Saturday, March 28, 2015

Organizing Burke's Resistance Movement

Resistance is mounting, indeed is being pro-actively organized, to Pope Francis and his program of mercy as Catholics of a more conservative stripe are making it clear that they do not want to see our co-religionists who are not married according to Catholic law or who are living in irregular unions admitted to the sacraments.  After last October’s Extraordinary Synod where the subject was discussed, Cardinal Raymond Burke, a persistent critic of the Pope, pledged to “resist” Pope Francis should there be any change in the current practice which requires divorced persons to obtain a Church annulment before they can enter a second union.   Pope Francis, or rather his “front man” Cardinal Walter Kasper, has spoken of introducing a process similar to the Orthodox Churches where divorced persons can acknowledge their fault in a marriage’s failure, do penance for their role in the marriage’s collapse, and then have their second marriage blessed—albeit it in a more somber rite that distinguishes it from the sacramental first marriage.  
Nearly 500 priests, Secular and Religious, from England and Wales signed the following letter to the English Catholic newspaper, The Herald, urging the participants in the upcoming Synod on the Family (Part II) this October to maintain the current discipline that excludes the divorced and remarried from the reception of the sacraments. 
SIR – Following the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome in October 2014 much confusion has arisen concerning Catholic moral teaching. In this situation we wish, as Catholic priests, to re-state our unwavering fidelity to the traditional doctrines regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality, founded on the Word of God and taught by the Church’s Magisterium for two millennia.
We commit ourselves anew to the task of presenting this teaching in all its fullness, while reaching out with the Lord’s compassion to those struggling to respond to the demands and challenges of the Gospel in an increasingly secular society. Furthermore we affirm the importance of upholding the Church’s traditional discipline regarding the reception of the sacraments, and that doctrine and practice remain firmly and inseparably in harmony.
We urge all those who will participate in the second Synod in October 2015 to make a clear and firm proclamation of the Church’s unchanging moral teaching, so that confusion may be removed, and faith confirmed.
Yours faithfully,

LifeSite News, the media face of the Campaign Life Coalition, published an interview with Cardinal Burke, the leader of the opposition to any change in pastoral practice regarding admitting those in irregular unions to the sacraments, in which His Eminence said the only pastoral help which the Church can give to those spouses who have been abandoned, to the children whose parents have divorced, to those who are “struggling with homosexual tendencies,” or to those who find themselves “trapped” in “illegitimate unions” is to hold the line of “traditional teaching” and to recognize “the sinfulness of the situation in which they find themselves” and to “leave that sinful situation and to find a way to live in accord with the truth.”  His Eminence went to say in the interview that the discussion of the possibility of welcoming those in irregular unions to the sacraments should not even have been discussed at the Synod.  For His Eminence, judgment rises or falls on the single issue of conforming to traditional sexual morality.  In regard to whatever kindnesses or generosity or charitable behavior that those in such unions might show, the Cardinal compared them to “the person who murders someone yet is kind to other people.”  The LifeSite News interview concludes with a request to sign a petition to Pope Francis to speak out and put an end to this discussion of changing pastoral practice regarding those remarried after civil divorce. 
Cardinal Burke’s remarks have been quoted—somewhat out of context—to say that he is equating the divorced and remarried and people in same-sex unions with murderers.  I don’t think His Eminence, who is one to express vociferously his opinions, but not always think them through first, consciously intended that judgment. But then with “The Lady in Red” who knows. 
Last year Cardinal Burke was one of five Cardinals who along with an archbishop and three theologians wrote a spirited attack on the proposal that the Church might change its discipline to admit the divorced and remarried to the sacraments.  The book, Remaining in the Truth of Christ, was a response to Cardinal Walter Kasper’s The Gospel of the Family as well as several addresses which the Cardinal gave—including one he gave last spring to his fellow Cardinals—in which the Cardinal outline how Church discipline might be changed to admit those whose marriages the Church does not recognize to receive Holy Communion.  Copies of Remaining in the Truth of Christ were delivered to the Synod Fathers during the October 2014 Phase I of the Synod to lobby against any proposed changes in sacramental discipline, but the books “mysteriously” disappeared before they found their ways into the Synod Father’s hands.  The blame for the books’ disappearance has been fixed on Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the General Secretary to the Synod.  American Life League President Judy Brown, a perennial sounder of the tocsin against Pope Francis and the directions in which he is taking the Church, has done much to pin the blame on Baldisseri without establishing the grounds for the charge.  And it must be remembered that Synod Rules prohibit any general distribution of materials to Synod members without those materials being first approved and then presented through the General Secretariat.   In other words, no one is allowed to just hand out materials on their own authority. 
All that being said, however, I must admit that I am not sure that I can see how the practice regarding admittance to the sacraments can be changed.  I am not a theologian, only a historian—but there is a long history to the Church’s restricting the sacraments to exclude those in irregular unions.  Individual cases have always been able to be adjudicated where due to specific circumstances and with the advice of a confessor or competent spiritual director individuals, either on a specific occasion or as a regular occurrence, are admitted to penance, Eucharist, or the anointing of the sick, but a sort of olly-olly-in-free is somewhat of an innovation.  However, should Pope Francis—Synod or no Synod—decide that it is time for such an innovation, I won’t resist, but then I am no cardinal.    


  1. You mention in passing what I think is the most crucial issue at stake here, i.e. the ecumenical one. While this is not the major issue in Catholic-Orthodox relations, it certainly must be of some importance. If there were to be a restoration of communion between these churches, would Rome acknowledge the Eastern practice as legitimate? Would this be a sticking point? Would it make Rome's discipline appear even more vindictive and uncharitable than it already does to so many? Have Francis and Bartholomew discussed this discreetly? And what of the Anglicans and the Protestants even further down the road? This upcoming Synod cannot simply act in an ecumenical vacuum. As for Burke, this buffoon -- and his American compatriots -- can have their church of the pure: it 's called the Montanist Church and I wish they would all follow him right out the door.

  2. The ecumenical question is certainly to be considered, but we can see what happened with Anglican priests who were married. We don't mind having married Anglican priests who converted, but still do not allow married priests who aren't already married.

    Like Consolamini, I don't see a change forthcoming inspire of the difficulties, and I am not confident that there is a theological way through the problem. Even if you want to be more inclusive, the teaching I have always received is that we were given the sacraments but are also stewards of the sacraments and we have to be protective of abuse. That said, we also treat the sacraments differently than we did 100 years ago so it is not impossible for change to occur.

    What really troubles me about Cardinal Burke, et al., is an analogy from this quote from Nelson Algren: "“When we get more houses than we can live in, more cars than we can ride in, more food than we can eat ourselves, the only way of getting richer is by cutting off those who don’t have enough.” In other words, since the sacraments are a form of wealth, the only way to 'get richer' is to cut off those who don't have them. I worry that is the motivation behind those who seek to deny. But I also think that is what Judgment Day is for.

  3. I think that permitting the Eastern Orthodox to keep their practice will make the Latin Catholic process seem more vindictive. Unlike Anglican priests, I cannot imagine a situation where Orthodox remarried people are permitted the Sacraments and Latin Catholics aren't.

    As for the outcome of the Synod for himself, I think that Francis has to do something to loosen the practice. He has raised expectations from real people on this and needs to follow through. If he doesn't, he is setting himself up for a massive fall and another loss in Church relevance. (Think Humane Vitae.) To some extent, I agree with Burke. Francis shouldn't have raised this issue if he just wanted to toy with people's emotions and owes people a strong apology and penance for his actions if this doesn't pan out.

  4. The ecumenical issue IS the big issue for Francis. The Orthodox will never enter communion with Rome without their pastoral practice being accepted. Period. Would the Holy Spirit have let the Orthodox go astray to such an extent that they must renounce a practice they have judged acceptable for so long? The real problem is that in the last 50 years, Catholic theology has stagnated. Where are the Rahners, Chenus or Congars of our era? Now it is being asked to deliver five gallons of water in a one gallon bucket. Theologians should have been working on the five gallon bucket for years. No wonder so many can't see how a change could take place. Orthodox-Catholic theological dialogue could have done the job, but any creative work to move the ball has been hindered by Rome's theological purges of the last 35 years. That's why there is so much pushback. Current Catholic theology can't reconcile the two practices. That doesn't mean a broader theological horizon isn't out there, it's just that it needs to be found. I think Kasper sees the problem, which is why he is trying to lay the foundation through a broader hermeneutic of God's mercy.

  5. As a theologian, I agree with the above but with this proviso: Given the giants of 20th Century theology, some of whom were named in the previous entry, I would not expect anyone of this stature to come along anytime soon. We are still in the process of digesting and commenting on their extraordinary output, and there are surely resources within their work to move forward on this and most other questions -- the contraction induced by the CDF notwithstanding.

  6. One change that could take place would be to adopt an Italian attitude towards rules. I heard a speech by John Allen who described how Italians have a different attitude towards rules. They have a saying, "Laws are written as if men were angels." They have a far more lenient attitude towards rules and rule breakers. (John Allen says that if you wish to see this in action, simply drive in Italy.) This means that Italians are far less likely to change difficult laws, but are also far less likely to enforce them and act punitively towards law breakers. This attitude may be difficult to adopt in countries like the US, but I think this is an important cultural difference to keep in mind.

  7. We need to have five theologians write a counterpoint to this book before October. Any takers?

  8. If I may offer a clarification on the question of Anglo-Saxon versus Roman attitudes toward law. It is not simply a matter of one side being sticklers and the other being somewhat lackadaisical. The former writes laws with a view toward their being kept and there is no provision made for exemptions, although circumstances are taken into account. The latter, with some exceptions, writes laws with a view toward dispensation should the case warrant. So the issue here is the view from the Roman side that the current discipline is not able to be dispensed since the matter touches upon divine positive law, i.e. the indissolubility of a sacramental marriage. A more Anglo-Saxon approach, ironically, would by contrast enact legislation with the human condition in mind and, like the Orthodox, devise a process for dealing with the reality of marital breakdown. The via media foreseen by Francis, Kasper, Marx, et. al. seems to revolve around mercy always trumping judgment and always being the church's preferred praxis. You can bet that this Synod, convening just prior to the start of the pope's Jubilee Year of Mercy will have this as its primary hermeneutic -- and you can forget the sterile polemics about continuity and rupture that we have heard ad nauseam from the opposing sides.

  9. "You can bet that this Synod, convening just prior to the start of the pope's Jubilee Year of Mercy will have this as its primary hermeneutic -- and you can forget the sterile polemics about continuity and rupture that we have heard ad nauseam from the opposing sides."

    I certainly hope this is the case, for reasons unrelated to the question of admitting remarried Catholics to communion. It would simply be such a lovely change.

  10. Thought you might like to read this article:

  11. Burke wants to draw the circle of the "faithful" far more exclusively than does Pope Francis. I really hope that Pope Francis's more pastoral approach prevails.