caffarra, Walter Brandmüller, and Joachim Meisner—have taken a step that has few, if any, precedents.
As canonist Edward Peters has noted, the Four Cardinals’ letter is a “textbook” example of what one should do when in a state of perplexity about serious matters, according to Canon 212. What is unprecedented is that the problem should have escalated to this point, and have continued to escalate thereafter. That the pope should have declined—and made clear that he was declining—to answer such eminent petitioners, is extraordinary. That the Four Cardinals should have felt it necessary to go public is, in terms of the political expectations of the Roman Curia, little short of the nuclear option—even if the biblical, as well as the canonical, textbook would say it was their right and perhaps duty to do so (Matthew 18:15-17; Canon 212 §3). A group of academics and pastors weighing in on the Four Cardinals’ side, as certain bishops have, with a number of clerical and lay supporters of Pope Francis attacking them, would seem to be adding fuel to the flames.
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