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CARDINAL BURKE SEEMS TO HAVE TROUBLE letting go of an issue that has already been settled. Earlier this year Cardinal Mueller, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) stated that “There’s no problem with doctrine in ‘Amoris Laetitia” (AL).  The Cardinal also stated that:

“The document is “very clear” on doctrine, and that making the discussion public is harmful to the Church.”

Nonetheless, on the eve of March 24, 2017 Cardinal Raymond Burke, after several  previous public cannonades, was still at it. If the pope is not good enough for him why should the highest doctrinal authority in the Church, beside the pope himself, mean anything to him either? Thus, on that Friday evening, Cardinal Burke presented a talk at Saint Raymond of Peñafort parish in Springfield, Virginia, during which he stated that  “correction” by the Four Cardinals would be forthcoming if Pope Francis fails respond to the dubia presented to him by what might in jest be a dubious group of cardinals.

The pastor of the parish, Fr. John De Celles, asked about the dubia:

Fr. De Celles: There are a lot of rumors circulating about the dubia, which you and four other esteemed cardinals sent to the Holy Father about divorce, marriage, and communion and the likeDo you know if there will be a response to the dubia from our Holy Father or from the CDF?

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Cardinal Burke: I sincerely hope that there will be because these are fundamental questions that are honestly raised by the text of the apostolic…the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. And until these questions are answered, there continues to spread a very harmful confusion in the Church and one of the fundamental questions is in regards to the truth that there are some kinds that are always and everywhere wrong – what we call intrinsically evil acts – and so, we cardinals are, will continue to insist that we hear a response to these honest questions.”

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Fr. De Celles: If there is no response, will, what will your response be, the Four Cardinals?

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Cardinal Burke: Then we simply will have to correct the situation, again, in a respectful way, that simply can say that, to draw the response to the questions from the constant teachings of the Church and to make that known for the good of souls.

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“In summary, the five dubia suggest that “Amoris Laetitia” may have altered traditional Catholic teaching on the following matters:”

  • the indissolubility of the sacramental marriage bond;
  • the existence of absolute moral norms prohibiting intrinsically evil acts;
  • that one can find oneself in an objective situation of grave habitual sin by living in contradiction to a commandment of God’s law;
  • that circumstances or intentions can never transform an intrinsically evil act into a subjectively good one or into a defensible choice;
  • that there can be no “creative” role for conscience to authorize legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms.

According to the Jesuit Review,

“The dubia are not really expressions of doubt or questions but rather assertions that “Amoris Laetitia” appears to have abandoned or altered key teachings of Catholic tradition, especially as they have been expressed most recently by St. John Paul II in his encyclical letter “Veritatis Splendor” (1993).

This does appear to be the case.  The key word is “appears“. After reading the document, we begin to wonder if the Cardinal has ever read the document; certain that he has, Newera analysts are left awestruck, did we read the same document?  We are left awestruck because after reading the document, nothing “appeared‘ contrary to the teachings of Catholic tradition. In fact, Pope Francis strains to make it clear in numerous places throughout the document and esp. in the so-called “troublesome” Chapter Eight that nothing stated in AL about the discernment process that is integral to pastoral theology should be interpreted in such a way that contradicts the long held teaching of the Church on marriage nor may it be interpreted in such a way that prescinds from the Gospel (para 297, 300, 307, 308, 311). Did the Cardinals miss these statements?

To elucidate the point about Francis’ clarity, a chronological list of clarifying statements contained in the original document (Chapter Eight) is provided.  To begin, according to the AL,

“The Synod Fathers stated that, although the Church realizes that any breach of the marriage bond “is against the will of God”  she is also “conscious of the frailty of many of her children” (para 291).

Pope Francis begins the so-called difficult chapter by reaffirming the perennial truths of the faith pertaining to the marriage bond and hints at the pastoral dimension that must be taken into account while upholding the perennial truths, because, according to the popeany breach of the marriage bond “is against the will of God.” Moreover, the Church

“… constantly holds up the call to perfection and asks for a fuller response to God, “the Church must accompany with attention and care the weakest of her children  to enlighten those who have lost their way or who are in the midst of a storm” (para 291).

Again, he clearly states that the Church in addition to protecting the marriage bond from any breach, is also leading all of her children to “perfection“. Since all men and women are at a different place along the path that leads to God, the Church must meet them where they are at.  As witnessed by St. Paul, she must “become all things to all men with the view of winning them to Christ” (1 Cor 9:22). If the Church and her ministers fail to do this, they will not bring anyone to Christ, which is their evangelical mission. She must be especially vigilant about those who have “lost their way”; Like her beloved spouse, Jesus Christ, His bride must leave the secure to seek out the lost but not in anyway that negates the truth about marriage as already clearly stated at the outset of the chapter.

“What man of you that hath an hundred sheep: and if he shall lose one of them, doth he not leave the ninety-nine in the desert, and go after that which was lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, lay it upon his shoulders, rejoicing: And coming home, call together his friends and neighbours, saying to them: Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost? I say to you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance” (Luke 15:4-7).

Perhaps this pastoral approach taught by the Lord Himself, is too difficult for some who would rather wear medals and debate theological issues while drinking wine and smoking cigars or for another group, the so-called, “self righteous”. While debating theology and enjoying a good cigar are wholesome activities, the are deficient if not followed by the difficult task of pastoral work, of seeking out, reassuring, and accompanying the lost while gently guiding them after touching their hearts with mercy and compassion rather than cold correction and instant rebuke, which, more often than not, turns them away. NO! This is not the way of Jesus Christ, nor is it the way of Pope Francis; anyone who thinks otherwise will have difficulty understanding Amoris Laetitia.

Francis continues:

“The Fathers also considered the specific situation of a merely civil marriage or, with due distinction, even simple cohabitation, noting that “when such unions attain a particular stability, legally recognized, are characterized by deep affection and responsibility for their offspring, and demonstrate an ability to overcome trials,  they can provide occasions for pastoral care with a view to the eventual celebration of the sacrament of marriage” (para 293).

Notice that Francis indicates that when civilly married people or even those in “simple cohabitation” have a relationship that is “stable” and are characterized by “deep affection” and “responsibility for their offspring” they can provide an “occasion for pastoral care”, not for the sacraments but for pastoral care (that might lead to the sacraments). In other words, divorced-remarried couples who are acting maturely and give signs that they might want to mature in the faith should be approached; they should be approached however, not to introduce them to the Sacraments, but with a view of giving them  pastoral care that might lead to “eventual celebration” of marriage”.  In other words, these people are to be met and encountered, not to condone their sin, but to bring them to a deeper relationship with Christ and eventually to Christian marriage. This seems very clear, and it sets the tone for the remainder of the so-called difficult chapter.

To provide further clarity Francis remarks:

“In this pastoral discernment, there is a need “to identify elements that can foster evangelization and human and spiritual growth”.

In other words, the pastor is not to make excuses and look past sins or worse, to condone them; rather, he is to identify elements that can foster evangelization; that is look for positive behaviors that he can build upon while gently correcting them and leading them to deeper communion with Christ and with each other.  Clearly, if they need “spiritual growth,” they must be doing something wrong!

It is the pope’s desire to lead such people from a sinful to a sanctified relationship:

“We know that there is “a continual increase in the number of those who, after having lived together for a long period, request the celebration of marriage in Church.”

A pastor will meet a broad variety of cases; however, according to Pope Francis,

“Whatever the case, “all these situations require a constructive response seeking to transform them into opportunities that can lead to the full reality of marriage and family in conformity with the Gospel.

Did Cardinal Burke miss this? Whatever the case, these relationships “require” “transformation.”  They are “opportunities” that can lead to marriage in “CONFORMITY WITH THE GOSPEL”. This is the second time the pope has mentioned the need to conform to the Gospel. He is concerned that the Church reinstate sinners in some way possible, in some way that will lead to fuller participation and eventual reception of the sacraments.  He does not want to cast sinners away like the New England Puritans did, but to embrace them and win them over as Christ did.  He wants to do this not be excusing their sins but by acknowledging their sins and also acknowledging anything good in their relationship and building upon it.

He makes this point about excusing sin clear (para 297):

“Naturally, if someone flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal (radical homosexual who argues God made him this way), or wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches (for example civil-remarriage), he or she can in no way presume to teach or preach to others; this is a case of something which separates from the community” (cf. Mt 18:17).

Again, clearly, anyone who teaches that objective sins are licit cannot be a teacher or a preacher; this is a case of “something which separates from the community”.  Can it get any clearer than this? Although good pastors will look for ways to accompany their parishioners, esp. sinful ones always with an eye to something to build upon as mentioned above, no one can excuse objective sin and the flaunting of it.  This is NOT acceptable and Francis is straightforward about the matter.

He then points out  at the end of para 297 that people who have contracted civil marriage, who are divorced and remarried or simply living together are living wrongly, are NOT living up to God’s expectations.  Therefore he says  that they need help to “understand the divine pedagogy of grace‘ and the need “assistance so that they can reach the fullness of God’s plan for them” because obviously their living arrangement is not up to God’s plan!

In para 298 he reiterates:

“It must remain clear that this is not the ideal which the Gospel proposes for marriage and the family.”

Nonetheless,

“Such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church and experience her as a mother who welcomes them always, who takes care of them with affection and encourages them along the path of life and the Gospel.”

Obviously, if they need to be encouraged along the path of the Gospel, they are failing; nonetheless, they should be incorporated into the community, somehow, and encouraged to grow like the rest of the sinners who occupy the pews.

Pope Francis does NOT indicate that priests should accept divorced and remarried people into the community and then forget their sinful state.

“Priests have the duty to “accompany [the divorced and remarried] in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop” (para 300).

These couple must be “accompanied” so that they can be “helped”, helped to understand why their relationship precludes them for receiving Holy Communion “according to the teaching of the Church.”  The pope does not say they may be excused by some aberrant pastoral excuse, but he does say they must be developed according to the TEACHING of the CHURCH. For those who want to argue that the additional clause and “guidelines of the bishops” permits admission to Holy Communion; it is simply responded that those guidelines must also be consistent with the teaching of the Church as Cardinal Muller, Prefect of the CDF is now making clear.  Aberrant liberal bishops will have to be corrected if their guidelines run contrary to the teaching of the Church, that is the job of the CDF.

For Cardinal Burke to act as if confusion is something new, because some bishops are permitting civilly remarried people etc. to receive Holy Communion, is surprising.  Aberrant bishops have caused confusion for 2,000 years. THIS IS NOTHING NEW. Catholics have seen this type of abuse even with an Ecumenical Council, why should supposed confusion of a Post-Synodal Exhortation cause any surprise?  In fact, confusion is being exacerbated by prelates like Cardinal Burke who keep insisting there is massive confusion where there would be little to none if they would “zip it.”  Liberal aberrant bishops will open the door to sin no matter what they are told; a key ingredient to their success is supposed “confusion”.

You are reading a review of Chapter Eight.  Do you honestly see any confusion so far? Cardinal Burke is helping manufacture confusion, perhaps due to a failure to synthesize dogmatic and pastoral theology. This happens to many people, esp. learned ones who spend too much time in their heads and have failed to integrate their minds with their hearts, wisdom with mercy and compassion.  If the eminent cardinal had closed ranks behind the pope and interpreted the document as a pastoral exhortation that holds the objective truth about marriage in tact, as it does, aberrant bishops would have less room to operate; Cardina Burke is opening the doors wide to deviance by continually advancing the theme of confusion.

After saying that divorced and remarried couples should be helped to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church, the pope further drives home the divorced-remarried couple’s error by calling  them to  an “examination of conscience” followed by “repentance” (para 300).  Why a call to penance if not a presumption that they are sinning? Again, crystal clear!

Clearly, such people cannot be admitted to Holy Communion because according to (para 300), they need to form a “correct judgement” of their situation.   Until they do so and repent, they are, according to the pope, “hindered” from “the possibility of fuller participation in the life of the Church“. While guiding an aberrant couple to discern the state of their relationship before God, no priest is licitly permitted to admit them to the sacraments.  To make the point abundantly clear, Pope Francis states (para 300):

“This discernment can NEVER PRESCIND FROM THE GOSPEL DEMANDS OF TRUTH and CHARITY AS PROPOSED BY THE CHURCH.”

Did Cardinal Burke just happen to miss this too, perhaps one of the more powerful statements in AL?

Francis’ loyalty to the Magisterium, to the Gospels and Tradition become even clearer as he limits the parameters involved to even qualify a couple as candidates for the whole the process of discernment:

“For this discernment to happen, the following conditions must necessarily be present: humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it” (para 300).

In other words, the very possibility of beginning dialogue between pastor and parishioner, dialogue that is intended to place persons on the path of sanctification that might lead to the sacraments if they do things correctly; the very possibility of this dialogue is contingent upon persons  being, “humble”, having “love for the Church” and “her teaching”; it is further contingent upon the couple’s having a “sincere search for God’s will” and a willingness to respond “more perfectly” to it.  If these qualifying marks are missing, discernment leading to the sacraments cannot even begin; at least this is what the pope states; do you read something else?  What did Cardinal Burke read?

Pope Francis drives this requirement home by stating that these attitudes are “essential” (para 300).  They are essential to “avoid misunderstanding” and the “grave danger” that might lead a priest to think that he can grant “exceptions” (para 300). Thus, any priest thinking that pastoral theology dispenses him from the constant teaching of the Church in these matters is not only “misunderstanding” what the pope is teaching and what the Church teaches, he is also involving himself and his parishioners in “grave danger”.

Some how Cardinal Burke seems to think that Pope Francis is excusing sin due to ignorance or any number of particular  and contingent circumstances.  This is patently false.  Nowhere does Pope Francis say ignorance outright excuses; what he does say is that ignorancemitigates“.  In fact, this is the title of the next section of the Exhortation:

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 “Mitigating Factors in Pastoral Discernment”

Pope Francis begins this section by making the simple moral point, simple for anyone educated in moral theology, that even sinners can experience grace, at least prevenient grace that leads them to the sacraments. He even states that “More is involved than mere ignorance” (para 301).

When reading this section, the reader must not do as some Protestant Divines do, that is cherry-pick or fail to read the document as a systematic whole, fail to remember everything that was clearly stated previously.  At this point, the document moves from dogmatic or speculative theology into the the more difficult realm of moral casuistry or practical-pastoral theology, the point where the rubber meets the road so to speak, the point where theory must be applied to practice. Thus, at this point it necessarily becomes more obtuse.  The obtuseness of the exercise should be expected by anyone with a background in either moral theology or moral philosophy, even a pagan like Aristotle understood the difference; he also taught that the second part, that is the practical part, is the more difficult of the two – this is the simple reason why the document grows more difficult at this point; however, it must not be forgotten that Francis has already stared at least twice, that a valid interpretation of AL cannot prescind from the Gospel or teaching of the Church.

Again, throughout this section, the pope speaks about mitigating circumstances; he does not excuse objective sin, but stresses subjective mitigating circumstances due to the nature of a faulty or malformed conscience, a malformed conscience that is supposed to be corrected in the process of “accompaniment” by the pastor explained in the previous section. As regards mitigating circumstances due to subjective states, we find Jesus, Himself,  clearly teaching this in the Gospels:

“And that servant who knew the will of his lord, and prepared not himself, and did not according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes” (Luke 12:47-48).

Jesus position is clearly that of His Vicar. Persons who are invincibly ignorant of the truth, or for any other valid reason fail to comprehend it, reasons such as socialization, psychological immaturity, psychological manipulation by association etc, such persons who commit sins despite their ignorance etc are still guilty of an objective wrong; however, the subjective moral culpability is lessened; how much it is lessened depends on the circumstances which only God alone is master of, a fact that led Francis to once say, “who am I to judge?”  Only God and perhaps the person himself can judge such things; it is the job of the pastor to enter into a relationship to better grasp the subjective state of his parishioners.

Without this approach, without such a relationship, the whole process of discernment breaks down and all that is left is a black and white judgement based upon objective facts of dogmatic theology; this is what it means to be dogmatic, or closed minded, closed to deeper truths about the acting person, deeper truths that affect their relationship to their sin and his or her moral culpability.  These are facts, necessary facts for the successful process of pastoring souls entrusted to a priest’s care. Cardinal Burke seems oblivious to such facts; he prefers to make everything black and white. In this, he is acting more like a judgemental pharisee than a “good shepherd serving his people in the image of Jesus Christ who gave his life for his sheep, a good shepeherd who knows them well enough to call them each by name (John 10:3).

Again, to make his point clear, Francis states that

In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage.”

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A lukewarm attitude, any kind of relativism, or an undue reticence in proposing that ideal, would be a lack of fidelity to the Gospel and also of love on the part of the Church for young people themselves. To show understanding in the face of exceptional situations never implies dimming the light of the fuller ideal, or proposing less than what Jesus offers to the human being” (para 307).

It is hard to see how Cardinal Burke missed this along with the score of other similar clear pronouncements throughout the Chapter made by Pope Francis. The pope emphatically stresses the point that he wants to “avoid all misunderstanding”.  To do so he again states that what he is teaching in no way desists from the “full idea of marriage.”  Moreover, he anathematizes “relativism” and “undue reticence” to the “full ideal of marriage.” Again he states, that contingent circumstance, that pastoral understanding, compassion etc, “never imply dimming the light to the fuller ideal (to the fullness of truth) or proposing less” than Jesus taught.

The Church, he says is

“…a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, “always does what good she can, even if in the process, her  shoes get soiled by the mud of the street” (that is in the pasture where her ministers must encounter the dirt of sinners lives) (para308).

Again, he states, again and again, that the Church must hold to her “objective teaching”

Pope Francis closes the so-called difficult chapter by restating one more time the commitment to objective truth; however, he teaches that there is one thing greater than the truth, that is love, the summit of Christ’s teaching and of His life; it was love that sent Him to the cross and love that redeemed the world (“Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends“). No one sent Jesus to the cross; He freely chose the path of salvific suffering, and He chose out of love for sinful humanity.  This is the central point Francis wants to make and indeed does make. It is difficult to comprehend how Prelates like Cardinal Burke miss it?

“Although it is quite true that concern must be shown for the integrity of the Church’s moral teaching, special care should always be shown to emphasize and encourage the highest and most central values of the Gospel, particularly the primacy of charity as a response to the completely gratuitous offer of God’s love.

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” It is true, for example, that mercy does not exclude justice and truth, but first and foremost we have to say that mercy is the fullness of justice and the most radiant manifestation of God’s truth.”

In this Francis is seconded by the Sacred Scriptures:

‘If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And if I should have prophecy and should know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

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And now there remain faith (from which wisdom grows), hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Cor. 13:1-13).

Equally impressive  is the story of Jesus’ dialogue with the rich young man (Matt 19:16-22). Jesus does not simply announce the truth and leave the young man to accept it or reject it. Rather, Jesus engages in a process to bring the young man forward. “Jesus, as a a good shepherd, personally leads the young man step by step to the truth

Francis, like Jesus, insists upon two unique but integral aspects of evangelization: First is the proclamation of truth and then the gradual formation of people to internalize and live it. Thus, when the Pharisees (dogmatic theologians – men without mercy- Matt 9:13) questioned Jesus about divorce (Matt 19:3-9), He communicated the objective facts; He proclaimed the truth: Marriage is indissoluble and exclusive.  However, when he interacted with the Samaritan woman, He placed less emphasis on the truth and more on her personal life journey, a journey that involved her with six men.  After engaging her, He told her,

“Go, call thy husband, and come hither. The woman answered, and said: I have no husband. Jesus said to her: Thou hast said well, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands: and he whom thou now hast, is not thy husband. This thou hast said truly” (John 4: 16-18).

Jesus does not break the conversation, but engages her until she (and then many others) finally accepts Him as the Messiah (John 4:38-42):

 “Now of that city many of the Samaritans believed in him, for the word of the woman giving testimony: He told me all things whatsoever I have done? So when the Samaritans were come to him, they desired that he would tarry there. And he abode there two days. And many more believed in him because of his own word. And they said to the woman: We now believe, not for thy saying: for we ourselves have heard him, and know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.”

See what truth in the context of a little encounter and dialogue can do? Pope Francis is exemplifying these two aspects of evangelization, the need to hold to the truth that never “prescinds from the Gospel” and the more difficult process of discernment and engagement whereby alienated people are gradually led , step by step, to communion so that they can eventually be one with Him who is the Way and the Truth and the Life.