(February 27, 2017 – Steven O’Reilly) Last September, four cardinals privately submitted a set of five dubia or questions to Pope Francis in the hope of receiving doctrinal clarification of various ambiguities arising from the publication of the pope’s apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. The dubia, undoubtedly already in the works at the time, followed closely upon the leak of a letter from Pope Francis to the bishops of Buenos Aires. Though this private letter did not bind the the universal Church, it certainly signified the pope’s personal opinion.
When it became clear to the cardinals that the pope had no intention of responding, they took the dubia public on November 14, 2016. At the time the dubia were made public, Cardinal Burke was interviewed by Edward Pentin for the National Catholic Register. In that interview, in response to Mr. Pentin’s question: “What happens if the Holy Father does not respond to your act of justice and charity and fails to give the clarification of the Church’s teaching that you hope to achieve?” Cardinal Burke responded:
“Then we would have to address that situation. There is, in the Tradition of the Church, the practice of correction of the Roman Pontiff. It is something that is clearly quite rare. But if there is no response to these questions, then I would say that it would be a question of taking a formal act of correction of a serious error.”
The Cardinal indicated in the same interview that: “It is the duty in such cases, and historically it has happened, of cardinals and bishops to make clear that the Pope is teaching error and to ask him to correct it.”
It has been over three months since the Dubia were made public by the four cardinals, and the aforementioned interview was given. While the five dubia asked for clarifications on various aspects of Amoris Laetitia, it was the first of them which specifically asked for clarification regarding the question of communion for the divorced living more uxurio (i.e., as if man and wife, sexually active):
It is asked whether, following the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (300-305), it has now become possible to grant absolution in the sacrament of penance, and thus to admit to holy Communion a person who, while bound by a valid marital bond, lives together with a different person more uxorio without fulfilling the conditions provided for by Familiaris Consortio, 84, and subsequently reaffirmed by Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34, andSacramentum Caritatis, 29. Can the expression “in certain cases” found in Note 351 (305) of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxorio? (Cardinals’ Questions, as found in Edward Pentin’s article – [RomaLocutaEst Note: emphasis is not mine])
Since the November date, while the pope has remained silent, various bishops and bishop conferences (e.g., of Malta and of Germany) have essentially given their answer-a “yes”-to this first dubia. They have done so by issuing guidelines which allow the possibility of giving communion to the divorced and remarried living more uxurio; thereby indicating they clearly have interpreted the expression “in certain cases” (found in Amoris Laetitia note 351) to apply to “divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxurio” (cf. First Dubia). As I argued in Honorius Redivivus – Addendum, such an interpretation does not necessarily follow from the actual words used by Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia, regardless of the implications one might reasonably draw from his silent acquiescence to the actions of the bishops of San Diego, Malta and Germany. On the opposite side, there have been bishops who have since reaffirmed the impossibility of communion for the divorced and remarried living more uxurio.
In December, Cardinal Burke seemed to suggest that a “formal correction” of the pope would come following the Christmas liturgical season, ending on the feast of the Epiphany (January 6, 2017). There were also indications that any formal correction of the pope would be done at first in private (“in camera caritatis”). If this timeline and plan has been adhered to by the four cardinals, we may surmise that the private correction has already occurred. We may also surmise the pope-from his silence-continues to remain firm in his refusal to answer the dubia.
When might we expect to see a public “formal correction” issued by the cardinals? I have neither special sources nor special insight into the question. Given the spread of division in the Church as well as it pace, I do believe it would not be appropriate for the first anniversary of Amoris Laetitia, which falls on April 8th, to pass without a public “formal correction”- should it still be necessary. One complicating factor is that April 8th is on eve of Palm Sunday and of Holy Week. Given that the cardinals seemed to have delayed their private correction (“in camera caritatis”) of the pope until after the Epiphany in order to avoid conflict with the holy days between Christmas and the Epiphany, we might-therefore-expect the cardinals would be similarly inclined to avoid the issuance of a public “correction” so near to Holy Week.
My guess is that the public “formal correction” will come on March 19th, or very soon thereafter. That date (March 19) will be the one year anniversary of Pope Francis placing his signature upon Amoris Laetitia. That date would also mark the sixth month anniversary of Pope Francis having received the five dubia (dated September 19, 2016)-clearly serving notice to the Church that the pope had been given sufficient time to respond. March 19th also has the added significance of being the feast day of St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church-an appropriate patron saint and feast day for such a potentially momentous day in the life of the Church and the history of the papacy.
“Most powerful Patriarch St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, which has always invoked thee in anxiety and trouble, from the exalted seat of thy glory cast a loving glance upon the whole Catholic world. let thy fatherly heart be touched at the sight of the Mystical Spouse and the Vicar of Christ overwhelmed with sorrow and persecuted by powerful enemies. Oh, by the bitter anguish thou didst experience upon earth, dry the tears of the venerable Pontiff, defend him, comfort him, intercede for him with the Giver of peace and charity, that, all adversity being removed and all error dissipated, the entire Church may serve God in perfect liberty. Amen.”
Anyway….that’s my guess for the public formal correction: March 19th…or very shortly thereafter (i.e., that week).