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Cardinal Burke on exhortation: A document this confusing ‘cannot be part of the Church’s perennial teaching’

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November 14, 2016 (CatholicAction) -- Today four cardinals released a historic letter they had written to Pope Francis in September asking him to clarify his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which has been interpreted by numerous Church leaders to allow practices that violate the Church's traditional teaching and practice. Catholic Action for Faith and Family has published today an exclusive interview with Cardinal Raymond Burke, one of the four, in which he explains the letter and why he considered it a duty to publish it. LifeSiteNews publishes it here with their kind permission.

Catholic Action: Your Eminence, thank you for taking the time to have this interview with us about what you have published today. The substance of the documents which you and the other Cardinals have made public is called “Dubia.” Can you please explain what Dubia means and what the presentation of Dubia involves?

Cardinal Burke: It is my pleasure to discuss these important matters with you. The title of the document is, “Seeking Clarity: A Plea to Untie the Knots in ‘Amoris Laetitia’.” It has been co-authored by four cardinals: Walter Cardinal Brandmüller, Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, Joachim Cardinal Meisner, and myself. My fellow cardinals and I are publicizing a plea that we have made to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, regarding his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. Portions of the document contain ambiguities and statements that are like knots that cannot be easily untied and are causing great confusion. Sharing the Pope’s devotion to Our Lady, Untier of Knots, we are asking him to clarify these ambiguous statements and, with the help of God, to untie some of the knotty statements of the document for the good of souls. 

Dubia is the plural form of the Latin word, dubium which means a question or a doubt. When, in the Church, an important question or doubt arises about the faith itself or its practice, it is customary for Bishops or priests or the faithful themselves to articulate formally the question or doubt and to present it to the Roman Pontiff and his office which is competent to deal with it. The formulation of an individual question or doubt is called simply a dubium. If more than one question or doubt is articulated, they are calleddubia. The Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia has raised a number of questions and doubts in the minds of Bishops, priests and the faithful, many of which have already been presented to the Holy Father and discussed publicly. In the present case, four Cardinals have presented formally to the Holy Father five fundamental questions or doubts regarding faith and morals based on the reading of Amoris Laetitiae.

CA: Many people in the Church right now are discussing what is designated as “pastoral.” Can you tell us a little about the document you have published today, and how that relates to being pastoral?

Truth spoken with charity is clear and pastoral. It is never helpful pastorally to leave important matters, in the present case matters touching upon the salvation of souls, in doubt or in confusion. We four Cardinals, as Bishops who the pastoral care of the universal Church and as Cardinals who have the particular responsibility of assisting the Holy Father in the teaching of the faith and in the fostering of its practice in the universal Church, have judged it our responsibility to make public these questions for the sake of the good of souls.

CA: This co-authored document is actually a number of documents, as the headings indicate. Would you mind explaining why there are different parts, and what they mean?

The core of what we are publishing today is a letter which we four Cardinals initially sent to Pope Francis, along with the dubia – that is, along with a series of formal and serious questions – about Amoris Laetitia. The process of submitting formal questions is a venerable and well-established practice in the Church. When the question concerns a grave matter that affects many of the faithful, the Church responds to these questions with a “yes” or “no”, sometimes with explanation. We also sent a copy of the letter and dubia to Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which has the particular competence regarding such questions. 

In order to provide the background for the letter and our questions about Amoris Laetitia, we are also publishing a brief foreword and an explanatory note, which explain the context of the letter and the dubia or questions along with a commentary on each of the questions themselves.

CA: So you are saying that you are publishing a letter that you sent to the Pope privately. This is extraordinary. Isn’t this action objectionable from a Christian point of view? Our Lord said in the Gospel of Matthew (18:15) that if we have a problem with a brother, we are supposed to talk with him privately, one-on-one, not publicly.

In the same portion of Sacred Scripture to which you refer, Our Lord also said that, after addressing a difficulty to a brother, individually and together with others, without it being resolved, then, for the good of the Church the matter is to be presented to the whole Church. This is precisely what we are doing.

There have been many other statements of concern regarding Amoris Laetitia, all of which have not received an official response from the Pope or his representatives. Therefore, in order to look for clarity on these matters, three other Cardinals and I used the formality of presenting fundamental questions directly to the Holy Father and to the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. No response has been given to these questions either. Therefore, in making public our questions or dubia, we are being faithful to Christ’s mandate to first talk with a person privately, then in a small group, and finally, taking the matter to the Church as a whole.

CA: As you say, Amoris Laetitia has been the subject of much discussion, and even criticism. For example, you have famously stated that you believe it is not a Magisterial document. Could you explain how your current questions to the Holy Father relate to these other analyses of the Apostolic Exhortation?

To understand the present publication, we need to consider what has led up to it.

Just after his election, in his first Sunday Angelus message, Pope Francis praised Cardinal Walter Kasper’s understanding of mercy, which is a fundamental theme in Amoris Laetitia. Only a few months later, the Vatican announced an Extraordinary Synod about Marriage and Family for October 2014.

In preparation for the Synod, I, along with four other Cardinals, an Archbishop, and three theologians, published a book, Remaining in the Truth of Christ. As a member of the Synod, I noted that the mid-term report lacked a solid foundation in Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church. Later, I agreed with other Cardinals that there was manipulation in the running of the Synod itself, and in the writing of the final report of the Synod.

Prior to the 2015 Synod, to which I was not invited, eleven Cardinals contributed to a book about marriage and the family. Although I did not contribute to this book, I read it with great interest. Also prior to the 2015 Ordinary Synod on the Family, over 790,000 Catholics signed a “Filial Appeal” to Pope Francis about the future of the family, asking him to say “a clarifying word” to dissipate the “widespread confusion” about Church teaching. Along with other Cardinals, I was a signatory. During the 2015 session of the Synod, thirteen Cardinal-participants signed a letter to the Pope indicating their concern about its manipulation of the process of the Synod.

In April 2016, Pope Francis published Amoris Laetitia as the fruit of the 2014 and 2015 sessions of the Synod of Bishops. In the summer of 2016, forty-five academics, including some prelates, wrote to the Holy Father and to the College of Cardinals, asking the Pope to repudiate a list of erroneous propositions that can be drawn from portions of Amoris Laetitia. This received no public response.

On 29 August, 2016, I joined many bishops, priests, and lay faithful in signing a Declaration of Fidelity to the Church’s Teaching on Marriage and to Her Uninterrupted Discipline. This also has received no public response.

My position is that Amoris Laetitia is not Magisterial because it contains serious ambiguities that confuse people and can lead them into error and grave sin. A document with these defects cannot be part of the Church’s perennial teaching. Because that is the case, the Church needs absolute clarity regarding what Pope Francis is teaching and encouraging.

CA: Some Catholics may be concerned that your current publication is an act of disloyalty.

I, together with the other three Cardinals, are striving to be loyal to the Holy Father by being loyal to Christ above all. By making public our plea for clarity of doctrine and pastoral practice, we are hoping to make this a discussion for all Catholics, especially our fellow bishops. Every baptized person should be concerned about doctrine and moral practices regarding the Holy Eucharist and Holy Matrimony, and about how we are to identify good and evil actions.  These matters affect all of us.

Rather than being a matter of disloyalty to the Pope, our action is deeply loyal to everything that the Pope represents and is obliged to defend in his official capacity. Pope Francis has called for candid speech in the Church a number of times, and has asked members of the hierarchy for openness and accountability. We are being candid, with the fullest respect for the office of the Holy Father, and exercising, according to the light of our consciences, the openness and accountability which the Church has the right to expect of us.

This is my duty as a Cardinal of the Catholic Church. I was not created a Cardinal in order to receive an honorary position. Rather, Pope Benedict XVI made me a Cardinal to assist him and his successors in governing the Church and teaching the Faith. All Cardinals have the duty of working closely with the Pope for the good of souls, and this is precisely what I am doing by raising questions of grave importance regarding faith and morals. I would not be fulfilling my duty as a cardinal, and therefore as counselor to the Pope, if I remained silent on an issue of such serious matter.

CA: If I may, I would like to continue this line of thought. It is unclear how your publication is being docile to the Pope’s desire for greater pastoral sensitivity and creativeness in the Church. Hasn’t the Pope indicated his position in a letter to the Argentine Bishops? Other Cardinals have said that the proper way to read Amoris Laetitia is that it allows divorced-and-remarried couples to receive communion in certain circumstances. In that light, one could argue that your document is creating more confusion.

First, a point of clarification. The issue is not about divorced and remarried couples receiving Holy Communion. It is about sexually active but not validly married couples receiving Holy Communion. When a couple obtains a civil divorce and a canonical declaration that they were never validly married, then they are free to marry in the Church and receive Holy Communion, when they are properly disposed to receive. The Kasper proposal is to allow a person to receive Holy Communion when he or she has validly pronounced marriage vows but is no longer living with his or her spouse and now lives with another person with whom he or she is sexually active. In reality, this proposal opens the door for anyone committing any sin to receive Holy Communion without repenting of the sin.

I would also like to point out that only the first of our questions to the Holy Father focuses on Holy Matrimony and the Holy Eucharist. Questions two, three, and four are about fundamental issues regarding the moral life: whether intrinsically evil acts exist, whether a person who habitually commits grave evil is in a state of “grave sin”, and whether a grave sin can ever become a good choice because of circumstances or intentions.

It is true that the Holy Father wrote a letter to the Argentinian Bishops, and that some Cardinals have proposed the interpretations of Amoris Laetitia that you have mentioned. However, the Holy Father himself has not clarified some of the “knotty” issues. It would contradict the Faith if any Catholic, including the Pope, said that a person can receive Holy Communion without repenting of grave sin, or that living in a marital way with someone who is not his or her spouse is not a state of grave sin, or that there is no such thing as an act that is always and everywhere evil and can send a person to perdition. Thus, I join my brother Cardinals in making a plea for an unmistakable clarification from Pope Francis himself. His voice, the voice of the Successor of Saint Peter, can dispel any questions about the issue.

The full text of the Four Cardinals' letter is available here.

Reprinted with permission from Catholic Action.

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