Cardinal Burke Corrects Errors of Papal Defenders; De Mattei Sets Historical Stage for Confrontation

It appears that the post-dubia battle is one of turn-based strategy. After the initial request for clarification from the pope, we’ve seen weeks of often vicious retaliation from papal surrogates, with reports surfacing that at least some of the responses are even being directed by Francis himself.

And now that, at last, the anti-dubia salvo has subsided, the Four Cardinals are speaking again. In a new interview with Raymond Arroyo (see the video or the full transcript ), a seemingly agitated Cardinal Burke pushed back against the criticisms the Four Cardinals have been receiving. Some highlights:

On conscience:

What the Church has always taught and practiced is that the conscience informs itself with regard to the teaching of Christ … and conforms itself then to that teaching. And in this case, no matter what the complexities of the situation may be, the party in question … will either rectify the irregular, immoral situation in which he finds himself and thereby be able to receive the Sacraments, or until he is able to rectify the situation, will not present himself to receive the Sacraments. There can’t be an exception…

On Spadaro’s assertion that in some cases the remarried don’t need to annul their first union and that the second may be “what God is asking” of them:

Well, the—it’s simply a wrong notion of conscience. The conscience does not render each of us as an individual the judge of what is right and wrong. There’s an objective order to things, and our conscience, when we are well-educated and when our conscience is well-informed, recognizes that objective order and therefore knows what’s right and what is wrong and acts accordingly.

On the accusation made by Fr. Spadaro that the Four Cardinals are just trying to “ramp up the tension and create division within the Church”:

No. In fact, we’re trying to address the division which is already very much ramped up, to use his phrase. Everywhere I go…many faithful, priests and bishops, and lay faithful, [with] whom I speak are in a state of very serious confusion on this matter. Priests tell me that one priest is telling the faithful one thing in Confession, other priest another thing. Only when these questions, which we have raised according to the traditional manner of resolving questions in the Church which have to do with very serious matters, only when these questions are adequately answered will the division be dissipated. But as is happening right now, as long as this continues, the division will only grow and of course the fruit of division is error. And here we’re talking about the salvation of souls, people being led into error in matters which have to do with their eternal salvation. And so Father Spadaro is very much in error in that affirmation. [emphasis added]

On whether Cardinal Burke was offended by Spadaro’s statement that the pope “does not answer binary questions” but that he “answers sincere questions from pastors”:

Yes, very much so. The popes have always, all along the centuries—I’m a student of the Church’s discipline—it is the role of the pope as the pastor of the universal Church, as the guardian of the unity of the bishops and of the whole Body of Christ, to respond to such questions. To suggest that posing these questions is a sign of insincerity is deeply offensive. I can assure you that for myself, and I know the other cardinals involved, we wouldn’t raise the questions unless we had the deepest and most sincere concern for the Church herself and for the individual members of the faithful.

On the question of whether the pope has, in fact, “already answered” the dubia with his Buenos Aires letter:

Not at all. He’s given his own opinion on the matter. The question can only be answered in terms of what the Church has always taught and practiced … And it’s one thing [for] the pope can say what is written in Amoris Laetitia is interpreted correctly to mean that an individual priest can permit someone who’s in an irregular matrimonial union to receive the Sacraments without a firm purpose of amendment, but that doesn’t resolve the question. The question is, what does the Church teach?

Burke also touched on his concerns that Familiaris Consortio is being essentially overturned; his disagreement with Cardinal Schonborn that AL represents an evolution of doctrine (“it’s a question of complete rupture in the teaching of the Church,” Burke said, “a complete going away from what the Church has always taught and practiced”); on whether there are more cardinals (there are, but he didn’t say how many); on the fact that the current situation in the Church is entirely unprecedented in his lifetime, and that the Four Cardinals “intend to serve that truth no matter what it takes.”

I, for my part, will never be part of a schism. I’m a Roman Catholic and defending the Roman Catholic faith is not the cause of my being separated from the Church. And so I simply intend to continue to defend the faith out of love for Our Lord and for the, his mystical body, my brothers and sisters in the Church, and I believe the other cardinals are of the same mind.


And all of us in the Church who are cardinals, bishops, we have the responsibility to defend the truth; whether we seem to be numerous or we seem to be very few doesn’t make any difference. It’s the truth of Christ which has to be taught.

It is at this point appropriate to pivot to an important essay by Professor Roberto de Mattei, eminent historian of the Catholic Church and the President of the Lepanto Foundation in Rome. It was at the Lepanto Foundation that Cardinal Burke, Cardinal Brandmüller, Bishop Schneider, and other supporters of the dubia gathered on Monday, December 5th to discuss the threat to the Church’s moral teaching presented by Amoris Laetitia.

Following that gathering, Professor de Mattei wrote an essay entitled, “The irrevocable duties of Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church,” the English translation of which is now available at Rorate Caeli.

“In his intervention at the Lepanto Foundation on December 5, 2016,” de Mattei writes,

Cardinal Raymond Burke said: “There is a very heavy burden on a cardinal’s shoulders. We are the Pope’s Senate and his primary counsellors and must, above all, serve the Pope, by telling him the truth. Submitting questions, as we have done to the Pope, is in the Church’s tradition, specifically to  avoid divisions and confusion. We did this with the highest respect for the Petrine Office, without lacking reverence to the person of the Pope. There are many questions, but the five main questions we have posed must, of necessity, have a response for the salvation of souls. We pray every day for a response, faithful to Tradition, in the uninterrupted apostolic line that takes us back to Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

After discussing the historical role of the Curia, and its “juridical character which attributes to it the triple nature of coadjutor body, substitute body and electoral body of the Supreme Pontiff,” de Mattei insists:

We must not commit the error of elevating the role of cardinals from being counsellors to the Pope to that of “co-decision-makers”  Even if he leans on counsel and assistance from his cardinals, the Pope never loses his plenitudo potestatis. The cardinals  participate in his power only in the exercise thereof, within the limits defined by the Pontiff himself. The Cardinals never have deliberative powers regarding the Pope, but only advisory ones. If the pontiff should avail himself of assistance from the College of Cardinals, even if not obliged to do so,  for their part, the cardinals have the moral duty to counsel the Pontiff, submit questions to him and admonish him, independent of the Pope’s reception to their words.  The presentation by the four Cardinals (Brandmueller, Burke, Caffarra and Meisner) of some dubia to the Pope and Cardinal Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, asking them to clarify “the grave disorientation and great confusion” relating to the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia, enters perfectly within the duties of cardinals and cannot be the object of any censure.

As the canonist Edward Peters, referendary to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, affirmed,  that the four cardinals “[made] text-book use of their rights under Canon 212 § 3 to pose doctrinal and disciplinary questions that urgently need addressing in our day,” Then, if the Holy Father should omit doing so, the cardinals collectively will address him with a form of fraternal correction, in the spirit of admonition made by St. Paul to  the Apostle Peter at Antioch (Gal. 2,11).

The canonist then concludes by saying:

“How anyone can conclude, then, based on the facts at hand, that the four cardinals are at risk for deprivation of their office, escapes me. No one, least of all the four cardinals in question, challenges the special authority that a pope enjoys over the Church (1983 CIC 331) nor do they harbor any illusions that a pope could be forced to answer the questions they posed. My hunch is that four cardinals, while they would welcome a papal reply, are probably content with having formally preserved these vital questions for a day when a direct answer might be forthcoming—although they might yet exercise their own Episcopal office as teachers of the faith (1983 CIC 375) and propose answers on their own authority. For that, these men are, I think, prepared to accept personal ridicule and to suffer misunderstanding and misrepresentation of their actions and motives.”

De Mattei highlights the honors and “grave responsibilities” that rest on cardinals, and cites examples of their duty to fraternally correct the pope from both the 19th and 20th centuries. He examines the thought of certain medieval canonists on the question of papal infallibility and obstinate and public papal heresy, then instructs that:

The cardinals who elect the Pope do not have the authority to depose him, but may ascertain his renunciation of the pontificate, in the case of voluntary demission or of manifest and persistent heresy.  In the tragic times of history, they must serve the Church, even until the shedding of blood, as the colour red indicates in the garments they wear and the formula at the imposition of the biretta “red as sign of the dignity of the Cardinalate, signifying that you must be ready to act with fortitude, even unto the shedding of blood, for the increase in the Christian Faith, for the peace and tranquility  of the People of God and for the freedom and diffusion of Holy Mother Church.”

Given the context, this is hardly a historical tangent. We are seeing the groundwork laid for something very rare — if not unprecedented — in the history of the Church.

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