The title of this article in Catholic World Report says it all: “Only a blind man can deny that there is great confusion in the church.”

An excerpt.

“The division among shepherds is the cause of the letter that we wrote to Francis. [The division is] not its effect. Insults and threats of canonical sanctions are unworthy things.” “A Church with little attention to doctrine is not more pastoral, just more ignorant.”

Bologna – “I believe that some things must be clarified. The letter – and the attached dubia – were reflected on at length, for months, and were discussed at length among ourselves. For my part, they were prayed about at length before the Blessed Sacrament.” Cardinal Carlo Caffarra starts by saying this, before beginning a long conversation with Il Foglio on the now famous letter “of the four cardinals” sent to the Pope to ask him for clarification in relation to Amoris Laetitia, the exhortation which summed up the double Synod on the family, and which has unleashed much debate – not always with grace and elegance – [both] inside and outside the Vatican walls. “We were aware that the action we were taking was very serious. Our concerns were twofold. The first was not to scandalize the little ones in the faith. For us pastors, this is a fundamental obligation. The second concern was that no person, whether a believer or not a believer, should be able to find in the letter expressions that even remotely could appear in the slightest lacking in respect towards the Pope. The final text, therefore, is the fruit of quite a lot of revisions: texts [were] revised, rejected, corrected.”

Having said all this, Caffarra enters into the matter. “What drove us to this action? A consideration of a general-structural nature and one of a contingent-circumstantial nature. Let us begin with the first. There exists for us cardinals a grave obligation to advise the Pope in the government of the Church. It is a duty, and duties oblige. Concerning [the consideration] of a more contingent nature, moreover, it is a fact – which only a blind man can deny – that there exists in the Church, a great confusion, uncertainty, and insecurity caused by some paragraphs of Amoris laetitia. In recent months, it is happening that on these fundamental questions regarding the sacramental economy (matrimony, confession and Eucharist) and the Christian life, some bishops have said A, others have said the contrary of A, with the intention of interpreting well the same texts.”

And “this is an undeniable fact, because facts are stubborn things, as David Hume said. The way out of this ‘conflict of interpretations’ was recourse to fundamental theological interpretative criteria, using those by which, I think, one can reasonably demonstrate that Amoris laetitia does not contradict Familiaris consortio. Personally, in public meetings with laity and priests, I have always followed this method.” This is not enough, observes the archbishop emeritus of Bologna. “We realized that this epistemological model was not sufficient. The conflict between these two interpretations continued. There was only one way to bring it to an end: to ask the author of the text which is interpreted in two contradictory ways, which [of them] is the correct interpretation. There is no other way. Subsequently, the problem arose of the way by which to appeal to the Pontiff. We chose a way that is very traditional in the Church, the so-called dubia.”

Why? “Because it was an instrument, in the case wherein, according to his sovereign judgment, the Holy Father wanted to respond, which did not require him [to do so] in elaborate or long responses. He only had to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and to defer, as popes have often done, to trusted scholars (in [official] parlance: probati auctores) or to ask the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to issue a joint declaration with which to explain the Yes or No. It seemed to us the simplest way. The other question which arose was whether to do it in private or in public. We reasoned and agreed that it would be a lack of respect to make everything public right away. So it was done in private, and only once we had obtained certainty that the Holy Father would not respond did we decide to publicize it.”

It is on this one of the points that there is the most discussion, with related controversies of all sorts. Most recently, it was Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller, prefect of the former Holy Office, to judge the publication of the letter mistaken. Caffarra explains: “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.”