VATICAN CITY — The most senior U.S. official in the Roman Curia has said Pope Francis is seeking to remove obstacles to Christ so the faithful can redouble their efforts for the New Evangelization in the face of a “galloping de-Christianization” in the West.
In a Feb. 21 article in the English edition of L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, firmly denied media perceptions that the Holy Father plans to change the Church’s teaching on important moral issues of our time.
Instead, he said, the Pope was placing these non-negotiable truths in the context of nurturing a relationship with Christ, from which they can become more “generously embraced.”
Writing in his capacity as president of the advisory board of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, a Rome-based pro-life think tank, Cardinal Burke said he felt compelled to write after a recent trip to the United States.
“I was repeatedly impressed by how deeply Pope Francis has penetrated the national conversation on a whole range of issues,” he explained. “His special gift of expressing direct care for each and all has resonated strongly with many in my homeland.”
But he also noticed a “certain questioning” about whether the Pope was intent on changing the Church’s teaching on “critical moral issues of our time,” such as the “inviolable dignity of innocent human life and the integrity of marriage and the family.”
A perception had developed that was “quite different” to the reality, he said, and he attributed it to “the popular presentation of Pope Francis and his views.”
Noting that the Pope “clearly” needs a “fitting tool of interpretation” if we are to understand correctly what he intends to teach, the cardinal said it is important to recognize Francis’ gift for drawing near to all people of goodwill and showing his care for each individual person.
Moral Teachings Reaffirmed
Many Catholics, especially in the pro-life movement, were unsettled by Francis’ comments made in La Civilta Cattolica last year, in which he said “we cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.” He said that these issues must be talked about “in context,” and they do not need to be addressed “all the time.” The Holy Father insisted that an individual’s relationship with Christ must come first.
Cardinal Burke assured in his article that the Pope “cannot change the duty of the Church and her shepherds to teach clearly and insistently about the most fundamental moral questions of our time.” Moreover, he highlighted the times the Pope has warned against a “throwaway culture” and identified the victims of such a culture as the “most fragile human beings: the unborn, the poorest people, sick elderly people, gravely disabled people.”
Francis, he continued, has also reaffirmed the Church’s “perennial teaching on the indissolubility of marriage,” and the cardinal recalled a recent address the Pope made to the Apostolic Signatura, in which he stressed the “effective connection” between the way the Church evangelizes and the way it administers justice.
“Pope Francis has clearly reaffirmed the Church’s moral teaching, in accord with her unbroken tradition,” Cardinal Burke said, but stressed that he “first wishes to have people set aside every obstacle which they imagine to prevent them from responding with faith.”
“The Holy Father, it seems to me, wishes to pare back every conceivable obstacle people may have invented to prevent themselves from responding to Jesus Christ’s universal call to holiness,” he asserted. “We all know individuals who say things like: ‘Oh, I stopped going to church because of the Church’s teaching on divorce’ or ‘I could never be Catholic because of the Church’s teaching on abortion or on homosexuality.’”
“The Holy Father is asking them to put aside these obstacles and to welcome Christ, without any excuse, into their lives,” Cardinal Burke continued. “Once they come to understand the immeasurable love of Christ, alive for us in the Church, they will be able to resolve whatever has been troubling them about the Church, his Mystical Body, and her teaching.”
An Invitation to All
The cardinal said persons “hardened against the truth” will read the Pope’s approach differently, claiming the Holy Father wants to change Church teachings that today’s secularized culture rejects. The cardinal also said their “false praise” mocks the fact that Francis is Successor of Peter and that the Pope “rejects the acceptance and praise of the world.”
“It is not that the Holy Father is not clear in his opposition to abortion and euthanasia or in his support of marriage as the indissoluble, faithful and procreative union of one man and one woman,” Cardinal Burke said in L’Osservatore Romano. “Rather, he concentrates his attention on inviting all to nurture an intimate relationship, indeed communion, with Christ, within which the non-negotiable truths, inscribed by God upon every human heart, become ever more evident and are generously embraced.”
And he said that in “seeking to put the person of Jesus Christ at the heart of all of the Church’s pastoral activity, the Holy Father is following closely the teachings of his predecessors in the See of Peter.”
Cardinal Burke pointed out that one should not “be silent about fundamental truths of the natural moral law,” but instead recognize that their proclamation “is always an essential dimension of the proclamation of the Gospel.” He also underlined the importance of the call to repentance in order to accept the mercy of God.
Noting that proclaiming the moral law provides an “essential service” to the Church’s mission of evangelization, the cardinal said Pope Francis’ pontificate should therefore be seen as a “radical call to redouble our efforts for the New Evangelization.”
Christ must be at the center, and, quoting Francis, he said the cross must be present if such evangelization is to be authentic.
“In the face of a galloping de-Christianization in the West,” Cardinal Burke said, "the New Evangelization, as Pope Francis underlines, must be clearly grounded in Christ crucified, who alone can overcome the world for the sake of its salvation.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.