The Wanderer Interviews Cardinal Burke (Part 2) . . . He Is With Us: Trusting In The Lord In Turbulent Times
By Don Fier
January 08, 2020
(Editor’s Note: His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and Prefect Emeritus of the Apostolic Signatura, recently visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis. On December 9, His Eminence graciously granted The Wanderer a wide-ranging interview and offered many illuminating insights on matters that concern the Church in the present time. Below is part two of this two-part of interview; part one appeared in the issue of December 26, 2019.)
Q. Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, is the editor of a soon-to-be-published volume entitled Catechism of the Catholic Church with Theological Commentary (its publication has been delayed for several months, but it appears it will now be available in early 2020). Can you tell us anything about this new catechism and what its authoritative scope will be?
A. This new issue of the Catechism will not have the authority of the text that was approved for promulgation in 1994, which will continue to be the authoritative text. Whatever commentary Archbishop Fisichella and other contributors offer in the new volume will have the worth of their fidelity to the unchanging doctrine of the Church. This is not some new Catechism of the Catholic Church and should not be viewed as such. I, for my part, urge people to study the officially released Catechism. Once again, I emphasize that whatever authority the new edition has will depend on the correctness of its fidelity to doctrine.
Q. At the recent USCCB General Assembly in Baltimore, papal nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre stated that “the pastoral thrust of this pontificate must reach the American people, especially as families continue to demand of dioceses and parishes the accompaniment envisioned by Amoris Laetitia.” In other words, as many new reports put it, the U.S. bishops are “to get in line with the magisterium of Pope Francis.” Does not the Gospel message demand, rather, that evangelization and pastoral practices entail proclaiming the unchanging truth [i.e., “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15)]? With such an emphasis being placed on Amoris Laetitia, do you foresee any possibility that the five dubia will finally be answered? If not, how can this apostolic exhortation be used validly for “pastoral accompaniment”?
A. I do not believe that the Holy Father will ever answer the five dubia — so much time has passed, and he has not yet done so. If he were to answer the five dubia in accord with the Church’s perennial teaching, it would mean that false pastoral interpretations of Amoris Laetitia could not go forward. In other words, what has always been forbidden in the Church, namely, that those who are living in a marital way with someone who is not really their husband or wife should not present themselves to receive the sacraments, would have to be taught. Most certainly, such liaisons do not constitute a valid marriage. Our Lord’s teachings are clear: Marriage is indissoluble, faithful, and between one man and one woman.
With regard to the notion of “pastoral accompaniment,” while the Church is always accompanying all her members and trying to assist them in leading holy lives, the question becomes: “Where is this accompaniment going?” When you accompany someone, you accompany them to a destination. The destination that must be sought is fidelity to the word of Christ, including His plan for marriage. This means that when people in an irregular matrimonial union are being accompanied, they must be helped to not to receive the sacraments until they are able to rectify their situation, their canonical status.
Q. Another issue that surfaced at the USCCB General Assembly was in regard to whether or not abortion continues to be the pre-eminent social issue. Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego is reported to have stated: “It is not Catholic teaching that abortion is the pre-eminent issue that we face in the world of Catholic social teaching. It is not.” Fortunately, by a vote of 143-69, the original language was retained. What could possibly compare to abortion as a social issue in light of the fact that over 60 million unborn babies have been aborted in the U.S. since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision became the “law of the land” in 1973?
A. It is absolutely clear that abortion is the pre-eminent social issue. Abortion, from the very first days of the Church, has always been considered to be among the most grievous of sins. In the moral law, the first and principal law has to do with the respect for human life. Attacks on innocent, defenseless human life in any way — let alone to the degree in which more than 60 million abortions have been performed — is absolutely the pre-eminent social issue of the time. Until we restore respect for human life, none of the teaching on the other social issues has any solid foundation.
What disappoints me most is that 69 bishops would have voted in favor of removing that language — that is an ominous sign. Even though they didn’t prevail (thanks be to God!), what is the situation of the 69 bishops who do not consider abortion to be the pre-eminent social issue? We must thank God for those bishops who did speak up — and we must pray that more and more faithful bishops will also make their voices heard.
Q. Do you have any knowledge as to whether discussion took place at the USCCB General Assembly regarding recent surveys indicating that “nones” (those having no religious affiliation) is now the largest religion in the United States, and that 69 percent of Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist? What can the U.S. Bishops do to reverse these distressing trends that seem to worsen year by year?
A. I have no information about discussions that took place at the General Assembly. However, I would wholeheartedly agree that the two issues you mention should have been at the forefront of the concerns of the United States Bishops. Faith in the Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist is at the heart of our Catholic faith. If 69 percent of those who profess to be Catholic do not believe in the Real Presence, their beliefs are not in accord with the Catholic Faith. Everything possible must be done to correct this.
The unfortunate drift of so many people to identify with no religious affiliation should be of immense concern to the U.S. Bishops. It must mean that in some way that the Church is becoming more and more identified as just one more secular reality that people can choose or not choose, instead of the sign of salvation and the light of the nations.
It is my conviction that we must dedicate ourselves to teaching, in homilies and other instructional formats, the Catholic Faith in its full integrity. Most of all, we must instruct the people in the fundamental truths like the Real Presence. Clearly, priests must be encouraged to preach frequently on these matters and give strong witness through Eucharistic devotions such as Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, Eucharistic processions, etc.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen comes to mind as I speak on this topic. His message went out on TV to all Americans. Certainly, the percentage of Catholics in those days was no larger than it is today. Yet, he was one of the most popular figures on the airwaves — people wanted to hear the truths of our faith that he taught.
In our times, we have become too politically correct, too concerned about pleasing people. Rather, we must tell people the truth, certainly in the most attractive way possible, but without ever compromising the full integrity of the truth.
Q. In light of the recent news report that a priest in South Carolina denied Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden, please explain the Church’s teaching on the priest’s action. More recently, Fr. James Martin, SJ, also appeared in the news for his comments on a similar matter. How would you counsel bishops and priests who hold that reception of Holy Communion should not be “politicalized”?
A. The incident regarding Fr. James Martin that you allude to occurred in the Diocese of Grand Rapids, Michigan. A priest rightly told a judge who was living in an open lesbian relationship that she should not approach the altar to receive Holy Communion until she corrects her situation. I am pleased to say that Bishop John Walkowiak made an excellent statement in support of the priest. It is clear to me that Fr. Martin does not teach the Catholic Faith in these matters and has no particular authority to make statements on this point of Church discipline.
What the priest did in South Carolina was right and just — would that more priests would act in a similar manner!
I wrote an extensive article in 2007 on the Church’s discipline regarding the denial of Holy Communion to those persevering in manifest grave sin which I plan to update and reissue soon [see https://mariancatechist.com/cardinal-burke-on-canon-915/]. I demonstrate that in the whole tradition of the Church, the discipline with regard to not admitting people who are involved in public grave sin, after having been admonished, has been constant and that it certainly applies to those who publicly support abortion and so-called same-sex marriage legislation.
This whole matter is not a question of politics — it is a question of the moral law. The moral law applies to politicians as much as anyone else. If one is ignorant of the truth and promotes abortion legislation, that is one thing. But if one is a professed Roman Catholic who has been admonished that he (or she) cannot support legislation against the natural moral law, he (or she) is bound to be obedient to that law. How can bishops stay out of the matter, when politicians who profess to be Catholic are giving scandal to the whole nation by voting in favor of abortion? How can they silently stand by?
I remember an incident in 2004 when a non-Catholic, high-ranking government official in Washington, D.C., asked me if I thought the Church’s teaching on abortion could possibly change. I recall being shocked by the question and responded, “How can you ask that question?” After all, the question was one of the natural moral law and did not have to do with any specific denominational or confessional matter. “Well,” he replied, “I could give you the names of probably 80 to 100 Catholic legislators who regularly vote in favor of abortion legislation. So, I figure it cannot be a very firm teaching of your Church.” This is a major scandal!
Q. Do you have any insights or expectations regarding George Cardinal Pell’s appeal to Australia’s highest court?
A. I have great hope that Cardinal Pell will finally receive a just judgment. There is no question in my mind that the accusation made against him by a single person who remains unidentified could not have plausibly happened in the way in which the Cardinal is accused. I personally do not think the incident actually occurred.
The first trial resulted in a hung jury; the jury in the second trial then condemned him. In an unsuccessful appeal before three judges, the most learned of the judges [Justice Mark Weinberg] disagreed with the vote of the other two and wrote a lengthy and very learned dissent.
I am hopeful that at the level of the Supreme Court, they will re-judge in favor of Justice Weinberg’s opinion. I hope they read his observations and realize how unjust the present decision is.
Q. What is motivating the revolutionary element in the Church?
A. To me, it is what has always been behind this type of revolution. It is a question of pride; it is a question of thinking we know better than the law of God, the Ten Commandments, and the Church’s unchanging magisterial teaching with regard to faith and morals.
People want to be able to freely define the meaning of human life, to define marriage, to define human nature itself. This is pride in its most horrible manifestation.
So, I think the motivation is pride and the absence of an obedience to the Word of God.
Q. In a time of continuing confusion with regard to doctrine and discipline in the Church, who has legitimate authority to determine if new teachings and pastoral practices represent apostasy? To whom should faithful priests and members of the laity reach out to get authoritative answers and thus remain in fidelity to authentic Church teaching?
A. The only answer in the situation in which we find ourselves at present is to fall back on the constant teaching of the Church, which is contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and in the official magisterial teaching of the Church. That has to be our point of reference. It is available to good priests and faithful members of the laity — and they must have recourse to it.
As an example, when the Arian heresy was rampant, and the heretical element was seemingly going to prevail because the majority of Catholics had become Arians, it was by the heroic insistence on what the Church had always taught about the two natures and one divine Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ that the truth prevailed.
It was at the cost of great suffering. St. Athanasius, for example, was sent into exile. At one point, Pope Liberius excommunicated him for “the sake of peace” in a political decision of sorts. St. Athanasius accepted all the suffering inflicted upon him and remained steadfast in fighting for the truth. That is precisely what needs to happen again today.
Faithful priests and members of the laity must be prepared. We have the Catechism of the Catholic Church in its unaltered form, which contains magisterial teaching. People keep talking about the “Pope Francis magisterium.” Recently, I talked to two young priests who conveyed a conversation they had with third young priest who was studying moral theology. He said to them: “We have Pope Francis’ magisterium that is completely new; we now have to abandon all the old categories and develop a new theology to match this magisterium.” This is simply preposterous — this is not the magisterium! Priests and the lay faithful must understand this.
The Sacred Heart
Q. What specific practices and devotions do you recommend for those who are struggling to hold on to their faith? Are there words of encouragement and hope you can offer to those who are battling discouragement?
A. I would especially urge devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is also the Heart of Christ the King of Heaven and Earth. We must have recourse to the practice of this devotion to assist us in recognizing Christ’s living presence with us in the Church in times when He doesn’t seem to be present because of all the confusion and even error. Likewise, we should take part in Eucharistic adoration and make frequent visits to adore the Most Blessed Sacrament.
In addition, I recommend devotion to Our Blessed Mother, especially the Rosary which the Church, in times of tremendous danger to the Faith, has commended to the faithful. For example, on the occasion of the Muslim invasion of Europe in the sixteenth century, Pope St. Pius V implored the people to pray the Rosary and Our Lady powerfully intervened. Other Popes, in situations when the Faith has been seriously threatened, have also encouraged the praying of the Rosary. Likewise, Our Lady of Fatima urged the praying of the Rosary. For my part, I recommend that people pray five decades of the Rosary every day if possible.
I would also strongly urge people to take part in the Operation Storm Heaven campaign [see https://www.catholicaction.org/take_heaven_by_storm]. Many people in all parts of the world are participating — it is something we need desperately.
We simply cannot lose hope that Our Lord is with us even though it is difficult to understand why He stays His hand in a time of confusion and error. The situation is getting so bad. For example, consider the recent procession of the pagan idol into St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome — even in front of the tomb of St. Peter.
In former times, Our Lord would intervene in some way to put an end to such practices. But for some reason He is permitting it now. This is a cause for us to purify our Catholic faith of any foreign influences, especially idolatrous influences. Above all, we must never lose trust that He is with us. To express that trust, we must commit to knowing Him better through the Word of God as handed down in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to worship Him, to pray, to be strong in our devotions, and to make sure that our daily lives are coherent with the Catholic Faith we profess.