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).



7 thoughts on “Episode 20 A conversation with Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke

  1. Thank you for this interview of his Eminence. But how incredibly painful it is to listen to him 😦 He loves the Lord and His Church so much… and doesn’t want to lead it into a schism, nor openly criticize Pope Francis, which is understandable and most honorable. But the fact is, that Pope Francis HAS permitted and keeps permitting these interpretations, to say the least… can there be any doubt anymore, that the ambiguous formulation of Amoris Laetitia was precisely meant to allow for them? Most painful to me is to feel the extreme anguish of Cardinal Burke… Nevertheless won’t Pastors like him have to speak out more frankly at some point- not just talk about “wrong interpretations”, as if they were some sort of isolated cases for which no-one is really responsible, at the end? Otherwise the confusion will just keep growing and more souls be led into error, or worse.
    As for the Pharisees, THEY were the ones to took liberties with the Law, and/or added to it, when it was convenient for them- that is why Our Lord speaks of “traditions of men” (which eventually evolved into the rabbinical Talmud). They believed two laws had been given to Moses, the oral law and the written law, and they gave more importance to the oral law, which they kept adjusting as they pleased. That’s why Our Lord tells us that if our righteousness doesn’t exceed (surpass- go BEYOND) that of the Pharisees, we won’t enter the Kingdom of God. The Pharisaical mentality Our Lord was condemning is not what Pope Francis and most people understand it to be. This is an erroneous and sadly widespread understanding of the NT (Scriptures and Times)… The modern Pharisees are precisely those who are accusing (and sometimes insulting) the faithful catholics of being too faithful to Our Lord’s commands handed down by the Apostles and their Successors, while making arrangements with doctrines (almost) as they please (it makes them easier to practice, for others if not for themselves), convinced all the while they are the “good ones” and should be praised for it!
    But you’re right, in either sense, we’re all Pharisees and should be careful…
    May the Lord give us a triple portion of faith, hope and love… and much courage- in these sad times…


  2. Pingback: Cardinal Burke Breaks His Silence Once Again – Defense for the Hope

  3. ¨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.¨

    In that spirit, FYI:
    The Sarah case: https://musingsfromaperiphery.blogspot.com/2017/10/the-sarah-case.html

    The case for absolution: https://musingsfromaperiphery.blogspot.com/2017/11/sarah-is-not-eligible-for-sacramental.html

    A possible reply to the dubia: https://musingsfromaperiphery.blogspot.com/2017/10/a-response-to-dubia-of-four-cardinals.html


    • Dear JN, thanks for your input. I have to be brief, as I am on deadline (again). The “Sarah Case” you put to your readers is a sad one, indeed. The solution to it is to see that Sarah is a victim of marital rape. There is no “discernment” necessary, The Church ought to help her be free of her putative husband. There is no question of her disposition to receive the Sacraments.


      • Thanks for your reply.
        ¨There is no question of her disposition to receive the Sacraments.¨ >> By that, do you mean that she is eligible to be granted absolution? (Not sure if you read the second post).

        ¨The Church ought to help her be free of her putative husband.¨ >> By that, I presume you are referring to Mohammed. If so, take note:
        (1) with the children´s welfare paramount in her mind, she wants to avoid the psychological scarring which would happen to them in the event of a civil divorce and absence of one parent in the home
        (2) she fears that a messy and contested civil divorce may result in a secular court granting custody of Mohammed´s children to him (thereby lessening the chances of those children benefiting from a Catholic upbringing)
        (3) she wishes to choose the option suggested by the Church viz., living as brother and sister…
        considering the above, can we say that the ONLY valid method of handling this matter is ¨to help her be free of her putative husband¨?
        If so, would that be a case of replacing her conscience? And would it be tantamount to saying that ONLY if she is prepared to risk a messy civil divorce can she be eligible to be granted absolution?

        ´There is no “discernment” necessary.´ >> Actually, do you want to rethink that? Because, if, in conscience, she chooses to stay with Mohammed, then the question of discernment would indeed arise. The discernment would have to assess whether by doing so, she is choosing an intrinsically evil act (adultery / rape). In her case, clearly she chooses neither but simply chooses to live as sister and brother with Mohammed (to which he doesn´t agree, of course). But knowing that he doesn´t agree and still choosing to live with him still doesn´t make her culpable either for adultery or for rape. [And here, the (loose) analogy with salpingectomy is pertinent.]


  4. I’m on deadline right now. I see your point, but still think you are overthinking it. If she stays, she is choosing to sacrifice herself for the good of her children. It is a different kind of case. Her confessor ought to absolve her of any matter she has confessed, but she isn’t guilty of adultery if she did not consent to her putative spouse’s demands on her. FTR, I most emphatically did NOT say the ONLY valid method of handling this matter is ¨to help her be free of her putative husband.


  5. If you deem it fit to comment further, feel free to do so only after any deadline commitments have been met.

    After reading your latest reply, I presume that you would be inclined to affirm the following paragraph in the first post, viz.:
    If it is held that the standard principles of moral theology / normal confessional practice do foresee the grant of absolution to the likes of Sarah followed by access to the Eucharist, then AL footnote 351 can be read simply as ´shedding light on´ / reinforcing / reiterating what is already legitimately allowed / being followed per sacramental discipline ¨in certain (appropriate) cases.¨ (A loose analogy: just as Munificentissimus Deus solemnly proclaimed what had already been believed in the past {viz., the dogma of the Assumption}, AL footnote 351 can be considered as simply acknowledging / making explicit what is licitly practiced by confessors who encounter penitents like Sarah.)
    The point is, – AL footnote 351 can indeed be interpreted in an orthodox manner.

    And if we are agreed on that, then, can the third post be accepted as a possible orthodox reply to the dubia?


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