Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, 66, is troubled by the negative campaign that has been waged against him. Ordained a bishop by Pope John Paul II in 1995, the respected expert in canon law was called to Rome by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 as prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura before being appointed cardinal in 2010.
In recent months, critics have described him as an “ultraconservative fanatic,” “anti-Conciliar,” “in conspiracy against the Pope” and even ready for a schism should the upcoming family synod open up unwelcome changes.
“It’s total nonsense; I don’t understand this attitude,” Cardinal Burke said. “I have never said a single word against the Pope; I strive only to serve the truth, a task that we all have. I have always seen my talks and my activities as a support to the Petrine ministry. The people who know me well can witness to the fact I am not anti-papal. On the contrary, I have always been extremely loyal and wanted to serve the Holy Father, as I am doing now.”
When meeting Cardinal Burke in his apartment, a stone’s throw from St. Peter’s Square, with his friendly manner and spontaneity, he bears no resemblance to that hard defender of “cold doctrine,” as he is described by mainstream media outlets.
Cardinal Burke, in the debate that preceded and followed the first synod on the family, some of your statements did sound like criticisms of the Pope, or at least that is how they were interpreted. For example, quite a stir was caused by your recent remark, “I will resist; I’ll resist,” as a response to a possible decision of the Pope to grant Communion to the divorced and remarried.
That comment was misrepresented, and there was no reference to Pope Francis. I believe that because I have always spoken very clearly on the issue of marriage and the family, there are people who want to undermine what I say by depicting me as an enemy of the Pope or even ready for a schism by using that answer I gave in an interview with a French television channel.
How should we interpret that answer?
Quite simply. The journalist asked me what I would do if, hypothetically, not referring to Pope Francis, a pontiff were to make decisions contrary to the Church’s doctrine and practice. I replied I should resist, because we are all in the service of the truth, starting with the Pope. The Church is not a political body, in the sense of power. The power is Jesus Christ and his Gospel. Therefore, I replied I would resist, and it would not be the first time that this has happened in the Church. There have been several moments in history where someone had to stand up to the pope, beginning with St. Paul against St. Peter, in the matter of Judaizers who wanted to impose circumcision on the converted Greeks. In my case, I am not resisting Pope Francis at all because he hasn’t done anything against the doctrine. Nor do I see myself in a fight against the Pope, as they try to depict me. I’m not pursuing the interests of a group or party. I am simply trying, as a cardinal, to be a teacher of the faith.
You have also been named as the inspiration if not the promoter of the “Petition to Pope Francis for the Family,” which has been circulated to collect signatures by a number of traditionalist websites.
I did sign that petition, but it is not my initiative. ... Nor did I write or collaborate in drafting the text. Anyone who says otherwise is affirming something false. As far as I know, it is an initiative by laypeople. I was shown the text, and I signed it, as have many other cardinals.
Perhaps your “reputation” has to do with what Cardinal Walter Kasper called the “synod battle,” which also seems to grow in intensity as we get closer to the ordinary synod this coming October. At what stage are we now?
I would say that there is now a much more extensive discussion on the topics covered by the synod, and this is a good thing. There is a greater number of cardinals, bishops and laypeople who are intervening, and this is very positive. Therefore, I don’t understand all the fuss last year made over the book Remaining in the Truth of Christ, to which I contributed, along with four other cardinals and four specialists on marriage.
One of the recurring themes in the controversy on the synod is the alleged opposition between doctrine and practice, doctrine and mercy. The Pope often insists on the pharisaic attitude of those who use doctrine to keep out love.
I think you have to distinguish between what the Pope says on certain occasions and those who affirm an opposition between doctrine and practice. The Church can never allow a contrast between doctrine and practice, because we live the truth that Christ communicates to us in his holy Church, and the truth is never something cold. It is the truth that opens to us a space for love; to love, really, you have to respect the truth of the person and of the person in the particular situations in which you find him or her. Thus, creating a kind of contrast between doctrine and practice does not reflect the reality of our faith. One who supports the thesis of Cardinal Kasper — a change of discipline that does not touch doctrine — should explain how this is possible. If the Church allows Communion for a person who is bound by marriage but who is living with another person in a matrimonial relationship, that is in a state of adultery: How can the Church allow this and maintain at the same time that marriage is indissoluble? The contrast between doctrine and practice is a false contrast that we must reject.
But it is also true that you can use doctrine without love.
Absolutely, and this is what the Pope is condemning, the use of doctrine or law to promote a personal agenda in order to dominate people. But this does not mean there is a problem with the doctrine and discipline; only there are people of ill will who commit abuses, for instance by interpreting the law in a way that harms people. Or they apply the law without love, insisting on the truth of a situation of a person but without love. Even when someone is in a state of grievous sin, we have to love that person and help him or her like Our Lord did with the adulteress and the Samaritan woman. He was very clear in announcing the state of their sin, but at the same time, he showed great love by inviting them to come out of this situation.
Riccardo Cascioli is editor of the Italian Catholic website Nuova Bussola Quotidiana,
where this interview originally appeared in Italian.
Translated for the Register by Patricia Gooding Williams. Read the entire interview at NCRegister.com.