Cdl. Burke: Papal Clarification or Disunity

News: Commentary
by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  November 16, 2016   

"It would be a question of taking a formal act of correction of a serious error"

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Cardinal Raymond Burke, former prefect of the Apostolic Signatura — the Vatican High Court — is saying if the pope won't clarify doctrine when formally asked by cardinals then disunity will result.

In an interview Tuesday, November 15, after waiting along with three other cardinals almost two months for clarifications from the Holy Father on contradictory interpretations surrounding the papal exhortation "Amoris Laetitia," Cdl. Burke was asked what might happen if the Pope simply doesn't respond.

Then we would have to address that situation. There is, in the Tradition of the Church, the practice of correction of the Roman Pontiff. It is something that is clearly quite rare. But if there is no response to these questions, then I would say that it would be a question of taking a formal act of correction of a serious error.

The cardinal didn't elaborate on this specific recourse, which has left some of the faithful wondering what it would involve or how it would play out as the Church teaches concerning the Roman Pontiff: "By virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely."
On September 19, a set of five yes or no questions was sent privately to the Holy Father by Cdl. Burke, along with Cdls. Walter Brandmüller, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Science; Joachim Meisner, archbishop emeritus of Cologne, Germany; and Carlo Caffarra, archbishop emeritus of Bologna, Italy.
The questions from the four cardinals revolved around two main issues:
  • The role of conscience in keeping God's law

  • Intrinsically or objectively evil acts that can never be done in good conscience

As discussions of "Amoris Laetitia" have often focused on Holy Communion being given to the divorced and civilly remarried who remain sexually active, the four cardinals in their original letter elaborated,

[N]ot only the divorced living in a new union need to abstain, but also everyone who is not married. For the Church, the sixth commandment "Do not commit adultery" has always covered any exercise of human sexuality that is not marital, i.e., any kind of sexual acts other than those engaged in with one's rightful spouse.

In other words, God's negative precept that commands "Thou shalt not commit adultery" also forbids masturbation, artificial contraception, cohabitation, homosexual acts, fornication and adultery. Church teaching has always held these actions to be "intrinsically evil" — immoral by their very action regardless of why the person is doing them or in whatever circumstances.
But because some prelates are teaching that conscience can turn these intrinsic evils into moral goods, depending on circumstances, the four cardinals focused on this very topic. One of their questions asks: Does the pope affirm "the existence of absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions?"
The use of this type of questioning, which needs only a yes or or no answer from Christ's Vicar, has been used throughout the centuries to secure exact meaning of Church doctrine. That part is not new. What's new is that the direct questions of these four cardinals on such grave issues haven't yet been answered.
Speaking in this latest interview on behalf of his confreres, Cdl. Burke said the cardinals are acting for "the good of the Church, which, right now, is suffering from a tremendous confusion on at least these five points."
The cardinal emphasized their loyalty to the Holy Father but said the clarification has to come from the Roman Pontiff. "If the Petrine Office does not uphold these fundamental principles of doctrine and discipline, then, practically speaking, division has entered into the Church, which is contrary to our very nature."
Watch the panel discuss these latest efforts by cardinals to clarify Church teaching in "The Download—Clarifying 'Amoris Laetitia.'"


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