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Catholic Leaders Demand Clarity From the Pope On Marriage Statements

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Four high-ranking leaders in the Roman Catholic Church have expressed their doubts about Pope Francis's teaching on marriage.

Cardinals Walter Brandmüller, Carlo Caffarra, Joachim Meisner, and the controversial Cardinal Raymond Burke have all signed a letter to the Pope entitled "Dubia," which is Latin for "doubts." The cardinals are concerned that a lack of clarity in the Pontiff's Amoris Laetitia is causing confusion within the church on marriage and family life, and have presented Pope Francis with five clarifying questions on the document.

Amoris Laetita is "Apostolic Exhortation," an official Vatican teaching on marriage and family life that came out of a Synod of Bishops which met in October 2014 and 2015. The document was released on April 8 of last year and has softened guidelines on remarriage and divorce.

Traditionally, the Catholic church has only allowed individuals to remarry if their previous marriage is "annulled" or proven to never have existed in the first place. For example, if a husband lies or withholds information about himself, his wife did not fully consent to their marriage because she did not know, or was misled about who she was marrying.

Getting an annulment is a long and arduous process that could take several years, but Catholics cannot remarry in the Church without one. And if they remarry outside the church, the second marriage is not recognized and usually means the Catholic is barred from sacraments because they are not in "good standing" with the Church. This has been the practice of the Catholic Church for two-thousand years. 

But now, Pope Francis' document seems to say that individuals remarried outside of the Church are in good standing and that remarriage within the church may become possible in the future. This is a huge shift, one that many are worried will only lead to confusion when it comes to more difficult situations like same-sex marriage. 

The four cardinals sent their first Dubia last year, which presented Pope Francis with five clarifying questions. Now, since they have not received any response, they are following up. 

"A year has now gone by since the publication of Amoris Laetitia." reads the first line of the letter, "During this time, interpretations of some objectively ambiguous passages of the post-synodal Exhortation have publicly been given that are not divergent from, but contrary to, the permanent [traditional Church teaching]." 

The end of the letter asks for an official audience with Pope Francis to clarify in person: 

Faced with this grave situation, in which many Christian communities are being divided, we feel the weight of our responsibility, and our conscience impels us to ask humbly and respectfully for an Audience.

The cardinals' request has already caused controversy within the Church. Many church leaders have come out against the original request for clarification, including the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Cardinal Donald Wuerl. 

However, the four cardinals say they are appealing to an "age-old" process of asking the Pope to help clarify a teaching so they and other leaders can better enforce it. This past March, Cardinal Burke addressed the issue in a speech in Virginia: "We simply have to correct the situation, again, in a respectful way, that simply can say, to draw the response to the questions from the constant teaching of the Church." 

The Vatican has yet to officially answer the Cardinals.

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