Cardinal Raymond Burke has said Pope Francis is not only “refusing to clarify”  the Church’s doctrine and discipline but also “increasing the confusion” on the “most fundamental and important issues.”

In an interview Thursday with the Italian Catholic daily La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, the patron of the Order of Malta said the “confusion and division” in the Church on such important issues as marriage and the family, the sacraments, intrinsically evil acts, eternal life and the Last Things “are becoming more and more widespread.”

In spite of this, he said 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.”

Asked if he was referring to statements coming from some of those who have spoken or met with the Pope (recently an Argentine sister said the Pope told her contraception is permissible in some cases, and a French priest said Francis condoned the blessing of homosexual couples), Cardinal Burke referred in particular to alleged comments the Pope made to the Italian atheist Eugenio Scalfari over Easter. Scalfari replorted in the La Repubblica newspaper that the Pope told him he doesn’t believe in the existence of hell, but that unrepentant sinners simply disappear.

That episode “went beyond what is tolerable,” Cardinal Burke said, adding that to have a well-known atheist speaking on behalf of the Pope in “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.”

He also decried the fact that the story came out on Holy Thursday, “one of the holiest days of the year,” and that the Holy See’s response 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,” he said. “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 faith and doctrine, at the highest level of the Church, rightly leaves pastors and faithful scandalized,” Cardinal Burke added.

He went on to say the current situation is “further aggravated” by the silence of bishops and cardinals, and that ”the faithful who understand the gravity of the situation” are left feeling “lost” while those who don’t understand the crisis are left “in confusion and possibly victims of errors that are harmful to their souls.”

He also said those who have chosen to come into the Church “suffer intensely” from the situation as they perceive the Church is going down the same road of Protestant ecclesial communities and “abandoning the faith.”

Cardinal Burke alluded to an “apostasy from the faith” taking place within the Church and that in such a situation, bishops and cardinals “have the duty to proclaim true doctrine” and the College of Cardinals in particular must act as a “check against papal error.”

The cardinal, who will address a conference Saturday on confusion in the Church and the limits of papal authority, said some aspects of the Petrine Office need to be clarified. According to the constant teaching of the Church, he said the Pope’s “essential service” is to “safeguard and promote the deposit of faith, true doctrine and sound discipline consistent with the truths believed.”

On the frequent labeling of the Pope as a revolutionary (a description most recently made by Scalfari), the cardinal said the Petrine Office has “absolutely nothing to do with revolution” but rather is about the “preservation and propagation” of the immutable truths of the Catholic faith.

He further stressed that the Pope’s power belongs not to “his person but to his office as Successor of St. Peter” and pointed out that previous popes consciously avoided making public their personal acts or opinions precisely to avoid confusing the faithful about what the Pope 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 both the obscuring of the Petrine Office and in a worldly and political idea of the service of the Roman Pontiff in the Church,” he said.

“The Church exists for the salvation of souls,” he added. “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.”

“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,” Cardinal Burke said. “Not to make this distinction means papolatry and ends up in the loss of faith in the Divinely Founded and Sustained Petrine Office.”

He stressed a Catholic must always respect the Petrine Office, and, through a “rightly formed conscience,” judge when a pope “deviates or seems to deviate from true doctrine and sound discipline.” A Catholic also has the right to express to their pastors concerns about the Church, and to receive their pastors’ response.

The cardinal said it is not only possible but also “necessary to criticize” a pope if he does not “fulfill his office for the good of all souls.”

Rather than an act of “rebellion or disobedience,” he said that if asking for correction of confusion or error is made out of due to respect for his office, it is “an act of obedience to Christ and therefore to His Vicar on earth.”   

A complete English translation of the interview is on LifeSite News here.