Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


Cardinal Burke — A Light upon the Lampstand

March 1st, 2015, Promulgated by Diane Harris


This is an absurdly long post.  I know it.  But I’ve chosen to go ahead with it for three reasons:  1) Cardinal Burke deserves the best tribute to his righteousness that I can muster, and to do less would be unjust 2) This is more of a documentary post than a blog post and, lest the information and links be lost, it seemed convenient to put it all together in one place.  There are many subtleties which, if left out, destroy the tenuous fabric of the picture, and 3) while of a length better to submit for publication elsewhere, the delays, re-writing or red tape to pursue that outlet would needlessly delay what needs to be timely said.  However, if it does become possible to publish elsewhere, I will take down this post, if necessary.

OK, so what is the reader’s defense?

Scroll through to the conclusions at the end and decide if you want to read any of the analysis.  That makes sense to me, and I hope makes sense to those who just want to know the conclusions.  This subject isn’t going away. It is going to gain even more import as the agenda for Synod 2015 shapes up for next October.


This post attempts to go deeper on two prior Cleansing Fire posts:   Cardinal Burke quoted: “I will resist….” and its follow-up post: “Resisting”, Canon 212, and Galatians .  Clearly, Cardinal Burke’s reply, that he would “resist” a “change” to Church doctrine that would allow the validly married / divorced / ‘remarried’ to receive Holy Communion, has stirred much reflection and opinion.  Since it was a theoretical question, why would he answer it, something rarely done in high pressured interviews?  There may be three possibilities, any or all of which might be true, or not.  First, perhaps Cardinal Burke knows that it is not really a ‘theoretical’ question, but rather a likely happening, which is unfolding before his eyes.  Second, if the Pope is implicated in the orchestrating of the Synod toward the reported change, as some fear (and which Cardinal Kasper claims), Cardinal Burke will have pre-empted any subsequent order of obedience to the contrary.  Third, perhaps the Cardinal is preparing us for what we must do if even an angel were to try to preach another gospel to us.   In that case, he himself is modeling what we have a right to do if even a Pope attempts to change Doctrine.

Another reason for this post is that Annonymouse commented, asking “whether Cardinal Burke should be so outspoken, or whether he would be more effective to advance his arguments privately to the Holy Father”?  It is a good question, and deserves an answer, beyond yes or no.  The question prompted my looking carefully into some of the developments over the last year and a half, involving a number of different pieces of input, and peering into Vatican politics, making this a long, detailed post, but hopefully not without value.  Further, the more I looked into this matter, the more Cardinal Burke seems deserving of our gratitude, for his serving well the people of God.

The following observations and opinions are offered to advance our dialogue; good people can certainly disagree on the conclusions.  But the facts of what was reported in the media are unchanged and, to the best of my knowledge, accurate.  But I don’t have any special  insight into the situation, although  I do have one private communication from Cardinal Burke, sent during the Synod (!), in reply to my mailing last September to Cardinals and Bishops.  From small clues in public statements, from relatively unchallenged media rumor, from news reports, and from a certain momentum which has built up among the laity– all  shed further light, as from a Lampstand, on the role Cardinal Burke has manifested, and the sacrifice he has made to do so.   

Also considered in this analysis are the character and words of those who stand with Cardinal Burke, and the questionable reputations of some who sided against him; e.g. an article was recently published in which Cardinal Wuerl (who gives communion to flagrantly pro-abortion politicians!) criticized Cardinal Burke as a ‘dissenter’, reported by LifeSiteNews in an article “…pot calls the kettle black.”  

Background on Cardinal Burke in the Vatican

 Cardinal Burke 2  Let us begin, for perspective, by considering the role of Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke in the Vatican .    On June 27, 2008, Cardinal Burke was named by Pope Benedict XVI to be Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the first non-European to hold a position which is one of the most powerful in the Catholic Church, and includes oversight of the Roman Rota, which receives appeals regarding decrees of nullity from litigants in various Marriage Tribunals.  Abp. Burke was elevated to Cardinal in November, 2010, and was one of the Cardinal-electors who participated in the 2013 Conclave which elected Pope Francis.  Cardinal Burke clearly was deeply trusted by Pope Emeritus Benedict, who is one of the people who has stood by Cardinal Burke, most recently publicly praising his service after Pope Francis terminated him as a member of the Curia. 

Staffing changes in such powerful positions are not unexpected when a new Pope arrives, but “how” changes are made, even the slightest nuances, can project admiration or contempt for the person replaced.   The manner in which Pope Francis (and his “PR office” aka Vatican Press Office of Frs. Lombardi and Rosica) left rumors “hanging” for weeks,  and that he moved the 66 year old (relatively young) Cardinal from being head of the Vatican’s highest court into a largely ceremonial, relatively powerless position, has deeply concerned many faithful Catholics.  They see in the “way” it was handled, a “slap in the face” or  “punishment” for Cardinal Burke’s outspokenly traditional views expressed at the 2014 session of the Extraordinary Synod.  That may well be true, and it may even be that he himself was on trial (under pressure or threat) during the Synod before a final decision to remove him was announced three weeks later.   But it was a longer and deeper journey, in my opinion, than just the Synod, and one which needs to be told in order to answer Annonymouse’s question on behalf of many who might wonder why the matter couldn’t have been handled in an alternative, more interpersonal way.  By the end of this detailed post, one might even be wondering if Cardinal Burke himself welcomed reassignment and even provoked it.

Consistory Warning Bells

Pope Francis announced on October 8, 2013, 209 days after his election as Pope, the calling of  an Extraordinary Synod to be scheduled one year later.  In retrospect, one might be surprised at the rush to convene a Synod, although the immediacy was largely unremarked in the media.  In preparation for that Synod, there was  a consistory held in February 21-24, 2014.  By then, the somewhat ambiguous agenda for the Synod had morphed into the German Walter Cardinal Kasper’s own agenda (which that Cardinal would later claim had been overtly the Pope’s agenda, an allegation which Pope Francis has apparently neither acknowledged nor denied.) However, at least part of Pope Francis’s Synod agenda was prescribed in his own words in Zenit  on September 17, 2013 (before the Synod was announced) regarding the divorced, and remarried, and their receiving the Eucharist.  In a meeting with the priests of Rome, he said:  “It is a serious problem regarding the Church’s responsibility towards families living in this situation. The Church must now do something to solve the problem of marriage annulment”.  

These last 7 words very clearly separate Pope Francis’s view from that of Cardinal Burke.  The Cardinal sees that a couple is either married or not.  The annulment follows reality.  It is not a “problem” but an opportunity to establish the Truth, and there is a “right” to have the Truth established.  The Pope’s words, on the other hand, seem more oriented to the annulment being a facilitator of dissolution, rather than a finding of Truth.  What IS the “problem” of marriage annulment to which the Pope refers?   Is there really a “problem”?  Is an inconvenience to the obstinate sinner a problem?  Or is being out of step with secular government  a “problem”?  Or is holding the line on Christ’s teaching when other churches don’t do so a “problem?” Rather,  these might be seen as “glories” of the Church and of those who serve the Church.  (From St. Irenaeus in Against the Heresies:  “This is man’s glory–to remain steadfast in the service of God.”)

Pope Francis gave Cardinal Kasper extraordinary latitude  to dust off his writings from 20-30 years earlier (which apparently were never supported by Cardinal Ratzinger when he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), or by Pope Saint John Paul II.)  Cardinal Mueller, now Prefect of the CDF, has vehemently opposed Cardinal Kasper’s so-called “pastoral” proposals, including his pressing to allow validly married, then divorced and ‘remarried’ persons to be able to receive the Eucharist (clearly against Church Teaching). Christ taught that such persons are adulterers. Therefore, those persons are in serious sin and cannot worthily approach the Eucharist.

With such free rein, Cardinal Kasper’s consistory speeches (prevented from dissemination, but parts are leaking out) primed the pump as early as February 2014, to prelates preparing an agenda for the Synod, effectively spotlighting who would likely be the supporters of Cardinal Kasper’s position, and who would not.  A majority of those invitation-only attendees of the first Synod session, in October 2014, voted ‘yes’ on three separate matters of controversy, although a necessary 2/3 majority vote was not achieved.  To complicate matters further, the three items rejected should have been left out of the final “Relatio” that was issued, but it was (questionably) attributed to Pope Francis that it should be left in, but with a mention that it had not passed the 2/3 vote.  Apparently that footnote is lost in some translations, and by the time the delayed English translation was available, marriage was no longer being described as just between a man and a woman, text on which the delegates had voted, adding further to the impression of a high level of manipulation in the document that is supposed to become a working document for the 2015 Synod session.  It is no wonder that faithful Cardinals, bishops and priests, as well as the laity, have a high level of concern and skepticism.

Duel of the Authors — not a level playing field

The February 2014 consistory meeting, in which Cardinal Kasper trumpeted his so-called “pastoral practice,” inevitably led to the realization that it would only undermine doctrine as well as true pastoral care,  if implemented. But, by then, the content was already in the Synod plans.  Such error was the real wake-up call for many traditional and faithful prelates, especially Cardinal Burke.  Many of the laity didn’t “get it” until the two Relatios were released during the eventual Synod.  Then the Catholic media and blogosphere were outraged, and the full import of the Kasper solution and its divisiveness in the Church was understood.

But Cardinal Burke did “get it”, at least as early as the consistory, if not earlier. ScreenShot238Over the next 6 months, in cooperation with Cardinal Mueller of the CDF and other noted theologians and experts, a book was produced, Remaining in the Truth of Christ. It was an extraordinary effort that must have been especially blessed by the Holy Spirit to have been completed and readied in such a short time, a noble effort to educate the prelates who would be attending and voting in the Synod.  Cardinal Burke addressed head-on why there is no “annulment problem” in his chapter: “The Canonical Nullity of the Marriage Process.”

Prior to the Synod, Cardinal Kasper’s weak thesis “Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life”  book was made available to Synod participants.  It is my understanding that Cardinal Burke and the others who cooperated in writing the book defending Church doctrine were denied the opportunity to distribute their book before or at the Synod.  It is believed to have been available in limited quantities on Kindle, but not supplied to Synod attendees by the Vatican in the manner which Cardinal Kasper’s book enjoyed.  Moreover, recently the lack of distribution has been attributed to interference in the Vatican Post Office by the chairman of the Synod.  To read more of this allegation, see this account and other explanation here.  It is my belief that by the time Cardinal Burke et al wrote and published their defense of Church Doctrine, the relationship with Pope Francis must already have  deteriorated beyond likely repair, that the book itself was not so much the cause as the final effect.  

If we look at the working relationship between the recently elected Pope Francis and Cardinal Burke from the summer of 2013, through the Synod, we will be enlightened as to how consistently Cardinal Burke defended Pope Francis’s “misspeakings,” a defense, it seems, built on the Cardinal’s absolute trust that a Pope could not possibly mean what was being interpreted from his words by the secular media.  Whether they were all Pope Francis’s misspeakings, or whether they were poorly handled by the Vatican PR office, or whether they were trial balloons to shape public perception is hard to know.  But regardless of the explanation, it may be that Cardinal Burke’s loyal defenses of the Pontiff were not welcome.  This was a new, personal insight from looking through a selection of media stories regarding Cardinal Burke and Pope Francis up to and through the Synod.   Here are the ‘top ten” selected news stories, which help to make the point.

Selected Media “Events” between Pope Francis and Cardinal Burke

There seems to have been little doubt on why the Synod was being summoned.  One of the possible “trial balloons” was that perhaps annulments could be expedited by leaving them in the hands of a national conference of bishops, like the USCCB; i.e. abrogating the right to appeal to the Rota in Rome.  Right after the Synod was announced, in October 2013, there was an extensive writing in Zenit:  Prefect of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Communion for Divorced-Remarried which heralds that Cardinal Mueller knew that this was a prime purpose for calling the Synod.  He wrote: “the Church has established impediments to marriage, she has recognized grounds for annulment, and she has developed a detailed process for examining these.”  … “The entire sacramental economy is a work of divine mercy and it cannot simply be swept aside by an appeal to the same.  An objectively false appeal to mercy also runs the risk of trivializing the image of God, by implying that God cannot do other than forgive. The mystery of God includes not only His mercy but also His holiness and His justice. …  God’s mercy does not dispense us from following his commandments or the rules of the Church. Rather it supplies us with the grace and strength needed to fulfill them ….”  Clearly, from Cardinal Mueller’s writing, a full year before the Synod, the threat to Church Doctrine was being recognized. (Today, with Cardinal Burke’s removal, Cardinal Mueller is probably the most endangered prelate in the Curia. Let us pray for him!)

One might wonder, regarding proposals to reduce the Rota’s involvement in contested annulments, if such intrusion into an area of Cardinal Burke’s responsibility, and into the uniform administration of Church Law, had caused any personal or parochial element in Cardinal Burke’s opposition to such a change.  However, current practice  has been supported and defended by many prior pontiffs, and National Conferences were specifically criticized by Cardinal Ratzinger in “The Ratzinger Report,” so it seems less evidence of any personal resistance on Cardinal Burke’s part, and more having experienced the benefits of the Rota’s review, and its importance in the search for objective Truth. From that viewpoint, who better than Cardinal Burke and his expertise to speak out from his area of strength, and step up to the challenge in defense of Church Law and how the annulment process needs to work.   Who else could have been as credible in the value of defending the rights of the respondent before the Church’s high court?  Whether or not this was an issue which put Cardinal Burke and Pope Francis on opposite sides of an argument isn’t known. But that kind of ‘inside the Vatican disagreement’ is often quiet and privileged, (although confrontation outside the walls is growing fast, as in Cardinal Wuerl’s recent dissent grenade tossed toward Cardinal Burke).

There were apparently other public statements which, in retrospect, may seem like trial balloons from Pope Francis regarding points of sensitivity in the upcoming Synod (priming the pump for discussion, so to say).  It seems as if Cardinal Burke’s actual defense of Pope Francis (the misunderstanding of what the Pope had said) may have inadvertently and unexpectedly antagonized the Pope, and deflated these trial balloons! It seems ironic that Cardinal Burke’s actual defense of the Pope may not have been appreciated.  (Yet how could Cardinal Burke have done anything other than speak as a loyal son of the Church, protecting the Pope from misunderstanding?) Moreover, it seems possible that Cardinal Burke’s usual enthusiastic method of teaching from various points of an issue could have run afoul of positions the Pope found less compelling. Here are some examples, all attributable to LifeSiteNews’ excellent reporting, unless otherwise noted, and in chronological order:

1. June 19, 2013:  “Cardinal Burke:  Liturgical abuse ‘strictly correlated’ with the ‘moral corruption’ of our time.” It seems fairly clear that Cardinal Burke’s love for solemn liturgy, Mass in the Extraordinary form, e.g., did not find the same resonance in Pope Francis, as shown by the lack of any visibility to the EF Mass in this papacy. Cardinal Burke stated:  “There’s no question in my mind that the abuses in the sacred liturgy, reduction of the sacred liturgy to some kind of human activity,” …  “is strictly correlated with a lot of moral corruption and with a levity in catechesis that has been shocking and has left generations of Catholics ill prepared to deal with the challenges of our time” …. Further, in his comments at that time, Cardinal Burke had called (as Pope Benedict had done) for “a reform of the reform” and “mutual enrichment” between the OF and EF liturgies.  Pope Francis has not echoed these liturgical calls.

2. On Sept. 4, 2013 the miscommunication really hit the fan, on the plane returning to Rome from World Youth Day in Brazil, when Pope Francis used the words, regarding alleged homosexuals in the Vatican, “Who am I to judge?” The rainbow-colored world went crazy with pleasure.  Many faithful Catholics were pained that what the Pope said must have been badly reported and spun out of control in the secular media.  Only much later did it become apparent that such miscommunication is going to be a regular event in Pope Francis’s papacy.  He is said not to speak English, yet his translators freely use words from U.S. slang, making one wonder who is really in control of the spin, the Pope or the translators?  But Cardinal Burke rose to the Pope’s defense, as is reported in the article “We have to judge acts”: Vatican’s Cardinal Burke dismantles ‘Who am I to judge?‘ reported a month before the Synod was announced.  More than a year later ‘gay gifts’ became part of the Relatio controversy; this apparent papal gaffe might be revisited differently today.   Cardinal Burke’s attempt to explain what the Church teaches (relying of course on the belief that Pope Francis could not have meant otherwise) may have been the start of a deeper rift.

Cardinals Dolan, Kasper and Wuerl

Cardinals Dolan, Kasper and Wuerl

3. On Sept. 20, 2013 it was reported that Cardinal Burke had said “Nancy Pelosi ‘must’ be denied Communion.”  Of course she must; abortion supporters are prevented from receiving Holy Communion by the Canon Law 915 of Church Law.  Cardinal Burke had previously and often made such a point, but this time it was less than 3 weeks before the Synod would be announced, and admission to Communion (or not) was to become one of the underlying issues in the Synod and in the voting, albeit regarding a different issue.   Cardinals Dolan and Wuerl  are big supporters of giving the Lord’s body to the most notorious of abortion supporters, yet apparently enjoy great favoritism with Pope Francis.   Here is a picture of them flanking Cardinal Kasper during one of the Synod Masses.

 4. On Feb 25, 2014, LifeSiteNews carried the story (during the consistory):  “Vatican’s Cardinal Burke: Media is ‘mocking’ the Pope by creating a liberal caricature“.  – “Rumors that Pope Francis intends to change Church teaching on abortion or homosexuality are unfounded media-generated fabrications”, Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke said  this week in the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.”  … “Burke quotes Francis in the interview that shocked and upset many pro-life and pro-family people around the world and even drew implicit criticisms from some bishops:  ‘We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.…'” 

5. March 4, 2014  Within days of the end of the consistory, Cardinal Burke’s resistance is being quoted.  For example, Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro, Human Life International, refutes Cardinal Kasper’s 2-tiered marriage proposal, quoting Cardinal Burke, who is then emerging as a leader of the opposition:  “I agree wholeheartedly with Cardinal Burke’s assessment of the danger of desecration of the Eucharist. If absolution is not valid, the consequence is that they are desecrating the most noble thing we have in the Church. It is a fundamental issue,” he said.

6.  March 20, 2014  After the consistory, Cardinal Burke continued to speak in defense of the Faith.  He reiterated prior messages, and reinforced teaching on matters to come before the Synod.  For example, he called denying pro-abortion politicians Communion a “Prime act of pastoral charity.”  He was pointing out what true charity is, rather than feel good, so-called mercy for the unrepentant, clearly in opposition to Cardinal Kasper’s consistory presentations.

7. March 21, 2014  At about the same time, Cardinal Burke, an American, gave his opinion of the US President in a LifeSiteNews exclusive interview, saying that “Obama’s policies are ‘progressively more hostile toward Christian civilization”.  A week later, President Obama was received by Pope Francis at the Vatican, with smiley pictures released.

8.  March 25, 2014  Cardinal Burke, in an interview on Raymond Arroyo’s “World Over” said that the “clergy must speak out more on life and family as Pope focuses on lost sheep.”  As the work on the Cardinals’ book continued apace, Cardinal Burke as then head of the Apostolic Signatura was making an important point, continuing to defend “misunderstanding” Pope Francis:  “While the secular media around the world has fallen in love with Pope Francis, the continual claims that he wants to steer the Church away from its traditional teaching on life and family is flatly ‘false,’….  Burke corrected the impression given by the secular media that Pope Francis is about to change Catholic doctrine or practice on the secular world’s favorite topics of abortion, contraception or homosexuality. “The media is supposing a kind of ‘new evangelization’ which would involve an abandonment of the Church’s unchangeable teachings,” he said.

9.  October 14, 2014  There were two other articles after the start of the Synod which show a serious shift in emphasis.  The first was during the second week of the Synod when the Relatio Fiasco had solidified as a disaster in public relations and news reporting, shredding trust of Faithful Catholics.  For the first time in our memory one could see fear that everything we believed was at risk from the very people who should be defending our Faith.  More than half the prelates in attendance voted against Church Doctrine, in essence.  No wonder Cardinal Burke bravely, unilaterally and clearly called for Pope Francis to take action.  (But even this Call broke with the centuries of how such matters used to be handled, if they existed, out of the sight and hearing of the laity. Blogs and Catholic reporting really came into their own in the coverage of the Synod, and lawsuits now against individual bloggers can’t put that toothpaste back in the tube.)  In an interview with LifeSiteNews, entitled:  “Statement from Pope Francis defending Catholic Teaching is ‘long overdue‘”, it was clearly manifested that Cardinal Burke would no longer be reinterpreting the miscommunications to the media, in essence especially helping to explain their consistency with 2000 years of Catholic Doctrine, but, instead, squarely laid the responsibility back where it belonged, on the Pope. It seems that many organizations, led by Catholics faithful to Church Teaching, had somewhat held back their criticisms because of Cardinal Burke’s defending the Pope’s confusing or misunderstood statements, or statements hijacked by others for the sake of sensationalism.  Partly, Cardinal Burke’s turning to the Pope to clarify was a brilliant signal that he would no longer stand in that breach.  Here are a few quotes from the mid-Synod news story:

“…Cardinal Raymond Burke voiced the concerns of many of his brothers in the Synod hall and [of] lay Catholic activists … that the public presentation of the Synod has been manipulated by the organizers in the General Secretariat.  He strongly criticized … ‘report after the debate,’ which the Catholic lay group Voice of the Family had called a ‘betrayal,’ saying it proposes views that faithful shepherds … cannot accept, and betrays an approach that is ‘not of the Church.’  He called on Pope Francis to issue a statement defending Catholic teaching.” 

“Clearly, the response to the document in the discussion which immediately followed its presentation manifested that a great number of the Synod Fathers found it objectionable,” [said] Burke. “The document lacks a solid foundation in the Sacred Scriptures and the Magisterium.”  While critics of Burke’s public interventions in the Synod debates have portrayed him as representing a fringe, he was elected by his brother bishops to moderate one of the three English-speaking small groups discussing the relatio….”

10.  November 6, 2014  The next article was post-Synod, when published an interview with Cardinal Burke and LifeSiteNews carried the story, titled: “Cardinal Burke praying ‘very fervently’ for end of confusion following Synod.”  Because this story seems relevant to Cardinal Burke’s ongoing thinking today, it is worth excerpting a bit more: [Burke] said “the publication of the controversial midterm report … caused ‘a scandal’ in the Church…. The secular media … referred to it as an earthquake …  that these matters were being discussed and questioned by the presidents of the conferences of bishops, by the heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, and by other special appointees of the Holy Father to the synod caused a tremendous confusion and could even induce the faithful into error with regard to the teaching about marriage and other teachings …  to me this was a very serious responsibility to try to correct as quickly and as effectively as possible the scandal caused by [the relatio.]” LifeSiteNews reported: “Burke was one of a handful of bishops who spoke out strongly against the mid-term relatio, calling it deficient in its foundations both in its relation to Scripture and the church’s theological tradition, the two pillars of Catholic theology.

In the CNSNews interview, reporter Terence P. Jeffrey asked the cardinal bluntly, “Can any priest or bishop overrule or change what Jesus declared about marriage?” “No, absolutely not,” Burke replied. “The priests and bishops are called to be faithful to the truth.  Our office is to teach this truth and to assist the faithful to live it, but we can never even under some supposed ‘pastoral approach’ either alter or deny the truth about marriage.”  And this applies to the pope too, he said: “It’s not within his power, and this is very clear in the teaching of the Church that if a marriage has been validly celebrated and consummated it cannot be separated. It cannot be ended by anything except death itself.”   Less than 48 hours later, Cardinal Burke was removed by Pope Francis as head of the Apostolic Signatura, and made Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta .

The Teaching Office Matters

The March 2014 news stories quoting Cardinal Burke fall in the long shadow of the consistory, possibly as work began on the Cardinals’ and Theologians’ book, rushed to publication before the Synod, even though apparently blocked at the Synod.   Perhaps the media comments which Cardinal Burke made were due to that shadow, pointing toward October, or due to what might have become a final chance to be heard.  There is no apparent disobedience and certainly no error in what Cardinal Burke said, except possibly a misstep in either realizing that Pope Francis didn’t want to be clarified, or possibly even a hostile translation of what Cardinal Burke said in English, to Pope Francis who may not fully see his own vulnerability to the translators.   Who would have had the Pope’s ear on such matters?  We can look toward those who denounced Cardinal Burke after the Synod and subsequent events around his removal from the Curia, almost gleefully touting their own involvement.  On the other hand, we noticed that Cardinal Burke did not use his own media coverage for ad hominem attacks on his detractors. 

Did Cardinal Burke have the right to make such pronouncements?  Absolutely.  He holds a teaching office in the Magisterium and has far more right to “teach” right from wrong and Church Doctrine than anyone who doesn’t hold the office.  Moreover, he not only has the right; he has the duty.  And that duty does not include vetting his words with the PR folks in the Vatican.  (Perhaps it has colored Fr. Rosica’s attitude toward Cardinal Burke? that the good Cardinal is one person who isn’t controlled by the underlings?)  I personally admire Cardinal Burke’s courage and perseverance to go forward in righteousness, regardless of the impact it was going to have on his own prestigious position in the Curia.  Almost as if he were being warned, Cardinal Burke was first stripped of his membership in the Congregation for Bishops, and then eventually as head of the Apostolic Signatura.  As a matter of fact, when it became clear that the book defending Church Doctrine would be released just before the Synod, that is the time when the uncertainty of Cardinal Burke’s future tenure was being widely discussed, and rumors were rampant that he would be removed as head of the Signatura.   And it would be hard to conceive of any strategic advantage in the battle to protect Church Doctrine, and the flock, which could have benefited from his delaying teaching until he had been demoted.  He chose to speak while he still had a voice, a stage, and the need to give a most important message. 

In assessing an answer to Annonymouse’s question, Cardinal Burke does not come across as impetuous, arrogant or as someone who would nuke the playing field.  It would be hard to believe that he had not done all that needed to be done, all that could be done, before the Synod.  For example, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church; and if he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”  Cardinal Burke would have fully understood his obligations under Matthew 18: 15-17, to go to his brother bishop, the Pope, and to have as full discussion as he would be allowed to have on the matters of disagreement, whether related to protecting Truth in the annulment process, protecting the Doctrine of the Church, or protecting the Eucharist.  He would also have well understood that there is a reason for the model we have in Sacred Scripture of confronting the Pope, when  Paul opposed Peter in Galatians 2:11.  “But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.”  Cardinal Burke has given a beautiful witness for us to also exercise our rights under Canon 212, and not to remain silent on such matters.

Obviously, we have no explicit  knowledge of how and when a personal conversation took place, but it was likely before the commitment was made to publish the book.  Seeing the personal risks and “white martyrdom” of Cardinal Burke, it seems very unlikely that he and Pope Francis didn’t have some serious discussion and, hopefully, some serious prayer.   Since Pope Francis doesn’t speak English,  perhaps they spoke another language in which each was comfortable?  Italian?  Otherwise, it begs the question of who translated their communications, and who translated the English news stories,  a major concern due to the embarrassing PR gaffes, and the serious error in translating the Relatio into English.  When one knows what the Lord expects, the ‘waiting’ for the shoe to drop is not painful or fearful, but rather an awaiting of the moment to give oneself.  As proactive as Cardinal Burke was during that period, there is also the sense of simply waiting for completion, a sense of inevitability.   

By the time the book went to press, it must have been long past the point of quiet discussion between Cardinal Burke and Pope Francis.  Pope Francis and the Synod handlers knew that Cardinal Burke was not only going down for the count on defending Church Doctrine, but his extraordinary literary effort and that of his peers to document their rejection of Cardinal Kasper’s theses had seemed blessed from above.  In spite of the rush to Synod, and unveiling the Kasper Strategy just 7 months earlier, the book was nevertheless a clarion call to faithfulness, an almost impossible undertaking in defense of Church Doctrine.  That it was accomplished by Cardinal Burke et al prior to the Synod was a special ‘anointing’!

A Cardinal’s Reply

There is more I wish to recount about Cardinal Burke, because it sheds light on the Lamp upon the Lampstand. As reported earlier, I sent a letter to the heads of all U.S. dioceses before the Synod, and also letters to four Prefects in Rome.  One Prefect would not accept the letter, two were silent on receipt, but Cardinal Burke wrote back.  I was impressed, with all he had to be concerned with, that he bothered to answer me, when so many others, who weren’t even attending the Synod, had not bothered. Sometimes we can feel that all our letters are hardly noticed, and then a man under siege responds, graciously, taking time and effort to encourage a member of the laity!  Thank you, Cardinal Burke.

Conclusions and Final Thoughts/Questions

My conclusion is that there is nothing more Cardinal Burke could have done to avoid the discordant reality of the situation. I think private conversations may well have taken place, but those would only have solidified their opposing stances, not bridged the gap.  Cardinal Burke  showed  an almost naive trust  in defending  Pope Francis.  It would have been unthinkable to Cardinal Burke that a Pope would have meant anything different from fully embracing the teachings of 2000 years, so there would have been no question about defending the Holy Father. Pope Francis, on the other hand is Pope, and culturally feels free to let points be raised to “shake things up.”  “Make a mess” he called it while in Brazil.  I can’t convince myself that Pope Francis welcomed Cardinal Burke’s support or media affirmation.  

If the matters were just of style, the gap might have been bridged, but that there wasn’t a meeting of the minds tells me the issues were more of substance, possibly of specific Church Teaching.  It is easy to ask how any disagreement on Doctrine could be possible, but then we reflect on more than half the Synod attendees voted for 3 positions against Church Doctrine!  Now that those prelates exposed their lack of faith, there is good argument to prevent their voting on anything further, and to be removed from their positions, IMO.  

Cardinal Burke has shown that he knows the Truth the Church teaches, and cannot do anything other than speak it.  I think if he tried to suppress his words, he’d be like Jeremiah (20:9) and they would burst forth from him.  If there were no doctrinal issues between Pope Francis and Cardinal Burke, one might have still expected a parting of the ways in working together, although in a more respectful manner in how it was announced, and in his next assignment. Their personalities and communications styles are very different.  That can be a plus in an effective functioning organization, when the strengths of all are contributed, and weaknesses avoided, but not if there is abrasion which prevents working together, or fundamental disagreement.  Cardinal Burke is precise, legalist (as a canon lawyer should be) and keenly aware of the exacting demand of words and meaning. Pope Francis, on the other hand, uses words more for inspiration than for communication, with fluid meanings.  In valuing life, Pope Francis will pick up a baby and kiss it; Cardinal Burke will refuse Communion to a pro-abortion politician.  Who makes the greater impact? It is an example of the different gifts each has to offer the Church. But if some gifts can’t be used, or are not permitted to be used, the Church is weaker.

Looking ahead, the need for clarification of what the Pope says due to “miscommunications” (or misinterpretations) seems unlikely to change, as recent comments on living like rabbits, spanking and “Mexicanization” seem to show; but it will be hard now for other prelates to emerge in the Pope’s defense.  And the Vatican PR Department hasn’t stepped up to this needed role.  In that way, they are part of the problem, not of the solution.  Cardinal Burke’s explanatory interventions were based on trusting that, of course, the Pope will protect and defend two thousand years of Church Teaching, and that a Cardinal’s support and explanation would be welcomed, even expected.  Who is up to the task as Cardinal Burke was?  Is there someone of the stature and resilience of Cardinal Burke who can be relied on now to speak the Truth, no matter what?  

Reluctance to defend Church Teaching could even damage the teaching office if fear takes over, if people become afraid the Pope won’t “like” what they say.   While most give lip service to our belief that the Holy Spirit will protect the Church, there is a certain nervousness and even reluctance to assert Church Teaching about issues on which attendees waffled at the 2014 synod.  Ultimately, that will be to the detriment of the teaching office.  To be afraid to assert what has been taught for 2000 years is not to teach it, and then the Cardinal Kaspers of the Church will succeed.  But the Holy Spirit has always called to courage whom He will, when it is most needed.  There is no doubt that evil crouches at the door, and we desperately need the Holy Spirit’s protection, but other than our prayers (which are vital)  how is the laity to deal with the process, when even various bishops are unsure what will happen and some are afraid to act within the teaching office they already have, “in case” something changes.  

It horrifies me to think of the risk, with people like Cardinal Kasper being treated almost as a synod celebrity instead of as a heretic-in-the-making.   Given the majority votes, the Relatios, the disappearing books, the translation errors and so much more, the threat is greater than ever, because it will be more difficult for anyone else to stand up in defense of the faith this time, or at least not until after the Synod, when they know how the wind blows.   

Another issue is expected media manipulation of the Synod again, in a situation in which the Vatican PR machine hasn’t proven itself, and has a long way to go to be trusted after the 2014 events.  Both secular media and true Catholic media are unlikely to sit out the 2015 Synod and myriad “issues” are likely to arise and cause division. Explanations will still be needed, repeatedly, regarding what the Pope “really meant,”   as well as what the Synod really meant.  

This post is intended to honor a man committed to the Truth; of course it is open to correction and criticism and, if any errors other than typos are identified,  the corrections will be made so that they can be easily found.

This is my best understanding of matters at this time, based on a prolonged look at the available detail.  If you have read this far, thank you.   Diane Harris

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11 Responses to “Cardinal Burke — A Light upon the Lampstand”

  1. avatar Ben Anderson says:

    Thanks for sharing the letter from Cardinal Burke, Diane. Coincidentally, he just gave an interview to Rorate Caeli:

  2. avatar militia says:

    Thanks, Ben. Everything he said seems consistent with what I read on CleansingFire. But I really liked his support of traditional Catholics, especially that they can take their children out of the diocese for a traditional confirmation if it is not being done by their bishop. Do you know anything about what local traditional Catholics have done in that regard?

  3. avatar christian says:

    Thank you Diane for this detailed post and tribute to Cardinal Burke.

    Regarding the link that militia posted:

    I agree with Cardinal Burke’s stand and comments regarding the lawsuit Fr. Rosica has brought against a Catholic blogger. If he had a problem with the blogger, he should have asked to meet with him face to face. Fr. Rosica also could have wrote something independently, or in reply to the blogger on his site, to relay his side of the matter in his defense. A lawsuit seems severe and very unChristian with regard to how the Bible teaches you how to conduct your affairs, and very unAmerican in regard to Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press.

    Fr. Rosica comes across as a high-powered, worldly cleric who wants to wield the sword of civil legal power to threaten and dissuade anyone who might question him or stand in his way. With regard to his tactics, is this someone Catholics would seek out for spiritual guidance? So much that goes awry is due to those in church leadership who adopt a worldly format on how to conduct church affairs and influencing policies.

    Crimes of Abuse and Financial Fraud are two categories that are exempt from Catholics dealing with it amongst themselves. Law Enforcement should be called. Unfortunately, in the past, the problem with sexual abuse, and physical and mental abuse, flourishing in the church on different continents is precisely because Catholics kept it amongst themselves. Church leadership allowed abusive clergy and religious to continue in ministry, continually allowing their victims to multiply.
    Perhaps, if victims were listened to in all cases, and the police were notified in all these cases, action would have been taken. Although it was noted in the past, that quite often, police sided with clergy and religious rather than victims and their families, due to the great influence the Church had in society. It was noted particularly in Ireland, that unwed mothers and also illegitimate children, were locked away from society by nuns due to the sin of conceiving out of wedlock. These people were given terrible treatment in captivity, often malnourished and even starved to death, as well severe physical punishment. Yet if they managed to escape, the police returned them to the nuns. Thank God for investigative reporting and people who care enough to fight and make a difference.

    I would hope nowadays, if a victim suffers abuse from clergy, religious, or someone else in the church, they just don’t keep it among Catholics, but report to the police as well as to the Bishop’s Office. I think it is a given nowadays, that if there is a discrepancy between funds and the books or any misappropriation of funds, the police are called along with the Bishop’s office being notified.

    There are some things that shouldn’t be kept just among Catholics. But when you are talking about difference of opinion or a dispute, I think that the formula of St. Paul is appropriate and should be heeded. Fr.Rosica suing a blogger just isn’t cool!

  4. avatar annonymouse says:

    Thank you, Diane for a well-reasoned and persuasive answer to my question and impassioned defense of Cardinal Burke. I will continue to pray for him, the Holy Father, and the Church. I trust that the Lord will see her through this, and that Cardinal Burke’s defense of marriage, family and Holy Eucharist will be richly rewarded by Our Blessed Lord.

  5. avatar Midwest St. Michael says:

    Thanks for this analysis, Diane. Really good.

    For those of you who may be in the Louisville, Ky., area on the weekend of July 17-18, you may be interested to know that Cardinal Burke will be giving the keynote address on the evening of Friday the 17th. This is at the annual Church Teaches Forum (a ministry of the late, great Fr. John Hardon, S.J.).

    His topic will be: Catechesis on Marriage and Family Life

    Website here:

  6. avatar Mary-Kathleen says:

    Wonderfully researched and detailed post, Diane. Thank you.

  7. avatar Diane Harris says:

    Thank you to all who commented, for the supportive words. I noticed tonight that LifeSiteNews is reporting about attacks on Cardinal Pell, and the suspicion that his synod statements, so faithful to doctrine, are making him a target as well. Here is the link:

    I wrote to Cardinal Burke today, sending him a copy of the post as well as your comments, telling him of our gratitude for his defending Catholic Doctrine.

  8. avatar JWP says:

    Thanks very much for the effort and thought that went into this post.

    I’m struck at how very, very far things have deteriorated in my lifetime. (I’m 60, and came to fully consciousness during the “twilight” of preVatican II; ironic to call it a “twilight”, as what followed was not akin not to a new dawn, but an even deeper kind of darkness.)

    In the white, urban “ghetto” of my youth, Cardinal Burke would have been called “a stand-up guy”. He calmly forges ahead, almost without premeditated thought or pretense, instinctively and unselfishly doing “the next right thing”. We should take solace: Those, in the highest percincts of the Church, who oppose him know on some level that they are playing with fire (and brimstone) and that Cardinal Burke’s devotion to the Faith is so deep that he will sacrifice high office and all earthly power and acclaim (power & acclaim that is their whole reason for being) in order to preach and stand for the truth. This makes him much formidable adversary and puts them at a disadvantage…….and, in their hearts, they know this.

    And am I the only one who thinks this “exile” to the Knights of Malta may not his St. Helena, but more akin to an Elba? His new “constituency” is more than sympathetic to his devotion to sacred liturgy, tradition and the magisterium….And I’ll bet they’re more than willing to allow him the time and flexibility to travel the world teaching, preaching and providing “aid & comfort” to devotees of tradition. Further, let us not forget the Knights of Malta have a reputation for “putting their money where their mouthes are”; they’ll be honored to support Cardinal Burke in his efforts in any way and to the fullest extent possible.

    As for me?: I think I’ll take the Cardinal’s advice and participate in the sacred liturgy more attentively and fervently, with greater recollection. And I think I’d better dig out my Catechism and spend 20 minutes a day in study. And I think I really have to buckle down and pray for the Church and, yes, the Pope and, most of all. in thanksgiving for Cardinal Burke.

  9. avatar militia says:

    Transcript from Voris’ Church Militant is an important warning from Cardinal Burke.

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