Raymond Arroyo: Welcome back to The World Over Live. He is the former head of the Vatican’s highest Court, the Apostolic Signatura, and one of the world’s foremost canon lawyers. He’s also the author of a new book, Hope for the World: To Unite All Things in Christ. Tonight, Raymond Cardinal Burke reflects on the backlash he and three other cardinals are experiencing in the wake of a letter they submitted to Pope Francis asking for clarity on certain points of the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Specifically, they asked whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics without an annulment can be allowed Communion. The letter was first submitted privately to the pope, but when Cardinal Burke and the others received no response, they made the letter public. This sparked an outcry from Pope Francis’s supporters. Papal confidante Father Anthony Spadaro, for example, called the four cardinals’ letter a ‘sign of a bad spirit.’ Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia told America magazine that the four cardinals are seeking a ‘false clarity’ by failing to address the reality of those Catholics in irregular relationships. To respond, I spoke with Cardinal Burke earlier this week from the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadaloupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin. We talked about his reasons for issuing the dubia, as the questions are officially known, and what he and the others are prepared to do should Pope Francis refuse to address their concerns. Here is my exclusive and very candid interview with Raymond Cardinal Burke.
Your Eminence, thank you so much for being with us. I wanna start with this dubia that you—it’s a series of questions that you asked the Holy Father for clarity on, and the real heart of it it seems to me is this question of does it permit, does Amoris Laetitia and the pope himself, permit divorced and remarried Catholics now in irregular relationships who are sexually active to receive Communion. Now, Rocco Boutiglioni, a very outstanding layman in Rome, says yes it does. You have Cardinal Schonborn, who also seems to be suggesting that it does. What’s the problem, then?
Cardinal Burke: The problem is that to engage in sexual union with someone who’s not your spouse is a grave sin and to live in such a state publicly means that one cannot have access to the Sacraments because he or she is not living according to the truth of Christ. And there’s no way that the Church can give permission for someone to do something which Christ himself does not give us permission to do.
Raymond Arroyo: I wanna return to something that—it’s really the second point that you raise in these five questions that you submitted to the Holy Father. And in it you all mention Veritatis Splendor, which was a document John Paul II promulgated. And in it he says there are no—you cannot create exceptions to the prohibitions on intrinsically evil acts, and yet, in Amoris Laetitia, the pope says, ‘the conscience of an individual may come to see with a certain moral security that even their irregular relationship is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits.’ What does that mean to you and what does it suggest?
Cardinal Burke: Well, it’s very confusing language. The only thing that it can suggest in accord with what the Church has always taught and practiced is that the conscience informs itself with regard to the teaching of Christ, whether it has to do with marriage or the Sacraments, and conforms itself then to that teaching. And in this case, no matter what the complexities of the situation may be, the party in question, the member of the faithful in question, will either rectify the irregular, immoral situation in which he finds himself and thereby be able to receive the Sacraments, or until he is able to rectify the situation, will not present himself to receive the Sacraments. There can’t be an exception because if it’s always and everywhere wrong to engage in the conjugal act with someone who is not your spouse, then if you do that and live in that way, in an habitual manner, you simply are in a condition in which you, with the help of the Church, with the help of God’s grace, you need to set your life in order and therefore begin to be able to approach again to receive Christ in the Sacraments.
Raymond Arroyo: And yet, Your Eminence, it seems as I read all of this commentary, as I read even those closest to the pope, Father Antonio Spadaro in a recent interview seemed to be suggesting that look, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to adultery, that conscience comes into play and the Church is trying to accompany and walk with these people even in their irregular unions. The suggestion seems to be, in fact the—it’s explicit—that you really don’t need an annulment. You don’t need to nullify the first marriage and sometimes this second union may be what God is asking you. You would say what to that line of thinking?
Cardinal Burke: Well, the—it’s simply a wrong notion of conscience. The conscience does not render each of us as an individual the judge of what is right and wrong. There’s an objective order to things, and our conscience, when we are well-educated and when our conscience is well-informed, recognizes that objective order and therefore knows what’s right and what is wrong and acts accordingly. To say that I decide that something is right which for everyone else is always and everywhere wrong is simply an erroneous form of conscience and the Church’s…very popular word today of the person who finds himself in such a situation is that help which we receive in the Church to know the truth about the moral law and to respond to the grace which Our Lord always gives us—to live that truth in practice.
Raymond Arroyo: Father Antonio Spadaro who is a very close collaborator with the pope—in fact, he’s his ghost writer on a lot of these documents—he has really become the vanguard of taking down the critics of Amoris Laetitia or anyone who would even question the thinking here or the doctrine that’s implied through these pastoral adjustments. Spadaro said, and I quote, and I think he’s talking about you, that these questions, the dubia that you presented to the Holy Father, is an attempt to ramp up the tension and create division within the Church. Is that what you’re trying to do?
Cardinal Burke: No. In fact, we’re trying to address the division which is already very much ramped up, to use his phrase. Everywhere I go…many faithful, priests and bishops, and lay faithful, [with] whom I speak are in a state of very serious confusion on this matter. Priests tell me that one priest is telling the faithful one thing in Confession, other priest another thing. Only when these questions, which we have raised according to the traditional manner of resolving questions in the Church which have to do with very serious matters, only when these questions are adequately answered will the division be dissipated. But as is happening right now, as long as this continues, the division will only grow and of course the fruit of division is error. And here we’re talking about the salvation of souls, people being led into error in matters which have to do with their eternal salvation. And so Father Spadaro is very much in error in that affirmation.
Raymond Arroyo: Spadaro also said that the pope does not answer binary questions presented to him. And I wanna quote this. He says, ‘He answers sincere questions from pastors.’ Were you offended by that?
Cardinal Burke: Yes, very much so. The popes have always, all along the centuries—I’m a student of the Church’s discipline—it is the role of the pope as the pastor of the universal Church, as the guardian of the unity of the bishops and of the whole Body of Christ, to respond to such questions. To suggest that posing these questions is a sign of insincerity is deeply offensive. I can assure you that for myself, and I know the other cardinals involved, we wouldn’t raise the questions unless we had the deepest and most sincere concern for the Church herself and for the individual members of the faithful.
Raymond Arroyo: Your Eminence, many of the pope’s supporters and your critics have said he’s already answered your questions when he embraced the implementation plan of Amoris Laetitia of those bishops in Buenos Aires. In it, they said you don’t need an annulment and those who are divorced and remarried with the accompaniment of their pastor in certain cases can come forward and receive Communion. And the pope said, ‘This is exactly as it should be.’ What’s wrong with that? Didn’t he already answer your question?
Cardinal Burke: Not at all. He’s given his own opinion on the matter. The question can only be answered in terms of what the Church has always taught and practiced, as for instance is illustrated in the book which was published for the 2014 synod Remaining in the Truth of Christ. And it’s one thing [for] the pope can say what is written in Amoris Laetitia is interpreted correctly to mean that an individual priest can permit someone who’s in an irregular matrimonial union to receive the Sacraments without a firm purpose of amendment, but that doesn’t resolve the question. The question is, what does the Church teach? It’s not a matter of…some speculative idea I may have about how to approach these questions, but how does Christ in His Church address such questions? That’s, until that answer is provided, we remain in a confused state.
Raymond Arroyo: I wanna remind people of something. In Familiaris Consortio, which was John Paul II’s great document on the family, he writes:
However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.
Is that really what concerns you, Your Eminence, that this new document Amoris Laetitia seems to be overturning it?
Cardinal Burke: Well, exactly what Pope St. John Paul II expresses is what the Church has always taught and practiced. And my concern is that Amoris Laetitia seems in some way to permit an interpretation which would lead to a practice which contradicts the constant practice of the Church and that simply is a source of the gravest concern for me. And [in] my judgment, what needs to happen is that the faithful know that whatever is written in Amoris Laetitia cannot and does not change what Pope St. John Paul II set forth in Familiaris Consortio because what he set forth was the, or is, the constant teaching and practice of the Church and therefore it is magesterium.
Raymond Arroyo: And yet you have Cardinal Schonborn that’s saying, look, this is not a break but it is an evolution. It is a changing of the Church teaching, a maturation of it. Do you accept that analysis?
Cardinal Burke: No. You can’t have a maturation of a teaching which is a rupture from that teaching, which is a breaking away from that teaching. Cardinal Schonborn’s remarks in that regard do not reflect what is called development of doctrine—in other words, through the Church’s reflection she deepens her appreciation of a teaching and, and helps the faithful to practice that teaching. This case, it’s a question of complete rupture in the teaching of the Church, a complete going away from what the Church has always taught and practiced. And that you can’t call a maturation. A maturation is something organic, where you see that what the Church has been teaching about marriage now is expressed with a greater fullness.
Raymond Arroyo: Your Eminence, have you ever seen a moment in the Church where—I can’t remember a moment where you had the pope and people raising questions about teaching, legitimate questions and trying to do so respectfully. And you had this sort of political counterforce using media and tweets and columns to attack anyone who would question that teaching in any way. And I wanna point something out to you that Bishop Schneider in Kazakhstan wrote. We’ll put it up on the screen. I’d love your reaction to this. He writes, or he spoke in an interview. He said:
There is a strange form of schism. Externally, numerous ecclesiastics safeguard formal unity with the pope, at times, for the good of their own career or of a kind of papolatry. And at the same time they have broken their ties with Christ, the Truth, and with Christ, the true head of the Church.
Are we in the middle of a schism and have you ever seen a political campaign like this?
Cardinal Burke: Well, certainly, I’ve never witnessed this in my lifetime. In the history of the Church there have been situations which have some similarities with the present situation, but I perceive that a mundane spirit, a worldly spirit has entered into the Church, which would divide her members into various camps: liberals and conservatives, who are the fundamentalists as some are fond of calling those of us who are striving to defend the constant teaching of the Church. This mundane spirit is very much reflected in a lot of slogans and etiquettes or—not etiquettes, that’s an Italian word—labels put on people in order to discount them. But we’re all Roman Catholics. We’re all called to follow Christ as He comes to us in His Church through the Church’s constant teaching…this politicization of the Church which is very much augmented by all of these forms of mediatic intervention are very harmful and are doing a great deal of damage to the common good of all in the Church.
Raymond Arroyo: In our final moments, I have to raise this. I was sort of struck, amazed really, at an interview the Holy Father gave where he suggested that those who are ‘rigid’—and that’s the term he uses…sort of locked in their ‘rigidity’ over doctrine and otherwise, that they suffer from a compulsion or a condition. Your reaction to that, and what are you and these your fellow cardinals do if you don’t get a positive reaction from the Holy Father and say, some answer on this point of clarification?
Cardinal Burke: Well, first of all, we—our presentation of the five questions is done with great serenity and with great respect. They are not the reactions of people who are suffering from emotional disorders. That we’re very deeply concerned about the truth of the doctrine of the faith and its integrity is not a sign of illness. What will we do? We have to continue to serve the truth with charity and so especially those of us who are cardinals, who are the principal advisors of the Holy Father, have a very solemn obligation to defend the Church from these kind of attacks at her very foundation. I mean, we have to remember that we’re talking about teaching about marriage and its fruit, the family, and to attack that teaching is to destabilize the whole Church and society in general. And so the responsibility is very great and we certainly—I only can speak for myself, but I know from my fellow cardinals who have been involved with me—we intend to serve that truth no matter what it takes. I, for my part, will never be part of a schism. I’m a Roman Catholic and defending the Roman Catholic faith is not the cause of my being separated from the Church. And so I simply intend to continue to defend the faith out of love for Our Lord and for the, his mystical body, my brothers and sisters in the Church, and I believe the other cardinals are of the same mind.
Raymond Arroyo: Are there more than just the four of you? I mean, I’m sure you’re getting letters and calls from others who support you—and you said you were willing to issue a formal correction if necessary. Is—does that still stand?
Cardinal Burke: Of course it does, that [is the] standard instrument in the Church for addressing such a situation. Yes, there are other cardinals. I don’t want to get into this business of the numbers. We have to remember, the criterion here is the truth. There have been cases, for instance, take for example the case of Henry VIII and his desire to be able to enter a second marriage without having his first marriage declared null—all of the bishops of England except St. John Fisher went along with the error, but St. John Fisher is the saint because he defended the truth. And all of us in the Church who are cardinals, bishops, we have the responsibility to defend the truth; whether we seem to be numerous or we seem to be very few doesn’t make any difference. It’s the truth of Christ which has to be taught.