Cardinal Burke: Church teaching on sexuality must be clarified, and only Pope Francis can do it
In an interview with Ireland’s state broadcaster, RTE, one of the Catholic hierarchy’s most outspoken defenders of life and family and the Church’s sexual moral teachings again indicated Pope Francis needs to “clarify” that divorced and remarried Catholics, and active homosexuals, cannot be admitted to the sacraments.
As he did during the course of the contentious Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome last month, Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke told RTE in a video interview, “I believe very strongly that – I’m not the pope, and I’m not in the business of telling him what to do – but in my judgment this needs to be clarified, and there’s only one person who can clarify it at this point.”
The possibility of the Church in any way accepting sexual immorality, whether in the form of divorce, “second marriages” or homosexual acts, he said, must be taken “off the table” for next year’s Synod in a definitive way that only the pope can accomplish.
The cardinal denied that this was an instance of “defying” the pope’s authority, saying that Pope Francis would agree that Church teaching is immutable. But he added that he cannot see how the Church’s teaching is being clarified by the Synod process of protracted discussion and debate. He said that he has heard from lay people that “there’s really just a growing confusion about what the Church really teaches, and we’re not coming to any clarity.
“And the impression now is given that this will now go out to the dioceses and they will express their opinions and the bishops will come and vote on this. But that isn’t the way Church doctrine is formulated. And that’s not the way Church discipline is formulated. The Church is not a democracy,” Burke said.
It is “not helpful that people have this idea now that we’re going to have this broad discussion” on these issues that will be brought to the next session of the Synod in 2015, and put them to a vote, “and somehow this will be the direction.”
“In the end, the Holy Father is the only one who can set the direction, and he will have to pronounce on the matter.”
Cardinal Burke was also careful to explain that the pope does not have the power to change Catholic teaching: “The pope is the first person called to obedience to the word of Christ. And in the case of marriage we have very clearly the word of Christ as it’s recorded in 19th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, and we’re all at the service of that, beginning with the Holy Father.”
He refused to comment on whether this pontificate is “in serious trouble” because of Pope Francis’ silence, but restated his previous assertion that “the matter has to be clarified, clearly and now.”
“The Holy Father has his own judgments in these matters. But I as a cardinal, one of his principal advisors, feel the need to urge that this matter be clarified; without entering into judgments about his pontificate. … But to say that this matter in particular, is so serious we need some strong direction.”
At October’s Synod, Burke was one of the most outspoken of the group of bishops to react strongly against the mid-term document, in which it was suggested that the Church should “accept and value” the homosexual “orientation” and cohabitation, and that such relationships could have positive or valuable “elements.”
Cardinal Burke also expressed misgivings about the suggestion by many, including Pope Francis, that a solution could be found by simplifying and “streamlining” the process of declarations of nullity, whereby a decree is obtained that the first marriage had never been valid. It has been suggested that a decision in such cases simply be left up to the local authorities, perhaps even the parish priest.
But Burke, who is known as one of the Church’s most experienced canonists and who until earlier this month headed the Vatican’s Supreme Tribunal, charged with examining cases of nullity, emphasized the need for caution and dedication to the truth. He said, “It’s a very delicate question to pronounce on the truth of a claim of nullity of marriage.”
“Most of these cases are quite complex and it requires a process by which the truth of the matter can be thoroughly investigated, and the judges involved can reach a moral certitude about the claim of nullity.”
He noted that Cardinal Walter Kasper’s position, that those who are in objectively adulterous relationships should be allowed to receive Communion, “is not new” and that he has held it publicly for at least 40 years, since he was a bishop in Germany.
“I believe he has a false conception of the relationship of faith to the culture.” Burke said he agreed with Kasper that the “culture is very hostile to the stability of marriage” but disagreed with his solution. “His idea is that we go to the culture and embrace it…finding ‘good elements’ in things which are fundamentally wrong.”
“We don’t say that the people are evil. The Church has never said that. … The question is when we go out to meet the culture…[the Church] brings the truth of her teaching to the situation in order call the culture to a transformation.”
But more than this, he said Kasper is “fundamentally wrong in his interpretation of the fathers of the Church,” the early interpreters of scripture upon whose theological understanding Catholicism has always based its teachings. Kasper has claimed in support of his campaign that these Christian teachers of the first few centuries of Christianity were admitting people to second marriages, but Burke said “there’s no evidence to show that” in the records of the Fathers’ writing and acts.
Responding to the frequent assertion that Pope Francis represents a more “pastoral” or “compassionate” approach, at the expense of the more “dogmatic” style of Pope Benedict XVI or John Paul II, Burke responded that in the Catholic Church, doctrine and discipline is not regarded as a “block” or “hindrance” to “mercy,” compassion, or pastoral care.
“They’re seen as a gift to us so that we encounter Christ and are disposed to do what is best for our neighbour, especially to those in most need, and for our world. So you can’t have in the Catholic Church this dichotomy…between doctrine, by which we know Christ, and all that He intends for us in his Church, and that discipline by which we are disposed to follow Him.”
Burke, whose specialty is Canon Law, added that the Church’s discipline “is at the service of the highest realities of our life in Christ.”
Responding to the oft-repeated comment from Pope Francis that the Church should not be “obsessed” with the teaching on sexual morality, Burke said, “I don’t know what the Holy Father means by that,” but that “many lay people have said to me, would to God that they had ever heard in a homily about sexual morality … Obsession? We never hear about these things.”
To RTE’s interviewer, Burke again strongly reiterated that, while the Church never rejects persons with same-sex attractions or with other habitual sexual temptations, “the acts themselves are disordered.”
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He made the distinction between valuing people with same-sex attraction based on their inherent human dignity and the sinfulness of homosexual acts, saying that “persons… are not identified by the attraction which they have sexually to persons of the same sex. But are identified in their own human dignity, and that must always be respected in the Church.”
There are, he said, individuals “who are hateful” towards same-sex attracted persons, but “the Church has never assumed that position.”
“But the acts themselves are disordered. All we have to do is look at how God made us. God did not make man for sexual union with man or woman for sexual union with woman. So we can’t suggest that there’s something good in that. It’s simply against nature.
“That people have these attractions and that sometimes they fall in this way, the Church understands and we try to help the individual… But we don’t help somebody by saying, ‘Oh that’s just fine, what you’re doing.’” Instead, the Church works to help people “find a way to live chastely.”
Toward the end of the interview, the cardinal again reiterated his oft-repeated position that Catholic politicians who support legal initiatives, like “gay marriage” or legalized abortion, that are “contrary to the moral law,” cannot be allowed to receive Holy Communion. He cited not only the violation of the Sacrament itself, but the “scandal” that is given, saying that when public figures who are Catholic act in ways contrary to the moral teaching of the Church it “teaches” others to follow suit.
As to his own future, Cardinal Burke said little had changed. “I am a bishop and a cardinal, and my role continues to be the same,” no matter what his assignment. “I will continue to teach and to write. … I have a solemn responsibility to continue to teach and to speak about the Church’s teaching as a bishop and as a cardinal and I will continue in that way.”