EXCLUSIVE: Cardinal Burke says Pope’s exhortation must be read ‘critically’
ROME, May 18, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Two days after the Rome Life Forum in which he called faithful Catholics to be prepared to endure the “Martyrdom of Witness” for the sake of “the defense of human life and its cradle in the conjugal union of husband and wife,” I was privileged to obtain a personal interview with Cardinal Raymond Burke for LifeSiteNews in which he made clear that in his view, Amoris laetitia can be read “critically.” He spoke gravely, even sadly, deploring the fact that many Catholics today are “ignorant of their Catholic faith,” underscoring also that “the part played by artificial contraception is fundamental and lethal” to many marriages that fail, “because what it does is diminish the love between the husband and wife.”
The post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation has been widely criticized by many lay Catholics on several points, including its almost complete lack of condemnation of contraception. At the Rome Life Forum, having called attention to several of Amoris laetitia’s marked failings to uphold the Church’s traditional teaching, a very large majority of participants vocally approved an appeal to withdraw the text.
“Those parts which support and give full expression to the Church's magisterium are fine, but there may be other things that are reflections of the Holy Father, but they are not magisterium.”
In his interview, Cardinal Burke recalled that “we have all the tools in our faith to understand correctly this kind of writing,” parts of which, being “personal thoughts” of Pope Francis, are not “part of the magisterium.” Up to now, such an appeal has not been made by any prelate of the Church, but many, including Cardinal Burke, have asked for it to be interpreted in the light of its constant teaching regarding Faith and morals.
Answering a question in which I remarked that “many Catholics are troubled by the text,” Cardinal Burke did not deny that some of the Exhortation’s elements are open to a non-orthodox interpretation, underscoring that these cannot be part of the magisterium. “I think the important thing is that when one reads critically the document, one is always respectful of the person of the Pope,” Cardinal Burke said, thus conceding that in itself a critical reading is not contrary to the Catholic faithful’s correct mindset.
“Some people criticized me for saying that the document is not magisterium; they said it was a Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation and, therefore, must be part of the magisterium; but the title of the document doesn't give it the quality of magisterium. You have to read the contents and when you do, you see that this document has to be read critically in the light of the Catechism, in the light of the Church's magisterium. Those parts which support and give full expression to the Church's magisterium are fine, but there may be other things that are reflections of the Holy Father, but they are not magisterium.”
As regards absolution for the divorced and “remarried,” Cardinal Burke explained why they cannot obtain absolution without deciding to separate or at least to live “as brother and sister.” The cardinal placed this requirement in the light of the “grace” which is bestowed on every person who is married to live “in fidelity to that marriage,” whatever the circumstances.
He also clarified that while Amoris laetitia affirms that “no one can be condemned forever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel,” man can indeed refuse grace and choose hell.
Your Eminence, you have spoken out loudly and clearly about the necessity of upholding the Church’s true teaching on marriage, the family and human sexuality. Is this teaching sufficiently known to Catholics?
No, it is not. We have suffered in the Church now for several decades from a very poor catechesis and also from a certain tendency in preaching to avoid a systematic exposition of the faith, and it has left many Catholics ignorant of their Catholic faith, and even of the teachings of the moral law, which is an important part of our Catholic faith. So the fact of the matter is that in a world that grows ever more insane in its rebellion against God and His law, Catholics are ill-equipped to respond and to do their duty in defending the faith for the sake of the salvation of the world.
What would you advise Catholics to read and meditate before entering their adult lives and what points should be stressed during marriage preparation?
I would urge all Catholics to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church which is the compendium of our Catholic faith, and if they don't have the time to read the whole Catechism at least to read the Compendium, and then to go to the entire Catechism for further illustration of points that they may not have understood. This is critical for us today. Our faith is our salvation and if we don't know our faith we certainly run the risk of losing our salvation. That means for us eternal salvation, but it also means for us our happiness here on this Earth, which is an anticipation of the fullness of that happiness in the world to come. But regarding marriage preparation I think it has to emphasize most those fundamental goods of marriage, in other words, a union between one man and one woman, that is faithful. We need to insist on fidelity which is a virtue which in many respects is frequently violated in our culture. Secondly, that it is lifelong; and thirdly, that it is by its very nature procreative. And we need to emphasize with those who are preparing for marriage that the married life is a particular participation in the life of God. It reflects the love of the three Persons in the Holy Trinity, which is faithful, enduring and life-giving. Accordingly, it should be emphasized that the love of marriage is best understood and most effectively nourished through our communion with God in prayer and through the Sacraments, above all, the Holy Eucharist. So I think those are the things that should be most stressed. Then, it seems to me important to help the young people to recognize the aspects of our culture which are particularly threatening to the good of marriage, so that they may be attentive and may safeguard themselves against those kind of influences which would lead them to betray the truth of their marriage.
No one would think that you can break the link between a mother and her child or a father and his child: is it the same sort of link that exists between a man and a woman who are married?
Of course. In fact, the bond between a father and mother, and their children is a link constituted by the father’s and mother’s love for each other. A child will not grow and develop properly unless his father and mother communicate the love they have for each other. We absolutely need this for our growth and development: to have the love of a father and a mother, and to have it communicated by both parents.
In this age of rampant divorce and failed marriage, what is the part being played by artificial contraception, and do you think the Church can turn the tide on the contraceptive mentality?
The part played by artificial contraception is fundamental and lethal because what it does is diminish the love between the husband and wife by removing the totality of the love which includes the conjugal union, that always includes the great gift of procreation: the crown of the marriage union is the gift of children. And so when a contraceptive mentality enters in, that love is distorted. And in fact we see that people use the argument that sexual union without its life-giving aspect is marital to argue for sexual activity between two persons of the same sex and so forth, because they say: "Well, this is loving activity even if it isn't life-giving." But this is an abuse of the conjugal union: the conjugal union can only be between one man and one woman who are united in love. So the contraceptive mentality is at the root of a number of the most serious threats to marriage today. And the Church, to my knowledge, is the only institution which has been upholding the inherent evil of contraception, and so she is called upon more than ever today to defend the truth about the conjugal union and its fundamentally life-giving nature. And I believe very strongly that Blessed Pope Paul VI recognized this in 1968, when there was a tremendous pressure upon him by so-called "leading theologians", moral theologians, to relax the Church's teaching, and in fact to change it. He held to the Church's teaching in an heroic way, and thank God for that. And then his successor, Pope St. John Paul II, after the brief pontificate of Pope John Paul I , gave so much of his magisterium to illustrating the truth that is contained in Blessed Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical Letter Humanae vitae.
There are many repetitive sins and habitual infidelities that cut us off from sanctifying grace, but that can be absolved in Confession; could you explain why the divorced and “remarried” cannot obtain absolution without deciding to separate or at least to live “as brother and sister”?
Here it is important to make a distinction between an individual sin, for instance, an individual act in which one fails to respect fidelity, and living in a public state that is in violation of that fidelity. First of all one can argue that in the individual act there was a force of passion, a pressure, whatever it may be that may have diminished in some respect the culpability. One cannot say that about a state because one freely chooses to live with another person as husband and wife, even though one or the other is bound, or both are bound to a marriage. To confuse these two situations is very harmful. And so the individual who fails and goes to confession, truly repentant and with a firm purpose of amendment not to do this again, can be absolved, but if one goes to confession to confess the sin of infidelity, when one has the intention to continue to live in that situation, then an essential element of the repentance – the firm purpose of amendment -- is not there, and therefore the person cannot be absolved and, of course, cannot approach to receive Holy Communion. People talk about an internal forum solution; in other words, a solution within the Sacrament of Penance. There exists only one such solution, and that is that, in the Sacrament of Penance the man and woman agree to live as brother and sister, in other words to observe continence and to respect the fidelity of the marriage relationship to which they are bound. Then they are permitted to receive the sacraments, but only in a place where this will not give scandal, in other words, in a place where people will not know what their situation is. One sees in this discipline of the church – very ancient – how tremendously important the truth about marriage is to the whole life of the Church and how the Church safeguards that truth. I know many people whose marriages have broken up and who devote the rest of their lives to living in fidelity to their marriage union, even though their marriage partner has abandoned them. In the end, they tell me very clearly, that in this fidelity that they find their happiness.
Your first reaction to “Amoris laetitia” was to say that we must listen to the Roman pontiff with respect, but that all his sayings and writings are not part of the “infallible magisterium”. Does this mean that, with respect, we can make a critical reading of the post-synodal Exhortation, or even that some of its elements are open to a non-orthodox interpretation?
I don't think it can be otherwise because the Pope himself says that the document is his reflections after the experience of the Synod, and those reflections are personal. The church has never held that everything that the Pope says or all of his reflections are part of the magisterium. To teach in the Church is a very serious matter in which one understands that he is not speaking personally, but that he is speaking as the Successor of Saint Peter. And so this document has to be read in that way. Some people criticized me for saying that the document is not magisterium; they said it was a Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation and, therefore, must be part of the magisterium; but the title of the document doesn't give it the quality of magisterium. You have to read the contents and when you do, you see that this document has to be read critically in the light of the Catechism, in the light of the Church's magisterium. Those parts which support and give full expression to the Church's magisterium are fine, but there may be other things that are reflections of the Holy Father, but they are not magisterium.
Many Catholics are troubled by the text but are reluctant about expressing their doubts and even misgivings because its author is the Pope. What would you advise them to do?
My own thought is that we haven't been accustomed to this kind of writing on the part of the Holy Father. In the past the Holy Father spoke very seldom, or wrote very seldom, and it was always with a great attention to the fact that he is the Vicar of Christ on Earth and therefore, that every expression of the Faith had to be faithful to the truth of her magisterium. I was recently talking with a Cardinal who worked very intimately with Blessed Pope Paul VI, and he told me how even in his homilies, he would go over them and over them before their publication because, as he openly acknowledged, his responsibility was very grave. Pope Francis has chosen to write and speak in a way in which there is a kind of mixture between presenting the Church's teaching and also giving his own thoughts, and many times in a very colloquial language, where it isn't so easy at times even to know exactly what it means. And so I think that we have to realize that we have a different kind of papal writing here, and we have all the tools in our faith to understand correctly this kind of writing, but it is not familiar to us. But to take the position, for instance, that this document which is not written in the same way as documents like the Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, or Familiaris consortio which was also a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, is part of the magisterium in the same way as they were is simply not true. It is written in a very different way.
In that regard too, I think the important thing is that when one reads critically the document, one is always respectful of the person of the Pope. To engage in a lack of charity with regard to any fellow Christian, and in a preeminent way toward the Roman Pontiff, is completely inappropriate and wrong.
In particular, the question of eternal damnation appears to have been set aside: “No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!” Even if God’s mercy wants to reach out to every man, is it not possible for man to refuse grace and to choose hell?
Of course. The Church has always taught that. God respects our freedom and so people can be hard of heart, even at the moment of death. Christ Himself spoke about it in the Gospel. The logic of the Gospel is: God wants to save all men, there is no question about that. He sent his only Son to save all men. But men remain free and some of them reject salvation, and if they do so, they merit eternal damnation: if you reject salvation, how can you be saved?
Speaking about the divorced and remarried, some priests are saying that in certain concrete situations it is hard to say they are living “in sin”. The Exhortation says: “Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.” How should we interpret this?
The only way to interpret it is the following: if they are living in what appears to be a state of sin but in fact are not sinning, in other words if they are living as brother and sister, then it is true. But if they're engaging in marital relations, that objectively is sinful and it cannot be any other way. It cannot not be sin and be sin at the same time. Objectively, to have sexual relations with a person who is not your spouse is either fornication or adultery.
In any case it would require a blessing of the union.
Of course! And for the same reason cohabiting outside of marriage is greatly wrong and denies people the sacraments.
And if “moral culpability” is indeed attenuated, is this a sufficient reason to allow these couples to receive communion? Or to put it differently: while God’s mercy can operate their eternal salvation, is it wise on the ecclesiastical level to allow them to receive communion?
First of all, I return to the distinction between attenuating circumstances with regard to an individual act and attenuating circumstances with regard to living in a state of sin: the attenuating circumstances are applied to individual acts, and that remains true, that for an individual act there can be some circumstance which diminish the degree of culpability. But with regard to living publicly in the state of sin, given that our Lord provides to every person who is married the grace to live in fidelity to that marriage, we can say that, yes, they can live in fidelity in the marriage because they have the grace to do so. While there may be all kinds of serious considerations, children to be educated and for whom to provide a home, they can all be respected while remaining faithful to the marriage union.
Has contemporary ignorance about the rules and goods of marriage reached such a level that many marriages are invalid?
I think that the confusion that is in the world, and now is also entering into the Church, has an influence on a person who is contemplating marriage. But I think also that we have to recall that the good of marriage is taught to us by nature itself, and so to say that, for instance, widespread divorce, sexual promiscuity and so forth condition people so that they cannot enter a valid marriage, is incorrect. The young person knows within his or her heart what marriage is, and is even helped in that by good preparation, and therefore even though in the society there are all sorts of pressures contrary to a marriage the young person can well choose marriage as it truly is. The only way to say a marriage is invalid is to show that a particular individual applied to his marriage consent the right to divorce or infidelity. In other words: in giving consent to marry a person reserved the right to divorce or reserved the right to have sexual relations with another partner.
From childhood I was taught in Catechism that the virginal calling is objectively superior to marriage, which is man’s ordinary state. Has this changed?
No, not at all. That has been the Church's constant teaching. It is in the Gospel, it is in the Fathers of the Church. There is no change regarding the fact that the perfect continence of the virgin represents the perfection of love and is, therefore, a source of inspiration and also strength for the married to live chastity in their relationship with each other. That is the meaning of Our Lord too when He tells us that in the life which is to come, we will neither marry nor be given to each other in marriage because there will be that perfection of love. No, that teaching has not changed.
In these times of confusion, are we not paying too much attention to the accomplishment of self and the fact of “being part” of a community instead of realizing that our ultimate goal and happiness is in Christ?
Exactly. Our attention should be completely on Christ-like goodness, our fidelity, our cooperation with His grace in order to grow in His likeness, and in that way we are then bound in charity to all our brothers and sisters. But if we don't concentrate our attention on grace, viewing all things in the perspective of eternity, then we would descend into a worldly way of thinking, and so our life in the Church becomes a kind of a political reality, associationism and so forth. But our bond in the Church, the bond between us which is of course the most profound bond possible, is the life of the Holy Spirit within us, it is the love of Christ within us. I am very disturbed today by an increasing ecclesial language which is completely mundane, referring to members of the Church as more "conservative" or more "liberal", and all this kind of thing, as if we were a body made up of political parties. There is one faith, we all share it, and that binds us together.
You have been calling Catholics to pray the Rosary for the family. Would you like to call on my French-speaking readers to do this also?
I urge you to do so! There is no question that we are living in very difficult times in the Church today, and we as members of Christ's Body must pray fervently for the Church in our time. And one of the most powerful prayers which our Lord has given us is the Rosary. That is why I have been so supportive of "Operation Storm Heaven", as we call it in English, asking people to pray a Rosary every month for the Church, and of course urging themto pray even more frequently, but one hopes that that monthly, so to speak, "solemn" praying of the Rosary also informs a daily attitude of prayer for the Church, which is so needed.
And you yourself are celebrating Mass…
Yes, every first day of the month, I celebrate the Holy Mass for all the intentions of those who are part of “Operation Storm Heaven.”