Burke: Correct the Pope in order to Obey Christ

There are those who accuse as disobedient those who have expressed doubts, questions, and criticisms of the action of the Pope, but “the correction of confusion or error is not an act of disobedience, but rather an act of obedience to Christ and thus to His Vicar on earth.” So says Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke in this interview with La Nuova BQ, just before an important symposium which will be held in Rome on Saturday, April 7, on the theme “Where Is The Church Going,” at which Burke will be one of the speakers. The symposium will take place in memory of Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, who passed away last September, one of the signers of the Dubia. These were five questions directed to Pope Francis seeking a clear declaration of continuity with the preceding Magisterium, following the confusion created by the differing and at times directly opposed interpretations of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. There was never any response given to these Dubia, which were also signed by Cardinal Burke, nor did Pope Francis ever respond to the repeated request for an audience made to him by the cardinals who signed it.

Your Eminence, you will be one of the principal speakers at the symposium on April 7, which in the name of Cardinal Caffarra will ask about the direction of the Church. The title of the symposium indicates a concern with the direction taken by the Church. What are the reasons for this concern?

The confusion and division in the Church, on the most fundamental and important questions — marriage and the family, the Sacraments and the proper dispositions to receive them, intrinsically evil actions, eternal life and the Last Things — is becoming ever more widespread. And the Pope not only refuses to clarify things by proclaiming the constant doctrine and sound discipline of the Church — a responsibility which is inherent to his ministry as Successor of Saint Peter, but he is also increasing the confusion.

Are you referring to the multiplication of private declarations by the Pope which have been reported by those whom he has spoken to?

What happened with the last interview given to Eugenio Scalfari during Holy Week and published on Holy Thursday went beyond what is tolerable. That a well-known atheist could pretend to announce a revolution in the teaching of the Catholic Church, claiming to speak in the name of the Pope, denying the immortality of the human soul and the existence of Hell, was a source of profound scandal, not only for Catholics but also for many others who respect the Catholic Church and her teachings, even if they do not agree with them. Furthermore, Holy Thursday is one of the most sacred days of the year, the day on which Our Lord instituted the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist and also the Priesthood, so that He could always offer us the fruit of His redemptive Passion and Death for our eternal salvation. The response of the Holy See to the scandalized reactions which came in from all over the world was also greatly inadequate. Instead of clearly restating the truth about the immortality of the human soul and Hell, the Holy See’s statement said only that some of the quoted words were not those of the Pope. It did not say that the erroneous, even heretical, ideas expressed by these words are not shared by the Pope and that the Pope repudiates these ideas, which are contrary to the Catholic faith. This game-playing with the faith and doctrine, at the highest level of the Church, leaves pastors and the faithful feeling scandalized, and rightly so.

If these statements are very seriously wrong, and a source of embarrassment for the Church, it is astonishing how many Pastors are remaining silent about it.

Certainly the situation is only made worse by the silence of many bishops and cardinals who share with the Roman Pontiff a solicitude for the universal Church. Some simply say nothing. Others pretend that there is nothing serious going on. Still others spread fantasies of a “new Church”, a Church which takes a totally different direction from the past, fantasizing, for example, about a “new paradigm” for the Church or about a radical conversion of the pastoral praxis of the Church, making it completely new. Then there are those who are enthusiastic promoters of the so-called revolution of the Catholic Church. For the faithful who understand the gravity of the situation, the lack of doctrinal and disciplinary direction on the part of their pastors leaves them feeling lost. For the faithful who do not understand the gravity of the situation, this lack of direction leaves them in confusion and eventually victims of errors which endanger their souls. Many people who were baptized in a Protestant ecclesial communion, but then entered into the full communion of the Catholic Church because their original ecclesial communities abandoned the Apostolic Faith, are suffering intensely at this situation — they perceive that the Catholic Church is going down the same road of abandoning the faith.

What you are describing is an apocalyptic situation…

This whole situation seems to me to reflect ever more accurately the message of Our Lady of Fatima who warned about the evil —even more serious than the grave evils suffered as a result of the spread of atheistic communism — which is apostasy from the faith within the Church. Paragraph 675 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “[b]efore Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers,” and that “[t]he persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth.”

In such a situation, the bishops and cardinals have a duty to proclaim the true doctrine of the Church. At the same time, they ought to lead the faithful to make reparations for the offenses given to Christ and for the wounds inflicted on His Mystical Body, the Church, when her faith and discipline are not rightly safeguarded and promoted by her pastors. The great canonist of the 13th century, Enrico da Susa (or of Ostia), addressing the difficult question of how to correct a Roman Pontiff who would act in a manner contrary to his office, affirms that the College of Cardinals constitutes a de facto control against papal error.

Without a doubt, today the figure of Pope Francis is greatly discussed. It ranges from the uncritical exaltation of every little thing he does to ruthless criticism for each one of his ambiguous gestures. But in some manner the problem of how the Church must relate to the Pope holds true for every pontificate. Certain things need to be clarified. What does the the Pope represent for the Church?

According to the constant teaching of the Church, the Pope, by the express will of Christ himself, is “the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council, paragraph 23). It is the essential service of the Pope to safeguard and promote the deposit of the faith, true doctrine, and sound discipline coherent with the truths that are believed. In the already mentioned interview with Eugenio Scalfari, the Pope is praised as a “revolutionary”. But the Petrine Office has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with revolution. On the contrary, it exists exclusively for the conservation and propagation of the immutable Catholic faith which leads souls to conversion of heart and which leads all humanity to unity based on the order inscribed by God in His creation and above all in the heart of man, the only creature on earth made in the Image of God. It is the order which Christ restored through the Paschal Mystery which we are celebrating in these days of Easter. The grace of Redemption which emanates from His Glorious Pierced Heart into the Church, into the hearts of his members, giving them the strength to live according to this order, that is, in communion with God and with one’s neighbor.

Surely the Pope is not an absolute sovereign, yet today he is widely seen to be so. “If the Pope said it… “ is the common way of cutting off every question or doubt on any affirmation the Pope has made. It is a sort of papolatry. How would you respond to this?

The notion of the fullness of power of the Roman Pontiff was clearly laid out by Pope St. Leo the Great [in the fifth century]. The medieval canonists greatly contributed to a deepening understanding of the power inherent in the Petrine Office. Their contribution remains perennially valid and important. The notion is simple enough. The Pope, by divine will, enjoys all the power necessary to be able to safeguard and promote the true faith, true divine worship, and necessary sound discipline. This power does not pertain to his person but to his office as Successor or Saint Peter. In the past, for the most part, the popes have not made public their personal acts and opinions, so as to not risk that the faithful could be confused by what they personally do and think as Successor of Saint Peter. Presently, there is a dangerous and even harmful confusion between the person of the Pope and his office, which results in the obscuring of the Petrine Office and in a worldly and political concept of the service of the Roman Pontiff in the Church. The Church exists for the salvation of souls. Any action of the Pope which undermines the salvific mission of the Christ in the Church, whether it is a heretical action or an action that is in itself sinful, is simply empty from the point of view of the Petrine Office. Thus also if any action of the Pope causes grave harm to souls, it does not call for the obedience of pastors and the faithful. We ought to always distinguish the body of the man who is the Roman Pontiff from the body of the Roman Pontiff, that is, of the man who exercises the office of Saint Peter in the Church. To not make this distinction signifies papolatry, and it leads to a loss of faith in the Petrine Office, which is divinely instituted and sustained.

What things should Catholics hold as most important in their relation to the Pope?

A Catholic must always respect, in an absolute way, the Petrine Office, which is an essential part of the institution of the Church founded by Christ. As soon as a Catholic no longer respects the office of the Pope, he or she is disposed towards schism or to apostasy from the faith. At the same time, a Catholic must respect the man charged with the office of Pope, which means paying attention to his teaching and pastoral direction. This respect also includes the duty to express to the Pope the judgment of a conscience rightly formed, when he deviates or seems to deviate from true doctrine and sound discipline or when he abandons the responsibilities inherent in his office. By natural law, by the Gospels, and by the constant disciplinary tradition of the Church, the faithful are required to express to their pastors their concern for the state of the Church. They have this duty, to which there is a corresponding right to receive a response from their pastors.

Thus, is it possible to criticize the Pope? And under what conditions?

If the Pope does not fulfill his office for the good of all souls, it is not only possible but also necessary to criticize the Pope. This criticism ought to follow the teaching of Christ on fraternal correction in the Gospel (Matthew 18:15-18). First, the faithful or the pastor ought to express his criticism in a private way, which will permit the Pope to correct himself. But if the Pope refuses to correct his gravely deficient manner of teaching or acting, the criticism must be made public, because it has to do with the common good in the Church and in the world. Some have criticized those who have publicly expressed criticism of the Pope as if it was a manifestation of rebellion or of disobedience, but to ask — with the respect due to his office — for the correction of confusion or error is not an act of disobedience, but an act of obedience to Christ and thus to His Vicar on earth.


Originally published at La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana. Translated by Giuseppe Pellegrino  and reprinted with permission.

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