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VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Cardinal Raymond Burke has issued a detailed critique of “populist rhetoric” often “attached to language used by Pope Francis,” which he said are “slogans of an ideology replacing what is irreplaceable for us: the constant doctrine and discipline of the Church.”

The former prefect of the Apostolic Signature delivered his analysis of the relation between canon law and current verbal arguments via a statement dated May 9 but published on his website on August 9. Entitled “Discipline and Doctrine: Law in the Service of Truth and Love,” Burke highlighted what he referred to as a process undermining the Church’s “canonical discipline.”

“In the period immediately preceding the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and, even more so, in the post-Conciliar period, the Church’s canonical discipline was called into question at its very foundations,” he said.

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This “crisis,” he wrote, was born from the same errors “inspiring a moral and cultural revolution in which the natural law, the moral ethos of individual life and life in society, was questioned in favor of an historical approach in which the nature of man and nature itself no longer enjoyed any substantial identity but only a changing, and sometimes naively considered progressive, identity.”

Emboldened by the reforms made to the 1917 Code of Canon Law, heterodox canonists and theologians began to question the ecclesiastical law, wrote the American cardinal. “The so-called ‘Spirit of Vatican II,’ which was a political movement divorced from the perennial teaching and discipline of the Church, exacerbated the situation greatly,” he stated.

‘Populist rhetoric’

This current of questioning or rejecting the Church’s law is aided by a “populist rhetoric about the Church,” Burke stated.

In the past few years, law and even doctrine itself have been repeatedly called into question as a deterrent to the effective pastoral care of the faithful. Much of the turmoil is associated with a certain populist rhetoric about the Church, including her discipline. 

Burke stated how “new canonical legislation has also been promulgated which is clearly outside of the canonical tradition and, in a confused manner, calls into question that tradition as it has faithfully served the truth of the faith with love.” As an example, he cited the current process of declaring a marriage to be null, “which, in turn, touches upon the very foundation of our life in the Church and in society: marriage and the family.”

Continuing, the 75-year-old prelate referred to many of Pope Francis’ key talking points, stating that such words have been employed within the Church in a way that appears to replace the “irreplaceable,” namely “the constant doctrine and discipline of the Church.”

Over the past few years, certain words, for example, ‘pastoral,’ ‘mercy,’ ‘listening,’ ‘discernment,’ ‘accompaniment,’ and ‘integration’ have been applied to the Church in a kind of magical way, that is, without clear definition but as the slogans of an ideology replacing what is irreplaceable for us: the constant doctrine and discipline of the Church.

Noting that some of these words do indeed “have a place in the doctrinal and disciplinary tradition of the Church,” Burke warned that in their current usage “they are now being used with a new meaning and without reference to the Tradition.”

For instance, pastoral care is now regularly contrasted with concern for the doctrine, which must be its foundation. The concern for doctrine and discipline is characterized as pharisaical, as wishing to respond coldly or even violently to the faithful who find themselves in an irregular situation morally and canonically. In this errant view, mercy is opposed to justice, listening is opposed to teaching, and discernment is opposed to judgment… The perspective of eternal life is eclipsed in favor of a kind of popular view of the Church in which all should feel ‘at home,’ even if their daily living is an open contradiction to the truth and love of Christ.

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‘Language often used by Pope Francis’

Cardinal Burke, known for his tact and discretion, did not shy away from naming Pope Francis as a key figure in the spread of such “populist rhetoric.” He noted that “the rhetoric is often attached to language used by Pope Francis in a colloquial manner, whether during interviews given on airplanes or to news outlets, or in spontaneous remarks to various groups.”

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However, Burke distinguished between critiquing Francis as an individual and as Pope, noting how criticism of Francis as a man often leads to the accusation that one is “speaking against the Holy Father,” leading to temptations to “remain silent or to try to explain doctrinally a language which confuses or even contradicts doctrine.”

He observed how “Pope Francis has chosen to speak often in his first body, the body of the man who is Pope.” 

In fact, even in documents which, in the past, have represented more solemn teaching, he [Francis] states clearly that he is not offering magisterial teaching but his own thinking. But those who are accustomed to a different manner of Papal speaking want to make his every statement somehow part of the Magisterium. To do so is contrary to reason and to what the Church has always understood.

The cardinal pre-empted criticisms of his differentiation, stating that differentiating between the two voices of Francis is “in no way disrespectful of the Petrine office,” but “on the contrary, it shows ultimate respect for the Petrine office and for the man to whom Our Lord has entrusted it.”

With that in mind, he warned how the continued and uncorrected use of “populist rhetoric” enables “more confusion [to] enter[] into the life of the Church.”

Catholic teaching on law and doctrine

Wishing to propose an authentic Catholic interpretation of the relationship between law and being pastoral, Cardinal Burke drew from Pope John Paul II’s 1990 address to the Roman Rota, observing how the application of law is directly linked to pastoral care:

The juridical and the pastoral dimensions are united inseparably in the Church, pilgrim on this earth. Above all, they are in harmony because of their common goal – the salvation of souls.

Expanding on the Polish pope’s words, Burke again quoted from the 1990 address, saying that “any opposition between the pastoral and the juridical dimensions is deceptive.”

In the Church, true justice, enlivened by charity and tempered by equity, always merits the descriptive adjective pastoral. There can be no exercise of pastoral charity that does not take account, first of all, of pastoral justice.

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Burke joined Cardinal Gerhard Müller earlier this year in warning against false applications of “integration,” when he issued a firm condemnation of Germany’s Synodal Way vote approving same-sex “blessings.”

He wrote that “the faithful have never needed more than today priests who announce to them the truth, who bring them Christ, above all, in the Sacraments, and who guide and govern them in the way of Christ.”

The prominent cardinal described the current times as ones in which “Bishops betray the Apostolic Tradition,” resulting in suffering for the faithful members of the Church: “faithful Bishops, priests, consecrated persons, and lay faithful will necessarily suffer greatly precisely because of their fidelity.”