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Four cardinals to Pope Francis: “Faced with this grave situation…”

“…[we] ask humbly and respectfully for an Audience.” But they likely aren’t going to receive an audience or an answer.

Carlo Cardinal Caffarra (CNS)

An April 25th message, written by Cardinal Carlo Caffarra on behalf of Cardinals Walter Brandmüller, Raymond L. Burke, and Joachim Meisner, was delivered to Pope Francis on May 6th; it reiterated the four men’s desire to have five dubia answered regarding Amoris Laetitia and the implementation of that controversial (and sometimes convoluted) Apostolic Exhortation. The message, the full text of which has been posted on the National Catholic Register site by Edward Pentin, respectfully requests an audience with the Holy Father:

On September 19, 2016 we delivered to Your Holiness and to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith five dubia, asking You to resolve uncertainties and to bring clarity on some points of the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. Not having received any response from Your Holiness, we have reached the decision to ask You, respectfully and humbly, for an Audience, together if Your Holiness would like.

The pressing reason for this request, the message states, are the disparate guidelines and implementations of Amoris Laetitia:

A year has now gone by since the publication of Amoris Laetitia. During this time, interpretations of some objectively ambiguous passages of the post-synodal Exhortation have publicly been given that are not divergent from, but contrary to, the permanent Magisterium of the Church. Despite the fact that the Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith has repeatedly declared that the doctrine of the Church has not changed, numerous statements have appeared from individual Bishops, Cardinals, and even Episcopal Conferences, approving what the Magisterium of the Church has never approved. Not only access to the Holy Eucharist for those who objectively and publicly live in a situation of grave sin, and intend to remain in it, but also a conception of moral conscience contrary to the Tradition of the Church. And so it is happening — how painful it is to see this! — that what is sin in Poland is good in Germany, that what is prohibited in the archdiocese of Philadelphia is permitted in Malta. And so on. One is reminded of the bitter observation of B. Pascal: “Justice on this side of the Pyrenees, injustice on the other; justice on the left bank of the river, injustice on the right bank.”

Read the entire text. And see Pentin’s piece on the matter.

I’ll be shocked—and I don’t use that term lightly—if Francis agrees to meet with the four cardinals, or if he formally responds to the dubia. I believe Francis is content to create the mess that is currently spreading throughout the Church, and even, at times, to encourage it even more by way of dubious assertions.

Back in January, Cardinal Caffarra gave a lengthy interview about the situation, stating:

 “We interpreted the silence [of Pope Francis] as authorization to continue the theological dispute. And, furthermore, the problem so profoundly involves both the magisterium of the bishops (which, let us not forget, they exercise not by the delegation of the Pope, but by virtue of the sacrament which they have received) and [it involves] the life of the faithful.  Both the one and the other have the right to know. Many [lay] faithful and priests were saying, ‘But you cardinals in a situation like this one have the obligation to intervene with the Holy Father. Otherwise why do you exist if not to assist the Pope in questions so grave as this?’ A scandal on the part of many of the faithful was beginning to grow, as though we cardinals were behaving like the dogs who did not bark about whom the prophet speaks. This is what is behind those two pages.”

Yet the criticisms rained down, even from fellow bishops and monsignors of the curia: “Some individuals continue to say that we are not being docile to the magisterium of the Pope. This is false and calumnious. We wrote to the Pope precisely because we did not want to be indocile. I can be docile to the magisterium of the Pope if I know what the Pope is teaching in a matter of faith and of the Christian life. But this is exactly the problem: what the Pope is teaching on the fundamental points simply cannot be well understood, as the conflict of interpretations among bishops shows. We want to be docile to the magisterium of the Pope, but the magisterium of the Pope must be clear. None of us – says the archbishop emeritus of Bologna – wanted ‘to oblige’ the Holy Father to respond: in the letter, we spoke of [his] sovereign judgment. We simply and respectfully asked questions. In short, the accusations of [us] wanting to divide the Church do not deserve attention. The division, already existing in the Church, is the cause of the letter, not its effect. The things unworthy within the Church, however, above all in a context such as this, are the insults and threats of canonical sanctions.”

Read that entire interview here on CWR.

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About Carl E. Olson 1190 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. “. I believe Francis is content to create the mess that is currently spreading throughout the Church, and even, at times, to encourage it even more by way of dubious assertions.”

    Indeed. No just content but starting it, fuelling it and fanning it.

  2. Pope Francis wants us to forget the truth taught before he won his 2nd campaign for the papacy, and to adopt his own personal religion.

    He should join the Anglican communion. We are not turning ourselves into Bergoglianists.

  3. Edward Pentin in a similar article was ridiculed for repetitious criticism of Papal intransigence. The family the undergirding of the Church is under assault due to his reinterpretation of Christ’s Gospels. Our beloved courageous Cardinals are being pilloried by fellow clergy. Carl Olson’s outline is succinct clear and absolutely correct. The polarization initiated by the Pontiff is already Schism. Edward Pentin, other distinguished and many ordinary laity are the most consistent in joining the Cardinals. Hildegard of Bingen foretold centuries past that Evil would emerge from the very bowels of the Church. The challenge we, a number of priests, prelates and the Four Cardinals must face. What Saint Hildegard did not foresee was the courageous faithful witness of the Laity. Laity questioning, imploring, refusing Satan’s proxies who attempt to remake Christ’s Gospels. Laity providing leadership wanting in its clergy. Laity on every level waging spiritual combat for Christ’s Church and the salvation of souls.

  4. I have to respectfully disagree with Mr. Ahlquist on several points and cannot cover them all here. First, it must be remembered how corrupt the Catholic Church was at the times of the various reformations: adultery in the clergy and concubinage. Selling of indulgences when Scripture says, “It is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgment.” The way out of hell is not for sale. The people couldn’t read the Scriptures in their own language or worship in their known language. They were kept in ignorance. When Jesus spoke of going to the priest in Matthew 8:4, they were still in Judaism. Nowhere in the New Testament are the apostles or pastors called priests. The Orthodox Church claims to be older than the Catholic Church. Yes, there are divisions among Protestants, but there are also divisions in the Catholic Church. Who can even imagine Peter or any of the other apostles dressing like Roman royalty and in pomp? They were simple, godly men. He says, “{Purity and righteousness was replaced by Puritanism and self-righteousness. With all the scandals down through the centuries on the part of the Catholic Church (and there also scandals in the Protestant branch of the Church), that statement is so curious. The high rate of sexual molestations and drunkenness reported among the clergy and even hierarchy make that almost a comical statement. This is not meant to be a defense of Protestantism, but rather a reminder of what caused reformations to begin with. He speaks of separation of the Bible from the Church, but the Church separated itself from the Bible (the very Word of God).

    • The rate of child abuse in the Protestant churches is just as high as it ever was in the Catholic church.

      The simple fact that the Protestant churches have literally thousands of denominations, none of whom can agree with each other, should tell you something. There is NO similar split in the Catholic church. Not even remotely.

      There is no direction in the bible to do many of the things that Protestants do. So why are you all doing them?

      Need we remind you of the standard practice in many Protestant churches of the pastor philandering with many women? My goodness. You live in a glass house. The Protestants went on a witch burning spree. The Bible says call no man father, yet you call your dad father. Why?

      The people were “not allowed” to read the scriptures in their own languages because there were basically no printed books for most of the time period before the Reformation. So books were rare, hand made, and extremely expensive, and no one knew how to read. When Gutenberg invented the movable type press, and books became readily available, the church began various projects to translate the bible into the native language of many countries. However, the Protestant types insisted on rushing into print really bad translations that corrupted the meaning of the scriptures, and the church objected to this. Protestants are unusually ignorant. They seem to always be telling their people things that are not true to justify their breaking up of the church. Amazing.

      • “the standard practice in many Protestant churches of the pastor philandering with many women? My goodness. You live in a glass house. The Protestants went on a witch burning spree. The Bible says call no man father, yet you call your dad father. Why?”

        Seriously. This is why Protestants find many Catholics impossible to take.

    • Though I do not agree with all these points, I will say we never hear instruction on these topics from our leaders, and yet they assume ascent and obedience despite the teaching vacuum. Francis is a classic example, cultivating progressive ideas he which he yet wants to demand compliance! The strategy will not work.

    • I have no time, nor the space, to answer all your charges. But it is clear you speak following long debunked falsehoods and accusations. Let me pick out 2, just to give an example, and to question your whole argument.

      You wrote: “The people couldn’t read the Scriptures in their own language or worship in their known language. They were kept in ignorance.” Let me focus on just the English speaking region, any of the other languages will see similar facts.
      The history of English Bible translation (preceded earlier by editions in the earlier common language of Anglo-Saxon) is very long, starting with Caedmon in the 7th century, Aldhelm (c. 700), the Venerable Bede (d. 735), followed by Eadhelm, Guthlac, and Egbert (all in Saxon, the vernacular language of that time in England). King Alfred the Great (849-99) translated the Bible, as did Aelfric (d. c. 1020). Middle English translations included those of Orm (late 12th century) and Richard Rolle (d. 1349). All those were accepted translations. This proves that the Bible was absolutely made available for people to read, even in their own languages! Your claim is therefore utterly refuted.

      Second, you wrote: “Nowhere in the New Testament are the apostles or pastors called priests.”

      Again, what are the facts?
      In both Old and New Testaments, there are three ranks of priests, which are commonly referred to as the high priests, the ministerial priests, and the universal priests.

      At the time of the Exodus the high priest was Aaron (Ex. 31:30), the ministerial priests were his four sons (Ex. 28:21) ; the sons were Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar, the first two of which were killed for abusing their priestly duties), and the universal priests were the people of Israel as a whole (Exodus 19:6).

      In the New Testament age the high priest is Jesus Christ (Heb. 3:1), the ministerial priests are Christ’s ordained ministers of the gospel (Rom. 15:16), and the universal priests are the entire Christian people (1 Peter. 2:5, 9).

      So the Bible clearly states that all Christians are priests (1 Peter 2:5, 9), as the Catholic Church clearly teaches for all who bother to read its teachings, see Catechism of the Catholic Church 1141-4, 1268, 1305, 1535, 1547, 1591-2 on the common priesthood. But the Bible also said the same thing about the Israelites (Ex. 19:6), yet this did not prevent there from being a separate, ministerial priesthood even before the Law of Moses was given (Ex. 19:22, 24).

      This priesthood is identical with the office of elder. The English word “priest” is derived from the Greek word presbuteros, which is commonly rendered into Bible English as “elder” or “presbyter.” The ministry of Catholic priests is that of the presbyters mentioned in the New Testament (Acts 15:6, 23).

      They were ordained by the laying on of hands (1 Tm 4:14, 5:22), they preached and taught the flock (1 Tm 5:17), and they administered sacraments (Jas 5:13-15). These are the essential functions of the priestly office, so wherever the various forms of presbuteros appear–except, of course, in instances which pertain to the Jewish elders (Mt 21:23, Acts 4:23)–the word may rightly be translated as “priest” instead of “elder” or “presbyter.”

      And I could go on…
      I am afraid your criticisms and ‘reminders of what caused the reformation’ are misguided at best.

    • As we approach this 500th Anniversary of Luther’s infamous “Reformation” one needs to read about recent “protestant” research into the history of his college life and what actually drove him to the Augustinian Monastery. The story of the “lightening strike” as shown in movies is ….. all fake news.

  5. The self described humblest man on the planet has an answer for those four cardinals. It is “go jump in a lake” A sort of variation on the basic “because I said so, that’s why” answer.

    • He left that to His Church to sort out. We are not Sola Scriptura.

      The perenial teaching of His Church is that re-marraige after divorce is a grave sin – adultery. That is straight out of His mouth.

      From the beginning, the Church has held that His Body must be received in a state of grace.

      If you cannot agree with this teaching of the Church on adultery and communion, why then would you believe that it is indeed the Body of Christ? You are making your doctrine up as you go along which is basically Protestant.

      So isn’t the natural trajectory to join a Protestant Church and join their “communion”

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