Papal critic Cardinal Burke to headline canon law conference

Cardinal Raymond Burke leaves an audience led by Pope Francis Dec. 22, 2016, in Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. (CNS/Paul Haring)

A leading critic of Pope Francis' approach to ministry to divorced and remarried Catholics and of his reforms to church annulment procedures will be the headline speaker at a San Francisco conference for canon lawyers.

Cardinal Raymond Burke will be the featured presenter at the Western Region Canon Law Meeting March 14-16 at San Francisco's St. Mary's Cathedral.

A conference flyer lists titles of the cardinal's talks as "Mitis Iudex* Dominus Jesus: One Year Later" and "Current Issues/Concerns/Observations Regarding American Tribunals." 

Mitis Iudex Dominus Jesus ( "The Lord Jesus, Clement Judge" ) is one of two documents Francis issued in September 2015 aimed at reforming procedures for seeking declarations of marriage nullity. It addresses annulment protocols in the Latin rite Catholic church. The second, Mitis et misericors Iesus ("Clement and Merciful Jesus"), outlines reforms for the Code of Canons of Eastern Churches.

Burke has been a high-profile detractor of the annulment reforms as well as Francis' apostolic exhortation on marriage and family life, Amoris Laetitia, released last April.

Both the annulment reforms and the papal exhortation are outgrowths of two global episcopal consultations at the Vatican — the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 2014 and the Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops the next year. Both focused on family.

At the San Francisco meeting, an "open forum" with Burke is scheduled from 3:20 to 4:30 p.m. on March 15.

In November, Burke was one of four cardinals to sign an open letter to Francis asking the pontiff to answer five yes-or-no questions that they claimed would clarify what they have described as doctrinal confusion or ambiguity in Amoris Laetitia.

The cardinals' letter itself has drawn criticism, notably from Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the head of Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

"Between 80 and 100" participants are expected at the San Francisco meeting from the Canon Law Society's Western Region, which is contiguous with the U.S. bishops' Region XI and includes California, Hawaii and Nevada, according to Michael Brown, director of communications for the San Francisco archdiocese.

Asked about the potential of Burke's appearance being interpreted as tacit endorsement of the cardinal's criticisms of Francis, Brown emailed, "Sorry, too subjunctive and theoretical for me to be able to respond, let alone the Archbishop."

Brown said the invitation to Burke was encouraged by San Francisco's chancellor and judicial vicar of its Metropolitan Tribunal, Msgr. C. Michael Padazinski, and facilitated by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone.

Padazinksi confirmed that on Jan. 23, but noted the conversation about the possible Burke invitation dates back some time ago, before the cardinal's concerns about annulment reform and Amoris Laetitia "broke out."

Also pastor of St. Patrick's Parish in Larkspur, Padazinski noted that Burke "is a renowned and first-rate canon lawyer" and that the prelate's San Francisco appearance "will be a good draw."

"People will want to hear what he has to say," the priest said. 

Padazinski served on the Canon Law Society of America's board of governors from 2008-2011.

Fr. Roger H. Keeler, CLSA executive coordinator, told NCR that CLSA regional groups select their own meeting topics and speakers independently of the organization's staff and board of governors. "I'm certainly not reading anything into" Burke's selection as the Western Region presenter, Keeler said.

Burke was a co-consecrator at Cordileone's episcopal consecration as San Diego's auxiliary bishop* in August 2002.

While in the Bay area, Burke is also scheduled to preside at a Mass in the extraordinary form (in Latin) at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Oakland March 19 at 12:30 p.m., and "possibly visit St. Patrick's Seminary and visit with the local Knights of Malta," Brown said.

Related: "Sulpicians withdraw from San Francisco seminary" (Oct. 24, 2016)

Burke, 68, was named patron of the Knights of Malta, an international charitable organization based in Rome, in late 2014 after Francis removed the cardinal as prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the church's highest judicial authority other than the pope.

Both Burke and Francis have said the change, viewed by many as a demotion, was not related to the cardinal's critiques.

The Knights of Malta — formally known as the The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta or the Sovereign Military Order of the Knights of Malta — has had its own recent tensions with the pope over the termination of its grand chancellor, Albrecht Boeselager.

In addition to Burke, the cardinals signing the open letter to Francis concerning Amoris Laetitia are Carlo Caffarra, former archbishop of Bologna; Walter Brandmüller, former president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences; and Joachim Meisner, former archbishop of Cologne.

*An earlier version of this story misstated that Burke was a co-consecrator at Cordileone's installation as archbishop of San Francisco; a typo was removed from "Mitis Iudex Dominus Jesus."

[Dan Morris-Young is West Coast Correspondent for National Catholic Reporter.]

Flyer for Western Region Canon Law Meeting 2017 by National Catholic Reporter on Scribd

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