In July 2023, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) received ten dubia (formal questions) from Cardinal Dominik Duka, Archbishop Emeritus of Prague, on behalf of the Czech Bishops’ Conference, regarding the proper interpretation of Amoris laetitia on the question of eucharistic communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

On September 25, Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, the new prefect of the DDF, published in Italian his reply (hereafter Risposta) to the ten dubia. His Risposta confirms that Amoris laetitia, interpreted according to the will of Pope Francis, teaches that divorced persons who have entered into a second civil union, who do not refrain from sexual intercourse with their new partners, sometimes may be allowed access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. This was confirmed, Fernández says, when Francis replied favorably to a letter in September 2016 by the bishops of the Buenos Aires region to their priests setting forth that precise interpretation.

Francis responded enthusiastically to the Argentine bishops’ letter with his own letter of approval, privately addressed but made public at the time, stating, “The text is very good and thoroughly explains the sense of chapter VIII of ‘Amoris laetitia.’ There are no other interpretations. And I am sure it will do much good.” Recognizing that the authoritative status for the whole Church of this private letter might be questioned, Francis reprinted both letters in October 2016 in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (AAS), the official organ of the Holy See, accompanied by a “rescriptum” that apparently elevated them to the status of magisterial documents. This brief history is rehearsed in Fernández’s Risposta.

On October 13, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, former prefect of the DDF (called CDF at the time — Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) published an open letter to his friend Cardinal Duka criticizing Fernández’s Risposta to the ten dubia. Müller’s reply is sobering and cogent, although not easy reading, and perhaps for that reason it has not garnered much attention. Yet a former prefect’s careful explanation of why he thinks the present prefect is requiring “of the faithful a submission of mind and will to truths contrary to Catholic doctrine” surely deserves our attention.

This matter should be carefully considered and discussed by thoughtful Catholics, not least by those who have questions about the authoritative status of the teaching found in Amoris laetitia. Since a proper discussion is impossible unless we first understand what is at stake, we offer the following summary of Müller’s concerns along with a few of our own observations.

Cardinal Duka’s ten dubia ask in particular whether the above interpretation of Amoris laetitia is a teaching of the ordinary magisterium of the pope. Duka’s question is not simply theoretical but eminently practical. For if the teaching permitting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics into eucharistic communion is magisterial, then it would seem to require of the faithful, as Lumen gentium 25 teaches, a “religious submission of mind and will.”

In his Risposta, Fernández, after stating that Amoris laetitia is itself a magisterial document “toward which all are called to offer the submission of mind and will,” asserts that Francis’s letter to the Argentine bishops is indeed also a teaching of the authentic papal magisterium, because the pope indicated as much when he included it in the Acta Apostolica Sedis.

Cardinal Müller has deep misgivings about this reply. He says if the interpretation set forward by the Argentine bishops is magisterial, it puts the faithful in an untenable position for at least three reasons….

Read Muller’s three reasons in full Catholic World Report article.