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 Diane Montagna / LifeSiteNews

ROME, April 5, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis is “increasing the confusion” in the Church, and the College of Cardinals constitutes a de facto check against papal error, Cardinal Raymond Burke has said in a new interview.

Speaking to the Italian Catholic news agency La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana on Thursday, Cardinal Burke said last week’s alleged ‘interview’ on hell with Pope Francis, reported by his 94-year-old atheist friend, Eugenio Scalfari, “went beyond what is tolerable.”  

Burke also called the Vatican’s response to the “scandalized reactions” from across the globe “highly inadequate,” because it failed to reassert the Church’s teaching on the immortality of the soul and the existence of hell. He said it also failed to state that Pope Francis repudiates the “erroneous and even heretical ideas” attributed to him.

“It has been a source of profound scandal not only for many Catholics but also for many people in the secular world who have respect for the Catholic Church and its teachings, even if they do not share them,” he said. 

“This playing around with faith and doctrine, at the highest level of the Church, rightly leaves pastors and faithful scandalized,” he added. 

Cardinal Burke said the situation is further aggravated by the silence of so many bishops and cardinals, some of whom “pretend there is nothing serious going on.” 

Here below we publish a LifeSiteNews translation of the full interview with Cardinal Burke. It comes just two days before an April 7 conference in Rome under the title: “Catholic Church: Where are you heading?” 


Your Eminence, you will be one of the main speakers at the conference in Rome on April 7, which in the name of Cardinal Caffarra will ask questions about the direction of the Church. The title of the conference indicates concern over the direction being taken in the Church. What are the reasons for this concern?

The confusion and division in the Church on the most fundamental and important issues — marriage and the family, the Sacraments and the right disposition to receive them, intrinsically evil acts, eternal life and the Last Things — are becoming increasingly widespread. And the Pope not only refuses to clarify things by proclaiming the constant doctrine and sound discipline of the Church — a responsibility inherent in his ministry as the Successor of St. Peter, but he is also increasing the confusion.

Are you referring to the increase in the number of private statements that are being reported by those who meet with him?

What happened with the last interview given to Eugenio Scalfari during Holy Week and published on Holy Thursday went beyond what is tolerable. That a well-known atheist claims to announce a revolution in the teaching of the Catholic Church, believing that he speaks on behalf of the Pope, denying the immortality of the human soul and the existence of Hell, has been a source of profound scandal not only for many Catholics but also for many people in the secular world who have respect for the Catholic Church and its teachings, even if they do not share them. 

Moreover, Holy Thursday is one of the holiest days of the year, the day on which the Lord instituted the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Priesthood, so that He might always offer us the fruit of His redemptive Passion and Death for our eternal salvation. Furthermore, the Holy See’s response to the scandalized reactions from all over the world was highly inadequate. Instead of clearly reasserting the truth about the immortality of the human soul and Hell, the denial only states that some of the words quoted are not the Pope’s. It does not say that the erroneous and even heretical ideas expressed by these words are not shared by the Pope, and that the Pope repudiates these ideas as contrary to the Catholic Faith. This playing around with the faith and doctrine, at the highest level of the Church, rightly leaves pastors and faithful scandalized.

If things are so serious, and a source of embarrassment, it is astonishing that so many of the Church’s pastors remain silent.

Certainly, the situation is further aggravated by the silence of so many bishops and cardinals who share with the Roman Pontiff a sollicitude for the universal Church. Some  simply stay silent. Others pretend that there is nothing serious going on. Still others spread fantasies of a new Church, of a Church that takes a totally different direction from the past, imagining for example a “new paradigm” for the Church, or a radical conversion in the Church’s pastoral praxis, making it completely new. Then there are those who are enthusiastic promoters of the so-called revolution in the Catholic Church. For the faithful who understand the gravity of the situation, the lack of doctrinal and disciplinary direction on the part of their pastors leaves them feeling lost. For the faithful who do not understand the gravity of the situation, this lack of direction leaves them in confusion, and eventually victims of errors that endanger their souls. Many people who were baptized in a Protestant ecclesial communion, but then entered into the full communion of the Catholic Church because their original ecclesial communities abandoned the Apostolic Faith, are suffering intensely at this situation — they perceive that the Catholic Church is going down the same road of abandoning the faith.

What you are describing is an apocalyptic situation…

This whole situation leads me to reflect more and more on the message of Our Lady of Fatima who warns us about the evil — even more serious than the very grave evils suffered because of the spread of atheistic communism — which is apostasy from the faith within the Church. Number 675 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers” and that “the persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the ‘mystery of iniquity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth.”

In such a situation the bishops and cardinals have the duty to proclaim true doctrine. At the same time, they must lead the faithful to make reparation for the offenses against Christ and the wounds inflicted on His Mystical Body, the Church, when faith and discipline are not rightly safeguarded and promoted by pastors. The great canonist of the thirteenth century, Henry of Segusio, also known as Hostiensis, facing the difficult question of how to correct a Roman Pontiff who acts in a way contrary to his office, states that the College of Cardinals constitutes a de facto check against papal error.

Without a doubt, the figure of Pope Francis is much discussed today. The discussion ranges from the uncritical exaltation of whatever he does to the ruthless criticism for every ambiguous gesture. But somehow the problem of how to relate to the Pope applies to every pontiff. And so some things need to be clarified. What does the Pope represent for the Church?

According to the constant teaching of the Church, the Pope, through the express will of Christ, is “the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second  Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 23). It is the essential service of the Pope to safeguard and promote the deposit of faith, true doctrine and sound discipline consistent with the truths believed. 

In the interview with Eugenio Scalfari quoted above, the Pope is referred to as “revolutionary.” But the Petrine Office has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with revolution. On the contrary, it exists exclusively for the preservation and propagation of the immutable Catholic faith, which leads souls to conversion of heart and leads all humanity to the unity founded on the order inscribed by God in His creation and especially in the heart of man, the only earthly creature made in the image of God. It is the order that Christ restored through the Paschal Mystery that we are celebrating in these [Easter] days. The grace of the Redemption that emanates from His glorious pierced Heart in the Church, in the hearts of His members, gives the strength to live according to this order, that is, in communion with God and with one’s neighbor. 

Surely the Pope is not an absolute sovereign, yet today he is widely seen as such. “If the Pope says so….” is the common way of cutting off any question or doubt about various statements. There is a sort of papolatry. How would you respond to this?

The notion of the plenitude of power of the Roman Pontiff has already been enunciated clearly by Pope St. Leo the Great. The Canonists of the Middle Ages contributed greatly to the deepening of the power inherent in the Petrine Office. Their contribution remains valid and important. The notion is very simple. The Pope, through the divine will, enjoys all the power necessary to safeguard and promote the true faith, true divine worship, and the sound discipline required.

This power belongs not to his person but to his office as Successor of St. Peter. In the past, for the most part, the popes did not make public their personal acts or their opinions precisely so as not to risk the faithful being confused about what the successor of St.Peter does and thinks. At present there is a risky and even harmful confusion between the person of the Pope and his office, that results in the obscuring of the Petrine Office and in a worldly and political idea of the service of the Roman Pontiff in the Church. 

The Church exists for the salvation of souls. Any act of a Pope that undermines the salvific mission of Christ in the Church, whether it be a heretical act or a sinful act in itself, is simply void from the point of view of the Petrine Office. Therefore, even if it clearly causes very serious damage to souls, it does not command the obedience of pastors and faithful. We must always distinguish the body of the man who is the Roman Pontiff from the body of the Roman Pontiff, that is, from the man who exercises the office of St. Peter in the Church. Not to make this distinction means papolatry and ends up in the loss of faith in the Divinely Founded and Sustained Petrine Office.

What should a Catholic hold most dear in his relationship with the Pope?

A Catholic must always respect, in an absolute way, the Petrine Office as an essential part of the institution of the Church by Christ. When a Catholic no longer respects the office of the Pope, he is disposed either to schism or to an apostasy from the Faith. At the same time, Catholics must respect the man charged with the office, which means attention to his teaching and pastoral direction.

This respect also includes the duty to express the judgment of a rightly formed conscience to the Pope, when he deviates or seems to deviate from true doctrine and sound discipline, or to abandon the responsibilities inherent in his office. Through natural law, the Gospels, and the Church’s constant disciplinary tradition, the faithful are bound to express to their pastors their concern for the state of the Church. They have this duty, which is matched by the right to receive a response from their pastors.

And so is it possible to criticize the Pope? And under what conditions?

If the Pope does not fulfill his office for the good of all souls, it is not only possible but also necessary to criticize the Pope. This criticism ought to follow Christ’s teaching on fraternal correction in the Gospel (Mt 18:15-18). First, the lay faithful or pastor ought to express his criticism privately, which will allow the Pope to correct himself. But if the Pope refuses to correct a way of teaching or acting that is gravely lacking, the criticism ought to be made public, because it has to do with the common good in the Church and in the world. Some have criticized those who have publicly expressed criticism of the Pope, saying it is a manifestation of rebellion or disobedience, but to ask — with due respect for his office — for the correction of confusion or error is not an act of disobedience, but an act of obedience to Christ and thus to His Vicar on earth.

Translation by Diane Montagna. Reprinted with the kind permission of Riccardo Cascioli of La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana.