Considerations on the dubia of the four cardinals

Article: “Considerations on the dubia of the four cardinals”

by John R. T. Lamont, PhD
Posted by New Catholic at 12/05/2016

Cardinals Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra and Meiser have performed a signal service to the Church by sending five dubia on the apostolic exortation Amoris laetitia to the Holy See, requesting an authoritative clarification of the meaning of that document, and then making public the text of the dubia when no response to them was given. Cardinal Burke has performed a further service to the Church by explaining this initiative in an interview with Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register on Nov. 15th 2016, and stating that if no response was given to the dubia the cardinals would have to make a formal act of correction of a serious error.

As is proper, the dubia were formulated in a manner appropriate to an official request of this kind, and the formal act of correction to which Cardinal Burke refers is an act with a legal character. Catholics may find it helpful to be given a presentation of the canonical, historical and theological background to the dubia and the suggested act of correction, and to the situation that has led to the action of the Cardinals. This background is no doubt well known to the four Cardinals, but it is less accessible to those who lack their specialised knowledge. This article is intended to help with the comprehension and appreciation of their initiative.

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24 comments on “Considerations on the dubia of the four cardinals

  1. Lamont advances the thesis of an heretical Pope Honorius. I’ll repeat James Larson’s defense of Honorius from

    see my earlier comment at

  2. This is an excellent analysis by Dr. Lamont, although I must confess I got lost in some of the nuances regarding fraternal correction vs. punishment. A commentator on Louie Verrecchio’s blog made the following observations about Lamont’s article.
    1. The cardinals (all of them and presumably the bishops as well) will be guilty of a mortal sin of omission if they fail to correct Pope Francis on the heresies found in Amoris Laetitia.
    2. The mere fact of Pope Francis’ refusal to respond to the dubia does not constitute formal heresy. A judgment of formal heresy must be preceded by two warnings from the competent authorities. Only after that will he lose his office.
    The situation is breathtakingly dramatic.

  3. This is Lamont’s conclusion:
    “Various explanations have been proposed of how a Pope can be removed from office if he commits the canonical crime of heresy. The explanations seek to explain how the Pope can lose office without being judged by any of his inferiors in the Church on earth. The simplest and possibly the best explanation that has been offered is that the Pope by pertinaciously maintaining heresy effectively removes himself from office. However, all these explanations agree that a Pope who is juridically guilty of heresy can and must be removed from office. There is no dispute among Catholic theologians on this point – even among theologians like Bellarmine who do not think that a Pope is in fact capable of being a heretic.

    “It is to be hoped that the correction of Pope Francis does not have to proceed this far, and that he will either reject the heresies he has announced or resign his office. Removing him from office against his will would require the election of a new Pope, and would probably leave the Church with Francis as an anti-Pope contesting the authority of the new Pope. If Francis refuses to renounce either his heresy or his office, however, this situation will just have to be faced.”

    • Elect a new pope? Mutiny, I say. This kind of thinking by Lamont just serves to bolster the enemies of the Church. It is total hubris for anyone to imagine he can solve this problem. No man has the authority, save the pope himself. Even if every cardinal pronounced condemnation and proceeded to elect a new pope, they would thereby excommunicate themselves. Anyone who followed them would lose his soul.

      • How to you reconcile your opinion with Lamont’s affirmation that all Catholic theologians concur that a Pope who is juridically guilty of heresy can and must be removed from office? Is Lamont factually incorrect here? Even Canon Hesse, I believe, held that if a pope should commit formal heresy, he simply would not be a pope.

        • “All.” All agree that something must be done. None agree on exactly what. All agree It is de fide that no one may judge the pope.

          The question is how to reconcile these. There is no precedent. The closest I see is when we had two popes. Even saints were with both claimants. Thanks be to God neither claimant was an autocratic narcissist, but rather, both agreed to resign for the good of the Church.

          Francis and all the Vatican-II popes are the worst scourge, worst plague, that the Good God has ever sent to Earth. Will it get worse? How will it be resolved? I have no idea. But there is no doctrine or tradition that compels me to be subject to a new pope elected against a reigning pope. I pray this doesn’t happen; but it can’t happen now because most of the cardinals are heretics who will side with Francis.

          • “All agree It is de fide that no one may judge the pope.”
            Lamont seems to be saying, with the consensus of all theologians, that if the pope were de facto not a pope (by virtue of formal heresy), then he can be judged and must be judged. This would be the case, presumably, regardless of where the allegiance of a majority of the cardinals lays.

            • “All agree It is de fide that no one may judge the pope.”
              Yes, but what were the details concerning what Vatican I’s dogmatic definition on this point really said and intended?
              Dz 1830:
              “We teach and declare also that he [the Roman Pontiff] is the supreme judge of the faithful [notice: ‘faithful’, not ‘Faith’], and that in all cases pertaining to ecclesiastical examination [not absolutely in all cases] recourse can be had to his judgment.”
              Then Dz 1839, of course, defines papal infallibility, limiting it, as all should know by now, to matters of faith and morals, and only when intending to exercise his full authority to bind all the faithful under pain of heresy (i.e. dogmatically).
              Further, Dz 1836 had already said “The Roman Pontiffs…have defined that those matters must be held which, with God’s help, they have recognized as in agreement with Scripture and Apostolic Tradition. For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that, by His revelation, they might disclose new doctrine…”
              Now, if “don’t judge the pope” means also that we are even incompetent to judge whether what he says or does is in conformity with Scripture and Tradition (even as defined by *previous* popes), what would be the point of even stating that there must be conformity? Why not just say that the pope must be blindly obeyed?
              Further, popes themselves have stated that heresy is the one matter where a pope *can* be judged, or, as Innocent III said “rather, *shown* to be judged…since he ‘who does not believe is already judged’ (Jn. 3:18)”. Read True or False Pope, pp. 333ff. You will see that there is such unanimity of the possibility of a pope becoming a formal heretic and having to be deposed, that only one out of 136 theologians (a few of whom were popes) who have treated the matter denied this.
              This is at least sententia communis, probably sententia certa. Though not de fide, and probably not proxima fidei, it would definitely be rash to deny it.
              Now the interesting thing is that all these doctors assumed that a majority, at least, of cardinals and bishops would remain faithful themselves, and would thus be able to act as a body to call the pope out and threaten deposition if he did not retract. As Cyprian says, Lamont seems to be implying that a majority is not needed, and in fact, one can wonder why it would be. After all, the principle is that, if one clearly demonstrates to, and warns the pope, *or anyone*, of the absolutely indubitable contradiction between their opinion and a dogmatic definition of the Church, such that no honest person can deny it, and if they stubbornly hold to their opinion, that *is* to commit a mortal sin of heresy. If the warning is given at least twice (as St. Paul commands), all that is left is the (absolutely required!) *official* declaration of the fact; that, by this manifest and public sin of heresy, the person in question has majorly excommunicated himself.
              It’s a question: does ‘officialness’, in the case of a pope, require a majority of cardinals and/or bishops, or if even a minority, does perhaps even a small minority suffice?
              I am only speculating.

              In any case, based upon the morally (and indeed almost numerically) unanimous opinion of Church theologians, I suggest that this statement is rash: “Even if every cardinal pronounced condemnation and proceeded to elect a new pope, they would thereby excommunicate themselves. Anyone who followed them would lose his soul.”

              In the end, Pope Pius IX’s reponse to the question “But what do we do if the pope teaches heresy?” was perhaps the simplest and most practical. He just said “Why, just don’t follow him!”
              All we REALLY have to do is keep and practice the Faith.

        • If Lamont wishes to assert that the pope may be judged by his inferiors, he must reconcile this with the declarations of Vatican I in Pastor Aeternus which include this definition of the supremacy of the pope:

          “And since, by the divine right of Apostolic primacy, one Roman pontiff is placed over the universal Church, We further teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all causes the decision of which belongs to the Church recourse may be had to his tribunal, but that none may reopen the judgment of the Apostolic See, than whose authority there is no greater, nor can any lawfully review its judgment. Wherefore they err from the right path of truth who assert that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman pontiffs to an ecumenical council, as to an authority higher than that of the Roman pontiff.”

          If Lamont wants to make the case that the pope can become a heretic, he has to take this up with Vatican I as well which declared :

          “For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter, that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith delivered through the Apostles. And indeed all the venerable Fathers have embraced and the holy orthodox Doctors have venerated and followed their apostolic doctrine; knowing most fully that this See of Saint Peter remains ever free from all blemish of error, according to the divine promise of the Lord Our Saviour made to the Prince of His disciples: ‘I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not; and thou being once converted, confirm thy brethren.’

          Hence, all appeals to opinions of theologians prior to Vatican I which might not jibe with Vatican I, are moot.

          • Cyprian,
            “all appeals to opinions of theologians prior to Vatican I which might not jibe with Vatican I, are moot.”
            Agreed, but my point was that it must be possible that they do jibe, because ALL theologians from Vatican I to the present also maintain that a pope can become a formal (i.e. mortally sinning) heretic, and most also agree that, if so, he can and should be deposed. The only dissenter is Bouix, who died the same year Vatican I ended, and so can’t be included in post-Vatican I theologians.
            This being the case, and since this unanimous opinion of theologians has never been censured as contrary to the Vatican I definitions, it is simply impossible to insist on another interpretation of Vatican I. One can hold another if one likes; we aren’t talking about dogma, but it is definitely rash to do so.
            Apropos of this, it should be said that the part you quote in bold from Dz 1836 is an explicative text, but is not the dogmatic definition itself. That definition is found in Dz 1839, and is declared as such by Dz 1840, with an anathema sit. But Dz 1839 defines papal infallibility *as well as its limits*. By direct logical connection, if the pope is only infallible when defining matters of faith and morals with the intention of engaging his infallibility, and binding the whole Church to it, at all other times he is fallible; he can be a heretic, whether materially (ignorantly) or formally (consciously and stubbornly).
            All this is academic on our part, of course, since we don’t have the authority to make decrees on these matters.
            Still, I think it’s a good discussion. We ought to be preparing mentally for various possible scenarios coming down the pike, like for instance how we should act if the majority of cardinals/bishops do declare Francis deposed (hardly likely) or if only a few do so (quite likely).

            • One can hold another if one likes; we aren’t talking about dogma, but it is definitely rash to do so.
              Apropos of this, it should be said that the part you quote in bold from Dz 1836 is an explicative text, but is not the dogmatic definition itself.

              I don’t see what’s “rash” about holding the solemn teachings of Vatican I above the deliberations of theologians, including even doctors of the Church. The teaching is not proposed as some “food for thought,” but as the basis for the absolutely binding definitions. In other words, infallibility relies necessarily on the absolute jurisdiction and guarantee of fidelity that Our Lord conferred on St. Peter. Should a pope become a formal heretic, it would pull the rug out from under all that Vatican I taught, for we could never again attribute the freedom from blemish to the papacy, and infallibility thereby collapses.

              But, as you note, this is all academic. I’m glad that it’s all “above my pay grade,” so to speak.

              • Let me restate my point in another way:
                The fact that all theologians since Vatican I do not understand Vatican I’s definitions of papal infallibility as you do clearly indicates that, if they are right, you are wrong, and if you are right, they are wrong.
                This is above my pay grade too, but again, it is a useful discussion.
                I would strongly suggest that anyone interested in this subject carefully read True or False Pope.
                God bless.

  4. Great article by Lamont.
    There does seem to be a typo or error:
    “The questions in the dubia should be read as having the form of those Latin questions beginning with the word ‘num’, a word that indicates that the answer to the question should be ‘no’. ”
    It may be that the Latin text (if there is one) of the Dubia expects negative responses to the Dubia. However, in the *English* text that Lamont uses, some of them require a Yes answer.
    Cardinal Bourke’s explanation of the action of the Four Cardinals @ hints at the existence of an original Latin text, just as Lamont does, but I have not found one.
    Does anyone know if there is a Latin Dubia text, and where I can view it?

  5. Great article by Lamont.
    We’re stuck with apostate Bergoglio until he dies or abdicates, and while I wish we could send the Swiss guards in to remove him and elect someone else to the papacy it doesn’t work like it. Nor should it.
    The best thing IMO for the bishops to do is just ignore anything Bergoglio decrees for the rest of his reign that goes against the faith (which sadly is 99.9% of his words and deeds) like implementing Amoris laetitia.
    While some bishops would, sadly most wouldn’t.
    Even when Bergoglio dies , barring direct Divine intervention, I don’t see any traditional Catholic popes coming to the rescue in the next conclave, or the one after that.

  6. Formal heresy (e.g., were a pope to say, Contrary to the Council of Trent when it said X, I proclaim Y, etc.) WOULD be grounds for necessary juridical action.

    Short of that, pffffffffffft.

    Francis is maneuvering and up against the envelope but has not made anything binding, as in “ex cathedra.”

    Bl. Pius IX informed a bishop who’d asked what should be done were a pope to demonstrate heresy. Two word answer: “Ignore him.”

    Cd Burke et al are proceeding properly, cautiously and precisely. If they ever get an answer or are forced to go to Plan B then Francis might be on slippery ground once and for all. For the moment, he’s politicking.

    It’s what libs do.

    Centuries ago another pope mentioned that there had been heretics among his predecessors. Yet, none of them were ever removed from office.

    Standard Vatican policy has historically been the biological solution.

    • Good points.
      Again, while we’ll have decisions to make regarding our own loyalties to persons, ultimately we are responsible only for knowing and practicing the Faith as best we can learn to.

    • GPM, understand that I’m not answering my own question, nor am I siding with a response. I’m not a bright man, to be clear. But my question is, can Jorge Bergoglio, based solely on his words and actions, be deemed a practicing Catholic? And if the true answer to that question is no, can he be Pope? I’m wrestling hard with this.

      • God alone knows but the way the Church deals with such matters, as explained by a REAL theologian (which I sure ain’t), Canon Gregory Hesse, STD, STL who served as a theologian and canonist in the Vatican for 15 years is pretty much explained in what I related, above.

        Francis is a Catholic by baptism, by ordination, etc. If he holds heterodox views but does not, as pope, FORMALLY try to bind the faithful to those views, the Church is pretty vague about what to do. And, if I understood Canon Hesse properly, tends to let things sort themselves out in time.

        It seems clear that Burke et al are doing the maximum possible under Canon Law and we will just have to see where it leads.

        Francis has not declared himself, formally, to NOT be a Catholic, as Luther et al did. And he was elected and accepted the post. The universal Church recognizes him as pope. That is all that it takes, legally, for him to be pope, in fact.

        He even preached that the Church is absolutely essential for salvation in a fairly recent speech. I cannot give you the exact citation but an FSSP priest mentioned it in a sermon I listened to recently.

        I hope that helps, Quo.

        • My question, though, wasn’t if Jorge is a Catholic. My question was if he can be deemed a practicing Catholic. And if the true answe is no, can he Pope? I suppose that maybe we are so used to the idea of “cafeteria” Catholicism, that we’ve become accustomed to accepting it, or at least bear it, in our leaders. If only a St Paul would rise up among us.

  7. This is all not that difficult if one remembers the THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES fairy tale ! The Cardinals are announcing to the world , that the emperor pope , is walking around NAKED when it comes to the Theology he is trying to foster on the Catholic Church ! Two thousand years ago St Paul said in Corinthians, ” That is was an abomination to receive communion in the state of mortal sin. A ” few years ” before that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, that showed the world what laws we must keep and to disobey God’ s Laws was a serious sin.
    Sixty six years ago in my First Commmunion Class , the nun teaching it said the same thing . You cannot receive Holy Communion in the state of Mortal Sin ! For all these years nothing has changed . Now we have a bunch of light in the red loafer homosexuals and one Heritical Pope trying to change Gods laws and no one can challenge him . I say nonsense ! One has every right to challenge anyone who breaks God’s Laws from time immemorial and tries to foster it on an established Church founded under these laws ! This idiot in charge of the Church may be an elected Pope , whatever that means, but he certainly needs to be deposed and thrown out along with his Heretical Minions !

  8. Being an “elected pope” simply means that the man is pope. Period. The conclave in March, 2013 may have resembled a closed door Hitlery campaign meeting, but it was composed of the necessary members and they did vote Bergoglio in. He accepted the post. And that is all the Church requires for a man to be pope, legally.

    Again, he has not IMPOSED his teaching. But rather, as I tried to point out in other posts, has pulled Jesuitical political maneuvers to give the impression, without declaring anything FORMALLY – see my earlier remark, above – that it’s his way or the highway.

    The key distinction in Church law is between formal and material heresy.

    If it’s formal, then the Church must take action, as per the dubiae from Cd Burke and a few colleagues. And that has yet to play out to completion. The dubiae do fix the question and lawfully require Francis to respond, although he and his clan are stonewalling for the time being.

    The laity, since the Church is by divine mandate hierarchical, can protest and rightly so in just such a moral and theological controversy. But “we” cannot lawfully “try” even a hyper-progressive pope and “remove” him from office.

    Chain of command obtains in this matter as much as in military court martials and political disputations in any government. And the laity are not part of it.

    Again, Bl. Pius IX on an heretical pope: “Ignore him” (meaning, don’t follow whatever errors he spouts.)

    That is all we can do as laymen. And to take consolation in the reality that very few bad Catholics approaching the communion rail (if one can even find one) will ever exercise their “new right” under this kabuki dance politicking since they don’t even go to Mass, anyway.

    That’s not to minimize the real and present danger involved in AL. It is a monster but it is only one head of the hydra. There were many more that sprouted in the 60s and somehow the Church is still here, souls of good Catholics are being sanctified by real sacraments and Her Tradition and Perennial Magisterium are, ironically, being brought very much back into focus because of this crisis.

    I hope, in some small way, that helps, Skipper. Believe me, I sympathize with your righteous indignation. But how the Church handles such cases is a matter of historical fact. And She is exceedingly slow and cautious in taking corrective measures, even in times when popes were genuine Saints.

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