Dubians Strike Again

Oct 2, 2023 | 4 comments

Cardinal Raymond Burke

Five cardinals with doubts about the synodal direction of Pope Francis have reinforced their misgivings with five further ‘dubia’, the Latin for ‘doubts’.  These are expressed as questions to which they have requested answers that are either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. 

Cardinal Raymond Burke (USA), Cardinal Walter Brandmüller (Germany), Cardinal Robert Sarah (Guinea), Cardinal Sandoval Íñiguez (Mexico), and Cardinal Joseph Zen (formerly Hong Kong) are seen as a prominent bloc of critics of Pope Francis, focused primarily on controversial issues of sexuality and the authority of the October 2023 Synod on Synodality.

These latest doubts echo concerns already expressed in 2015 following ‘Amoris Laetitia’, the encyclical of that year, dealing with issues of marriage and family. Those expressed particular concern about a perceived softening of the rules regarding the admission to the Eucharist of divorced Catholics with children from a subsequent marriage.

Dubia – formal doubts expressed by prelates regarding papal teaching – are usually expressed privately.  In this case the five cardinals have made their dubia public because of the perceived likelihood of ‘confusion’ arising out of the statements that worry them.

Their five latest questions are:

  • “Is it possible for the Church today to teach doctrines contrary to those she has previously taught in matters of faith and morals, whether by the Pope ex cathedra, or in the definitions of an Ecumenical Council, or in the ordinary universal magisterium of the bishops dispersed throughout the world?”
  • “Is it possible that in some circumstances a pastor could bless unions between homosexual persons, thus suggesting that homosexual behavior as such would not be contrary to God’s law and the person’s journey toward God? Linked to this dubium is the need to raise another: Does the teaching upheld by the universal ordinary magisterium, that every sexual act outside of marriage, and in particular homosexual acts, constitutes an objectively grave sin against God’s law, regardless of the circumstances in which it takes place and the intention with which it is carried out, continue to be valid?”
  • “Will the Synod of Bishops to be held in Rome, and which includes only a chosen representation of pastors and faithful, exercise, in the doctrinal or pastoral matters on which it will be called to express itself, the supreme authority of the church, which belongs exclusively to the Roman Pontiff and, una cum capite suo, to the College of Bishops?”
  • “Could the Church in the future have the faculty to confer priestly ordination on women, thus contradicting that the exclusive reservation of this sacrament to baptized males belongs to the very substance of the Sacrament of Orders, which the Church cannot change?
  • “Can a penitent who, while admitting a sin, refuses to make, in any way, the intention not to commit it again, validly receive sacramental absolution?

Judging by his reaction to the 2015 Dubia, Pope Francis is unlikely to respond directly with the ‘yes or ‘no’ answers requested by the five cardinals.

For a more detailed report on this action in Crux, click here.


  1. Neil

    No one has yet defined synodality.
    yet in its undefined state it is claimed by its promoters that listening is at its core.
    However is it not the case that the people least likely to listen to anybody who disagree with them are the promoters of synodality.

  2. Sean O’Conaill

    Can you understand why I am having a strong sense of déjà vu here, Neil – of having been here before – taking seriously your bewilderment over ‘synodality’, pointing to the perceived necessity of that practice in the church since the first century Council of Jerusalem, and asking if it is not obvious that Christians need to be synodal today, if only to share, as did St Paul, the inestimable privilege of the friendship of Jesus Christ Our Lord – and then to discuss together how we might extend that privilege to the very many young people who don’t yet know it?

    Only to find that you must return some time later to insist yet again that you remain as baffled as ever about synodality – and, now, that its proponents don’t listen?

    Did you yourself, in 2022, try to participate in the synodal discussions arranged in your own diocese? If not, why not? If you did, were you truly treated on that occasion with an obdurate experience of ‘unlistening’?

    Do you share none of the concerns expressed in the Irish diocesan synodal syntheses, e.g. re the pain of older generations re the large scale absence from worship of younger generations and their need to discover what to do about this?

    As I say, your continuing state of bafflement and opposition simply gives me déjà vu – a sense that there is really no point in responding, because this is your chosen rhetorical redoubt, the place in which you are determined to stand – forever if necessary – whatever anyone offers by way of reply.

    Where would we all be if St Peter had adopted the same negative stance on the admission to the church of the uncircumcised, the Gentiles – and refused to have anything to do with synodality to discuss the matter?

    • Neil Bray

      I took a full part in the listening exercise on my own diocese – Attended every meeting – got involved in a confrontation with the head bottlewasher.

      I repeat, promoters of synodality are by and large the worst listeners. The listening exercise carried out by the Irish Synodal Pathway was farcical.

      You cannot claim to know what synodality is because the current synod is trying to find out what it is about.

  3. Sean O'Conaill

    We have asked Neil Bray to support his statement that the ongoing synod ‘is trying to find out what synodality is about’ by quoting the relevant passages from any of the preparatory documents for the synod. To us Pope Francis has made perfectly clear that synodality simply means journeying together, in prayer to the Holy Spirit, as the church has always done. Nowhere has the pope expressed the view that the meaning of synodality is uncertain or the focus of the ongoing assembly in Rome in October 2023.

    He was again crystal clear in his opening address for the synod in Rome on October 9th:

    “In the one People of God, therefore, let us journey together, in order to experience a Church that receives and lives this gift of unity, and is open to the voice of the Spirit.”

    As the difference between journeying together and journeying apart is as obvious to us as the difference between oil and water we do not understand why Neil believes there could be any mystery or danger in synodality as such. Just why is it that when Pope Francis invokes the guidance of the Holy Spirit for this synod there should be negativity and opposition to it – and even (as we see it) the obvious misinformation that Neil voices?

    In the cause of listening, synodally, we have also asked Neil to expand on his negative experience of the Irish synodal process and to tell us what it was he tried to say there that, according to himself, hasn’t been heard.


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