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By Don Fier
(The Wanderer Editor's Note: His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, recently paid a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His Eminence graciously allotted time in his demanding schedule to grant The Wanderer an extensive interview and provided many illuminating insights. Among the topics he addressed is the troubling situation in which the Church finds Herself and how the faithful can best respond. Part two of this important interview will appear in next week's Wanderer.)
Q. More than a month has passed since the "Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment" (October 3–28, 2018). Please offer your critique on the outcome of the synod as reflected in the Final Report.
A. The preparation for the synod was marked by much confusion and mixed signals, not unlike that which also characterized preparation for the previous synod on the family. The impression was given that young people are asking the Church to change her teaching on the natural moral law, that her traditional language in speaking about sexual morality is out-of-date. It also called into question the Church's teaching about clerical celibacy, that young men who are called to the priesthood also receive the call to celibacy, that is, to perfect continence.
At the same time, there was a number of faithful Catholic young people who were asking the Church to teach more clearly and courageously what she has always taught about the moral law, intrinsic moral evils and sexual morality.
During the synod itself, there were some critical moments in terms of the whole homosexual agenda. Thanks be to God, the troublesome LGBT language was removed from the final report. However, other unclear language was introduced. For this reason, there must be a strenuous effort to interpret the work of the synod, so that the Church's teaching on the correct sexual relationship between a married man and woman is effectively taught and not undermined.
After the synod, there was much talk that it was really about "synodality." As far as I know, that notion was not even discussed by the bishops at the synod. "Synodality" is a very fluid term, and people who talk about it usually fail to define what it means.
The word is certainly being used in a sense that is inconsistent with its traditionally intended purpose in the Latin Church. A synod — whether on a diocesan, provincial or national level — has always been understood to be a meeting to determine how to teach and apply the Church's doctrine and discipline more effectively. Synods are not to be seen as a tool for changing Church doctrine or discipline. There is much confusion that needs to be clarified.
In itself, the document is long and wordy. It is difficult to read and to decipher from it a clear idea of what is actually being taught. In my mind, there is a very serious need to interpret this document in terms of what the Church's teaching and practice has always been.
Q. As you pointed out, the theme of "synodality" seems to have a certain prominence in the synod's final report — even though the concept was reportedly not discussed by those who participated, at least in any depth. Can you explain exactly what is meant by "synodality" in the context of Pope Francis' vision for the Church? Why was it emphasized in the final report for a synod on the youth? Does the thematic element of "synodality" represent a continuity or a rupture in the development of Church doctrine?
A. It is very difficult to know exactly what Pope Francis is referring to because synodality is associated with other terms like dialogue and listening, terms which also do not have a clear meaning. In listening to the Pope, one is given the impression that he is giving more and more authority to individual bishops and conferences of bishops. But this is not the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is one throughout the whole world because it has one shepherd, the Vicar of Christ on earth, the Roman Pontiff. He is the foundation and principle of the unity of all the bishops and of all members of the faithful. He is called to exercise his authority over the universal Church by teaching the Faith with clarity and courage and by applying the Church's discipline with firmness and consistency.
If the notion of synodality is in some way relativizing the office of the Roman Pontiff (which seemingly it is), then it certainly is not coherent with what has been understood historically to be the purpose of synods in the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, it is iniquitous because it is destroying the authority of the successor of St. Peter, of the Petrine Office.
It is absolutely a principle of rupture rather than a development of doctrine. It is presented by those who are its propagators as a revolution. They talk about synodality as if it is a revolution in the Catholic Church, something that she has never known or seen before.
I have no idea why the theme of "synodality" would come up in a synod for the youth. However, I recall this was also talked about during the prior synod on the family. It seems to me that perhaps, playing on the word synod (which in a classical sense in the Roman Catholic Church means, in the case of the Synod of Bishops, a group of bishops that meets to help the Holy Father teach doctrine more effectively and apply its discipline more efficaciously), a more fluid concept of synodality is being introduced so as to advance what is called the revolution in the Church.
In other words, the Catholic Church, in the end, would simply represent just a denomination. As an example, the Church would not have the same teachings and disciplines with regard to the Eucharist and marriage from one nation to another. There is, as I mentioned earlier, even an attempt to call into question the universal practice of clerical celibacy. We would end up with multiplying divisions among nations and even within nations. Principles akin to those put in force by the reformers during the Protestant Revolution would come into play.
Once you admit the principle of individuals and groups determining on their own what the Church's teaching is apart from the authority of the Church's Tradition, you open the way to endless divisions. The Roman Pontiff has the principal responsibility to safeguard and foster the Church's Tradition.
Q. A recurring theme I have noticed in news reports and commentaries on the synod's final report is that it contains numerous calls for dialogue, accompaniment, listening, etc. The topic of vocation — of helping young people discern a call to the priesthood, consecrated religious life, married life or single life — seems to have been shortchanged. Is that an accurate assessment? If so, what course of action is required as a remedy?
A. Based on my discussions with young people who took part in the synod, I would say that the assessment you have given is quite accurate. These "slogans" were not used within the context of the teaching mission of the Church, which is essential. The work of a synod is to present the Church's teaching. Certainly, we must listen to young people, but they rightly expect to be responded to with the Church's true teaching. That is precisely the part that is missing.
When we accompany someone, we want to accompany them on the road to life, in a way that leads them to Christ (as Our Blessed Mother accompanied the wine stewards at the Wedding Feast of Cana). By the way the language is used, a way that is quite popular in the Church today, one is given the impression that accompaniment means “going along,” that you just go along with what people are doing and saying. This attitude is simply a contradiction of our call to be a Christian witness. I think it is a great pity that the essential topic of the divine vocation was not taken up in a serious way at the synod.
Q. Chapter 12 of St. Paul's letter to the Romans seems very relevant to the topic of vocations. The Apostle implores his listeners: "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2). Saint Paul's letter goes on to instruct us to use the "gifts that differ according to the grace given to us" (Romans 12:6). Please offer your reflections, based on Romans 12, on how each of us is to use God's grace to faithfully and fruitfully live out our vocation.
A. The present time is being spoken of as the time of "the reform of the Church." What I have witnessed so far, however, is a lot of structural changes, institutional activities and other external manifestations. But the real reform about which St. Paul is speaking is the transformation of hearts. There cannot be any real reform in the Church which is not first interior — and that is turning our hearts to Christ.
What I fear is that this emphasis on exterior reform is leading us to conform ourselves more and more to the world. It should be significant to us that the present state of the Church is seen as being very worldly. We only need to look at the confusion with respect to the life issues, issues regarding marriage and the family or even the situation regarding the agreement that has been signed with the Chinese government. The latter, in effect, is a repudiation of generations of martyrs and confessors of the Faith in China.
What the Church desperately needs right now is a clarion call for interior reform. What is urgently required is to teach more effectively the Creed, the fundamental tenets of the Faith and to call for the conversion of lives. This will be what reforms the Church. When the Church is evangelized anew, it will transform society. Instead, what has happened is the Church has accommodated herself to a worldly way of thinking — to society's approach to things. The Church has rendered herself incapable of carrying out her mission to the world.
Q. We know the Evil One is the instigator of disorder and disunity. Based on Romans 12, how are we to respond to the confusion he has sown in the Church today and remain faithful to our Lord? How are we to read the "signs of the time" and recognize and resist the attacks of the Evil One? How are we to be "transformed by the renewal of our mind" (Romans 12:2) and "have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16)?
A. The very first element of this mandate is to come to know Christ. How do we know Christ? We must read Sacred Scripture and study the teachings which Our Lord has given us faithfully through the Church throughout the centuries. These are the tools our Lord has given us, so that we can have a solid knowledge of Who He is in our lives. On the basis of this knowledge, then, we can love and serve Him.
Right now, typical of a modernist approach, it is all sentimentality, of people wanting to have "good feelings" about how they are living and about the Church. But it is not a question about good feelings; it is a question about truth and love. We need to return to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, study it deeply and conform our lives to what it teaches. In this way, our lives will be truly transformed by Christ Himself because the knowledge of Christ is not something that is abstract. It is a knowledge of Christ that involves our very being. To know Christ is to let Him reign in our hearts, to accept Him as our Lord, the Lord of all creation and of all history.
Q. The 11th-hour announcement at the USCCB Conference in Baltimore of the Holy See's directive that abuse-related measures not be voted on was met with dismay not only by the lay faithful, but also by many of the bishops who were in attendance. What is your assessment of what transpired at the last minute?
A. First of all, this is most unusual. On one hand, the Pope says he wants to give more authority to the conferences of bishops. On the other hand, when the bishops were legitimately addressing the very scandalous problem of sexual misconduct on the part of bishops in the United States, the Pope told them they were not permitted to discuss it. So that part is very strange.
I must be clear that in terms of the discipline of these bishops, the Pope is the only one who can discipline a bishop — the bishops do not have the power to discipline one another. The Pope appoints bishops, and only he can discipline them. On the other hand, the bishops were very correct, I believe, in saying that we need to address the situation in our conference in order to assist the Holy Father in taking the action he needs to take. Simply to say this is not to be discussed seems to raise a lot of legitimate questions in people's minds about the seriousness of the Vatican to get to the bottom of the terrible scandal created by Theodore McCarrick.
It is a scandal, first of all, in that he was a man who was seemingly abusing adolescents and also young adults in homosexual relations from the time he was a parish priest. Secondly, this had to be known when he was promoted to bishop, archbishop and then even elevated to the office of a cardinal of the Church. We must get to the bottom of this; those who were responsible for the scandal have to take responsibility and certainly cannot remain in authority. They must make reparation for the great harm they have inflicted upon the Church.
Q. A plan was presented by Blase Cardinal Cupich at the Baltimore conference proposing that sexual abuse allegations against bishops should be investigated by metropolitan bishops (or senior suffragan bishops in the case of alleged sexual abuse by a metropolitan bishop). Do you view this proposal as more or less tenable than the proposal that was to be voted on, i.e., to establish an independent lay-led commission? What is your expectation of what will happen at the upcoming February summit in Rome when decisions will apparently be made?
A. First of all, I think lay experts can be very helpful in investigating situations in order to get to the truth and, indeed, that they should be employed. But the person who has to direct the investigation, when it involves a bishop, is the Roman Pontiff, who alone has authority over bishops. He can certainly ask a metropolitan archbishop to assist him. Ultimately, however, those who are involved in the investigation need to report to the Pope and it is the Pope who has to take the appropriate action.
I am not in favor of a lay-led commission in the sense that the laity would be asked to take the responsibility which is clearly that of the Roman Pontiff and which has always been so. On the other hand, I believe that the lay faithful who are well-prepared in certain aspects of these kinds of crimes should be called upon to investigate and help get to the bottom of the matter.
With regard to the meeting in February, I do not think we should have any unusual expectations. In calling together the presidents of the conferences of bishops from all over the world for four days, what are they realistically going to be able to propose? What needs to be done is for the Pope to form a commission of experts that will help him to determine how to approach the whole matter.
Q. Several bishops gave impassioned addresses at the Baltimore conference. I was especially heartened by the words of Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, when he bluntly stated: "It's part of our Deposit of Faith that we believe homosexual activity is immoral."
Several brother bishops gave him a round of applause. Yet there seems to be an ongoing attempt to "soften" the Church's language pertaining to same-sex relationships (for example, to change the words "intrinsically disordered" to "differently ordered" as they apply to homosexual behavior in paragraph 2357 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church). In your view, what is the predominant position of the U.S. bishops on this topic?
A. Such a change of words is simply not possible — homosexual attraction and homosexual activity are disordered, not ordered. We are not made that way; God did not make us to engage in sexual relations between two people of the same sex.
I would have to think that the majority of the bishops in the United States are not in favor of this kind of thing. However, there is an element in the conference of bishops that is pushing for it very strongly. Whenever you have a big body of prelates, certain pressure groups, especially those who have power, can drive a body to take positions that many individual bishops would find objectionable. There is definitely within the hierarchy of the United States an element which is not coherent with the Church on these issues.
Prelates, for example, who promote Fr. James Martin, S.J. (who is not coherent with the Church's teaching on homosexuality) within their dioceses, are an indication to us that there is a serious difficulty within the hierarchy that must be addressed.
Republished with permission from The Wanderer.