Episode 20 A conversation with Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke

In this edition of Thinking with the Church, a conversation with Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke (a full transcript is available at Catholic World Report).  The Prefect-emeritus of the Apostolic Signatura – the highest ordinary tribunal within the Church’s judicial system – and current Patron of the Sovereign Military order of Malta, Cardinal Burke is a canonist by training, who began his priestly ministry in his home diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, as vice-rector of the cathedral and teacher in the Catholic high school, before being sent to Rome to study at the Pontifical Gregorian University in the heady days before the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.


U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke is pictured in the chapel of his residence at the Vatican June 6, 2012. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

All this is covered in our first conversation with Cardinal Burke, which we brought to you last season in Episode 12. Since early April of last year, when that conversation first appeared, the situation in the Church has developed significantly. More importantly, the tone of discourse has hardened, and the difficulties attendant upon the civil and reasonable conduct of controversy within the Church – especially regarding the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris laetitia, have grown in size and number.

Even a brief rehearsal of the state of the question would run to some length, but the barest bones of it are that the document, which was in part summary statement of the views expressed by the Synod Fathers after the two Assemblies in 2014 and 2015 on the family, and in part a pastoral reflection expressing the Holy Father’s view of things, was received with great enthusiasm for its insight into the enduring joys of family life, the too often hidden strengths of the family, and ways at once to harness both within the Church and broader broader society the energies available to help families meet the challenges of contemporary life, and increase broad appreciation of the irreplaceable and indispensable role of the family in social life. The document also met with significant concern over certain ambiguities of formulation and diction, which have, as a matter of fact, been used to justify innovations in pastoral practice, the compatibility of which with constant Church teaching and discipline is in question.

Cardinal Burke has taken a strong stance, calling on Pope Francis to clarify the ambiguities and address the issues of implementation that have arisen since the document appeared.

During the course of the conversation we bring you in this edition, Cardinal Burke has frankly critical words especially for for the Bishops of Malta, who issued their own Criteria for the implementation of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia early last year – Criteria stating that persons in irregular matrimonial unions  “cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist,” if they have discerned under the guidance of a pastor that continence is impossible for them, and are “at peace with God” in their discernment. Cardinal Burke calls this implementation of the document, “[S]imply contrary to what the Church has always taught and practiced.”


That the appearance of  Amoris laetitia has been followed by significant controversy, is not itself too controversial a statement. However lamentable the conduct of the controversy in some of its particulars, that the document should be have been controversial was inevitable.

Amoris is a lengthy document, difficult to read, and written in a pastoral key from which it is difficult to draw immediate practical indications. Nevertheless, that is what some bishops and Bishops’ Conferences have sought to do. There is plenty about which to be confused, and the participants in the controversy occasioned by the appearance of Amoris laetitia may not ever see their way to each other.

That is why it is of the essence that we recover a spirit of patience, which disposes us to hear our interlocutors say things we find hard to hear, and yet not to abandon the disciplined presumption of good faith. In short, we must be prepared to argue. That will require both courage to speak frankly, and patience to listen and respond.

On that point, it bears mention that our beloved Holy Father, Francis, talks a great deal about the dangers of falling into a Pharisaical spirit in our thought and conduct, as we discern together the right course through the troubled waters of our time. He is right to warn us, and we need to hear him, even and especially when it is hard.

Who are the Pharisees?

If we are honest, we will see that we all are, sometimes and to some extent. We are all called to open our heart to the Gospel and to allow Christ’s grace to work in us.

In the Gospels, however, the Pharisees are always the ones defending the Mosaic Law with respect to divorce, and the people – including the disciples – are scandalized by the clarity and sternness (not to say “rigidity”) of Our Lord’s own teaching.

Nevertheless, we are told of one Pharisee, who opened his heart to the transformative power of the Gospel: St. Paul (cf. Acts 23:6).

For all his obtuse and sometimes seemingly contradictory writings (St. Peter said so, not I. See 2 Peter 3:16), Paul was utterly unambiguous on two points: the indissolubility of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony (cf. 1 Cor 7:10-11) and the danger of receiving our Blessed Lord unworthily (cf. 1 Cor 11:29).



Episode 19 Reclaiming the Piazza II

In this edition of Thinking with the Church: a conversation with Dr. Leonardo Franchi.

In the Apostolic Constitution, Ex corde ecclesiae, Pope St. John Paul II famously wrote that the Catholic University, “is located in that course of tradition which may be traced back to the very origin of the University as an institution. It has always been recognized as an incomparable centre of creativity and dissemination of knowledge for the good of humanity. By vocation, the Universitas magistrorum et scholarium is dedicated to research, to teaching and to the education of students who freely associate with their teachers in a common love of knowledge. With every other University it shares that gaudium de veritate, so precious to Saint Augustine, which is that joy of searching for, discovering and communicating truth in every field of knowledge. A Catholic University’s privileged task is ‘to unite existentially by intellectual effort two orders of reality that too frequently tend to be placed in opposition as though they were antithetical: the search for truth, and the certainty of already knowing the fount of truth’.”

That project is threatened today by forces found both within and without the Church: the fragmentation of he unity of knowledge – and of knowing as a cultural project, on the one hand; on the other, a strange twofold movement at once toward anti-intellectualism as the default cultural starting point, and toward the elevation of those with applied scientific know-how to positions of high esteem, approaching the level of a sort of priestly caste.

Against this tide, a group of scholar-teachers is quietly and diligently working to ensure that Catholic institutions of higher education will be able to carry out their mission, which is of vital importance to the task of evangelization, especially and in a privileged way by being open to all human experience and ready to dialogue with and learn from every culture.

The advancement of that work is in turn complicated by the increasing pressure on those committed to it to retire to the margins or retreat from the public square entirely.

Hence, the project of Reclaiming the Piazza: an initiative spearheaded by our guest, Leonardo Franchi, a lecturer at the University of Glasgow, on the faculty of education. He is a member of the Creativity, Culture and Faith Research and Teaching group there, and specializes in Religious Education. He is also a member of the Executive of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, and editor – along with Ronnie Convery and Raymond McCloskey – of the volumes Reclaiming the Piazza: Catholic Education as a Cultural Project and Reclaiming the Piazza II: Catholic Education and the New Evangelization, which features a foreword by the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, and contributions from Tracey Rowland, Francis Campbell, Bishop John Keenan, Isabelle Boyd, Fr. Joseph Lappin, and Natalie Finnigan, in addition to the essays of the editors, which provide a framework for the project and give careful articulation to the basic problems of education as they are encountered in the current cultural context.

Our broad-ranging conversation began with the question: from whom do we need to reclaim the piazza – the public square, and what are the fundamental “do’s and don’ts” of that work of recovery and reappropriation?

***********  Show Notes ***********

Episode 18 A conversation with Fr. Paul Samasumo

Fr. Paul Samasumo of Zambia is vice president of the World Catholic Association for Communication, SIGNIS, the first African to hold one of the top three positions in the organization, to which he was elected in the summer of 2017 by the delegates to the SIGNIS world congress in Quebec.


Trained in communications at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Fr. Samasumo served for several years as spokesman for the Zambia Episcopal Conference and Executive Director of  Catholic Media Services in Zambia, before becoming head of Vatican Radio’s English for Africa service in 2014, a role he continues to hold in the new Vatican Media department of the Secretariat for COmmunications of the Holy See.

Generous and personable, Fr. Samasumo’s gentle demeanor sometimes disguises, sometimes reveals his keen powers of observation. He is a straight talker, and he has seen things.

His years as a parish priest – pastor of a parish covering 200 square kilometers in the Zambian bush – taught him lessons of service to people on the peripheries, where the presence of the Church through healthcare and education is often literally a matter of life or death.

He carried those lessons with him to Rome, and was kind enough to share some of them with me during a broad-ranging conversation on the state of the Church in Africa.

*********** Show Notes ***********

SIGNIS is the World Catholic Association for Communication. Its mission is to engage with media professionals and support Catholic Communicators transform cultures in the light of the Gospel by promoting human dignity, justice and reconciliation.

Africae munus is the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pope Benedict XVI issued following the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa in 2009.

Churches Health Association of Zambia is a Lusaka-based ecumenical organisation of Church-affiliated health institutions and community health programs committed to serving communities so that people live healthy and productive lives for the Glory of God.


Episode 17 The erotics of education

In this edition of Thinking with the Church: a conversation with David Franks.

Dr. David Franks-1

One of the great things about the age in which we live is the ease of communication. If social media have made it harder to have sustained conversations, especially when the effort of them involves placing and conducting disagreements, David Franks is a fellow whose efforts in these regards are truly a model.

He is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, and Director of Development for that same. A trained theologian and poet, David is deeply Catholic and profoundly patriotic: people don’t talk like he does anymore – and discovering him through mutual friends has been a delight.

He talks about the “erotics” of education, and he knows of what he speaks: the duty of the teacher to foster the desire for wisdom in his students, and the duty of students to be faithful lovers of the beautiful, the true, and the good, after the fashion modeled for them by their teachers.

He is steeped in the tradition, though he is no mere laudator temporis acti – no “praiser of times past”. Rather, he inhabits a world of thought he feels – and I feel with him – it is the mission of the Catholic intellectual who is also the citizen of a great republic to nurture, develop, and pass on.

That work of tradition is what the social doctrine certificate program he designed and began to implement for Massachusetts Citizens for Life last year is all about.

The program draws in particular on Catholic social doctrine, appropriating it in the spirit of the liberal arts, incorporating Scripture, theology, philosophy, political theory, American history, and literature. Though grounded in Christianity, this course is designed to be accessible to those of any faith, as well as to the non-religious.

Profound respect for the human person – for each and every real human person, flesh and blood and soul and spirit – is the hallmark of David’s didactic approach, and the true barometer of his classroom. The program is most emphatically not, however, a “safe space” for the like-minded. When David says, “All questions and viewpoints are welcome,” he means it.

David and I talked via skype over the Christmas holiday – on New Year’s Eve, to be precise – and, though I’d promised to bring you a conversation with Fr. Paul Samasumo in the next episode, the editors and I considered that David’s conversation sets out the whole range of the season’s scope, and with such perfect pitch, that we ought to bring it to you first.

Not to worry, though: we’ll bring you our conversation with Fr. Paul in the next, regularly scheduled episode, set to drop on Monday, January 8th.

*********** Show Notes ***********

David Franks is theologian, a poet, an author, and teacher. He blogs at New City Rising.

The letter of Thomas Jefferson to which I refer is one he wrote from Paris, to Michel Guillaume St. John de Crèvecoeur, who wrote the Letters from an American Farmer. You can find Jefferson’s letter to Crèvecoeur online, at the Founders Online page of the National Archives.


Episode 16: Season 2 Premiere

Hello, friends! A “Happy New Year!” to you all! Welcome to another season of Thinking with the Church. I’m your host, Chris Altieri.

New Year’s Day, 2018 – the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and the World Day of Prayer for Peace.


Andreas Ritzos, “Mother of God of Passion” via Wikimedia Commons

I marvel at the thematic confluence that this day offers – God’s coming into the world, through the womb of His mother – the Mother of the Word Incarnate, whom we hail in His human nature, as the Prophet Isaiah tells us, as Wondrous Counselor, and Prince of Peace.

He came into a broken world, to make us friends again, and He did, on the Cross, which now signs the world and points the way toward eternal friendship with the world’s author.

Nevertheless, we labor under the effect of the sin, from the guilt of which our Baptism in Him has washed us clean.

Peace is always a gift of Divine Mercy: it is promised to us in the New Jerusalem perfectly, and by a strength that cannot fail, on which we place a hope that cannot disappoint, and we wait in joyful hope for it. Our waiting, however, cannot be idle: we are called to work works of peace, which are always pleasing to Him, who is Prince of Peace.

This eschatological tension, as it is called in technical parlance, creates the space in which we play out matters of eternal life and eternal death.

As I said in the very first edition of this podcast, almost exactly a year ago to the day:

One of the things at which Catholicism has excelled through the centuries is story-telling: the story we told was – is – true, and it is the story of each and every one of us; an epic adventure in which each of us is at war with the forces of hell – forces that are at once “inside” us, and in the world – invisible, preternatural, unspeakably powerful.

In this story, each of us is playing out matters of eternal life and eternal death in every moment, waking or sleeping: there are no minor characters and there are no breaks in the action; all of us, each second of each day, are in the fight.

That is a great story, and one in which “the rules” not only make sense, but themselves make the story make sense.

Two questions press themselves on us now: where are we in the story, and how are we to manage the tension of existence between the beginning and the beyond – the metaxy? In other words, how are we to live in history, our humanity redeemed but not yet fully repaired?

The Catholic Church has been thinking about these questions – really one question with two distinct moments – for a long time, now: the answer she has to give is to be had in what we call, “Catholic education” – a project imperiled within and without in this day – which makes the present very like the past – and the one that will constitute for us the principal focus of the whole season.

Everything we do over the course of the next 20 weeks will be ordered to an exploration of what Catholic education is – and is not, or ought not be.

*********** Show Notes ***********

Segment 1: Leonardo Franchi

Leonardo Franchi is a lecturer at the University of Glasgow, on the faculty of education. He is a member of the Creativity, Culture and Faith Research and Teaching group there, and specializes in Religious Education. He is also a member of the Executive of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, and editor – along with Ronnie Convery and Raymond McCloskey – of the volumes Reclaiming the Piazza: Catholic Education as a Cultural Project and Reclaiming the Piazza II: Catholic Education and the New Evangelization, which features a foreword by the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, and contributions from Tracey Rowland, Francis Campbell, Bishop John Keenan, Isabelle Boyd, Fr. Joseph Lappin, and Natalie Finnigan.

I reached him via skype for an extended conversation, from which I’d like to share an excerpt here and now, in which he responds to a question: from whom does the piazza – the public square, need to be reclaimed. and why is this a proper challenge for Catholic education and Catholic educators?

Segment 2: David Franks


The educational crisis in society more broadly is being met by courageous citizen-educators, who are rising to the challenge of the present day and meeting it with a kind of thinking that is at once deeply rooted in tradition and very much “out-of-the-box”:

David Franks is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Massachusetts Citizens for Life – the oldest pro-life advocacy organization in New England, and the only statewide pro-life organization with its own extensive educational program, which helps form thousands of citizens – mainly young people – each year, most recently through a pro-life social doctrine certificate program that is inspired in large part by the social doctrine of the Church.

I spoke with him, also over skype, for over an hour recently, and we’ll be hearing more of our conversation in the weeks to come. One of the things I appreciated most in my talk with David was his ability to put the world in a nutshell:

Segment 3: Music in the Heart of the Church

In this last segment of the program today, we go to where the cultural rubber meets the civilizational road: in early Jun of last year, a group of five choirs under the direction of guest director, Prof. John Dickson of Louisiana State University performed in several venues in Rome – including St. Peter’s Basilica.

I spent a morning with them as they rehearsed, and I can promise you: it was an education.

These were choirs from across the United States: the Baton Rouge Symphony Chorus from Louisiana; the Bel Cantos Choir & MiniCassia Chorale of Idaho, directed by Douglas Fisher; the Central Community College Spectrum of Nebraska, under  Director Jeff Kitson; the Monte Vista Touring Singers of California under Director David Anthony Dehner; the Whitewater High School Choir of Georgia under Director Richard Prouty.

These were young men and women – many of them little more than boys and girls, and some of them well into middle age: high school students, undergraduates, professionals – all of them passionate and disciplined – clearly used to the punishing rhythm of preparation for performance at the highest level.

The voice you’re about to hear is that of John Dickson: he’s the Stephanie Landry Barineau Professor of Choral Music and Chair of the Division of Ensembles and Conducting in the School of Music at Louisiana State University, and the guest director of the five choirs who performed this past June here in Rome.

I asked Prof. Dickson about the importance of understanding the pieces they were preparing to perform, inside and out…

The serious, soul-searing business of singing is – I warrant not unlike the “serious play” of philosophy – and not despite the gravity of the enterprise, but because of it, a good deal of fun.

Omar Rodriguez and Jessica Hetrick are from Santa Cruz, California, and sing with the Bel Cantos.

What does it take to bring such diverse group of disparate origin together?

To find out, I spoke with Michael Clossey: chief executive and co-owner of KI Concerts the US based company that organized the choral adventure we’re exploring…

Music is also a powerful – and powerfully subversive – tool of evangelization.

David Anthony Dehner is a 2015 GRAMMY Award-nominee as a music educator, with over 30 years’ experience in teaching, and a committed Christian. I asked him how his life in music has informed his life of faith.