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Slandering Cardinal Burke


Mark Silk is a guy who evidently fancies himself as knowing something about Catholicism. And journalism. But neither of these things is in particular evidence in his most recent piece for Religion News Service.

On Tuesday evening, a few hours after the Vatican announced Pope Francis’ streamlining of the Catholic marriage annulment procedure, Cardinal Raymond Burke, whom the pope demoted last year as head of the church’s highest court, attacked what the pope did.

But Burke did not so much as mention the pope. Speaking at ultra-conservative Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, he gave prepared remarks designed to dissuade next month’s Synod of Bishops from doing what Francis had already done.

“Ultra-conservative Franciscan University,” huh? Yeah. It’s super scary there. Bunch of straight-laced do-gooders who just ooze rigorist pre-conciliarism! I just got done praising the school for valuing academic freedom enough to have conversations that lie outside their normal comfort zone, which could be characterized as solidly post-conciliar charismatic Catholicism. Do they adhere to Magisterium? You betcha. That’s why they get to be called “Catholic.” That does not in any way signify “ultra-conservatism.”

But Silk is a man on a mission, and he isn’t going to let facts get in the way of a good thrashing of his ideological enemies. So he then — get this — POSTS THE VIDEO of the event, which shows no such thing happening. That’s how confident he is in his fantasy. He continues:

For his part, Burke began by declaring that the Synod cannot decide such matters, which would involve amending canon law. “The Synod of Bishops has no authority to change doctrine and discipline,” he said. He then proceeded to dump on both recommendations, saying they effectively violated the church’s doctrinal obligation to determine that a given marriage is truly a “nullity.” The whole enterprise, he claims, reveals the dangers of “sentimentalism” and “a false compassion,” reflecting a “post-canonical antinomianism” that has afflicted the church since the end of the Second Vatican Council. Whew.

Now, you might ask, why did Burke go ahead with his speech when, as even the folks in Steubenville cannot have failed to notice, the pope had just, on his own authority, promulgated new canon law (here and here) incorporating both recommendations. As they say, Roma locuta est, causa finita est (“Rome has spoken, the case is closed”).

Pontiffs have been laying down canon law on their own say-so since the 11th century, so Burke, traditionalist that he is, can hardly claim that Pope Francis has no warrant for doing likewise. But as the Washington Post reported Monday, he went so far as to declare in a recent television interview that the pope “does not have the power to change teaching [or] doctrine.”

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the cardinal believes this pope has acted beyond his authority in changing the annulment procedure as he has. It’s also hard to avoid the thought that, as the pope proceeds to change what the church teaches, some traditionalists will abandon ship, and go into schism.

First of all, Cardinal Burke’s right. Anyone with even the most basic theological knowledge understands that doctrine may develop, but it may not be contradicted. Not even the pope has the authority to upend the depositum fidei, which is why the goings on at the Synod — under the appearance that they have the Holy Father’s stamp of approval — are causing such consternation among Catholics.

But Cardinal Burke is confronting principles, not persons — with the notable exception of Cardinal Kasper. And the principles he is confronting are entirely valid targets. If Silk wishes to infer that the pope also holds these positions, he’s free to do so. But he may not assume that Burke agrees with him, and then use it to attack him. Not honestly. Not fairly.

Secondly, I was there, and I know for a fact that Burke’s talk didn’t address the new Motu Proprio letters at all. He used his pre-written speech, and the moderator asked the audience not to ask questions about them because there simply hadn’t been time to digest them. For his part, His Eminence had just spent three hours that morning celebrating a Pontifical High Mass after a very long week travelling all the way to the US from Asia. I’m not even sure he had the chance to read the letters, much less analyze them.  So why did he go ahead with the talk? Because it was true, and nothing a pope could say or do is capable of changing that.

Thirdly, Silk finishes with a backhand, impugning those who hold to the Church’s — and Christ’s — teaching on the Sixth Commandment. He says we’re the one who will “abandon ship, and go into schism.”

Sorry, Mark. Can’t happen. Not going to happen. Burke’s on rock-solid doctrinal ground. St. Athanasius tread here before him, as did St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Thomas More, and St. John Fisher – among others. Holding fast to Christ cannot turn you into a schismatic.

Declaring that your particular Church in your particular country, however, is “not a subsidiary of Rome,” though? That’s what the German bishops did, and that’s textbook schism. You might want to refresh your memory on these issues, Mark, and take aim at them. (May I suggest taking the Catholicism 101 class they offer at Steubenville?)

What this amounts to is an attack that is absolutely breathtaking in either its dishonesty, or the inability of its author to grasp the Catholic religion, or both. This is, strangely, the phenomenon of Papal Positivism writ large, only this time coming from someone who, one suspects after reading a few of his columns, wouldn’t have been so sanguine about it when it was Pope Benedict issuing Summorum Pontificum. But he seems, like those Muslims who also do not believe in the True Faith, to accept the theological principle of abrogation, which holds that it is chronology, not precedent, which makes this or that doctrine more authoritative. See, for example, his post from two summers ago, in which he accuses Cardinal Dolan, of all people, of “dissing” the papacy. Citing Dolan’s assertion that the pope’s job is to “hand on, with its full purity and integrity, the teaching of the Church” and his contention that “He [the pope] can’t make it up, can’t change it”, Silk retorts:

Now that’s a pretty good description of the papal state of affairs 1,000 years ago, but beginning with the reform papacy of the 11th century, it all changed. Between Gregory VII and Innocent III, popes took it upon themselves to become the legislators of Christendom, and they never surrendered the claim to possess such plenitude of power.

Thus, in 1950, the year of Dolan’s birth, Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of the Virgin to be a dogma of the Church, in the one and so far only formal exercise of papal infallibility. By saying that John Paul II had “definitively…closed the door to women priests,” Francis was himself pointing to the fact that popes determine church law.

Of course, over the centuries there have been Catholics who wished it were otherwise. And what with all the excitement Francis has generated among progressives, there’s doubtless some fear in conservative circles that he will make changes in church law that they won’t like. You’d almost think that Dolan, who’s always flown with the right wing, was substituting church doctrine with wishful thinking.

Fairweather über-ultramontanism is such weak sauce. It only ever applies when it’s your guy, not the other guy’s guy. But it doesn’t matter what anybody thinks, a pope can’t just make it up as he goes along. He doesn’t get to say something fundamentally opposed to something his predecessor said on matters of faith and morals and continue being called pope.

But as we all already knew, Dolan’s not “right wing,” and as we now know, Mark Silk isn’t a serious thinker about Catholicism. What we’re left with on the part of the latter is either malicious ignorance or willful slander against a Cardinal who will tell you, if you care to ask him, that he’s never uttered a word of criticism against the pope. (And believe me, I sometimes wish he would!)

Since Silk is listed as a founding editor of Religion News Service, and is clearly still involved in its operation, I’d recommend a certain amount of skepticism if you encounter their articles in the future.

As for Cardinal Burke and Steubenville? Silk owes them both an apology.


Correction: in the original post, it was erroneously asserted that “Mark Silk isn’t a serious Catholic thinker” and there was mention of “the inability of its author to grasp his own religion.” Silk is actually Jewish, though he comments often about Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. The sentences in question has been amended, and several other small clarifying revisions have been made. 

36 thoughts on “Slandering Cardinal Burke”

  1. Mark Silk is just another ideological liberal journalist that is clueless of Church Doctrine or Canon Law. He cannot hold a candle to Cardinal Burke who is a Canon Lawyer. What an embarrassment he is to Catholic Journalism.

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        • The great Saint defended the orthodoxy of Pope Saint Liberius because the Emperor had kidnapped Pope Liberius and tortured him – and YET- where is the evidence he excommunicated Athanasius or signed a heterodox formula?

          Please see Denzinger’s “St. Liberius” the entry twixt # 57 & 58 and see Saint Anastasius 1 on the orthodoxy of Pope Saint Liberius # 93

          Saint Liberius died in 366 A.D.and Pope St Anastasius reigned from 398-401 A.D. and so one supposes his judgment of Pope Liberius is far worthier than the judgment of Michael Davies, especially considering that Saint Athanasius his own self publicly praised the orthodoxy of Saint Liberius AFTER he, supposedly, signed an iffy formula.

          Saint Athanasius blamed the troubles on the Emperor who kidnapped Liberius and the emperor’s functionaries who tortured Saint Liberius.


          Rad Rad + Saint Liberius

          and see the evidence for your own self

          # 58 # 93,

          • Then Liberius was pretty much like the popes in the hands of Napoleon, except that Napoleon was unintereted in any doctrinal issues. Yes, it seems that Athanaius knew what was going on. He was not only strong-willed, he was one sharp cookie. Newman was a great fan of his, and what good Christian, or even us luke-mark types could not be! Wish they would use the creed that bears his name more often in the liturgy.

        • Google

          History of the Arians.V

          and be aware that one has to become an autodidact about these contentious matters as what one has been told about Pope Liberius is not the whole truth, rather, it is polemical propaganda not in the service of objective truth.

  2. Mr. Silk lays out the liberal strategy very well. Paint Cardinal Burke as just another in a line of right wing dissenters no different than Fr. Feeney or Archbishop Lefebvre. Will it work? Probably but I can think of a couple of scenarios where it might not.

    One is the Pope Emeritus. If Benedict re-engages at all in opposition to Pope Francis it will be big trouble for the liberals.

    The other is simply just numbers. Archbishop Lefebvre could be dismissed as an irrelevant crank because he simply couldn’t persuade enough of his brother bishops to go along with him. If Cardinal Burke wants to lead the charge in opposition to the Pope he will need to make sure he has more than just a couple of bishops from Kazakhstan at his side.

    All of the above assumes that Pope Francis is really on the side of the liberals of course.

    • I think we can safely assume Francis is on the side of the apostates. Again, lets get the terminology correct. There are no liberals or conservatives in the Catholic Church. You are either a Catholic or you are not a Catholic. (Liberal and Conservative are Judaic fabrications–divide and conquer–works every time.)

      And don’t look to Benedict for answers. If he truly had them, he wouldn’t have abdicated (more precisely, resigned, since he was never actually enthroned). Besides which, he has every reason to remain ’emeritus’ and not come out of the Vatican City State.

      But, be that as it may, the last thing you’d want to wish on the remnant is two men claiming to be pope. If you think it’s chaos now….

      • Benedict simply got too old to fight any longer. I was hoping that he would hold out until he was ninety or so, in order to outlive men like Kaspar. He has been physically frail for many years and in no shape to carry on.

    • The African bishops were rightly affronted by Kaspar. Because of the Church tax, the German Church has a big bog of money which they use to spread their influence, But the German Church is spiritual hollow. Marx is terrified lest millions of Germans leave the Church in order not to pay the tax.

  3. I left a comment asking why Prof. Silk choose to title his post with the very loaded word, “Attacks.”

    What’s the difference between an “attack” and “criticism” or “disagreement”?

    I guess conservatives “attack” while liberals, even of the ACT-UP stripe, just engage in “criticism” or “disagreement.”

  4. Silk will never apologize. Have you forgotten that Judaics argue with God and win? I’m sure Silk is a very serious thinker about Catholicism and knows more about doctrine than do the majority of pew sitters. For Silk to quote Francis’ non-ex-cathedra statement that purports JPII singlehandedly ‘closed the door’ to women priests is garbage. He knows full well that JPII couldn’t singlehandedly close the door or open it. But he wants to keep that meme out there so that when Francis speaks his quasi daily blatherings, he is perceived as speaking from the chair.

    It is the Judaics who have propagated the fantasy that the Pope IS the Catholic Church and that everything that emanates from his mouth is dogma, (impeccability) and that without a living Pope there is no Catholic Church. Most people, most Catholics think that this is the case as well. That is how well ingrained that purposefully false idea has been fostered and nurtured by the controlled media. And naturally, the Vatican has done nothing to disabuse people of that false idea and the prelates have done nothing about it either.

    And PLEASE, let us stop using the words the enemy gives us in this battle. There is no such thing as a ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ Catholic. One is either Catholic or one is not Catholic. Every time we use the language given to us by our enemy, we surrender souls and territory to the enemy.

    I suggest people read “The Truth of Papal Claims” by Raphael Merry Del Val, D.D. (Archbishop of Nicaea, and Cardinal Secy of State) for an understanding of infallibility and impeccability.

    And, if anyone is interested in a thought provoking video that has come out of Poland wherein Cardinal Burke and Bishop Schneider are interviewed at some length regarding the upcoming synods, please see this:

    St. John the Baptis, pray for us.

    • Well, tis’ true that Cardinal Marx is not a “progressive” Catholic. He is not a Catholic at all. And he is not alone, There are other churchmen who are not Catholics. This has always been true throughout history. They are informal and formal heretics, and they as often as not, manage to keep their positions despite this.

    • Your meme that there are no conservative or liberal Catholics – that one is Catholic or not Catholic – simply flies in the face of reality, and it is one which we see floating to the top periodically. Your contention that such terms are “language given to us by our enemy” and that “Liberal and Conservative are Judaic fabrications” is sheer nonsense.

      Are we to believe that we mindless cretins of either persuasion gladly accepted this terminology without suspicion or critique by others with less than our best interests at heart?.

      Such conspiracy paranoia ignores the fact that these terms came into being naturally by being transplanting from secular use to describe factions which actually exist within the Church. We have other factions, too: progressive, conservative, neo-conservative, charismatic, and traditionalist. Those can also be broken down further into subsets whenever useful to the one who witnesses the existence of these distinctions.

      You can’t do anything about that, and repeated insistence they don’t exist makes you look, well, foolish. Sure, we all know you’re pointing to an ideal of an undivided Church, but the reality, bub, is that we ARE divided and will remain so until we drive out the error infesting the Church.

      The presence distinctions or factions is not error, but a symptom of it. If you must, deplore the existence of divisions and factions in the Church, but please stop imposing on the rest of us delusional caterwauling that they do not exist.

      • Yes, Mr. Steinacker, ‘we mindless cretins’ accept plenty of terminology without suspicion or critique precisely because we are taught to believe, especially as Christians, that others who have less than our best interests at heart, actually have our best interests at heart or, at the least, don’t intend us harm.

        That is what is meant by a confidence game.

        As is generally comprehended and defined by dictionaries, the word ‘conspiracy’ means a combination of (just 2 is sufficient) people planning something evil, immoral and/or illegal. Only the naive think that conspiracies rarely, if ever, happen. History is replete.

        NB: I have not insisted that the words ‘conservative’, ‘liberal’, ‘progressive’, etc., do not exist. That would be incorrect. Nor have I insisted that there aren’t many millions of people who call themselves Catholic and who view themselves as belonging to one or more of those factions. The ERROR of those who throw in with conservative, liberal, etc., factions and beliefs is they continue to think they are Catholic.

        What I HAVE insisted upon, and what the CHURCH always insisted upon, is that Catholicism doesn’t provide for such groupings. Catholic doctrine doesn’t admit or permit it. Catholicism is a universal doctrine for the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. One either professes the doctrine whole and INVIOLATE, as handed down through the 1900 year long Magisterium and is therefore Catholic, or one does not profess the doctrine whole and inviolate, and is therefore NOT Catholic. You, therefore, look foolish if you insist that this has not been the teaching of the Church.

        People who think they are Catholic but who concurrently hold or profess beliefs that are ‘conservative’, ‘liberal’, ‘progressive’, ‘charismatic’, etc., are not Catholic. But, most have been made to believe that such divisions can and do lawfully exist within Catholicism, when they do not. That is the error.

        And please don’t refer to me as ‘bub’. I’m likely old enough to be your grandmother.

  5. The whole problem of Silk’s thinking is that pope Francis changed the Church’s doctrine when he changed Cannon Law. And therefore how can Cardinal Burke say the Pope can’t change doctrine when he just did! He just doesn’t understand one does not equate or automatically imply the other. He argues using both things interchangeably. I guess under his mistaken assumption he kind of makes sense. But I would like to ask him, exactly what doctrine was changed here. Can’t imagine what his answer would be.

      • None of course. That’s what I am saying. Silk thinks the doctrine on marriage was changed. And that is his error I believe and what makes his conclusions wrong.

        Marriage, it’s indissolubility seems to have been weakened in practice, but no doctrine as such can ever change. Truth is given to us by God, and never changes.

        • Got it.
          I was confused by this:
          “The whole problem of Silk’s thinking is that pope Francis changed the Church’s doctrine”
          You meant “the problem IS Silk’s thinking”, which, as you say, is not just wrong, but predicated on the impossible.

  6. I actually think it’s all a misunderstanding caused by failures in our educational systems, translations from other languages and ignorance of grammar.
    Perhaps Silk et al don’t understand that when a Cardinal Burke, for instance, says something such as “_IF_ a Pope _WERE_ to teach contrary to Church doctrine, _THEN_ I _WOULD_ have to resist…” he is using the subjunctive, he is expressing a hypothetical.
    Like Tonto, Frankestein and Tarzan, Silk and his ilk can’t differentiate between that and, say, “Burke hear Pope teach contrary to Church so Burke say Burke resist Pope.”
    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

    • The quirky thing about Papal infallibility is that in a way it is a kind of legal fiction. His job is not to make doctrine but judge it by existing standards. Dogmas, the most basic teachings, develop. They don’t evolve, acquiring different meanings . The difference is like true difference between the growth of a child and the conversion of a human being into something else.

  7. Look, it was recently disclosed that the Religion News Service is supported by the Arcus group, which is a gay foundation. And, it was revealed that its editor was a gay man, who refused to disclose that until he had left the organization. If he had let people know that, of course they would have understood why the “Religion News service” was steadfastly anti-Catholic, anti-Religion and basically a propaganda arm of the gay marriage movement. It’s articles, including Silk’s are routinely slanted and they produce the silliest reporting on the church ever seen.

    Mark Silk is just another of those with Burke Derangement syndrome. No one should pay the slightest attention to what he says.

  8. Let’s face facts. Political liberals support Pope Francis and opposed Benedict and John Paul II because Francis appears to agree with their ideological agenda. Political conservatives oppose Francis and supported Benedict and JPII for precisely the same reason. Considering that academia is the most powerful stronghold of political correctness, why should anybody be surprised when a university scholar criticizes conservatives? The fact that Silk is Jewish is irrelevant.

  9. The important thing here is that Catholic doctrine cannot change – end of story.
    What Francis appears to be doing is allowing the idea to develop that it can alter so much that it effectively has changed.
    That is not possible and it is not clear to me at any rate why Francis is doing this.
    The world, and we in Europe in particular, are in a mess at present and I’m not referring to the environment, which will look after itself regardless of what we do.
    I refer to Islam which is within and pouring in faster than ever thanks to the Germans who for the third time in just over a hundred years, has messed up over here.
    Our children and certainly our grandchildren will have to deal with this. It will not be pleasant, and I can’t say I feel all that well inclines towards those who have allowed this to come about.
    As for the Biblical lands of the East, there is growing support for residual Christian militias in the US of A. You should continue to support them. That is one way ahead.

  10. Mr. Silk and RNS are unreliable, as they have a left-wing agenda. Mr. Gibson, who writes for RNS, is particularly nasty. All untrustworthy.


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