Before we get to the fun and exciting details of the International Answer The Dubia Day!, we need first to understand some background.
There was presented to Pope Francis more than five months ago a sort of Theology 101, True-False quiz by some of his more academically minded colleagues from the College of Cardinals.
Before we get to the quiz’s questions, the reason for its origin is that the Holy Father published a paper (not peer-reviewed) called Amoris Laetitia which appeared to argue (via a footnote) that marriage was not for life and indissoluble as our Lord Jesus said it was.
I say “appeared” because that is how a good chunk of priests, bishops, and cardinals are interpreting the document. It is their opinion that our Lord Jesus was issuing a sort of guideline or ideal that can be aimed for but which is not expected to be reached often in practice. That “one-flesh” business was fine for its time, but, well, times change, and so must the Church.
Others say that this modern interpretation is (to use a theological term) bonkers. These fellows say that once we assume our Lord Jesus wasn’t serious about marriage, we’d have to assume he wasn’t serious about anything. And this is the first step on the verified slippery slope to Unitarian Universalism and practical atheism.
This is no small dispute between the two groups. Either we take God (as Jesus) at His word, or we don’t. Tempers are flaring, friendships are dissolving, and camps are forming. The terms heresy and schism are being tossed about.
Hence the True-False quiz, or dubia. The dubia were formed to see into which camp one falls.
Here they are. The following five questions are those submitted by Four Cardinals to Pope Francis last September. You will want to print these out: also, there is a long explanation of the nature of each dubium here.
- 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, and Sacramentum 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?
- After the publication of the post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia (304), does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 79, based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, on the existence of absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions?
- After Amoris Laetitia (301) is it still possible to affirm that a person who habitually lives in contradiction to a commandment of God’s law, as for instance the one that prohibits adultery (Matthew 19:3-9), finds him or herself in an objective situation of grave habitual sin (Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, “Declaration,” June 24, 2000)?
- After the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (302) on “circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility,” does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 81, based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, according to which “circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act ‘subjectively’ good or defensible as a choice”?
- After Amoris Laetitia (303) does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 56, based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, that excludes a creative interpretation of the role of conscience and that emphasizes that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object?
Taking the mood of the Church and thus inferring the intent behind these dubia, we might say the following are short versions of the questions, along with the old-fashioned, medieval, stodgy answers:
- Can folks living in adultery receive the sacraments of holy Communion and reconciliation? NO
- Are there any absolute moral norms? YES
- Are there such things as grave habitual sins? YES
- Is that which is always evil always evil? YES
- Are sins still sins even though the sinner says “I don’t feel bad about them so they’re not really sins”? YES
The modernistic, spiritual-discernment-journey accompanying, mercy-without-repentance answers are, of course, the opposite.
What To Do?
As said, the Holy Father was given this quiz some time ago, but he hasn’t yet discovered time to answer. Well, he’s a busy fellow. Yet given the clamor, concern, and consternation over the matter, it is a good idea to ask the dubia of all church leaders.
After all, it’s a short quiz, with easy questions and easy answers. Any seminary graduate should ace it. Should take no more than two, three minutes tops to complete.
There can be no objection to answering the dubia by any priest or bishop. Think: these are the very kind of things they went to seminary to learn, and these sorts of questions are met regularly in confessionals and counselings.
Why not let’s have an International Answer The Dubia Day! where lay people, from abject sinners like Yours Truly, to those saintly ladies who show up for the daily rosary, put the questions to our leaders, the clergy?
Let’s get it all out in the open! We long for clarity, and it’s only right that our duly appointed Biblical bosses, folks who accepted the duties and responsibilities of leadership, do the manly thing and say what’s what. Right?
Now I’m an idea man, and have no organizational skills whatsoever. I couldn’t organize a fist fight at a Hell’s Angels reunion. I couldn’t give away free How To Be A Good Freemason pamphlets at a Jesuit convention. So if this International Answer The Dubia Day! is to be any kind of success, we’re going to need your talents, Dear Reader, to help with spreading the word and in bringing the quiz to your local leaders.
Lent is about to begin. How about let’s start the Sunday (March 5th) after Ash Wednesday? If you like, report back in the comments here the answers you receive.
EDITOR’S NOTE: We liked William’s idea so much, we decided to design a flyer to go with it. Just click the image below for a downloadable PDF that you can print from home. Look up the information for your local bishop – telephone number, email address, mailing address – and write it in the white box. Then hang up your flyer on your parish bulletin board, at your local Catholic bookshop, at your Catholic university, or to make an even bigger statement, somewhere on the chancery or cathedral grounds. We’re not advocating following in the steps of Martin Luther, but taping this to the front door of your local Cathedral would probably get it noticed. (Probably not a good idea to use nails. Vandalism charges aren’t fun.) Email it around. Put it on your social media. Encourage your friends and family to take action. Feel free to print out the text of the five questions above or otherwise include them in electronic communications for easy reference.
We deserve answers from our shepherds. Let’s ask them.
William M. Briggs is author of Uncertainty. Previously a Professor at the Cornell Medical School, a Statistician at DoubleClick in its infancy, a Meteorologist with the National Weather Service, and a sort of Cryptologist with the US Air Force. He obtained his PhD is in Mathematical Statistics, and now works as a Data Philosopher, Epistemologist, Unmasker of Over-Certainty, and (self-awarded) Bioethicist. He also holds an MS is in Atmospheric Physics, and a Bachelors in Meteorology. Briggs has authored or co-authored 75+ papers and two books in the fields of statistics, medicine, philosophy, meteorology and climatology, solar physics, and energy use. He blogs at wmbriggs.com.