Cardinal Raymond Burke has been much in the news this past year. In November 2016, he and three other cardinals presented Pope Francis with the famous dubia – five questions regarding Francis’s apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia.
Then the American cardinal became embroiled in a power struggle within the Order of Malta, of which he is patron. This was followed by his surprise appointment as a member of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Church’s highest court. He had been prefect of the Apostolic Signatura from 2008 to 2014, when he was removed by Pope Francis. Cardinal Burke has spoken out frequently against what he sees as the growing confusion within the Church about the liturgy, Catholic identity and even the faith itself.
I met him shortly before the first anniversary of the dubia at a celebration in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe in Ravenna, organised by the Coordinamento Nazionale del Summorum Pontificum and the St Michael the Archangel cultural association.
PG Your Eminence, you have recently referred to our times as “realistically apocalyptic”. And you added that the “confusion, division and error” within the Catholic Church coming from “shepherds” even at the highest levels indicate that we “may be” in the End Times. Would you help us to understand what you meant by this?
CARDINAL RAYMOND BURKE In the present moment there is confusion and error about the most fundamental teachings of the Church, for example with regard to marriage and the family. For instance, the idea that people who are living in an irregular union could receive the sacraments is a violation of the truth with regard both to the indissolubility of marriage and to the sanctity of the Eucharist.
St Paul tells us in his First Letter to the Corinthians that before we approach to receive the Body of Christ, we have to examine ourselves, or we eat our condemnation by receiving the Eucharist in an unworthy way. Now the confusion in the Church is going even further than that, because there is today confusion as to whether there are acts which are intrinsically evil and this, of course, is the foundation of the moral law. When this foundation begins to be questioned within the Church, then the whole order of human life and the order of the Church itself are endangered.
So there is a feeling that in today’s world that is based on secularism with a completely anthropocentric approach, by which we think we can create our own meaning of life and meaning of the family and so on, the Church itself seems to be confused. In that sense one may have the feeling that the Church gives the appearance of being unwilling to obey the mandates of Our Lord. Then perhaps we have arrived at the End Times.
PG Could you please give us an update on the “formal correction” [of Amoris Laetitia]?
CRB I cannot say too much. On November 14, it will be a year since the dubia were published. The whole question is still to be determined as to how to go forward, since we have not received any response at all, not even an acknowledgment of the dubia, which are very serious questions. I think I cannot say anything more than that right now.
PG What is the correct interpretation of your recent reappointment to the Apostolic Signatura?
CRB As a cardinal I have served various dicasteries of the Roman Curia. As a matter of fact, I am right now serving only two dicasteries, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. Certainly, I have preparation in canon law and especially in jurisprudence, so in a certain way, my new appointment is a logical one. Beyond that I would not want to speculate about what it may mean.
PG The secretary-general of the Italian bishops’ conference, Bishop Nunzio Galantino, has recently declared that the Reformation was “an event of the Holy Spirit”, and every day we read about prelates winking at the Protestant world. In the meantime, we read about a commission that is working on the hypothesis of a common sacramental interpretation of the Eucharist [a rumour later denied by the Vatican]. Will we all die Protestant?
CRB Well, I don’t see how you can say that the division of the Church was an act of the Holy Spirit. It simply does not make sense. And I don’t know what the nature of this commission is, but it is not possible to have a common Eucharistic celebration with Lutherans, because they don’t believe in the Eucharist as the Catholic Church teaches, and, very significantly, they don’t believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation, that the substance of the bread and wine, at the moment of consecration of the Mass, is changed into the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ. For Catholics to engage in some kind of ecumenical Eucharist would be abandoning the Catholic Faith. This is a profoundly false ecumenism which would do grave harm to the Faith and to souls.
PG In a homily you stated: “The nature of the reform of the Rite of Mass has significantly darkened in a sense; the divine action in the Holy Mass, which is the union of heaven and earth, has led some to mistakenly thinking that the Holy Liturgy is an action that we have fabricated in a certain way and with which we can therefore experiment.”
Is it true, as many people think and say, that this new way of celebrating the Mass is a necessary consequence of Vatican II?
CRB The precise form of the revised Rite of the Mass is not a necessary consequence of the Second Vatican Council. In fact, the reform of the Rite of the Mass as it was carried out did not follow as faithfully as it should have what the Second Vatican Council taught us and wanted. That is why we are talking today about a “reform of the reform”: in other words, we should examine again how the Rite of the Mass should be more faithfully reformed according to the Council.
Certainly, the Council mandated some reform of the Rite of the Mass. However, some condemned the reform as it was carried out as too violent, in a certain way, in terms of removing so many aspects of it that it was difficult to see the continuity between the rites before and after the Council. Of course, that continuity is essential, because the Rite of the Mass has come down to us from the first Christian centuries as an organically living reality; you can’t have a “new” Mass in the sense of a totally new Rite of the Mass. We must in some way express the Apostolic Tradition as it has come down to us.
PG Is it possible nowadays to ask for the traditional liturgy and not be considered, for this reason, an “enemy” of Pope Francis and perhaps even of the entire Church?
CRB Yes; in fact, the celebration of both forms of the Roman Rite – the more ancient or traditional form, and the Ordinary Form – is to be considered normal in the Church. Since the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum of Benedict XVI in 2007, priests are free to celebrate the Extraordinary Form.
So there should be no reason to believe that celebrating the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite is a sign of being somehow a protester or an enemy of the Pope.
PG But how can we use the word “Catholic” to describe both a cardinal who celebrates the ancient Mass and defends the values of the family and, for example, a bishop like François Fonlupt of Rodez et Vabres, who has recently ordained a priest following a rite with Hindu elements? What can keep all of us together?
CRB Better than “what” is “who”. Who keeps us together is Jesus Christ, who comes to us in the unbroken tradition of the Church, in her teaching, in her sacred worship, in her discipline and in her government. I haven’t heard about the episode that you mention, but a bishop who pretends to ordain a priest according to a strange rite has broken communion with the Church.
PG Do you, as patron of the Order of Malta, have any update about the unusual situation of the order?
CRB No. The Pope announced that his only representative to the order is Archbishop Becciu [of the Vatican Secretariat of State]. He left me with the title of “cardinal patron”, but I don’t have any function right now. Therefore, I don’t receive any communication either from the Order of Malta or from the Pope.
PG Forgive me a last silly question: what would you do as your first act if you were elected pope?
CRB I don’t think there is any danger of that. I think that, not referring to myself, the first thing any pope should do is simply to make the profession of faith together with the whole Church, as Vicar of Christ on Earth. Most popes did that, usually by a first encyclical letter, like Pope St Pius X with his encyclical E Supremi. Also Pope St John Paul II’s Redemptor Hominis is a sort of profession of faith, calling to mind again that the Church is the Body of Christ, the Church belongs to Christ and that we are all obedient in his service.
Paolo Gambi is a contributing editor of the Catholic Herald