In a wide-ranging and timely address, Cardinal Raymond Burke has sought to explain the essence of the deep spiritual crisis facing the Church and the world and offered pastoral suggestions and encouragement to the faithful on how to deal with it.
Speaking to a ‘Church Teaches Forum’ meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, July 22, the cardinal patron of the Order of Malta observed that given the “troubled times in the world and also in the Church,” the “solid teaching” of the Church has “never been needed more.”
The cardinal said the widespread attack on innocent and defenseless human life is leading to “unprecedented” violence in family life and society.
He also noted other current scourges: gender ideology, denial of religious freedom and conscientious objection, atheistic materialism, and relativism. All have resulted in a “legitimate fear of a global confrontation which can only mean destruction and death for many,” he said.
“Clearly, the present situation of the world cannot continue without leading to total annihilation,” he added.
Yet “in a diabolical way, the confusion and error” that has emanated from the ravages of secularization, especially in the West, “has also entered into the Church,” he said.
Cardinal Burke, one of the Church’s leading canon law experts, lamented that the Church is “drawing near to a culture” but “without seeming to know her own identity and mission” or having “the clarity and the courage to announce the Gospel of Life and Divine Love to the radically secularized culture.”
As an example, he cited recent remarks from the president of the German bishops’ conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who said the legalization of same-sex “marriage” in Germany was not a major concern for the Church; more so was the intolerance shown to those suffering from same-sex attraction. Cardinal Burke reminded his audience that the correct approach is to distinguish between the love for the person and the hatred Catholics “must always have for sinful acts.”
He held up the life of another German prelate, the recently deceased Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who suffered from the “ever-increasing confusion” about the Church’s teaching within the Church, but who nevertheless remained “serene” and determined “to continue to fight for Christ.”
Cardinal Burke noted how, “for whatever reason, many shepherds are silent” about the current crisis or “have abandoned the clarity” of the Church’s teaching, and instead embraced the “confusion and error which is wrongly thought to address more effectively the total collapse of Christian culture.”
He recalled a young priest who recently asked him why, given the “possibly apocalyptic nature” of the present time in the Church and the world, and the need for teaching the truth of the faith, there is a “seeming lack of clarity and courage” coming from the hierarchy.
Cardinal Burke said it could be put down to the “materialist and relativist culture” pervading modern life which “encourages the confusion and division in the Church.” The cardinal also said he felt uneasy when the secular media is no longer attacking the Church as it used to, as it means the Church is “failing badly in her clear and courageous witness to the world for the salvation of the world.”
He also warned of “worldly” Church governance, where those who teach what the Church has always taught are viewed as “rigid fundamentalists” hindering the pastoral approach wanted by Pope Francis. And he observed the “sad situation” of members of the hierarchy “publicly accusing one another of a political and mundane agenda, as politicians attack one another to advance a political agenda.”
Although he didn’t refer directly to them, the cardinal has born the brunt of such attacks, most recently from one of Pope Francis’ closest advisers.
He sounded the alarm about a false perception of the papacy, that it should not be portrayed as having “absolute power” and that the office of St. Peter “has nothing to do with revolution” — as some of Francis’ more ardent supporters say — which is “primarily a political” and worldly term. Instead he reminded those present that the fullness of the Pope’s power and exercise of his office is “precisely to protect him from the kind of worldly and relativist thought which leads to confusion and division.”
Recalling that Catechism’s words which state that the Pope’s mission is to keep the faith “from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it,” he said it is “absurd” to think Pope Francis can teach something different to his predecessors. And he stressed that not all Pope Francis’ words are papal teaching or magisterium.
Expanding on this topic further, Cardinal Burke underlined how in the Middle Ages, the Church spoke of “two bodies of the Pope: the body of the man and body of the Vicar of Christ.” When the Pope speaks colloquially, as Francis often does, for example on the papal plane or in his morning homilies, this is the “first body” of the man who is Pope, he said. Making such a distinction, he continued, is in “no way disrespectful of the Petrine Office” nor does it make one an enemy of Pope Francis. On the contrary, he said, without making the distinction we would “easily lose respect” for the papacy if we believed we had to agree with all his personal opinions. Such an approach constitutes an “idolatry of the papacy,” he said.
He also recalled how previous popes have taken great care with their words. Bl. Pope Paul VI, he said, “would never permit the publication of one of his sermons without thoroughly studying the printed text” and once told a young prelate: “I am the Vicar of Christ on earth, and I have a most serious responsibility to make certain that no word of mine could be interpreted in a way contrary to Church teaching.”
Any declaration of the Pope, Cardinal Burke said, must be understood “within the context of the constant teaching and practice of the Church” lest it cause confusion and division that would do “great harm” to souls and evangelization. He recalled St. Paul’s words (Gal. 1:6-10): that if “anyone preach a gospel to you other than that which you have received, let him be anathema!”.
Citing recent “shocking” words of the superior general of the Jesuits who said we cannot know what Christ really said as his words weren’t tape recorded, Cardinal Burke noted an uncorrected, “widespread apostasy” in the Church that Our Lady of Fatima warned about. The triumph of the Immaculate Heart teaches us the “right relationship with God and with others,” he said, and recalled the full parable of the lost sheep: that the shepherd “does not leave it in its lost condition but takes it upon his shoulders to bring it back to the fold.”
Cardinal Burke closed his speech by reflecting on what can be done in these “exceedingly difficult times” which “realistically seem to be apocalyptic.”
Stressing that Christ’s teachings do not change, he gave 10 ways to deal with the crisis:
- Study the Catechism more attentively and be prepared to defend the Church’s teaching;
- Recall the “many edifying signs” of fidelity to Christ among “many good and steadfast faithful, priests and bishops”;
- Have recourse to the Blessed Virgin Mary, imitate the oneness of her heart with Jesus;
- Invoke frequently, “throughout the day,” the intercession of St. Michael the Archangel as there is “definitely diabolical involvement in the ever spreading confusion, division and error within the Church”;
- Pray to St. Joseph daily to protect the Church from “confusion and division which are always the work of Satan”;
- Pray to the great pope saints who guided the Church in difficult times;
- Pray for the cardinals of the Church to give them “particular clarity and courage”;
- Be serene, knowing our confidence is in Christ, that the “gates of hell” will not prevail against the Church, and avoid a “worldly desperation” that is expressed in “aggressive and uncharitable ways.”
- Be ready to “accept ridicule, misunderstanding, persecution, exile and even death” to remain one with Christ in the Church, following the example of St. Athanasius and other great saints.
- Safeguard love for Pope Francis by praying fervently for him and seeking the intercession of St. Peter on his behalf.
Cardinal Burke warned that schism is a “worldly way of thinking” that is “always and everywhere wrong.”
He concluded his talk by saying that although we may be in the end times, “it is not for us to worry” about this but rather “to remain faithful, generous and courageous” in serving Christ, knowing that his victory is already written.
With the Blessed Virgin’s help, he said, we are “to write, with Christ, the intervening chapters by our fidelity, courage and generosity as His true co-workers, as true soldiers of Christ.
“It remains for us,” he said, “to be the good and faithful servants who await to open the door for the Master at His Coming.”