Cardinal Burke: Scatenato!

by Michael Sean Winters

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Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke again let us into his the world on the other side of his rabbit hole: In a new interview with LifeSiteNews, +Burke showed himself to be almost a caricature of himself, more intransigent, more legalistic, more unhinged – the Italian word “scatenato” captures it best – than ever before.

Normally, I would suggest ignoring such rants, but I fear that once we get into the summer months, His Eminence will start making the rounds, coming to a diocese near you, and delivering himself of similar foolishness. Which raises the question: Is there a protocol for a diocesan ordinary to refuse permission to a cardinal to give a public address within his diocese? Otherwise, not to be too legalistic, someone listening to Cardinal Burke might be scandalized!

The interview begins with the now familiar concern that we are living in a time of confusion in the Church, raised by the interviewer and concurred in by the cardinal. She asks:

Since the extraordinary synod on the family, we have entered a period of uncertainty and confusion over several “hot-button” issues: communion for divorced and “remarried” couples, a change of attitude towards homosexual unions and an apparent relaxing of attitudes towards non-married couples. Does your Eminence think that this confusion is already producing adverse effects among Catholics?

He replies:

Most certainly, it is. I hear it myself: I hear it from Catholics, I hear it from bishops. People are claiming now, for instance, that the Church has changed her teaching with regard to sexual relations outside of marriage, with regard to the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts. Or people who are within irregular matrimonial unions are demanding to receive Holy Communion, claiming that this is the will of the Holy Father. And we have astounding situations, like the declarations of the bishop of Antwerp with regard to homosexual acts, which go undisciplined, and so we can see that this confusion is spreading, really, in an alarming way.

This whole meme of confusion we have heard before. It comes uniquely from those who have spent their lives working for the Church or commenting upon the Church. Your average person on the street finds this pope almost uniquely easy to understand, and not in the least confusing. So, what is going on? I think the confusion is really consternation: the person making the charge has been discombobulated out of their understanding of certain teachings of the Church as black and white. And, no one, including the bishop of Antwerp, is saying that there our teachings are not true only that our teachings are applied in real world situations that are almost never black or white. To say that the conversation generated by the synod of bishops is confusing is like saying the dawn is confusing. At dawn, the day and the night intermingle, just as in the life of the Church, our teachings on the indissolubility of marriage must intermingle with our teachings on God’s sovereign mercy. That is not confusing, unless you are one of those people who has replaced the Christian God, the Father of Mercies, with an idol of canonical rigorism.

Cardinal Burke then repeats another meme found frequently among critics of the synod. He says:

There cannot be anything that's truly pastorally sound which is not doctrinally sound. In other words: you cannot divide the truth from love. In other words still: it can't be loving not to live the truth. And so to say that we're just making pastoral changes that have nothing to do with doctrine is false. If you admit persons who are in irregular matrimonial unions to Holy Communion, then you're directly making a statement about the indissolubility of marriage, because Our Lord said: “He who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.” And the person in an irregular matrimonial union is living in a publicly adulterous state. If you give Holy Communion to that person then somehow you're saying that this is alright doctrinally. But it can't be.

“You cannot divide the truth from love.” I agree with that, but I also think it works both ways, and that if our pastoral practice divides truth from love, we need to look more deeply to see if there is not a fuller understanding in which the love and the truth can better support each other. I deny outright the idea that giving communion to a person “living in a publicly adulterous state,” as +Burke gently puts it, suggests that such a state is doctrinally alright. It might suggest that such a person, like all of us, even His Eminence, needs food for the spiritual journey, and that Communion is not a reward for the perfect but medicine for the imperfect, and we are all imperfect.

At another point, the interviewer and Cardinal Burke are in agreement about Pope John Paul II “respond[ing] to gender ideology before it became well known.” Gender ideology is the province of some elite, out of touch academics, who wanted to get published, period. Yes, marriage certificates may now say “Spouse 1” rather than husband, but I doubt a gay or lesbian couple will go to a cocktail party and introduce themselves as Spouse 1 or 2. I don’t think anyone actually believes that gender ideology foolishness.

The most controversial part of the interview is no doubt when the interviewer zones in on comments by Bishop Bonny of Antwerp, about:

 “faithful” homosexuals, “remarried” divorcees and non-married couples show qualities of self-sacrifice, generosity and dedication that cannot be ignored. 

And, Cardinal Burke comments, “It's like the person who murders someone and yet is kind to other people…” No, Your Eminence, it is NOT like that. A person who is gay and tries to find a companion with whom to live life, or a woman whose first marriage failed and she is trying to make a new life, these people are not like a murderer. And, in +Burke’s twisted view of the world, it is the murderer who can confess her sins and be re-admitted to communion. Just like the cleric who is sexually active all the time, but in casual, non-committed situations, hook-ups: He can go to confession and all is fine, but the gay cleric who avoids that hook-up culture but also has a special friend, he is the one beyond the pale of hope. It is twisted.

There are other parts of the interview that are disturbing. I do not see the link between liturgical changes and the “culture of death.” The link that the LifeSiteNews interviewer and Cardinal Burke suggest between contraception and divorce could make a sociologist giggle. And I know, even if +Burke will not admit it, that the Church’s teaching has changed on these issues in the past, from the biblical accounts of patriarchs with many wives to the Council of Trent’s requirements for witnesses and a priest for a marriage to be valid, to Humanae Vitae’s insistence that all conjugal acts be open to procreation. The bigger problem is not this comment or that, it is the unwillingness to even entertain the possibility that the Holy Spirit is asking the Church to stretch. The yet bigger problem is that these offensive comments come from a man who seems to really enjoy wearing as much lace and watered-silk as he can get his hands on, and does not see how that will make people wonder. And the still bigger problem is that cardinals wear red because they are expected to shed their blood for the Holy Father, and Cardinal Burke will not even shed his snark. 

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