Like many, I have been following the reaction to the public questioning of Pope Francis by four highly respected cardinals who are seeking clarity about the pope’s teachings in his apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (the Joy of Love).

Cardinals Walter Brandmüller, Raymond L. Burke, Carlo Caffarra, and Joachim Meisner initially sent a letter to Pope Francis in September expressing five concerns they have about his exhortation.

The cardinals took the step of making their questions public, as they rightfully can do and feel bound to do, because Pope Francis has refused to answer their questions.

Since the release of their questions on November 14, the cardinals have received support from some and have been castigated by others.

The attempt to silence the cardinals, or to brand them as troublemakers, has led one of the pope’s supporters in the Church hierarchy to claim that Francis could strip them of their status as cardinals.

Pope Francis created this problem with the release of Amoris Laetitia, a confused and confusing document written in foggy language that seems to reject the Church’s traditional teaching on the nature of sin and the reception of Holy Communion by the divorced and civilly remarried and others.

The pope has compounded the matter with public statements about the exhortation and by refusing to answer the unequivocal questions of the cardinals.

In off-the-cuff remarks since the exhortation’s release this past March, Francis has suggested that the document does indeed change the Church’s teachings on Holy Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried. A number of his main supporters have also made remarks to this effect. At the same time, they have attempted to create the perception that nothing has changed and that the document is fully in line with Church teaching.

Without clarity about what this muddy document actually teaches, Amoris Laetitia could be used to support just about any position a bishop or priest holds on these matters in the name of acting pastorally. Clarity on Church teaching is all the cardinals have asked for through an offical process of the Church. Francis so far has refused to follow the process and to address these questions and supporters of the pope have gone on the attack.

The cardinals have taken a necessary and courageous step in an effort to protect the holiness of the Church, its faithfulness to the teachings of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and its faithfulness to the Church’s traditional teachings on faith and morals that have Our Lord’s teachings through Scripture and tradition as a foundation.

We seem to be at a historical moment in the Church similar to that of the Arian controversy, and we should be grateful to the four cardinals for taking the part of Athanasius and the Cappadocian Fathers.

The pope owes them, and all Catholics, clear and unambiguous answers to their questions.