Editor’s Note: Cardinal Raymond Burke spoke with LifeSiteNews Paris correspondent Jeanne Smits in Rome on January 21. We are running the interview along with an article (available here) drawing out some of the cardinal's most significant points. Smits has also published a French version of the interview on her blog.
LifeSiteNews: Since the extraordinary synod on the family, we have entered a period of uncertainty and confusion over several “hot-button” issues: communion for divorced and “remarried” couples, a change of attitude towards homosexual unions and an apparent relaxing of attitudes towards non-married couples. Does your Eminence think that this confusion is already producing adverse effects among Catholics?
Cardinal Burke: Most certainly, it is. I hear it myself: I hear it from Catholics, I hear it from bishops. People are claiming now, for instance, that the Church has changed her teaching with regard to sexual relations outside of marriage, with regard to the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts. Or people who are within irregular matrimonial unions are demanding to receive Holy Communion, claiming that this is the will of the Holy Father. And we have astounding situations, like the declarations of the bishop of Antwerp with regard to homosexual acts, which go undisciplined, and so we can see that this confusion is spreading, really, in an alarming way.
LSN: Bishop Bonny says Humanae vitae was disputed by many: now is the time to dispute other things. Aren't we in a period when the Church's teachings are being disputed more than before?
CB: Yes, I believe so. It seems now that people who before did not dispute the Church's teaching, because it was clear that the authority of the Church prohibited certain discussions, now feel very free to dispute even the natural moral law, including a teaching like Humanae vitae which has been the constant teaching of the Church with regard to the question of contraception.
LSN: It was said after the publication of the relatio post disceptationem that there was a manipulation that consisted in putting into the synod questions that actually have nothing to do with the family. Would you accept to express yourself on how and why this “manipulation” took place? Who is benefiting?
CB: It's clear that there was a manipulation because the actual interventions of the members of the synod were not published, and only the mid-term report, or the “relatio post disceptationem”, was given, which had really nothing to do with what was being presented in the synod. And so it's clear to me that there were individuals who obviously had a very strong influence on the synod process who were pushing an agenda which has nothing to do with the truth about marriage as Our Lord Himself teaches it to us, as it is handed down to us in the Church. That agenda had to do with trying to justify extra-marital sexual relations and sexual acts between persons of the same sex and, in a way, clearly to relativize and even to obscure the beauty of the Church's teaching on marriage as a faithful, indissoluble, procreative union of one man and one woman.
LSN: Who is this benefiting? As faithful Catholics, we are surprised and worried about the sudden apparition of these themes.
CB: Well, it can't be a benefit to anyone, because it's not true: it's not the truth. And so it's only doing harm to everyone. It may be perceived as a benefit, for instance, to people who for whatever reason are caught up in immoral situations. It may be seen by some as in some way to justify them. But it can't justify them, because the acts themselves are not able to be justified.
LSN: You have spoken elsewhere about the firm resistance on these points by many synod fathers. Isn't this a great sign of hope? Did this resistance surprise you?
CB: No it did not, although I was most grateful for it, because at a certain point when the relatio post disceptationem was given, for instance, when one observed the direction that was clearly being given to the synod, one had fear that perhaps the synod fathers would not speak up – but they did. And they spoke up strongly, a number of them, and thanks be to God for that. I trust that these same synod fathers – I hope that many of them will be appointed to the session for September 2015 – will also be strong in that setting.
LSN: Some confusion remains on the meaning of the votes on the three articles that did not obtain an absolute majority of two thirds. They have been included in the final report and in the Lineamenta. They did obtain simple majorities of more than one half but it strikes me that the wording of the paragraphs is such that you can’t really know what the vote means. Is my impression wrong?
CB: It's very confusing. I have taken part in, I think, five synods, and in every synod, except this one, in which I took part, a proposition – in this case, a paragraph – which did not receive the necessary two thirds vote was simply eliminated; it was not published, and did not become part of the document of the synod. In this case they insisted on publishing the document with all the paragraphs, simply indicating the number of votes. And so, many people take this as an indication that these paragraphs are more or less as acceptable as the others. But in fact they were excluded by the synod membership. Sadly, they received a simple majority of votes, which is of great concern to me – that so many synod fathers would have voted in favor of texts that were confused, and some simply in error.
LSN: Repeatedly, even the synod fathers who have touted the issues of “remarriage” of divorcee and homosexual or non-marital unions have repeated that the question is not doctrinal, but pastoral. What is your response to that?
CB: That simply is a false distinction. There cannot be anything that's truly pastorally sound which is not doctrinally sound. In other words: you cannot divide the truth from love. In other words still: it can't be loving not to live the truth. And so to say that we're just making pastoral changes that have nothing to do with doctrine is false. If you admit persons who are in irregular matrimonial unions to Holy Communion, then you're directly making a statement about the indissolubility of marriage, because Our Lord said: “He who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.” And the person in an irregular matrimonial union is living in a publicly adulterous state. If you give Holy Communion to that person then somehow you're saying that this is alright doctrinally. But it can't be.
LSN: So the simple fact of putting that under discussion is already an error.
CB: Yes. In fact I have asked more than once that these subjects which have nothing to do with the truth about marriage be taken out of the agenda of the synod. [If people want to discuss these questions, fine, but they have nothing to do with the Church's teaching on marriage.] And the same goes for the question of sexual acts between people of the same sex, and so forth.
LSN: As Catholics, we know that marriage is binding for life, and that marriage is a “sign” of the union of Christ and the Church, and we also know of its profound link with the Eucharist. Pope John Paul II’s “theology of the body” brought special light on this, but his work was not quoted in the successive synod documents. What is your view on this omission, and would not the vulgarization of this work offer real answers to today’s problems?
CB: Absolutely. The teaching of Saint John Paul II is so luminous, and he devoted himself with such attention and intention to the question of the truth about human sexuality and the truth about marriage, as a number of us said in the discussions in the synod and in the small discussion groups. We pleaded for a return to that magisterium of Pope Saint John Paul II, which is a reflection on what the Church has always taught and practiced. But in fact, one was given the impression that the Church had no teaching in these areas.
LSN: This is most extraordinary…
CB: It's very extraordinary. It's stunning. I found it hard to believe as I witnessed it. In fact, I believe some people refuse to believe it's true because it's absurd.
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LSN: Saint John Paul II actually responded to gender ideology before it became well known.
CB: Absolutely. He was dealing with all of these questions on a most profound level, and dealing with them strictly in terms of the natural moral law, what reason teaches us, and what the faith teaches us, obviously in union with reason but elevating and illuminating what reason teaches us about human sexuality and about marriage.
LSN: Among the viewpoints of Cardinal Kasper and, more recently, Bishop Bonny of Antwerp, and others, was the consideration that “faithful” homosexuals, “remarried” divorcees and non-married couples show qualities of self-sacrifice, generosity and dedication that cannot be ignored. But through their choice of lifestyle, they are in what must be seen by outsiders as an objective state of mortal sin: a chosen and prolonged state of mortal sin. Could you remind us of the Church’s teaching on the value and merit of prayer and good actions in this state?
CB: If you are living publicly in a state of mortal sin there isn't any good act that you can perform that justifies that situation: the person remains in grave sin. We believe that God created everyone good, and that God wants the salvation of all men, but that can only come about by conversion of life. And so we have to call people who are living in these gravely sinful situations to conversion. And to give the impression that somehow there's something good about living in a state of grave sin is simply contrary to what the Church has always and everywhere taught.
LSN: So when the man in the street says, yes, it's true these people are kind, they are dedicated, they are generous, that is not enough?
CB: Of course it's not. It's like the person who murders someone and yet is kind to other people…
LSN: What genuine pastoral care would you recommend for people in those situations, and what can they obtain from practicing their faith insofar as that is possible when they cannot obtain absolution or receive Holy Communion?
CB: In my own pastoral experience I've worked with individuals who find themselves in these situations and tried to help them, with time, with respect also to obligations which in justice they have to fulfill, to change their lives. For instance, in the case of those who are in invalid matrimonial unions, to try to help them either to separate if that is possible, or to live as brother and sister in a chaste relationship, if there are children and they are obliged to raise the children.
LSN: In the case of remarried couples who have children of their own and children of a previous marriage, doesn't this create very difficult situations?
CB: Of course it does. In fact I am deeply concerned about the discussion about the matrimonial nullity process: the impression is given that there is only one party involved, namely the person who is asking for a declaration of nullity. The fact is there are two parties involved, there are children involved, and there are all kinds of other relationships involved with any marriage. And so the matter is extremely complex, it's never capable of some kind of an easy solution.
LSN: For these people who are living in invalid marriages or impossible unions, the question of spiritual Communion has been raised. I don't understand very well how you can have a spiritual communion in this sort of state.
CB: That term was used in an imprecise way. To make a spiritual communion you have to have all of the dispositions necessary to actually receive Holy Communion. The person who makes a spiritual communion is simply in a situation where he or she does not have access to the Sacrament but is fully disposed to receive the Sacrament and so makes an act of spiritual communion. I think what some people who used this term were speaking about is the desire of a person who finds himself or herself in a sinful situation to be freed of that situation, and so they pray and ask for God's help to turn their lives around, to change their lives, to find a new way to live so that they can be in the state of grace. We could call that a desire for Holy Communion, but it isn't spiritual communion. It can't be. The nature of spiritual communion, by the way, was defined in the Council of Trent: it made it very clear that it requires all of the dispositions, and that makes sense.
LSN: How can the Church really help all those concerned: abandoned spouses, children of legitimate marriages who are hurt by the divorce of their parents, people who are struggling with homosexual tendencies or who have in a way let themselves be “trapped” into an illegitimate union? And what should our attitude be: the attitude of the faithful?
CB: What the Church can do, and that is the greatest act of love on the part of the Church, is to present the teaching on marriage, the teaching that comes from Christ's very words, the teaching which has been constant in the tradition, to everyone, as a sign of hope for them. And also, to help them to recognize the sinfulness of the situation in which they find themselves, and at the same time call them to leave that sinful situation and to find a way to live in accord with the truth. And that's the only way the Church can help. That was my great hope for the synod: that the synod would hold up to the world the great beauty of marriage, and that beauty is the truth about marriage. I always say to people: indissolubility is not a curse, it is the great beauty of the marital relationship. This is what gives beauty to the relationship between a man and a woman, that the union is indissoluble, that it is faithful, that it is procreative. But now one almost begins to get the impression that somehow the Church is ashamed of the very beautiful treasure which we have in marriage, as God made man and woman from the beginning.
LSN: Some pastors sometimes seem ashamed to speak about sin, or to speak about chastity.
CB: This was brought up at the synod too. One of the synod fathers said: “Is there no more sin?” One gets that impression. And sadly, since the fall of our first parents, there is always the temptation to sin and there is sin in the world, and we have to recognize it and call it by its proper name, and seek to overcome it.
LSN: Isn't there a special call for Catholic and Christian parents to educate their children to modesty and decency? This has completely disappeared in many places.
CB: Yes, this is so true. Part of the Gospel of Life is to teach to children in the home and in the schools the fundamental virtues which show respect for our own life and the life of others, and for our own bodies, namely modesty, and purity, and chastity, and to form the young children in this way from their earliest years. But that too is in great peril, simply because the catechesis in the Church has been so weak, and in some cases confused and erroneous, and there's been such a breakdown in family life, that the children have been subjected to an education that leaves them unequipped to live the truth about marriage, and to live the truth about their own body, their own human life.
LSN: What is the most urgent thing we should be doing to avoid the disorder of divorce and of all unacceptable unions?
CB: I really do believe that it begins in the family. We need to strengthen families, to form husband and wife first to live the truth of marriage in their own home, which becomes, then, not only the source of salvation for them, but also a light in the world. A marriage lived in truth is so attractive and so beautiful that it leads to the conversion of other souls. We need to form children in this way and, especially today, children have to be raised in such a way as to be able to be counter-cultural. They can't for instance accept this gender theory which is infecting our society; they have to be raised to reject these falsehoods and to live the truth.
LSN: I understand there is a link between contraception and divorce: 30 to 50 percent of married couples who contracept will divorce, while less than 5 percent of people who do not contracept, be they Christian or not, or who use natural family planning, will divorce. Would you agree that clear language and greater pastoral involvement of the Church to promote Humanae vitae are essential to obtain more stable unions?
CB: Absolutely. And Blessed Pope Paul VI made this clear in the Encyclical Letter Humanae vitae: that the practice of contraception would lead to the breakdown of family life, to the loss of respect for women. We simply need to reflect on the fact that a couple who are contracepting are no longer giving themselves totally to one another. That introduces already an element of breakdown in the marriage and if that is not corrected and remedied it can easily lead to divorce.
LSN: On the question of family size and parental liberty, is the worldwide “ecological” movement and international promoting of family planning and population control a subject of particular worry to you?
CB: Yes, I'm very concerned about it because people are being led in a false way to think that they should practice some form of birth control in order to be responsible stewards of the earth. The fact of the matter is that the birthrate in most countries is far below what it needs to be to replace the present population. Leaving all of that aside, the truth is that if God has called a couple to marriage, then He is calling them also to be generous in receiving the gift of new human life. And so we need many larger families today, and thanks be to God I see among some young couples today a remarkable generosity with regard to children. The other thing that I seldom hear mentioned today but which was always emphasized when I was growing up, and also in the tradition of the Church, is that parents should be generous in having children so that some of their children could receive the call to the priesthood or to the consecrated life and service of the Church. And that generosity of the parents certainly will inspire, in the child who has a vocation, a generous response to it.
LSN: Lifelong monogamous marriage is all very well for Catholics, many will say, but the “hardness of hearts” of non-Catholics should allow for divorce and remarriage in civil legislations. On the other hand, Christian nations have done much to bring social stability and dignity to natural marriage in many places in the world. Did Christ’s coming change the situation of all men and is it right to promote and even perhaps impose this vision of natural marriage even in non-Catholic societies?
CB: I think that it has to be exactly underlined that Christ's teaching on marriage is an affirmation, a confirmation, of the truth about marriage from the beginning, to use His words, or that truth about marriage which is written upon every human heart. And so the Church, when she teaches about monogamous, faithful, lifelong marriage, is teaching the natural moral law and she's right to insist on this in society in general. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council referred to divorce as a plague in our society, and it is. The Church has to be ever stronger in opposing the widespread practice of divorce.
LSN: Do you think studies on the situation and better outcomes of children in stable monogamous families should play a larger part in preparations for marriage?
CB: I think so. To emphasize the beauty of marriage as it's lived by many couples today, faithfully and generously, and family life as it is experienced by children who live in a loving family… which doesn't mean there aren't challenges. It doesn't mean that there aren't difficult times in the family and in marriage, but that with the help of God's grace, the response is always ultimately one of love, of sacrifice, of accepting whatever suffering is necessary in order to be true to love.
LSN: But modern society does not accept suffering, either at the end of life, or during pregnancy, or in marriage…
CB: Of course, it doesn't because it doesn't understand the meaning of love. Christ said: if anyone will follow me let him take up the cross and come after me, and so the essence of our life is to suffer for the sake of love: the love of God, and of our neighbor.
LSN: Would you agree, as a number of people are saying, that many Catholic marriages today, through insufficient preparation or ignorance of the meaning of the marriage vows, are often invalid? What was your specific experience on this point as prefect of supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura?
CB: I think it's very unwarranted to make general statements about the number of marriages which are valid or invalid. Each marriage must be examined, and the fact that people may have not been well catechized and so forth certainly can weaken them for the married life, but it would not necessarily be an indication that they would give an invalid matrimonial consent, because nature itself teaches us about marriage. We saw this at the Apostolic Signatura: yes, there were more declarations of nullity of marriage but in examining those cases there were many that came forward in which the nullity of marriage was not established, was not shown to be true.
LSN: You have shown in the book “Remaining in the Truth of Christ” that simplifying the procedure is not the answer.
CB: Not at all, because these are very complex situations, and they require a carefully articulated process in order to arrive at the truth. If we don't care any more about the truth, then any process will be acceptable, but if we care about the truth, then it will have to be a process like the one that the Church presently employs.
LSN: And the Church has done much for judicial procedures in the civilized world…
CB: The Church has been admired over the years as a mirror of justice; her own way of administering justice was a model for other jurisdictions. There has already been an experience in the Church with a modified marriage nullity process which took place in the United States from 1971 to 1983. It had disastrous effects and people began to talk about “catholic divorce”, and not without reason. This is a scandal to those who are workers of justice or ministers of justice in the secular order, because when they see that the Church doesn't practice justice, doesn't care any more about the truth, then what can law and justice possibly mean?
LSN: An Italian exorcist, Father Sante Babolin, said recently that during an exorcism, the evil spirit that was tormenting the wife of one of his friends said to him: “I cannot bear that they love each other.” Is this not a message that married couples should meditate?
CB: Absolutely. There is no greater force against evil in the world than the love of a man and woman in marriage. After the Holy Eucharist, it has a power beyond anything that we can imagine. I didn't know about this story, but it doesn't surprise me, and surely it is true that whenever a couple has entered into marriage with all their mind and heart, the devil's going to be at work to try to spoil that home, because that home is a cradle of grace, where grace is received not only for the couple but for the children and for everyone who knows the family.
LSN: How can married couples best value and protect their conjugal love?
CB: First of all by a life of faithful prayer every day, and by regular confession, because we all need that help in order to overcome sin in our lives, even small sins, venial sins, but also to guard ourselves against more serious sins. And then of course the Eucharist is the center of every Christian life in a very particular way. It's the center of married life because it's communion with Our Lord Jesus Christ, for the living of that love which He has for the Church, of which marriage is the sacrament: marriage is the sign of His love in the world, and so in the Eucharist the couple receives the grace, most of all, most powerfully, to live their covenant of love.
LSN: Do you think there is a link between the “death of the cult” – non adoring, anthropocentric liturgy – and the culture of death?
CB: I'm very convinced that where abuses entered into liturgical practice in the Church, abuses which reflected a very anthropocentric direction, in other words, where the sacred worship began to be presented as the activity of man instead of the action of God in our midst, that clearly has led people in a wrong direction, and has had a very negative impact on the life of every individual and in a particular way upon married life. The beauty of married life is in a very particular way perceived and confirmed in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
LSN: As Catholics we are required to act in society and to act politically also, to have a political engagement. But in France there is not a single represented party which is defending marriage completely and which is defending life completely. What should Catholics be doing: engage themselves in a movement even when they know that this movement is against the non-negotiable principles, or should they try to build up something else?
CB: Ideally, they should try to build up a political force in society which stands fully for the truth, for the non-negotiable goods with regard to human life and the family. And they should make their own position very clear, and insist on it, with the political parties that are in existence, in order to be a force for the reform of those political parties. Clearly you cannot take part in any kind of movement which would be contrary to the moral law. On the other hand, if in that political party or movement there are signs of a reform, of an adherence to the moral law, that we should support and encourage.
LSN: Which saints should we be invoking for the family today?
CB: First of all the Holy Family of Nazareth: the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph and Our Lord Jesus. And then there are great married saints. One thinks for instance of the parents of the Little Flower, Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin, one thinks also of a great saint like Saint Gianna Molla here in Italy, of a great saint who died a martyr for the family, Saint Thomas More, who was a married man and understood fully the matrimonial vocation. There's also the couple Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi who were beatified here in Italy. One thinks too of someone like Saint Rita of Cascia who was a very faithful mother: she prayed so much for her husband's conversion, and also for the conversion of her two sons. Those would be just some examples… there are so many others.
LSN: How can we best remain faithful to the Church and to the Pope in these troubled times?
CB: By adhering very clearly to what the Church has always taught and practiced; this is our anchor. Our faith is not in individual persons, our faith is in Jesus Christ. He alone is our salvation, and He is alive for us in the Church through her teaching, through her sacraments, and through her discipline. I say to people – because many people today are in communication with me who find themselves quite confused, they're worried and upset – no, we must remain calm, and we must remain full of hope by coming to an ever deeper appreciation of the truth of our faith, and adhering to that. That's unchanging, and that will be victorious in the end. Christ told Saint Peter when he made his confession of faith: “The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church.” We know that this is true, and we have to suffer in the meantime for the truth, but we must be confident that Our Lord will win the victory in the end.