|Image source: Shutterstock.|
On Monday, the National Catholic Register published an essay by Cdl. Raymond L. Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the darling of conservative Catholics. The essay, “‘Amoris Laetitia’ and the Constant Teaching and Practice of the Church”, has been taken by some radical traditionalists to be a slap in the face.
Cardinal Burke a “Company Man”
“This is nothing less than a betrayal by one who should have offered hope,” whined Steve Skojec into his Twitter feed. “We have been thrown to the wolves.” Hilary White, in her charmingly-titled blog What’s Up With Francis-Church?, affects an unconvincing sangfroid:
I am acquainted with Cardinal Burke, at least a little, and honestly folks, he’s a good guy but a company man to the core. In all the outrages of the last three years, he has done the same thing over and over. He has either remained silent (Lalalalala Laudato Si … I can’t heeeaaar yooooouuu!) [or …? An “either” calls for a following “or”, Hilary. What’s the alternative?][.] And, as Steve [Skojec] said above, each time he has said something publicly that has been taken by the press or anyone else as critical, he has instantly dived for the phone to backpedal as fast as he could.
John Jalsevac of Life Site News — a publication becoming more concerned with defending Catholic orthodoxy than with defending life — admits that the good Cardinal may have in fact been addressing progressives rather than conservatives. “After reading the whole of Burke’s column, it becomes strikingly clear that the primary target of Burke’s rebuke is, in fact, liberal mainstream media outlets and Catholic writers and publications, such as America Magazine and the National Catholic Reporter, who have hailed the exhortation as a welcome revolution.”
However, Jalsevac reluctantly admits that Cdl. Burke may also have intended “to warn ‘faithful’ writers of the possibility of causing scandal of their own by overstating the authority or impact of the exhortation. … [While] the cardinal is certainly technically correct that the exhortation doesn’t have the juridical authority to overturn Church teaching or formally introduce novel pastoral practices — there is no question that it has the authority to create the impression in public opinion of having changed church teaching or practice: and that may be the only kind of authority that ultimately matters.”
What, exactly, did Cdl. Burke say to get so many knickers in a twist? Put simply, +Burke said what I said in my post on The Other Blog Saturday concerning Amoris Laetitia: “… no doctrine has been upset, no dogma contradicted, no norm disestablished. While Dave Armstrong exaggerates its importance to the life and future of the Church …, it’s certainly not the wrecking ball many feared [or hoped] it would be.” Moreover, some of the text does suggest that Cdl. Burke had radical traditionalists in mind as well as liberals:
How then is the document to be received? First of all, it should be received with the profound respect owed to the Roman Pontiff as the Vicar of Christ, in the words of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: “the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity of both the Bishops and of the whole company of the faithful” (Lumen Gentium, 23). Certain commentators confuse such respect with a supposed obligation to “believe with divine and Catholic faith” (Canon 750, § 1) everything contained in the document. But the Catholic Church, while insisting on the respect owed to the Petrine Office as instituted by Our Lord Himself, has never held that every utterance of the Successor of St. Peter should be received as part of her infallible magisterium. [Bold font mine.—ASL]
I’ll give this to the progressive wing of the Church: they at least have the courtesy to address the Pope by his regnal name, even as “Pope Francis”. I’m inclined to believe Jalsevac is correct in thinking that Cdl. Burke’s first concern was to contradict people like Chicago Abp. Blase Cupich, who called Amoris a “game changer”. However, whenever progressives are convinced Francis has done something they want, they hardly speak of him disrespectfully or disdainfully. If +Burke only had progressives in mind, his caution to receive Amoris with “profound respect” could hardly be less necessary.
By contrast, the worst of the rad-trads refer to him simply as “Bergoglio” and his predecessor as “Ratzinger”. (And they hardly refer to Wojtyła at all, lest they be forced to confess that the man has been validly canonized.) The radicals hold the reigning pope in profound disrespect; that His Eminence has the gall to cite a Vatican II document as part of his reminder, I’m sure, simply adds salt to the wound.
The Problem with Church Progressives
For all his fulminations, especially his visual trick of cutting “offensive” statements out of their context by putting them in bold type, Skojec grudgingly admits that Amoris Laetitia didn’t really change anything. However, there are a couple of points, Paragraphs 298 and 300, where Pope Francis seemingly leaves the door ajar for allowing people in “irregular situations” to receive Communion. In fact, as I explained in The Other Blog, in Paragraphs 298 – 305 Francis struggles to articulate a via media that neither descends to Pharisaical legalism nor abandons doctrinal principle, a “middle road” which may not be any clearer to Francis himself than it is to those whom he addresses. It’s right at this point that Francis, who is an intelligent man but is neither disciplined nor nuanced as a thinker, gets himself in trouble with the Conservative Blogisterium.
At some times, Church progressives resemble children trying to get permission from Mommy and Daddy to do X. And, like children, if you give them anything other than a firm, unqualified No, they’ll interpret your words as an implicit Yes. E.g., telling your children, “I don’t want you to have sex before you’re married, but if you’re going to have sex, at least use contraceptives,” is tantamount to telling them, “You have my permission to have sex.” (Whether they’ll use contraceptives is irrelevant.)
I can understand, and even to a small extent sympathize, with conservatives’ frustration over this section of Amoris. The people who were receiving Communion while in a state of sin prior to Amoris, and the priests who turned a blind eye to them, would likely have continued to do so had Francis written the questionable paragraphs in a manner with which conservatives would have felt more comfortable. Now, however, they’ll point to various lines in the text as their justification for doing so, just as they point to paragraph 1782 of the Catechism to justify acting against the moral teachings of the Church. Pope Francis, they will say, has given us permission.
What Cdl. Burke Didn’t Say
Skojec et al., however, feel abandoned by Cdl. Burke less because of what he said than because of what he didn’t say:
What is found in this statement from Cardinal Burke is, by and large, not the problem. The problem is what he fails to say. It lacks any real, firm corrective. It is startlingly devoid of any sense of concern whatsoever, let alone the resistance he once promised — resistance to the way this document will undoubtedly be used to further decimate sacramental discipline and the institution of Holy Matrimony.
For those of us who look to Cardinal Burke as a beacon of hope, this feels like a betrayal, a failure of courage when courage is needed most. My disappointment here can not be overstated. The time for playing clever games with subtle words is in the past.
It’s precisely here that my sympathy with Skojec, White, Ann Barnhardt, and the rest of the Usual Gang of Radical Traditionalists ends. It isn’t enough that +Burke has denied Amoris Laetitia is a game-changer. Oh, no. Skojec and his tribe are mad because +Burke didn’t “withstand Peter to the face” (cf. Galatians 2:11).
That Cdl. Burke didn’t see the need to issue a ringing condemnation of the suspect passages is a thought that appears not to have entered their Denziger-obsessed little minds. Nor has the thought apparently occurred to them that Cdl. Burke may have chosen a different way or forum in which to disclose any objections he has to Pope Francis — he does, after all, have greater and more immediate access to the Pope than do we here in the goldfish bowl of Catholic blogs. That their reactions may be overwrought, even hysterical, would never cross their thoughts; Jalsevac, by contrast, admits that he has abandoned columns on some puzzling Francis statements half-written, “afraid of adding to the damage” by over-reaction.
“Opposing Peter to His Face”
His Eminence is certainly correct in insisting that “the Catholic Church … has never held that every utterance of the Successor of St. Peter should be received as part of her infallible magisterium.” The special infallibility of the Supreme Pontiff, in fact, is only asserted in very extraordinary circumstances: when the Pope, speaking ex cathedra, defines a dogma to be “adhered to with the obedience of faith.” (CCC § 891; cf. Lumen Gentium 25, First Dogmatic Constitution of the Church of Christ 4:9)
However, as Lumen Gentium 25 also says, “This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will.”
We bloggers, no matter how educated we are (or aren’t) in the Tradition and Scriptures, do not constitute a magisterium unto ourselves, and do not partake of the general infallibility of the Church. Moreover, since we’re not successors to the apostles, we’re not given the authority or the right to excommunicate or to deliver judgments of heresy upon the souls of bishops … especially not the Bishop of Rome. While we have “the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [our] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and … a right to make [our] opinion known to the other Christian faithful,” we are cautioned to do so “with ... reverence toward [our] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons.” (CCC 907)
When St. Paul “opposed St. Peter to his face,” I can hardly think he showered the poor fisherman with the kind of abuse and contempt with which Skojec and his unhappy band of Defensores Fidei speak of “Bergoglio”. (For instance, Ann Barnhardt’s latest, “Confirmed: Amoris Laetitia Means ‘The Joy of Sodomy’”, is just plain whacko, insane with rage. Only a small handful of lines in Amoris even speak of gay relationships, and then only to reaffirm what the Vatican has been saying since at least 1986.) Even when he issued his rebuke, the ex-Pharisee acknowledged the Fisherman’s authority: “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Colossians 2:14 RSVCE)
Try Trusting the Holy Spirit
Skojec and his bunch, who have been effing and blinding (as the British say) about “Bergoglio” almost from the moment Francis’ name was announced from the balcony of St. Peter’s, simply can’t let loose of their (literally) God-damned self-righteous pride long enough to really listen to what the Pope is trying to say. They’re too obsessed with combing through every papal utterance for some Franciscan hyperbole that they can blow up into a material heresy. When White sniffs, concerning +Burke’s reputation among the MSM as a “hardliner”, “The ‘liberal’ paradigm requires a villain, no matter how ridiculous it is in real life,” the Irony Meter spikes: Francis is the rad-trads’ villain, their Emmanuel Goldstein, to be brought out regularly for their Two Minutes Hates; for without an oppressor there can be no oppression.
In sum, Cardinal Burke did not “betray” the radical traditionalists. Rather, he disappointed expectations that were unfair and unrealistic to begin with. Yes, +Burke is a “company man” — or, as we say in the Church, he’s a practical Catholic in communion with the Holy See. That’s “in communion with”, not “in competition with”. When all else fails, the rad-trads might try trusting the Holy Spirit to guide and lead the Church into all truth (cf. John 14:26, 16:13).