Pope Francis famously failed to respond to the Dubia submitted by four cardinals, claiming (amongst other things) that the manner of their submission was irregular and offensive: ‘I only heard about them through the media’.
Subsequent to their delivery to the papal residence and the CDF by Cardinal Caffara, however, Francis has issued letters to a number of prelates (the latest being the Patriarch of Lisbon, Cardinal Manuel Clemente) commending a liberal interpretation of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. Cardinal Clemente had written to his clergy commending the admission of the divorced and ‘remarried’ to Holy Communion. It was, Francis wrote, a ‘profound’ insight that ‘filled me with joy.’
These informal commendations clearly fall far short of the magisterial clarification the four cardinals were seeking. But coming from the author of the disputed document, they have, nevertheless, a considerable authority. So what is going on?
There is, I think, method in the madness. The most plausible explanation of what is certainly a new departure in the teaching office of the Papacy is that Francis is seeking to rely, in the introduction of doctrinal novelties, not on his office but on his personal charisma.
Like a Hollywood star who opines on global warming, he seeks to bolster his case by personal popularity. Such an approach renders reason – or even consistency – superfluous.