Cardinal Burke: “The Pope has done a lot of harm”

From BuzzFeed NEWS: 

Cardinal Raymond Burke leaves meeting during Extraordinary Synod on the Family in Vatican City.Franco Origlia / Getty Images

A top cardinal told BuzzFeed News on Friday that the worldwide meeting of church leaders coming to a close in Rome seemed to have been designed to “weaken the church’s teaching and practice” with the apparent blessing of Pope Francis.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American who heads the Vatican’s highest court of canon law, made the remarks in a phone interview from the Vatican, where a two-week Extraordinary Synod on the Family will conclude this weekend. An interim report of the discussions released on Monday, called the Relatio, produced a widespread backlash among conservative bishops who said it suggested a radical change to the church’s teaching on questions like divorce and homosexuality, and Burke has been among the most publicly critical of the bishops picked by Pope Francis to lead the discussion.

If Pope Francis had selected certain cardinals to steer the meeting to advance his personal views on matters like divorce and the treatment of LGBT people, Burke said, he would not be observing his mandate as the leader of the Catholic Church.

“According to my understanding of the church’s teaching and discipline, no, it wouldn’t be correct,” Burke said, saying the pope had “done a lot of harm” by not stating “openly what his position is.” Burke said the Pope had given the impression that he endorses some of the most controversial parts of the Relatio, especially on questions of divorce, because of a German cardinal who gave an important speech suggesting a path to allowing people who had divorced and remarried to receive communion, Cardinal Walter Kasper, to open the synod’s discussion.

“The pope, more than anyone else as the pastor of the universal church, is bound to serve the truth,” Burke said. “The pope is not free to change the church’s teachings with regard to the immorality of homosexual acts or the insolubility of marriage or any other doctrine of the faith.”

Burke has publicly clashed with the pope since Francis took office in 2013, and he has come to represent the sidelining of culture warriors elevated by Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict and as the top doctrinal official under Pope John Paul II. Burke, who caused controversy while bishop of St. Louis by saying Catholics who voted for politicians supportive of abortion rights should not receive communion, went on Catholic television in 2013 to rebut remarks Pope Francis made to an interviewer that the church had become “obsessed” with abortion and sexuality to the exclusion of other issues, saying, “We can never talk enough about that as long as in our society innocent and defenseless human life is being attacked in the most savage way,” Burke said. While Francis famously responded to a question about homosexuality in 2013 by asking, “Who am I to judge?” Burke described homosexual “acts” as “always and everywhere wrong [and] evil” during an interview last week.

In the interview with BuzzFeed News, Burke confirmed publicly for the first time the rumors that he had been told Francis intended to demote him from the church’s chief guardian of canon law to a minor post as patron to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

“I very much have enjoyed and have been happy to give this service, so it is a disappointment to leave it,” Burke said, explaining that he hadn’t yet received a formal notice of transfer. “On the other hand, in the church as priests, we always have to be ready to accept whatever assignment we’re given. And so I trust, by accepting this assignment, I trust that God will bless me, and that’s what’s in the end most important.”

When the pope first took office, his pivot away from an emphasis on questions of sexuality were more a matter of personal tone rather than changes in church policy or personnel. There were rumors that he was trying to oust the man chosen by Pope Benedict to head the church’s office responsible for doctrine, Gerhard Müller, but last winter he instead elevated him from archbishop to cardinal. When word that Burke was on his way out began circulating last month, it signaled that Francis would take major steps to reshape the church. It coincided with the selection of a new archbishop of Chicago, Blase Cupich, whom Catholic progressives celebrated for positions like breaking with the American church hierarchy when it withheld its support for President Obama’s health reform law over questions of abortion and contraception.

Internal discontent among conservatives inside church leadership began to simmer over in the weeks leading up to the synod. Just before it began, Burke, Müller, and other senior cardinals published a book in several languages attacking the ideas laid out by Cardinal Walter Kasper on allowing those who had divorced and remarried to receive communion in a speech heartily praised by Pope Francis. It broke into open revolt at the midpoint of the synod, following publication of a document presented as a summary of discussions but that conservatives said misrepresented the debate by including passages on “welcoming homosexual persons” and discussing some of Kasper’s proposal on divorce. The backlash appeared to have been especially strong from the English-speaking world, which includes a large number of African and American bishops; in an apparent attempt to mollify anglophone conservatives, the Vatican released a new translation of the report that changed the phrase “welcoming homosexual persons” to “providing for homosexual persons” and made other small changes, while leaving the versions in all other languages unchanged.

The report is now being revised with feedback from small-group discussions held this week, and a final version is scheduled to be voted on on Saturday. Burke said he hoped that the committee writing the new report will produce a “worthy document,” but said his “trust is a little bit shaken” by the language in the interim draft he said lacks “a good foundation either in the sacred scriptures or in the church’s perennial teachings.”

But there seems to be little middle ground between Pope Francis’ worldview and Burke’s. Francis was president of the Argentinian bishops conference when that country passed a marriage equality bill in 2010 and reportedly tried to convince his colleagues to support a civil union proposal instead. He lost the internal battle and gave voice to the hard-line consensus that the law was “sent by the devil.” The fight over the bill left the church appearing out of step with the beliefs of many in Argentina, a country where 76% identify as Catholic but only 38.2% went to church in 2005, per the most recent data available from the Association of Religious Data Archives. While Francis has shown no sign he supports overhauling the church’s teachings that homosexuality is sinful, he seems to have taken from this experience a desire to downplay conflicts over sexuality in order to broaden the church’s message.

But, Burke said, the church must always call a “person who’s involved in sinful acts … to conversion in a loving way, but obviously, like a father or mother in a family, in a firm way for the person’s own good.” There cannot be “a difference between doctrine and practice” on questions like homosexuality or anything else, Burke said.

“The church doesn’t exclude anyone who’s of goodwill even if the person is suffering from same-sex attraction or even acting on that attraction,” said Burke. “If people don’t accept the church’s teaching on these matters then they’re not thinking with the church and they need to examine themselves on that and correct their thinking or leave the church if they absolutely can’t accept. They’re certainly not free to change the teaching of the church to suit their own ideas.”

Click and scroll down for a transcript of the interview section in which Cardinal Burke talks about his demotion.



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25 Responses to Cardinal Burke: “The Pope has done a lot of harm”

  1. Brother Burrito says:

    Now I know my views are often childish and easily mocked, but read me out please.

    This synod makes me think of an exorcism. At the heart of any exorcism is the vital “breaking of the pretence”. Thereby, the evil is unmasked, and can no longer prowl freely. Thus it is trapped and can be properly removed by prayers, fasting and ritual, which are God’s way to administer the “antinecrotic”.

    Pope Francis has made no secret of his belief in the influence of demons, both in persons and in corporations. I honestly believe that he is playing a “long game” against the afflictor of the Church, in the best, subtle, witty, mental reserving ways, typical of a good Jesuit.

    I might be wrong. In which case, we are solely in God’s hands, and our Lady’s. Alleluia!


  2. johnhenrycn says:

    I, too, believe Pope Francis has a fundamental (‘long game’) plan – which he has thought and prayed long and hard about – for bringing errant Catholics back to the fullness of the Faith. As the article says, the difference between his and Pope Benedict’s approach is [or may be] more a matter of “tone” than signalling a change in doctrine – something like the difference between a sympathetic / permissive parent on the one hand, and a rigorous / harsh parent on the other. ‘Rigorous’ good, ‘harsh’ bad. ‘Sympathetic’ good, ‘permissive’, bad. Where Pope Francis lies on this continuum, we don’t yet know, but we shall see in due course. In the meantime, I applaud Raymond Cardinal Burke for his steadfastness, whatever the cost:

    “What then will the Catholic Christian do, if a small part of the Church has cut itself off from the communion of the universal Faith? The answer is sure. He will prefer the healthiness of the whole body to the morbid and corrupt limb. But what if some novel contagion try to infect the whole Church, and not merely a tiny part of it? Then he will take care to cleave to antiquity, which cannot now be led astray by any deceit of novelty. What if in antiquity itself two or three men, or it may be a city, or even a whole province be detected in error? Then he will take the greatest care to prefer the decrees of the ancient General Councils, if there are such, to the irresponsible ignorance of a few men. But what if some error arises regarding which nothing of this sort is to be found? Then he must do his best to compare the opinions of the Fathers and inquire their meaning, provided always that, though they belonged to diverse times and places, they yet continued in the faith and communion of the one Catholic Church; and let them be teachers approved and outstanding. And whatever he shall find to have been held, approved and taught, not by one or two only but by all equally and with one consent, openly, frequently, and persistently, let him take this as to be held by him without the slightest hesitation.”

    The “Vincentian Canon”, AD 434


  3. johnhenrycn says:

    I must also say, in reference to Cardinal Burke: if he is removed from his present post at this time, the optics will be cringeworthy, to borrow a word recently used in reference to me by Adrain Meades (at the pub); it will be seen as payback for failing to toe the line.


  4. mmvc says:

    Oh, how I hope and pray that you are right, BB!
    It’s the Holy Father’s praise of Cardinal Kasper that makes me wonder. Such as publicly applauding his ‘thesis’ as “theology made on one’s knees” etc.


  5. Brother Burrito says:

    Theology made on ones knees might be that made while looking for one’s contact lenses, ie blurry!

    (Sorry I missed the Kasper thesis you allude to).


  6. mmvc says:

    ‘Theology made on ones knees might be that made while looking for one’s contact lenses, ie blurry!’ Thanks for the chuckle, BB. A welcome bit of light relief in these gloomy days 🙂

    Re Kasper’s ‘thesis’, here’s some background reading:


  7. toadspittle says:

    Toad needs some information.
    Isn’t it true that The Holy Ghost is actually responsible for which cardinal is elected pope?
    …If that is correct – what then?
    I also seem to recall that Francis, as he is now – was a a bit of a long shot ante-post with the bookies – but I can’t find the relevant numbers now.


  8. mmvc says:

    Toad, this is what Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger) said when asked that very question on Bavarian television in 1997:

    “I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope. … I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined.
    There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!”


  9. Geoff Kiernan says:

    I cant help but think that we get the Pope we deserve


  10. toadspittle says:

    Thank you, Mmve. I imagined the Holy Ghost picking the pope was probably wrong, because it was one of the things I was taught as a child. Like Limbo.

    “Probably the only assurance (The Holy Ghost) offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined.”
    Well, there we are then. Panic over!

    Good point, Geoff. Like American presidents.
    …And Tony Blair. We deserved him.


  11. Jack says:

    Tell Cardinal Burke, former Arch Bishop of St. Louis, remember the good parishioners of St. Stanislous and two words “Extortion” and “Excommunication”. It looks like Wheels do go around like a old saying goes “What goes around comes around”. Being saying that…does nothing for the Poor Parishioners and a slightly tarnished priest who stii are exciled from our community. It’s time for the Current Arch Bishop of St. Louis Carlson to return this church and parishioners. The mid west vatican is over.


  12. Geoff Kiernan says:

    Jack: What are you trying to say? I cant understand much of what you said.
    For EG what is the mid west Vatican? Are you being deliberately obscure or I should just mind my own business?


  13. mmvc says:

    Geoff, I have already responded to Jack on a previous thread explaining that whilst I can’t claim to know anything about the episode he repeatedly refers to, I have found a more comprehensive account in which the author speaks highly of Cardinal Burke’s handling of a difficult situation.


  14. Geoff Kiernan says:

    MMV: Thanks for the information…..Still strange, perhaps it’s just non of my business…. But why has Jack chosen to try and make it somebody’s business.
    Jack may like to offer an explanation or maybe not. Either way I wont be holding my breath.


  15. I don’t think I would applaud someone for steadfastness to the law but definitely applaud someone who showed mercy like our Lord did. We seem to forget that He came to set the captives free – to release the people oppressed by the law of the Pharisees. In following the law, we seem to be following the Pharisees more than following our Lord of mercy and compassion.


  16. kathleen says:

    Rambling Rose, the crux of the matter is that “steadfastness to the law” (and by this we mean the Divine Law), and imparting it to others so that they may come to the fullness of Truth, is the best way of showing “mercy” to others, and care for the salvation of their immortal souls. Whenever preaching about love and mercy, priests should always remember to point out Our Blessed Lord’s words: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

    Naturally all admonishments should be made in a compassionate way, but denying to call sin by its true name, refusing to talk about the terrible consequences if the person continues in a sinful lifestyle, or failing to mention the Four Last Things (not excepting Hell) is neither charitable nor merciful.

    [T]he church must always call a “person who’s involved in sinful acts … to conversion in a loving way, but obviously, like a father or mother in a family, in a firm way for the person’s own good.” There cannot be “a difference between doctrine and practice” on questions like homosexuality or anything else” Cardinal Burke said.

    Doesn’t sound in the least Pharisaical to me!


  17. Geoff Kiernan says:

    Kathleen: Your above assessment is quite right.
    Some place all emphasis of God’s love and mercy ( qualities infinitely present in the God Head) and completely disregard his also infinite sense of Justice. He possesses all virtues equally
    They seem also to ignore his directive “If you love me keep my commandments.” By focusing exclusively on his infinite love and mercy they simply confirms people in their sin. This is a false sense of charity and in fact most uncharitable.
    The Pharisees took a beating in their time and rightly so. It is a common ploy to charge faithful Catholics with being Pharisees.


  18. kathleen says:

    Thanks Geoff!
    Yes, everyone who holds to Catholic orthodoxy these days is getting called all manner of nasty names, Pharisees being just one of them. We are accused of being hard, intransigent, bigoted, unmerciful… you name it!
    It is rather bemusing that even names that are not normally considered negative, like traditionalists (and I most certainly do not deny that I consider myself to be one), by shortening it to trads, or worse, rad trads, the word adopts some unpleasant connotations.

    Hurtful and demeaning as all this is, I just try to remind myself how St. Peter and the Apostles, “left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus” (Acts 5:41). 🙂


  19. Patrick says:

    Geoff and Kathleen, maybe you feel threatened because you DON’T hold to Catholic orthodoxy. The Pharisees thought they were following God’s *L*aw but were following man’s *l*aw instead. It is amusing to me that the words “orthodoxy” applies to those who think they are doing the will of God and criticizing thise who don’t follow their particular “practices”. Maybe you aren’t doing God’s Will. Did you ever think of that? That is my thinking as I was reading your replies.

    Just because I, personally, am not right wing does not make me heterodox. Just because I may have a more progressive minded thought doesn’t make me any less Catholic than you. On different blogs those who call themselves “orthodox” are really saying “self-righteous”. What really is God’s law in Scripture? Love God and Love neighbor. What is Love? Read St. Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians chapter 13. Yes, Jesus didn’t let those who deliberately sin get away with things. But He also didn’t write off people who tried to change their lives.

    Is it proper to use “rad trad” and the like? No, it isn’t, in my opinion. Is it reaction to like accusations? In my opinion, yes. I’m NOT saying that “anything goes” and that God is a warm fuzzy. But, I am also saying that God is not a tyrant either. It’s not either-or. It’s both-and.

    I’m not a radical “traditionalist”, like those stereotyed like readers of Rorate Caeli. I’m not a radical “progressive”, like readers of National Catholic Reporter. I’m a Traditionalist, one trying to follow the Teachings of the Church in all its forms. Calling people they aren’t Catholic because they think in black and white, following exact letters of the law is purely wrong. Calling people they aren’t Catholic because they lack “compassion” or not allowing the Holy Spirit to “guide” is also wrong. I’m not wishy-washy or lukewarm; I’m trying to be balanced.


  20. johnhenrycn says:

    Patrick, if I was co-owner of this blog, I’d welcome newcomers. And if I was co-owner of this blog, I’d also ask that people, newcomers or not, take time to correct their draft comments before posting them. Your whole comment is a mishmash, especially the last paragraph. But I’m not a co-owner of this blog, so you’re safe. Carry on.


  21. kathleen says:

    My goodness Patrick, if you are trying to be “balanced” it’s as clear as day that you have you made a pretty rotten job of it! Your whole comment is awash with inconsistencies… as our commenter JH has already noticed.

    I’m not going to waste time right now – it’s way past my bedtime (yawn) – to point out all these inconsistencies to you, including your “pot calling the kettle black” judgementalism. Our CP&S readers are quite capable of seeing all this for themselves… but here’s a little bit of friendly advice:
    Calm down with a cup of camomile tea (wonderful for settling the nerves); read Michael Kenny’s great article (re-blogged here by our Brother Burrito) as I’m sure it might open your eyes a bit; and see you tomorrow. Goodnight. 🙂


  22. johnhenrycn says:

    “Calm down with a cup of camomile tea…”

    There you go again, Kathleen, channelling the spirit of Beatrix Potter:

    Recognised the reference because we have that Wedgwood plate 😉


  23. kathleen says:

    Ah, that is such a cute picture JH. 🙂 I still treasure the whole set of Beatrix Potter books that my children so enjoyed when they were little.

    I am still a bit puzzled about Patricks’s rant aimed at Geoff and me yesterday. I can’t for the life of me find any of those personal “criticisms” he accuses us of having made. All we were saying was how those who adhere to Tradition are often maligned and insulted.

    Anyway, I hope he enjoyed his camomile tea, and God bless him all the same.


  24. Geoff Kiernan says:

    Dear Patrick: With respect your comments are just plain dumb…..


  25. Patrick says:

    Geoff…I came back one time to see how people responded. I’m laughing. You all proved my point. Self-absorbed and egotistical. I’ll keep all of you in prayer. Good bye.


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