What are dubia? Meaning explained as Pope Francis issues a response 

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Pope Francis responded to the five dubia that were sent to him in July. (Image via Getty)

In July 2023, the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, received “dubia” from five Cardinals, to which he responded subsequently. On Monday, October 2, 2023, Pope Francis's response to the "dubia" was published on the website of The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

For those uninitiated, “dubia” refers to doubts or questions. The dubia received by Pope Francis was sent by Cardinals Walter Brandmuller, Raymond Leo Burke, Juan Sandoval Iniquez, Robert Sarah, and Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun, according to Vatican News.

While the dubia were in Italian, the Pope’s responses were in Spanish. The dubia were related to the interpretation of the Divine Revelation, the blessing of same-s*x unions, synodality as a constitutive dimension of the Church, the priestly ordination of women, and repentance as a necessary condition for sacramental absolution, reported the aforementioned news outlet.

The National Catholic Register put in English the Pope’s responses to the dubia. Pope Francis said that the Catholic Church should revisit the possibility of blessing same-s*x couples while also stating that the Vatican still believes that the union should happen between a man and a woman, which results in procreation. He also left the matter to each priest's own discretion and said it should be dealt with on a "case-by-case basis."

As for the interpretation of the Divine Revelation, the Pope said that historical and cultural conditioning to develop the doctrines should not be considered. Rather, the interpretation should be done in light of the “perennial truth of the inalienable dignity of the human person.”

On the matter of the synod’s authority, the Pope refrained from directly addressing the dubium but reaffirmed his opinion that the Catholic Church is inherently synodal and hinted that all Catholics should choose to be involved in church practices. The Pope further mentioned that while the topic of women’s priesthood in Catholicism must be subjected to further study, as of now, Catholics must accept the established custom.

Finally, the Pope responded positively to the concept of repentance for sacramental absolution but said that the matter was not at all technical and that all those ordained should spend their period of penitence “in pastoral care for the unconditional love of God.”

Dubia is a Latin word and the plural of dubium

As per the Catholic News Agency, or CNA, the term “dubia” is the plural of “dubium” and literally means “doubts” in Latin. However, broadly explained, the word means “questions that seek clarification.”

CNA cites that they are often a “request for clarity” from the office of the Roman Catholic Church on matters including Church teaching, liturgy, or interpreting canon law. Usually, dubia generate from everyday issues of Church governance as well as liturgical and sacramental practice and are typical aspects of the interaction between the Vatican and the Catholic dioceses worldwide.

As per CNA, dubia is often sent to either of the three Vatican offices, namely the Dicastery (Congregation) for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, or the Dicastery for Legislative Texts. The aim is primarily to interpret or redefine the meaning and application of a canon in the Code of Canon Law.

A few major examples from recent times include: “Can the title of minor basilica be granted to a cathedral?” or “Are Mormon baptisms valid?” While the former was submitted to the Congregation of Divine Worship, the latter was sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

There is, as such, no rule as to who can send dubia, as long as the individual is a Catholic. However, they are mainly submitted by cardinals, bishops, and Catholic communities.

What’s interesting is that the Vatican is not obligated to respond to any dubium. However, in most cases, a reply is issued, but in “a manner or through a representative of [their] choosing.” The tradition is that a “Responsum ad dubium” or “a response to the doubt,” is formally released, and the answer to it can either be a “yes” or a “no” with added anecdotes.

While in most cases, responses are revealed publicly, giving them a formal and heavy weight, some may be private, meaning they aren’t universally applicable and carry less relevance. In fact, the Dicastery for Divine Worship has its own bimonthly publication called Notitiae where the responses are often printed.


A famous dubium from the 21st century was: “Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same s*x?” that first came out in 2021. Back then, Pope Francis chose to answer it in the negative, which was released publicly by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and was hugely criticized by Catholic progressives.

It is important to note that a series of five questions were issued in 2016, like this year. However, so far, the Pope has refrained from responding to them.

Edited by Babylona Bora
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