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On Faithful “Resistance”


An excerpt of a new video interview with Cardinal Burke surfaced yesterday. He spoke with France2 television. One segment of the interview was particularly interesting to synod-watchers. Lacking an official translation, several people have provided their own. Among those whom I’ve spoken with, the one provided by the SSPX is said to be the best of these:

We present here some extracts of Cardinal Raymond Burke’s comments given during an interview conducted by Lionel Feuerstein, Karine Comazzi, Patrice Brugeres, Nicolas Berthelos and Claire Aubinais for the “13H15 le dimanche” episode of French Television channel, France2.

The complete interview will be broadcasted on Sunday, February 8 on

Cardinal Burke: I cannot accept that Communion can be given to a person in an irregular union because it is adultery. On the question of people of the same sex, this has nothing to do with marriage. This is an affliction suffered by some people whereby they are attracted against nature sexually to people of the same sex.

Question: If perchance the pope will persist in this direction, what will you do?

Cardinal Burke: I shall resist, I can do nothing else. There is no doubt that it is a difficult time; this is clear, this is clear.

Question: Painful?

Cardinal Burke: Yes.

Question: Worrisome?

Cardinal Burke: Yes.

Question: In your opinion, can we say today that the Catholic Church as an institution is threatened?

Cardinal Burke: The Lord has assured us, as He has assured St. Peter in the Gospel, that the powers of evil will not prevail, “non praevalebunt” as we say in Latin, that the forces of evil will not have victory over the Church.

Question of the end: Is the Pope still your friend?

Cardinal Burke (with a smile): I would not want to make the pope an enemy for sure. That is fine for now. [from the context: “That is enough for this interview”].

Why does this matter?

Look at the history of Burke’s remarks. He made waves last October with his comments about the “harm” done by the pope’s lack of clarity on the most troubling issues of the synod. As the controversy over his comments grew, he quickly released a statement clarifying that he was not taking aim at Pope Francis.

Later that month, he observed that “there is a strong sense that the Church is like a ship without a helm.” But he went on to say in the same interview:

“I fully respect the Petrine ministry and I do not wish it to seem like I am speaking out against the Pope. I would like to be a master of the faith, with all my weaknesses, telling a truth that many currently perceive. They are feeling a bit sea sick because they feel the Church’s ship has lost its bearings. We need to set aside the reason for this disorientation because we have not lost our bearings. We have the enduring tradition of the Church, its teachings, the liturgy, its morality. The catechism remains the same.”

“The Pope rightly speaks of the need to go out to the peripheries,” the Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura said. “The people have responded very warmly to this. But we cannot go to the peripheries empty-handed. We go with the Word of God, with the Sacraments, with the virtuous life of the Holy Spirit. I am not saying the Pope does this, but there is a risk of the encounter with culture being misinterpreted. Faith cannot adapt to culture but , must call to it to convert. We are a counter-cultural movement, not a popular one.”

Burke has always been careful in his analysis. He goes out of his way to be deferential to the pope. Even when it seems that he is being critical, he has demonstrated appropriate restraint and circumspection.

For him to now say that he will resist if the situation warrants is, in my opinion, a significant escalation in rhetoric. It means, at the very least, that he anticipates that just such a situation is at least possible. It is also the first time we’ve seen any member of the episcopacy say this much. (Bishop Schneider had made comments along similar lines, though less direct, in his own analysis of the synod in an interview last November.)

In his own analysis today, Fr. Zuhlsdorf writes:

What do we do when legitimate authority gets something important wrong?

We respectfully resist legitimate authority.

Pope Francis does or doesn’t do, A, B or C. He doesn’t, for example, wear proper pontifical garb, as tradition and decorum require, in the proper moments. I think that is wrong. However, while this is important, I don’t think it is important enough to resist him. His not putting on this or that vestment is not enough to merit resistance.

However, what if Pope Francis were to say that the divorced and civilly remarried without declaration of nullity could be admitted to Holy Communion, without any other clarifications?

I have in mind a well-known text by Jesuit St. Robert Bellarmine (+1612), Doctor of the Church, in his work De Romano Pontifice:

“Just as it is lawful to resist the pope that attacks the body, it is also lawful to resist the one who attacks souls or who disturbs civil order, or, above all, who attempts to destroy the Church. I say that it is lawful to resist him by not doing what he orders and preventing his will from being executed.”

Do I think that Pope Francis would do something so grave as to merit resistance?  I don’t  think so.  I pray not.

This is a time when faithful Catholics seem to be walking on eggshells. There is a palpable tension between concerned faithful who believe it is important to point out the dangerous and unprecedented nature of what has already transpired (and will likely continue) during the ongoing Synod on Marriage and Family, and those who believe that we must simply trust in the Holy Spirit and the indefectibility of the Church. We seem unable, as a group, to discern appropriate action in the face of so much division and confusion.

To give an example: at the end of last month, we posted a link to the “Filial Appeal to Pope Francis” on our Facebook page. This appeal is a petition — now with over 73,000 signatures — which respectfully and simply states:

Your Holiness, in light of information published on the last Synod, we note with anguish that, for millions of faithful Catholics, the beacon seems to have dimmed in face of the onslaught of lifestyles spread by anti-Christian lobbies. In fact we see widespread confusion arising from the possibility that a breach has been opened within the Church that would accept adultery—by permitting divorced and then civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion—and would virtually accept even homosexual unions when such practices are categorically condemned as being contrary to Divine and natural law.

Paradoxically, our hope stems from this confusion.

Truly, in these circumstances, a word from Your Holiness is the only way to clarify the growing confusion amongst the faithful. It would prevent the very teaching of Jesus Christ from being watered-down and would dispel the darkness looming over our children’s future should that beacon no longer light their way.

Holy Father, we implore You to say this word. We do so with a heart devoted to all that You are and represent. We do so with the certainty that Your word will never disassociate pastoral practice from the teaching bequeathed by Jesus Christ and his vicars—as this would only add to the confusion. Indeed Jesus taught us very clearly that there must be coherence between life and truth (cf. John 14:6-7); and He also warned us that the only way not to fall is to practice His doctrine. (cf. Matt. 7:24-27)

It seemed reasonable enough that we encourage the faithful to write to Pope Francis, who has made clear that he is a pope “of the people.” He has asked to hear our voice. It seems fitting, therefore, to reach out to him, to ask him to quell the growing concern by affirming that come what may, he will safeguard the traditional teaching of the Church – not only in doctrine, but in practice. Still, we received a comment not long thereafter from a concerned reader:

“You cannot possibly be insinuating that our Holy Father would deviate from Church teaching when led by the Holy Spirit?”

This sentiment has been echoed elsewhere. We have heard from others who have faced incredulity at circulating the petition. And to be fair, under normal circumstances, such incredulity would be warranted. This is the razor’s edge we all walk. This is why Burke’s language of “resistance” is so striking.

Yet with the revelation from Cardinal Baldisseri that it was Pope Francis who approved the mid-synod relatio, and who made the decision that the most troubling language contained therein be retained for further discussion, we can only say that we must not exclude the possibility that resistance could be necessary. Like Fr. Zuhlsdorf, we hope and pray that it will not be so. Like Cardinal Burke, we admit that in such a situation, we can “do nothing else.”

We have an obligation to stand for our faith. To be vigilant. Even now, momentum towards October is beginning to build. More people will be led astray by careless distortions of Christ’s teaching in the media, even if nothing changes. So, we must reiterate the truths of the faith on the issues being considered by the synod. We must pray for the Holy Father and for those others who are involved in the synod. And we should especially pray for the conversion of those who have sought to use this as an opportunity to drive forward an agenda that distorts and undermines our Holy Faith – and has done great damage already.

Our Lord will not fail us, it’s true. But as “good soldiers of Christ,” we have a role to play as well. Let us see to it that we do not fail Him, either.


Update (2/9/2015): Rorate Caeli has the translation of the full Burke interview, which aired yesterday, right here.

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