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Cardinal Carlo Caffarra Reverently Breaks His Silence on the Dubia

For the first time since the publication of the Four Cardinals’ dubia, Cardinal Caffarra has given an interview and explains the reasons and some of the deeper arguments underlying this recent initiative. Throughout the whole of this interview given to Matteo Matzuzzi of the Italian newspaper Il Foglio, Caffarra preserves a calm and unmistakably charitable tone and thus politely distances himself from any polemical way of dealing with some very grave moral matters such as a derangement of marriage and of the family. Foremost, he also makes it once more very clear – as Cardinal Raymond Burke has recently done, as well – that the Four Cardinals are united and are still insisting on the need for some clarifications from Pope Francis.

Different aspects need to be clarified. The letter – and the attached dubia – had been reflected upon for months, and it has been discussed among us for a long time. As to myself, I have prayed [many times] before the Blessed Sacrament during the same span of time.

These are the beginning words of the interview with Matteo Matzuzzi which set the tone of the whole interview. Cardinal Caffarra shows himself as a honorable and attentive shepherd of the Catholic Church who is concerned with the salvation of souls. He also shows the care with which the Four Cardinals have approached the matter of the letter to the pope:

We were aware that the gesture we were undertaking was a very serious one. We had two concerns. The first was not to scandalize the little ones in the Faith. This is for us pastors a fundamental duty. The second concern was that no person – believer or unbeliever – could find in that letter an expression that could even remotely sound like a slightest disrespect toward the pope. The final text as it is now is the fruit of several revisions: revised, rejected, and corrected texts. [my emphasis]

Cardinal Caffarra reminds us of the “grave duty of us cardinals to advise the pope in governing the Church. It is a duty, and duties oblige.” He makes clear the fact “which only a blind man can deny,” namely that “in the Church, there is a great confusion, uncertainty, insecurity caused by certain paragraphs of Amoris Laetitia.” This is happening, according to the Italian cardinal, with regard to three areas of the sacramental economy: marriage, confession, and the Eucharist, as well as the Christian life. Here, “some bishops say A, others say the opposite of A.” (Here we might add that the new episcopal guidelines concerning the “remarried” divorcees now coming out from Malta are again confirming Cardinal Caffarra’s own observation.) Caffarra even calls this phenomenon of chaos “a fact, an undeniable fact, because, in the words of David Hume, facts are stubborn.”

In such a situation, it seemed at first fitting to make use of “fundamental theological criteria of interpretation” with the help of which Cardinal Caffarra had thought it to be possible “to show that Amoris Laetitia does not contradict Familiaris Consortio. [Moreover,] In public meetings with lay people and priests, I personally have always followed this path.”

But then, it came to pass that the Four Cardinals realized that this kind of earlier approach was “not sufficient.” He says: “The contrast between these two [opposing] interpretations [of Amoris Laetitia] continued. There was only one way to deal with them: to ask the author of the text that was now interpreted in two ways which was the right interpretation. There is no other way.” Thus the Four Cardinals chose to approach the pope with the help of the “very traditional way in the Church, the so-called dubia.” With the help of the dubia, explains Cardinal Caffarra, the pope merely had to answer with a “yes” or a “no,” instead of giving “lengthy and elaborate responses.” He adds: “It just seemed the easiest way.” Out of respect for the office of the pope, the Four Cardinals chose first to approach him in private, not in public: “Only when we had the certainty that the Holy Father would not answer [us], did we decide to go public.”

In the context of Cardinal Gerhard Müller’s recent critique of the open publication of the dubia, Mattzuzzi (who has conducted the interview prior to the Müller statement) quotes Cardinal Caffarra as saying that “we interpreted the silence [of the pope] as permission to continue the theological confrontation.” For it involves, as Caffarra adds,

Also the Magisterium of the Bishops (who, let us not forget, exercise it not as delegates of the pope but in virtue of the sacrament they have received), as well as the life of the faithful. Both have the right to know. Many faithful and priests said: “but you cardinals, in a situation like this, you have the obligation to intervene with the Holy Father. Otherwise, for what reason do you exist if not to support the pope in such grave questions?

With regard to the criticism that was expressed against the dubia, Cardinal Caffarra responds:

Some people say that we are not obedient to the Magisterium of the pope. This is false and calumnious. Especially because I do not want to be disobedient, I wrote to the pope. I can be obedient to the Magisterium of the pope if I know what the pope teaches in matters of Faith and the Christian Life. But the problem is exactly this: that in fundamental points one does not well understand what the pope teaches, as is demonstrated by the conflict of interpretation among bishops. We want to be obedient to the teaching of the pope, but the pope’s teaching must be clear. [my emphasis]

Cardinal Caffarra adds that the Four Cardinals did not want in any way to “force” the pope to answer anything, but, rather, to ask him for “sovereign guidance.” Additionally, explains the prelate, “we do not deserve the accusation that we want to divide the Church. The division – which exists already in the church – is the cause of this letter, not its effect.” [my emphasis] In this context, Caffarra considers the “insults and threats of canonical sanctions” directed to the Four Cardinals to be “unworthy.”

As Cardinal Caffarra shows in this lengthy interview, many pastors are now already confronted with the situation that penitents are coming into the confessional burdened by the confused teaching stemming from Amoris Laetitia. Confessors are telling him that they do not know any more what to say when they have a penitent in the confessional who is “remarried” after a previous civil divorce. In Caffarra’s words: these pastors “have a burden on their shoulders that they are not able to carry.” The cardinal also stresses that

These are very serious issues concerning the life of the Church and concerning the eternal salvation of the faithful. Let us never forget: this is the supreme law of the Church: the eternal salvation of the faithful. Jesus founded His Church so that the faithful may have eternal life, and may have it more abundantly. [my emphasis]

In these wholehearted words is to be found such a profound love for the faithful, such a love for the Faith, that it may inspire us all to hold on to our beloved Catholic Faith. Cardinal Caffarra presents his arguments so calmly and charitably that no reasonable and well-meaning person could easily, much less churlishly, object.

Without going more into details – which are important indeed, but would take too much space for now – Cardinal Caffarra discusses in the following the specific parts of Amoris Laetitia that are especially causing the confusion. Here he thus mentions the paragraphs 300 to 305, to include the footnote 351. He also stresses the importance of the correct definition of a well-formed conscience (with reference to Blessed Cardinal John Newman) which is based on the truth and the good. Caffarra also discusses carefully the matter of the “remarried” divorcees and their possible access to Holy Communion. May these people – while not living in habitual continence – now be permitted to receive Holy Communion, or not? asks the prelate. “There are only two answers: yes or no.” He reminds us that “Familiaris Consortio, Sacramentum Caritatis, the Code of Canon Law, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church all respond to the above question with: no.” But, then, if there are bishops who answer with “yes,” adds the Italian cardinal, “then one should also teach that adultery is not, in and of itself, evil.” In this context, Cardinal Caffarra points out that footnote 351 – which mentions admittance to the sacraments in individual cases – “is ambiguous.”

Thus Cardinal Caffarra presents a learned, limpid, and pure line of argumentation concerning the dubia and some of the underlying problems of Amoris Laetitia. May those who have opposed him, and even mocked him, be touched by his deep goodness. (My own little family can testify to Cardinal Caffarra’s personal, recurrent, and intimate attentiveness to the Little Ones of Christ, the “parvuli.”)

May all of his objectively erroneous opponents – for whose deeper conversion we are all called to pray – also be touched and convinced by other voices which are increasingly now coming forth in defense of the Truth of Christ that especially concerns marriage and the Catholic family.

One of these voices – in addition to the re-assurring new interview with Bishop Athanasius Schneider – is a new article written by Joseph Matt, the President of the well-respected Catholic newspaper The Wanderer. The article is entitled “It’s Not Just The Four Cardinals Who Need An Answer,” and therein Matt expresses his just indignation about the critique of the Four Cardinals coming now even from Cardinal Gerhard Müller, as well as about other sharp comments directed against the dubia and their authors. Matt says:

The very title of the congregation which this cardinal heads implies the importance of the office and its crucial role — especially as it relates to the current situation with the four cardinals and the dubia. Cardinal Mueller’s words in this interview are a critical blow to the current dubia situation. What is the relevance of such a congregation if it cannot offer an answer in a matter that requires a clarification regarding the Catholic faith? [my emphasis]

Matt continues his just ardor of indignation by pointing to the unjust treatment of the Four Cardinals themselves:

Mueller’s snub adds to the relentless and uncharitable campaign from within to marginalize these four courageous cardinals. Their treatment by their peers is nothing short of scandalous and constitutes a grave injustice to them and our Church. These good men who are simply looking for clarity and answers to basic questions concerning the Catholic faith do not deserve the kind of disrespect they are getting from their fellow clergymen. [my emphasis]

The President of The Wanderer also makes it clear that mere silence – much less muteness – is not any more a fitting alternative for a member of the Catholic clergy:

The time for silence on this issue among fellow cardinals, bishops, and priests has passed. Make no mistake about this; it is an event that has drawn a line in the sand which will have consequences in the immediate future of the Catholic Church. Those who remain silent about this matter will be complicit in its consequences. The conflict with the four cardinals is not just a remote issue related to them: It affects each and every Catholic who is suffering the detrimental effects already. Fr. Mark Pilon in last week’s Wanderer analyzed the ill consequences of this controversy. [my emphasis]

With some further fervent and sincere words, Joseph Matt calls all Catholics to make a strong and faithful resistance to infidelity, and to bear faithful witness to the truth:

Intimidation and threats did not stop the martyrs, disciples, and Catholic faithful throughout the ages from proclaiming the teachings of Christ. Let’s not let it stop us. Stand up for these cardinals, stand up for the faith. Let your voices be heard.

May this courageous recent statement by Joseph Matt be an encouraging sign to us all, namely: that the end of this ruinous time of confusion and attenuation of Catholic truth may soon find a proper end. May the calm and charitable witness of Cardinal Caffarra himself be an inspiration for us. May the faithful Catholic resistance grow so strong that Pope Francis may realize that he has to stop his own current and cumulative sowing of confusion.

UPDATE: Reader Andrew Guernsey has shared with us his own English translation of the full interview. You may view it here (PDF link).

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