Cardinal Burke: Pope Francis’ Amazon exhortation ‘could…lead the faithful into error’
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March 9, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Raymond Burke, one of the two remaining dubia cardinals, has now raised his voice against Pope Francis' Feb. 12 post-synodal exhortation Querida Amazonia. He says that “there are passages in the document which gravely contradict theological truths.” He refutes the document's idea of a strongly laicized Church by saying that “if the Amazon Church is going to be a lay Church, then it won’t be Catholic.” He reminds us that in the Church as instituted by Jesus Christ Himself “the pastoral charity exercised by those called to be apostles and successors to the apostles is essential.”
Speaking with the National Catholic Register's Edward Pentin, Burke, while being grateful for the fact that the Pope did not explicitly endorse the married priesthood and the female diaconate, sees that there are hidden agendas in this new papal document. He responds to the question as to whether there are “hidden parts in the document” with the words: “I don’t even find them so hidden, in the sense that the language is clear enough, and there are a number of interpreters who tell us exactly what is intended.”
Cardinal Burke refers here to Archbishop Victor Fernández, the archbishop of La Plata, as the
“most authoritative interpreter,” who had written “a front-page article on the apostolic exhortation” in L'Osservatore Romano. In it, Burke continues, he “stated very clearly that none of these issues like clerical celibacy and deaconesses are resolved, that the Pope simply saw that he had to wait a little bit to accomplish his agenda because there are people causing difficulty. It is clear to him that the Pope is determined to do this. It’s quite an important article.” Cardinal Burke pointed out that Cardinal Czerny has also said “openly, too, that all these questions are still on the table, and it’s just a question of time.”
As LifeSite had reported, Fernández had written on February 17 that the question of the married priesthood and “other proposals” of the synod are not “off the table,” but, instead, will come up again with respect to a new “Amazonian rite” to be developed. A ghostwriter of Amoris Laetitia, the prelate added that a key of the document is that Pope Francis wishes that the laity “take the reins of the Church in Amazonia,” with laymen leading the communities, thus cutting off the priesthood from the exercise of power.
It is here that the American cardinal is most concerned, namely the laicization of the Church in the Amazon region. When Pentin asks him whether there is an “undue emphasis on lay involvement” and a “way of placing the laity on a level with ordained ministry,” Cardinal Burke answers in the affirmative, saying that in this text, “there's this very strong dichotomy between the laity and the ordained in the pastoral activity of the Church.”
“You can’t talk about a lay Church — that the Amazon Church should be a lay Church. Well, if the Amazon Church is going to be a lay Church, then it won’t be Catholic,” he explains.
He then goes on to explain how the priestly governing office cannot be separated from its spiritual office by adding that “the very confection of the sacraments as the supreme act of pastoral charity is essentially related also to the teaching office of the priest and his governing office.”
Cardinal Burke calls the concept of the “priesthood of all believers” a “kind of a Protestant idea.” “At least among certain Protestant denominations,” he continues, “the idea prevails that the priesthood is not a sacrament, first of all, and therefore that it does not ontologically change the one who receives the sacrament, so that he acts in the person of Christ, the head and shepherd of the flock. This novelty in the document is “of the gravest of concern to us. This has to be clarified,” Burke says.
Edward Pentin also raises the question of a liturgical role for women without ordination, which could, in the long run, prepare the way for female priests later on. The curial prelate responds: “I think that’s what’s happening here.”
He goes on to explain: “Even as I read the text, there’s almost the sense that it’s not important whether they’re ordained deacons or priests; effectively they carry out the priestly ministry, except for the fact that they don’t confect the sacraments. Eventually, if you have a Church in which the lay faithful are in effect carrying out the priestly ministry with the exception that they have these priests who come to say Holy Mass and to hear confessions, the next step is to say, well, these women are carrying out the whole priestly ministry — why are they not also [ordained]?”
Cardinal Burke reminds us that this is how some participants such as Bishop Erwin Kräutler actually had argued at the October 2019 Amazon Synod, namely that there would be “these elders who are effectively leading the community. Even in some cases, when the priests didn’t come for a long while, these people were apparently simulating the Holy Mass. So I think — and am afraid — that’s exactly where the thinking is heading.”
The dubia cardinal, therefore, thinks that “it would be very questionable to give an overwhelmingly positive presentation of the document, because it could, in fact, lead the faithful into error.” He referred here especially to Cardinal Gerhard Müller's praise of the papal document, as well as Bishop Marian Eleganti's positive statement.
Moreover, Cardinal Burke also makes it clear that the Pope merely “presents” the Synod's final document, adding that “as you read this document, you have to have with you the final document of the synod. Yet clearly the final document is quite problematic.” The final document thus is not off the table.
As to the question of the magisterial character of this February 12 papal document, Cardinal Burke insists that nothing can be magisterial that contradicts the deposit of the faith, saying that if the Pope “has a teaching of the deposit of faith that contradicts the deposit of faith, then that’s not acceptable.” However, in this specific case, it is not even yet clear what the status of the new document really is: “The Pope doesn’t say here that Querida Amazonia has magisterial weight,” Burke explains, “but the Vatican press spokesman, Matteo Bruni, announced that this is a magisterial document. I would find that very difficult to believe, in terms of some of the things said here.”
Cardinal Burke then comes back to the fact that married priests and female deacons have been left out of this new papal document. He himself thinks that the Holy Spirit might have “prevented” a statement weakening priestly celibacy or the ban on female ordination, but then he adds that “I don’t think it bodes well for future synods and so forth, because the very people who were at the heart of this, Archbishop Fernandez; Cardinal [Oswald] Gracias, who is one of the six cardinals who counsels the Holy Father; Cardinal [Michael] Czerny and others, are all saying: 'No, this agenda is going forward.' So you’re almost put in a position in which the Holy Spirit seems to be doing one thing and those closest to the Pope are saying, 'Oh no, that’s just a temporary measure.'”
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, in a recent intervention, explained that, due to the opposition on the part of the conservatives, the Pope had to go slower, in order “to carry everybody with him.” He also stated that Pope Francis is “very clever” by “endorsing the final document” of the Amazon Synod. “The final document remains a valid reference point,” Gracias said, and therefore, the question regarding the question of married priests, “it's open.”
Additionally, news came on March 4 that the Amazon bishops are planning to meet this week in order to present to the Pope their requests for a dispensation so that they can have married priests in their region. And the new head of the German bishops just announced over the weekend that the German bishops could, at the end of their Synodal Path discussions, obtain a special permission from Rome for female deacons.
Cardinal Burke in this recent interview has thus added his name to the small list of critics of Querida Amazonia. Earlier, Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes had criticized that the document presents a sort of diluted priesthood which is bereft of its governing duties. He also discovered that the new papal document quotes canon law in a distorted way, thus leaving out the supreme governing rule of the priest in the parish. The German cardinal insisted that a priest acts “in the person of Christ” and that therefore, the three spheres of the ecclesial office and duties – the munera docendi (teaching), sanctificendi (sanctifying), regendi (governing) – have a “spiritual interdependency.” They are “theologically inseparable” and they lose their “efficacy” when separated.
Furthermore, Monsignor Nicola Bux, a Vatican theologian, has told LifeSite that he sees the danger that the Church “slips into pantheism” with this new papal document. He sees that the document has “problematic openings that are perhaps far greater than the theme of celibacy itself.”
Finally, already two days after the publication of Querida Amazonia, Father Frank Unterhalt – a German diocesan priest and the speaker of the priestly group Communio veritatis – had called this new document in an article written for LifeSite “a Trojan horse.” He pointed out that, since the Pope did not wish to replace the Synod's final document, “it logically means that he wants to leave it as it is. Thus, the married priesthood and the female diaconate issue is still on the table. He explains:
“Connoisseurs of the scene will pay attention to the latest here. This strategy seems familiar to the one of Amoris Laetitia. The priestly group Communio Veritatis pointed this out (here is an English report on it) at the time with its declaration “To follow the Magisterium – to Overcome the Empty Teaching.” At that time, it was a footnote; today, it is a Trojan horse made of Amazon wood. The procedure is similar.”