In an Italian-language interview, the patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta said, ‘I am not against the Pope; I have never spoken out against the Pope. … My purpose is to serve the truth.
Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, 66, is troubled by the negative campaign that has been waged against him. Ordained a bishop by Pope John Paul II in 1995, the respected expert in canon law was called to Rome by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 as prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura before being appointed cardinal in 2010.
In recent months, critics have described him as an “ultraconservative fanatic,” “anti-Conciliar,” “in conspiracy against the Pope” and even ready for a schism should the upcoming family synod open up unwelcome changes.
The criticism has been so defamatory that in Italy several bishops have even refused to host his lectures in their dioceses. Where he has been allowed to give a conference — as recently in some cities in the north of Italy — there are invariably priests who oppose him and accuse him of spreading propaganda against the Pope.
“It’s total nonsense, I don’t understand this attitude. I have never said a single word against the Pope; I strive only to serve the truth, a task that we all have. I have always seen my talks and my activities as a support to the Petrine ministry. The people who know me well can witness to the fact I am not anti-papal. On the contrary, I have always been extremely loyal and wanted to serve the Holy Father, as I am doing now.”
Indeed, meeting him in his apartment, a stone’s throw from St. Peter’s Square, with his friendly manner and spontaneity, Cardinal Burke bears no resemblance to that hard defender of “cold doctrine” as he is described by mainstream media outlets.
Cardinal Burke, in the debate that preceded and followed the first synod on the family, some of your statements did sound like criticisms of the Pope, or at least that is how they were interpreted. For example, quite a stir was caused by your recent remark, “I will resist; I’ll resist,” as a response to a possible decision of the Pope to grant Communion to the divorced and remarried.
That comment was misrepresented, and there was no reference to Pope Francis. I believe that because I have always spoken very clearly on the issue of marriage and the family, there are people who want to undermine what I say by depicting me as an enemy of the Pope or even ready for a schism by using that answer I gave in an interview with a French television channel.
How should we interpret that answer?
Quite simply. The journalist asked me what I would do if, hypothetically, not referring to Pope Francis, a pontiff were to make decisions contrary to the Church’s doctrine and practice. I replied I should resist, because we are all in the service of the truth, starting with the Pope. The Church is not a political body, in the sense of power. The power is Jesus Christ and his Gospel. Therefore, I replied I would resist, and it would not be the first time that this has happened in the Church. There have been several moments in history where someone had to stand up to the pope, beginning with St. Paul against St. Peter, in the matter of Judaizers who wanted to impose circumcision on the converted Greeks. In my case, I am not resisting Pope Francis at all because he hasn’t done anything against the doctrine. Nor do I see myself in a fight against the Pope, as they try to depict me. I’m not pursuing the interests of a group or party. I am simply trying, as a cardinal, to be a teacher of the faith.
Another criticism made against you is your alleged passion for “lace,” a comment used in a demeaning way to criticize your preferred clerical and liturgical vestments as something that the Pope cannot endure.
The Pope has never made me aware that he disapproves of the way I dress, which, anyway, has always been within norms of the Church. I celebrate the liturgy also in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite, and there are vestments for this which do not exist for the celebration of the ordinary form, but I always wear what is required for the rite that I am celebrating. I am not making a political statement against the Pope’s way of dressing. It has to be said that every pope has his own style, but he does not impose this on all the other bishops. So I don’t understand why this should be a cause for controversy.
But newspapers often use a photo of you wearing a hat clearly out of date.
Yes, I know, but it’s just incredible. I can explain: That photo was spread around after Il Foglio published it alongside the interview I did at the time of the synod. The interview had been done well, but, unfortunately, they chose a photo that had nothing to do with it, which I regret, because, in this way, they gave the mistaken impression of a person who lives in the past. The truth is that, after being named cardinal, I was invited to a diocese in the south of Italy for a conference on the liturgy. For the occasion, the organizer decided to give me as a gift an old-fashioned cardinal’s hat. I have no idea where he got it from. I held it in my hand and obviously had no intention of wearing it regularly, but he asked me to put it on to take at least one photo. This was the only time I put that hat on my head, but, unfortunately, that picture has been published all over the world, and some use it to give the impression that I go around like that. But I’ve never worn it, not even for a ceremony.
You have also been named as the inspiration if not the promoter of the “Petition to Pope Francis for the Family,” which has been circulated to collect signatures by a number of traditionalist websites.
I did sign that petition, but it is not my initiative or my idea. Nor did I write or collaborate in drafting the text. Anyone who says otherwise is affirming something false. As far as I know, it is an initiative by laypeople. I was shown the text, and I signed it, as have many other cardinals.
Another of the charges against you is that you are against the Second Vatican Council.
These labels are easy to apply, but there is no basis in reality. All my theological education in the major seminary was based on the documents of Vatican II, and I am still trying to study these documents more deeply. I’m not at all opposed to the Council, and if one reads my writings, he will find that I quote the documents of Vatican II many times. What I don’t agree with is the so-called “spirit of the Council,” which is not faithful to the Council texts but purports to create something totally new, a new church that has nothing to do with all the so-called aberrations of the past. On this matter, I wholeheartedly follow Pope Benedict XVI’s enlightening presentation to the Roman Curia for Christmas 2005: It is the famous discourse in which he explains the correct hermeneutic, which is that of reform in continuity, as opposed to the hermeneutic of rupture in discontinuity that many sectors promote. Pope Benedict XVI’s presentation is brilliant and explains everything. Many things that happened after the Council and are attributed to the Council have nothing to do with the Council. This is the plain truth.
Did Pope Francis “punish” you by removing you from the Apostolic Signatura and entrusting you with the patronage of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta?
In an interview with the Argentine newspaper La Nacion, the Pope already answered this question by explaining the reasons for his decision. This already says everything, and it is not up to me to comment. I can only say, without revealing any confidential information, that the Pope has never told me or given me the impression that there was anything he wanted to punish me for.
Perhaps your “reputation” has to do with what Cardinal Walter Kasper called the “synod battle,” which also seems to grow in intensity as we get closer to the ordinary synod this coming October. At what stage are we now?
I would say that there is now a much more extensive discussion on the topics covered by the synod, and this is a good thing. There is a greater number of cardinals, bishops and laypeople who are intervening, and this is very positive. Therefore, I don’t understand all the fuss last year made over the book Remaining in the Truth of Christ, to which I contributed, along with four other cardinals and four specialists on marriage.